30 October 2010
It’s twenty past nine in the evening. I’m in Cairns, having snorkelled for the day desperately trying to capture a blur-free shot of something from the cast of Finding Nemo. My legs are thoroughly sunburned on the rear, from ankle all the way up to where the wetsuit clung sveltely to my thighs. Two Germans are playing cards to my right and two Swiss-Germans are uploading pictures to Facebook to my left. A rather large cockroach has just nodded vigorously, no doubt on his way to clean up someone’s mess in the kitchen. To my rear several House Geckos sound off and drown out the nearby crickets, who are chirping without reprieve.
I’m the only Brit remaining, the two others (one from York, the other Essex), have departed for Brisbane and left me in the company of various dialects of Deutsche, which is in all estimates now a largely spoken language. There’s over four million of them here – the vast majority on working holiday visas – making up almost a sixth of the population of the country. That’s a lot; this place is big.
The Immigration Museum in Melbourne was an interesting, if expensive 45 minute introduction to the history of this continent. It explained the differing attitudes and approaches to immigration, which in typical fashion were largely racist, perverted and politically motivated; though skipped over anything to do with the local aboriginal people with the bound of a liver-flavoured meat-source (well, I think ‘roos taste like liver anyway). Back here in Cairns and I’m left despondent by the aboriginal youth that stalk the streets, shopping malls and fast food joints – leering at Caucasians with resentment. And it’s completely understandable, if not made even more disappointing by the white youth who demonstrate the intellectual ability of an Amoeba. Where Melbourne seems to have an overruling Asian majority bringing with them a melancholy, yet hardworking lifestyle that forces the Aussies to keep up or perish; sadly Cairns is dominated by a mixture of surly and somewhat aggressive Aboriginal-heritage youth that seem to have lost their way.
The town itself is unique; like most tourist spots it’s built upon the premise of a few attractions and has hit growth-saturation point with hotels, resorts and eateries: There’s no more room in the inn. If you’re not visiting to snorkel, dive, parachute or observe wildlife; skip on to somewhere else. Otherwise, the great barrier reef is indeed something to behold.
I’m not a great swimmer; something about the water getting trapped in my ears as a kid ensured I was petrified of the life-giving substance. Add to that a couple of failed drowning attempts by “instructors” and a recurring dream of being stranded in the middle of the ocean with sharks circling my soon-to-be-brunch legs, and I never bothered learning. That is, until last year, where I decided it may be an idea having watched a Dragon Boat capsize and also having spun a double scull in the Thames.
With two motion-sickness pills reluctantly taken, I’m very glad that one of the aforementioned Swiss-Deutsche offered me some – for the ride out to the reef was punishing. Sat at stern (the lowest and hence least-mobile place on a boat), I’m surrounded by no less than four passengers emptying stomach contents in to brown paper bags, handed out by the crew (no doubt on “sick-bag duty”), which are then tossed overboard for passing by fish to genuinely consume. Breath deeply and close your eyes; it helps. Take pills at least an hour before you depart, for they’re preventative.
On arrival and it’s a quick change in to wetsuit, combined with snorkel, fins and a life-jacket for good measure. So it’s easy going; effortless in fact. Floating is easy in sea water; with a life-jacket it’s impossible to sink, though some of our company refuse to take part. And boy did they miss out.
I’ve never understood the attraction of diving; it always seemed to me to be a mid-life crisis thing; for middle-aged men and women that have reluctantly and inextricably remained single to try and find someone (it’s a little incestuous after all), and so expensive that you’ll need to have saved up enough to partake. Though in order to see the barrier reef – at the edge – it’s necessary to dive; snorkelling just can’t get you close enough. Forget using the zoom on your borrowed waterproof-housed camera, there won’t be enough light. Sadly with Asthma, diving isn’t an option, so I’ll just bob about on the waves and have a squint at the big chubbies knocking about underneath the boat.
Back to the Hostel and I somehow manage to win the didgeridoo playing competition (keep the mouthpiece sealed and blow a raspberry to form the embouchure), winning me an XXL T-Shirt and a free drink. I’d have one to take home if they weren’t so expensive to buy and ship, though at least I now know the technique for circular breathing. We are later entertained by a fire display where for some reason, I keep picturing either the guy catching one of the balls on his calf, or one flying off and taking someone’s head off.
Thus far then, Australia has been fantastic. It’s rapidly encroaching on my list of best places to visit and there’s still more to come. On top the capital; Sydney.