From Brisbane (27°C at 8am) I flew to Hobart, Tasmania (13°C at 12pm). Despite the small size of the airport it was tricky to navigate due to renovations, but luckily my aunt Mary spotted me and called out as I walked past her. This was my first visit to Tasmania, and my first to see my aunt and uncle who I last saw when I was eleven or so. I had been slightly nervous to see them again after so long but I needn’t have worried. I received a warm welcome and, once we had met Sheila, my other aunt who had flown in from Sydney, we headed off to their house where I stayed for the next three nights.
As my stay was so short, and with so much catching up to do, I only saw Hobart. It was enough to encourage me to think seriously about revisiting Tasmania and seeing more of the island. The city is fairly small, less than 250,000 people living in the surrounding area. It has an older feel than many Australian cities, with many of its historic buildings having been preserved. For anyone interested in the history of the penal colonies of Australia this is a perfect place to visit.
The two dominant features of the city are Mount Wellington or Kunanyi (which had experience snow on the day of my arrival – in the height of summer!) and the Derwent River. We did drive up to the summit of Mount Wellington one afternoon where there is an enclosed lookout. The views were spectacular when the mist shifted, though it seemed to have a mind of its own, appearing and dissipating swiftly as we watched.
View over Hobart city
On my last day I had the chance to visit MONA (Museum of Old and New Art) with my uncle who is an artist himself. The building can be seen from afar and is impressive. We drove there but for tourists without a hire car there is a ferry departing from the city and also a bus service. Entry to the museum is $25 (free for locals) which wasn’t too bad considering it includes the current Gilbert and George retrospective which was certainly worth a look. Outside of that exhibition the museum is dark and eventually becomes a little disorienting but not boring. Any museum featuring Cloaca Professional (aka the poo-machine) could never be.
After a couple of days in Brisbane the heat started to get to me. Sitting out on the porch of an evening with a g&t or a cold beer is all very well but when you’re still sweating at ten o’clock at night it gets slightly less enjoyable. Walking anywhere in the daytime humidity takes it out of you so the idea of going hiking (well, a stroll really) in Lamington National Park was rather ambitious.
The drive down there was around ninety minutes of rock music and air con, with views out to the sea as we wound our way up the mountain to the Binna Burra section of the park. With no prior planning we took the first path we found which promised a cave within 2km. After around 20 minutes we were all drenched in perspiration, wary of the many spider webs and not that excited about a cave anyway. The highlight was stalking a wallaby down a hill until it had enough of us and hopped off. We gave up and turned back to the café next to the car park.
Disappointed in our half-hearted attempt we decided to find a waterfall. Google gave us directions to Killarney Glen which should be a beautiful area with a heart-shaped pool. Unfortunately after a 15 minute walk down a track to find the waterfalls we found sixty or so backpackers who had commandeered the falls, daring each other to jump from the top into the water below. We stayed for ten minutes or so but there was little chance of getting more than a token photo so we headed back to the car. Uphill. I have never been happier to see a car park in my life.
My last day in Brisbane was a chance to go into the CBD for the first time. I had arranged to meet two old work colleagues who returned to Aus last year. We had just over half an hour at lunch to swap 12 months’ worth of gossip but it’s always good to see old friends no matter how briefly.
After another day of extreme heat and humidity I was glad to check the Hobart weather and see that a more UK-like temperature was in store for the next leg of my trip…
I first visited Brisbane ten years or so ago. For two hours. I was on one of those 18-30s coach tours that attempt to see most of an entire continent in four weeks. Our tour manager told us that two hours was more than enough time and, since he himself was a Brisbanite, I saw no reason to doubt his superior knowledge.
My reason for going back now was to visit a good friend who moved out there last year. Kirsten met Joel in London and when his visa ran out there was nothing for it but to follow him back to Australia. Although a British citizen, she grew up in Johannesburg and so when she told me she hates Brisbane for the heat I was slightly concerned. And it was hot – 35°C and humid. I can see why she wants to move to Melbourne once she gets her visa situation sorted. She’s currently on a working holiday visa which has meant that she can’t get a permanent job due to the restrictions on it (unlike the equivalent visa that Aussies get when coming to the UK).
Arriving in the evening was a bonus. Every other time I’ve flown to Australia I’ve landed in the early morning with a long day ahead. Although I woke early (for me) for the first few days it was a lot easier to get over the jetlag this time. On my first proper day in Brisvegas we took it easy. Eating out for breakfast was slightly more leisurely than expected due to some excruciatingly slow service but I was happy to take it easy. The highlight of the weekend was still ahead: the All Stars rugby league game at the Suncorp Stadium – my first experience of rugby league in five visits to a country that treats league with the respect it deserves. For just $20 we had not only tickets to the game but free access to public transport for a couple of hours either side. Bearing in mind that the current exchange rate is around $2 to £1 this was an absolute bargain.
Before the match we headed to Fortitude Valley for drinks. At the Alpha Mosaic hotel we arrived in time for happy hour – $5 for a decent glass of wine! Then we moved on to Joel’s current favourite, a bar called Taps where you can pour your own craft beer. After a spot of people watching (there were a number of serious Aussie mullets walking by) we headed over to the stadium.
Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
The All Stars game is a pre-season fixture featuring the Indigenous All Stars (a team representing Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders) against the World All Stars (a team formed of international players chosen from the teams that play in the NRL (National Rugby League). It was a tight game which was won in the end by the World All Stars. As an exhibition game the crowd was decent at 37000. Afterwards we headed to the Caxton pub which I am assured is ‘legendary’ and a must-visit for pre or post-match drinks. It was definitely popular and it was only jetlag that enticed me to make it home before midnight.
I came to this book with great expectations. Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2014 for this, Mitchell’s sixth book, I was very aware of this author by reputation but had never actually read a novel of his. This early in the year it is a little premature to say it’s the best I’ve read in 2016, but the stakes have been raised. This is premium storytelling, unpretentious, clever and all-encompassing.
The Bone Clocks is the story of Holly Sykes, taking place over six decades of her life from the recent past and taking us on an exploration into the near future and what may lie ahead for all of us in terms of global events and catastrophe. There are various narrators through the timeline of the book, all visitors to Holly’s life and showing us her through different lenses. Mitchell’s genius is making us believe in these characters, whether they are on the side of good or evil. And there are those two sides: this is a clever illustration of how the bending of genre can work. The world in which events take place is clearly the very same that we live in but elements of fantasy are woven throughout, gently at first so that the reader will accept the full on Big Bad battle scene that occurs towards the end of the book.
To say that this is a complex novel is a huge understatement. As a novice writer, the idea of having so many characters taking their turn centre stage, each completely drawn and researched to the point that you’re sad to see them move on, is masterful. The amounts of research into these characters and their backgrounds, the humour (Crispin Hershey the washed up novelist resigned to giving talks in broom-cupboard like rooms at literary festivals was a favourite, mixed in with a brief horrific glimpse into a global apocalypse within our own lifetimes, I felt awed throughout. At just over six hundred pages this isn’t a short book but it’s easily read and, for me, quickly.
In short, this is a book that is complicated, but is easy to read, it’s funny and sad in turn. The stakes are high and the sacrifices great. I would recommend this to anyone looking for something different. If you want to read a book that will make you think without being overly intellectual and worthy, then The Bone Clocks is for you.