Saturday, 24 May 2008

The Going gets Tougher (Chapter 11 - Brisbane)

Roy Markwell was something of a celebrity in Brisbane, particularly in the world of yachting, which enjoys tremendous popularity in this sub-tropical coastal city; he was also the NSU agent for Queensland, having one of the most modern motor-cycle and scooter showrooms and offices I had yet seen.

While the Prima was undergoing a routine check-over, Nita and I were given the run of Markwell's luxury sea-going yacht. We lived in it for a week-at least, when we had time, for during those seven days we were indoctrinated-high-pressure transatlantic style-with Brisbane. We saw the city both by daylight and at night from the famous One-Tree Hill, a fantastically high viewpoint, laid out on the summit of this near-mountain with flower gardens, bursting with exotic tropical blooms and built-in palm-studded vantage points, from which visitors could see, on a clear day, almost every building in the city. Queen Elizabeth on her visit had apparently been very impressed with the panorama which is, from One-Tree Hill, virtually an aerial view.

Brisbane is really a beautiful city, and if ever Nita and I decided to live permanently in Australia, Brisbane would become our home. It is modern, with a sophistication that is not brittle, and the pace is fast but free and easy. The people are very Anglo-Saxon, but the balmy, sub-tropical warmth has successfully eliminated all the traditional Anglo-Saxon reserve. The inhabitants work hard and play hard under almost continuously blue skies and starry, cloudness nights. People sleep on their verandas, or in the gardens, or on the boat-decks of their launches. There are also a great number of pubs in the city centre, and everyone appreciates the ice-cold beer. My wife and I have visited a good many cities, and we decided that Brisbane offered a little of everything, including one unique feature-trams designed so that they are actually pleasing to the eye. Never before or since have we seen anything to approach the sleek, streamlined public transport of Brisbane.

We took a number of pictures: of the University; the gigantic new hospital (almost completed); the daily parade of policemen in their smart uniforms as they marched past a quite historic (for Australia) town hall; the main street of dazzling white and pastel-shaded near-skyscrapers; the modern bridges spanning the river; as well as that little sidecar of ours, which had just had two more names added in gold letters to the rest of the list. I told the manager of Messrs. Wakefield's that perhaps their signwriter had been jeopardizing our good luck in adding Darwin prematurely, but he laughed and replied that so long as I stuck to the right oil, Darwin was a piece of cake!

Once again the Press became interested in our venture and we made two radio broadcasts and received several write-ups in the daily and evening newspapers. These were included mainly on account of our unorthodox mode of transport, but one of the newspapers (the reporter who interviewed us having at one time travelled the world on a shoe-string) gave an intelligent and an interesting account of our reasons for travelling as we did, with all its fascination of uncertainty, and an explanatory note on our aspirations. It is extremely difficult for some people to understand the motivating power which drives us and others like us to go voyaging to the ends of the earth, away from the comforts and security of home. It was nice to come across one reporter who did.

On the latter part of our journey from Sydney, I realized that there was one modification that simply had to be made to our sidecar, namely, the fitting of a stronger wheel spring. This overloaded part had gradually sagged with the miles and had thrown the steering all out of track, so that it was necessary for me to exert tremendous pressure on the left handlebar, particularly on steep cambers and, in consequence, had made Nita's ride for the last hundred miles or so virtually suspensionless.

Roy Markwell went to a great deal of trouble to rectify this uncomfortable fault and, not satisfied with his first efforts, had a special heavyweight spring forged in his modem workshops, where, he told me, they could produce any part of a vehicle except the chromium-plate or the tyres. He certainly proved this with a robust spring for our sidecar.
There was also the problem of extra fuel and water supplies which our friends told us would be imperative if we were to reach Darwin safely. That we had traversed the Middle East solo, with less water than we carried in the new water bag, made no difference. The Australian bush, they said, was a lot lonelier than any other part of Asia, including Afghanistan. Two more one-gallon cans, therefore, were fitted into a metal rack which was slung between the sidecar and the scooter in the convenient space behind my legs. We filled one with ready-mixed petrol and the other with fresh water. According to my calculations, we could now say goodbye to civilization for a week and four hundred miles at a time.

Our brief stay in Brisbane had been something of a social whirl, with the sight-seeing, broadcasts, lunch-time club talks, and parties. We had also fitted in a prolonged visit to a nearby animal sanctuary, treading in the footsteps of Armand and Michaela Denis and
Walt Disney, to take pictures of most of the native fauna of Australia, including some delightful koala bears-one of which rode with obvious pleasure on the back of a long-suffering Alsatian.

Nita went into a rhapsody when the owner of the sanctuary permitted her to hold one of these' cuddliest' of all furred animals. In :Melbourne she had raved over a semi-tame platypus-that weird hybrid of the animal world with furred body, duck bill, and webbed feet. She had loved its sleek, velvet-like coat, but was wary of the two dew-claws on the back feet which held poison ducts. But the koalas were totally devoid of any self-defence mechanism and were, in fact, made to be cuddled.

When we left Brisbane we said goodbye to what I had come to regard as the Australia of Cities: Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane, all lying in that narrow fertile collar which hugged the coast, where there were water and life. Ahead lay the inland, the bush. A few more towns of moderate size, then, at last, the silent empty land of the spinifex and the mulga. At last we were on the doorstep.