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Adventures in Physics

One afternoon, a long, long, time ago, two young men were making their way back to their residential college at the University of Queensland after attending the sort of bacchanalian soiree that made university worth going to. As they stumbled through the Great Court, they saw a paver had been pulled up. They stopped to look and saw the hole led to a tunnel, so they climbed down to explore. The tunnel ran along under the Great Court walkway and, as they followed it, they found some arcane objects.

So they souvenired a couple of those objects and brought them back to college as proof of their adventure. To their fellow collegians they proudly showed off their haul: a “cathode-ray oscilloscope” and a “mass spectrometer”. I don’t know what these are and I’m not sure they did either. They looked like old TVs with really small screens.

When they woke next morning to the cold light of day, they realised what they had done. Unwilling to either own-up or try to restore the objects to their subterranean home, they did the next best honourable thing: they set fire to the cathode-ray oscilloscope and the mass spectrometer and sent them off down the Brisbane River.

Had those objects not met with a fiery ending, they may instead have ended up in what is quite possibly the most boring museum on Earth: the Physics Museum at UQ. The Physics museum is so boring no one can even be bothered opening it and turning the lights on; you have to do it yourself. It is one glass-walled room in the Physics department, full of glass cabinets containing what look like ancient torture implements, all bakelite knobs with dials and wires.

Potentiometer
Perhaps a “potentiometer” was something they wired up to new students to assess their, you know, potential? I was just disappointed there was no alethiometer.

van der Graf accelerator.
This would have made a great addition to the fiery farewell on the river!

The Concave Mirror
This is the type of crazy fun you can have at the Physics museum.

But the star of not just the Physics museum but the whole Physics department is the great Pitch Drop Experiment. This is, hands down, the most boring experiment in the world. Until it isn’t. When this thing actually does something it makes the news. It is literally more boring than watching paint dry, because at least that only takes a few hours and you can get excited about the subtly-changing hue.

The Pitch Drop Experiment was set up in 1927 to show how even though pitch might look like a solid, it is in fact a liquid. In the last 95 years, it has dropped nine times and, until cameras were trained on it 24/7, no one actually witnessed it drop, not even its creator Professor Thomas Parnell (after whom the building is named). Now you can log on any time from anywhere and watch the pitch thinking about dropping.

You’re welcome.

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Nature Bathing in Mt. Coot-tha Botanic Gardens

Nature bathing in action

When I mentioned to my SO that I was going nature bathing at Mt. Cooth-tha Botanic Gardens, his first question was, would I be getting naked. The answer was no, and although our guide, Mon, was very encouraging and accepting of whatever responses people had as a result of their experience and of how they chose to share them, I’m inclined to assume getting naked may have been met with a calm invitation to reconsider.

Nature, or Forest bathing, was invented, like vending machines full of strange things, in Japan, and is called “Shinrinyoku”. It involves going for a walk in a forest, sitting in a forest, or basically just hanging out in a forest. It has been proven (by scientists) to have actual health benefits, due to things emitted by the trees called “phytoncides (wood essential oils), which are antimicrobial volatile organic compounds derived from trees”.

Probably shouldn’t eat

Monique Ross, (or Mon as she likes to be known) who runs Heartwood Nature Bathing in Brisbane (and the surrounding area), is a certified Nature and Forest Therapy guide. Now I can picture the cynics among you hearing wind-chimes and smelling incense, but this is an actual, proper six-month course. It may seem like anyone could put a post on Facebook, strap on some sensible shoes, and take a gaggle of unsuspecting people with time on their hands to go wandering about in the woods, but stuff can happen. And did!

When people take the time to stop and smell the eucalypts, all those things that have been distracting their minds are silenced, and the foetid, rancid baggage they have been lugging around for probably decades, can start to rise to the surface like an inadequately weighted-down dead body. If they are not with someone trained to deal sensitively when this happens things could get awkward. Or someone could just trip over and break their arm, in which case Mon is trained to respond to this as well. And, of course, it’s Australia, so snakes. One participant calmed down so much that she felt herself in danger of fainting as her blood pressure dropped, so nature bathing is not without its risks.

Lurking Spider

The actual experience involves walking for a while then stopping for a short informal meditation; informal in the sense that you are just invited to notice things: sounds, smells, the feeling of the earth underneath you etc. not search for enlightenment. Unfortunately, just as we stopped to do this, helicopters, planes, and chainsaws started up. Mon told us later this happens every time and she’s learned to just laugh and accept it. We were then invited to share anything that came to us. Or not.

Now, I am not a great fan of these sharing circles because the inherent danger is there will be that one person who will overshare. Fortunately, this didn’t happen, but if it did I’m assuming Mon would have drawn on her training from the “How to Deal with Oversharing” module in her course. (For the record, my one thought was of the bush turkeys I “noticed” lurking about, reminding me of their relatives who, while we were away for two weeks, ransacked our back deck, smashed everything breakable and strewed it everywhere. Luckily (for them) Alectura lathami are a protected species and while I have a slingshot sitting on my windowsill I would, of course, never use it.)

And so we walked, then stopped, then shared and so on. It was a very pleasant and restorative way to spend two hours. At the end, while we each found a place to just sit awhile, Mon laid out a lovely morning tea. The tea itself she brewed from herbs and flowers in her garden. As Mon poured the tea and handed the cups over, each person was invited to share again, then we just sat around and had a chat. Which is when, our collective guards down, danger struck. As I was drinking my tea and nibbling on an apricot-coconut ball, a female Butcherbird swooped down, snatched the remaining ball from my hand, flew up onto a branch above, and proceeded to warble out her triumph to all the other birds, who then arrived in numbers on hearing there was free food.

Alarmingly, Butcherbirds “get their name from their habit of impaling captured prey on a thorn, tree fork, or crevice“. Fortunately, I sustained no injury above acute disappointment at losing my treat, but assume had I lost an eye or something, Mon would have been all over it.

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The Ekka!

One sage piece of advice my mother handed down to me from her forebears was “Don’t take your baby to the Ekka“. As far as I can remember I never did take a baby to the Ekka; I certainly took small children there but probably left the baby somewhere else because it’s no fun taking babies anywhere.

The Ekka is held every year (when there isn’t a pandemic) in August. For those not from Queensland, the Ekka is short for Exhibition which is short for Royal Queensland Show. In New South Wales they have the Royal Easter Show and as far as I can recall it was never shortened to anything, which must mean Queenslanders are lazier than New South Welshpersons, except for the footballers who keep winning the State of Origin, but that doesn’t count because football is boring.

When I was a child, such shows were all about the rides and the fairy floss, because that was the only place that magical foodstuff could be found back then. Now that I’m a grownup I hate rides and would go into a diabetic coma if I ate fairy floss so instead I visit the cakes, craft, and chickens. There’s something comforting about the fact that people still do things like tatting, felting, and just making stuff for fun.

This year they had a Platinum Jubilee theme so there were cakes paying tribute to Her Maj. The winner was a cake with HM sitting on a park bench with Paddington Bear, but I preferred the one of her hat and bag. (What does she keep in that bag?)

The chickens were fascinating as ever because there are always a lot of chickens that look totally different to the usual chooks you see in picture books, but it’s always a little bit depressing to see them in individual cages. Some of the girls, lacking a nesting box, had resorted to laying an egg straight on the bottom of the cage; it’d be like being locked up without access to a toilet. A few were having a sleep, it being that time of day, when I was there; either that or they were just depressed.

Chickens are not usually solitary creatures although I did have one lone free ranger called Esme who was a regular Houdini at escaping and did so literally until her dying day. Chickens like to wander about together with the rooster keeping them in order (when he’s not forcing himself upon them. That’s the payoff for his protection I guess).

Out on the main arena, people were doing dangerous things with motorbikes, but I didn’t stop to watch because I would never be able to unsee if it went horribly wrong and I had to watch a thousand people filming someone’s firey demise.

The Ekka is a glorious anachronism in this age of limitless entertainment on demand. It’s just a little bit weird that so many people are still willing to spend money going to see fruit and veg and farm animals, go on rides, and shoot things to win stuffed animals. I think one of my favourite things at the Ekka is the Country Women’s Association tea room. It’s entirely unglamourous but you can sit down and have a sandwich and a scone made and served by someone who looks like your gran. What’s not to love?

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Taking the Bus

Not me (Photo by VH S on Pexels.com)

A lot of people in Brisbane like to moan about the public transport. I’m not heavily reliant on it so I’m not impacted by its shortcomings although I know they exist. I also don’t have a disability that makes it harder to negotiate public transport, whereas I know there are significant challenges for those who do. Brendan Donahue, a blind man who lives in West End and is reliant on catching public transport, says something as simple as announcing the stops would help him. They do it on the trains but not the bus. Just say “Stop 43”; not that hard.

But the fact is I love taking the bus. I like an excuse to take a bus rather than drive. Usually it’s just into the city where there’s sod all parking anyway so it’s easier in that respect, but recently I had a meeting in the city and then went to a friend’s for lunch at Toowong so I was able to get the bus there. And it was lovely because the bus went along Coronation Drive, a main thoroughfare that follows the river. If you’re driving you can’t look out the window, but if you’re on the bus you can. And that’s what I love; it’s like going for a fun ride. You get on and just sit there. You don’t need to worry about the traffic, and you don’t need to watch where you’re going.

And then there are the other people who catch the bus. This is probably one of the things that a lot of people don’t like about catching the bus, because after all, “hell is other people” (thank you Jean Paul Sartre, you Absinthe-swilling weirdo). But again, I enjoy the interesting folk who hop on the bus. The other day there was a woman sitting with her invisible (to us) friend having a very animated and sometimes heated discussion. Sure she made the people around her jump when she slapped the back of the seat in front and jumped in her own seat, yelling loudly in some foreign language, but for all we know her friend may have deserved to be yelled at, and she may have been making a very valid point that they just refused to accept. Hey, we’ve all been there.

About a hundred years ago when I was working in London, I used to catch the bus from Victoria Station to Edgware Rd and back four days a week. The bus went along behind Buckingham Palace and I always sat on the top deck on the Palace side so I could look over the fence, hoping to catch a glimpse of Her Maj doing a spot of pruning. There is a tennis court in the back corner and one morning I was very excited to see four people playing, but since they looked young and spry I don’t think any of them was her. I never tired of that bus trip; I swear everyday I thought, “Wow I’m in London. There’s Buckingham Palace. There’s the Albert Hall”. (To be fair the rest of the day I was looking after a demented old woman who used to swear at me and pull my hair, so I had to find some bright spots.)

Brisbane’s public transport operator, Translink, has a very cool thing on their website (or app) called Journey Planner. You enter where you want to travel to, when you want to depart or arrive, press a button and it politely says “Please wait while we plan your journey” and then several options magically appear. Sometimes the last option says you could just walk there, you lazy pig. (It doesn’t actually say that last bit.)

The Brisbane Lord Mayor, Adrian Schrinner, popped a little note in my letter box recently to let me know about the new bendy electric “turn-up-and-go” buses coming in 2023. The promo video says they are the first of their kind in Australia (take that everyone else), and will be “whisper quiet”. And these ones do have next-stop announcements. They’ll go EVERY 3 MINUTES! They’ll fit 150 people! What a time to be alive! And to be catching the bus.

Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

Wild Brisbane

I live in the inner city, however, my house backs onto a gully that leads down to the Brisbane River and that gully is a jungle. My back yard has a large Moreton Bay Fig Tree in it and there’s another enormous one across the road; in fact, that tree is a “Tree of Significance”. So there are plenty of places for wild things to be. The tree in my back yard means every evening, just on dark, possums gallop across the roof and launch themselves into the tree. And if the possums aren’t in it, the flying foxes are, or, during the day, when the tree is fruiting, Fig birds. In the Spring, Channel-Billed and Koel cuckoos fly in from Indonesia and lay their eggs in the nests of unsuspecting magpies and crows who have built them in the fig trees. These invaders out-compete the resident chicks for food and the poor parents are left trying to raise a chick that quickly grows to twice their size.

Blue-tongue lizard (Photo by J Surianto on Pexels.com)

A blue-tongue lizard has been living under the concrete at the front of the house since I’ve lived here and I occasionally see it basking in the morning sun. Sometimes I throw it a bit of fruit. And then there are, of course, the bush turkeys, that wreak absolute havoc everywhere. When we arrived home after two weeks in Bali, our back deck was trashed! Pots were broken, a tub of fertiliser lay empty on its side, contents strewn everywhere. In short, anything that could be destroyed by a turkey was.

So I am surrounded at all times and on all sides by creatures. Which is fine if they stay in their place. However, over the past year I have risen from my desk, been quietly sitting on my couch or, in the latest episode, just arrived home with the shopping, when I let out a ridiculous girlie scream, like something out of a ’60s TV show when housewives stood on chairs to get away from mice, at the sight of an animal in my house.

In order of appearance were:

A possum: entered the kitchen one evening while we were watching telly, climbed up onto the bench then the window sill and we all stood around staring at it until it made another leap and left.

Bush turkey: Came moseying in the back door, quickly skedaddled when it saw me (on more than one occasion).

Blue-tongue lizard: was lying in the doorway of my office on its way to eat the dog’s food (dog has now gone to heaven), carried on, ate some dog food then left.

Cane toad: again, sitting in the doorway of my office. (Nothing more vile than the feeling of that leathery skin on a bare foot.) Sprang away and disappeared behind the TV cabinet. Presumably it eventually made its way outside.

Baby bush turkey: (freshly hatched, these things are orphans from birth so what can you expect). Wandered up the hall and when it saw me did an about-face, then hung a right into my bedroom where it promptly hopped up onto my pillow. I cornered it, grabbed it, and as it fought and squeaked I carried it outside and let it go.

And last but by no means least, and at the absolute limit of my tolerance for these incursions: A GIANT BEARDED WATER DRAGON.

Photo by Tamara Dodd on Pexels.com

Perhaps the most alarming thing was that I think it was already in my bedroom when went out. When I sat down to put my shoes on before going out, there was a great clattering that seemed to come from behind me. I looked but, seeing nothing, assumed it was a cursed turkey on the front verandah come to dig out a few more pot plants. I crept out to scare it off but there was nothing there. I walked back into my room and carefully peered around the side of my bed but saw nothing. And so I went on my merry way, locking the door behind me.

On arriving home, I carried the shopping up the hall, (failed to spot the strange poo on the floor) put it on the kitchen bench, took the meat out and turned to take it to the fridge when I was saw the thing perched atop my couch.

Now, when I lived on acreage, literally surrounded by bush, I removed snakes (harmless carpet pythons) from mine and neighbours verandahs and, on one occasion, from our office, after a tiny brown tree snake crept into the printer hoping to live there for the winter. No problem. But this thing, that was now propped on my lounge room window- sill like someone waiting to be served at a bar, was my limit. Reptiles are pure muscle and this one was too big and spikey and had too many moving parts for me to be stupid enough to go near it. Snakes don’t have limbs or claws, they just squirm and try to wrap themselves around your arm provided you have a hold of their head.

What to do? I called a reptile remover who said he couldn’t get to me for an hour and a half so suggested I give it a nudge with a broom, assuring me it would likely keep to the wall and could therefore be encouraged out. I considered this, but reasoned it may launch itself in my direction or, worse, end up somewhere else in the house where I couldn’t see it. I ran outside to see if there were any neighbours around who could help and almost trod on the blue-tongue! AHHHHHH!!

I texted my neighbour Gary, and asked if he’d be home any time soon. He called me to say no, but offered me his schnauzer Archie, conceding that Archie would probably kill it. “No thanks Gary,” I replied, picturing the lizard jumping from surface to surface smashing everything in its path, and the dog barking and snapping at it and possibly catching it, at which point I would then have a dead or injured dragon to deal with.

Then I heard the family from next door arrive home. “Do you think you could help me?” I asked like some damsel in distress. “I have a giant water dragon on my couch.”

“Blue-tongue?” he asked.

“No. The blue-tongue is there,” I replied, pointing to where it was lying just inside my gate. “This thing is big and spikey.”

Jimmy, the man of the house, put down what he was carrying and assumed a business-like demeanour. He followed me as I opened the gate, waited for the blue-tongue to slither off behind the bins, then crept up the hall.

“There,” I pointed.

“Oh, no problem,” he said. “I’ll need gloves.”

I fetched my leather gardening gloves and gave them to him. I stood well back as he crept up behind the creature and suddenly grabbed it. It squirmed and thrashed, showing a red underbelly and making an angry squeak.

“Where do you want it?” asked Jimmy, as he wrestled the beast.

“The back yard,” I replied and led him out onto the back deck and down the stairs. But before he could reach the bottom, the fiend turned and bit him (on his gloved hand) so he dropped it, it jumped off the landing, and disappeared into the bush. The kookaburras then started up in a cacophony of warning so I figured they had spotted it.

“You keep leaving your front door open,” was Jimmy’s parting observation.

I am getting a screen door installed.

A Night at the RSL (in Bali)

A couple of weeks ago I found myself transported from Beautiful Brisbane to a Balinese RSL. How did this happen?

There is only so much nasi goreng one can eat before one begins to crave the bland cuisine of the mother country (Australia via Ireland). I had been in Bali for a week and a half and was searching on Trip Advisor for somewhere to have dinner that served meat and three veg, when I discovered a restaurant that appeared to fit the bill. It describes itself as an Irish/Balinese restaurant serving nasi goring but also Steak and Guinness Pies, cabbage, and potato; in short the food of my ancestors the love of which still runs in my veins(sometimes). Said restaurant also promised Irish music. I though it would be great craic! So we directed our “taksi” driver to get us there post haste, “terimah kasih”.

And somewhere during that painfully slow drive must have been when a quantum leap occurred and we wound up in an alternative universe.

The music was Irish in as much as the three Balinese men were playing Van Morrison; so, to be clear, Van Morrison songs sung with a Balinese accent: Brown-Eyed Girl. (I’ll let you imagine that for a minute.) But this was followed by an Elvis number. I’ve checked, and one can draw a spider-web thin line from Ireland to Tennessee. So the Irish music consisted of Van Morrison alternating with Elvis.

As for the food, something possessed me to order rissoles, lured by the magic promise of a “special traditional recipe”. My Significant Other ordered sausages. Both dishes arrived with two ice-cream scoops of mashed potato and unrecognisable vegetable matter that turned out to be cabbage. And on the side? A little jug of Gravox. It made me a tiny bit nostalgic for boarding school.

“When will they draw the meat raffle?” My SO asked.

The waiters were “getting into it”, whooping and attempting to sing along. The old guy with the walking stick was definitely enjoying it; not so much his young female companion who obligingly sipped her dark liquid drink, and strenuously resisted the urge to look at her phone, but still eyed it longingly, clacking her acrylic nails on the table. She managed a wan smile whenever he looked at her encouragingly.

The rest of the crowd looked as though they had been teleported from Twin Towns on the Gold Coast without realising.

“Are you going to get up and do some Irish dancing?” Asked my SO. But truly, the only thing missing was a troop of girls in full Balinese costume sidling in in front of the Paddy Fields Fish Band—for ‘twas what they were called—but instead of fingers curling alluringly and wide eyes moving side to side, jigging up and down, legs whipping around like elastic bands, arms pinned to their sides.

We ate our food, politely declined the offer of dessert, and quietly left, but as we sauntered through the balmy evening and I resisted the urge to swear at every “taksi” that beeped hopefully at us, we happened upon a Massimo’s ice cream shop, the very same that we thought only existed in Noosa Heads, except this one was about four times the size and sold some weird flavours: charcoal yoghurt anyone?

And then I woke up in our lovely four-poster bed, opened the timber shutters, and stepped out onto the balcony overlooking the resort pool. Perhaps it was only a dream.

Then the building began to rattle and continued to rattle for about thirty seconds. When it finally stopped, everyone emerged onto their balconies and stared at each other. Shortly after a sheet of paper appeared under our door.

Time to come home.

I Did But See Her Driving By

Photo by Nathan Mcgregor on Unsplash

Vale The Queen.

She once flew directly over my house in Brisbane. Really. In 2002 I was watching the news, they said The Queen’s plane would shortly touch down in Brisbane, we were directly under a flight path, so I ran out into the back yard, looked up, and there, directly above, was a British Airways plane. I know. Incredible.

I met Princess Anne when I was about four years old. The Royals had humbled themselves to go for a walk down the main street of Coffs Harbour as part of their tour of Australia in 1970. She stopped to ask my sister how she had broken her arm. So touching. HRH wore one of those white, broad-brimmed hats with a ribbon that were fashionable in the ’70s, and my sisters immediately procured one for themselves.

Princess Anne (with The Queen far right) in Coffs Harbour, 1970

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see The Queen during that visit, for some reason I forget, but which was always conveyed in the most disgruntled tones. I mean, who turns out to see Princess Anne?

After The Queen flew directly over my house, I became determined to see her IN THE FLESH! So I dragged my disinterested Significant Other and children, the youngest in a pram, through the crowds at Roma Street Parklands and managed to get to the roadside just in time to see her DRIVE RIGHT PAST ME! And she looked very happy! One would imagine such visits would have become rather tedious after fifty years, but HM genuinely looked like she was very pleased that so many people had risked sunstroke to catch a glimpse of her.

So I’m very pleased to say that I did manage to see Her Majesty once and I am quite sad that she’s gone. She’s been the one absolute constant in my life. RIP.

Wuthering Brisbane

Kate and Kate

If I was planning to commit a crime, last Saturday would have been the perfect opportunity. Witnesses would have told police, “She was wearing a red dress and had long dark hair.” Fortunately, so did hundreds of other people in Brisbane. Did I commit a crime? No one will ever know.

Two friends and I donned our red op-shop and homemade dresses, and bad wigs (aren’t they all?) and joined hundreds of men, women and others at Frew Park, Milton last Saturday afternoon to dance in unison (kind of) to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, not just for a laugh, but to raise money for DV Connect, a service that helps people experiencing family violence. There were fat, thin, tall, short, baby, and child Kate Bushes as well as Kate Bushes in wheelchairs, a Kate Bush version of Captain Jack Sparrow and Kate Bushes drinking wine. To the uninitiated, it looked like some kind of mass migration of red birds. Many children stared and pointed and were hushed up by confused parents as they watched a stream of people in every version of Wuthering Heights attire arrive. Pity the poor people who were out for a quiet afternoon in the park; they had to watch us go through the painstaking process of learning the dance and watch as we had at least three practice goes while listening to the song over and over before the actual “performance”.

I use the word dance loosely; it was more uncoordinated flailing, especially for those of us who no longer possess the lithe, nimble bodies of the youthful Kate Bush. The spinning at the start of the chorus was my greatest challenge as I lost sense of where the front was every time and then got behind as I tried to reorient myself. Then it was how many times to raise and lower your arm, which way to sway, how long to flap your elbows and how to move backwards without tripping over the person behind. At least one person did a hammy.

It was a great lark but for a serious cause. DV Connect is a Queensland service that offers 24 hour help for those experiencing domestic and family violence. Most victims are women, but there are some men. They frequently end up homeless. Of course, the same problems of violence, coercive control and manipulation can occur in same-sex relationships. The men’s line helps perpetrators of violence to seek help to deal with their behaviour. They also have a sexual assault helpline.The service can provide safe housing for those fleeing violence, including pets, and their new service, Victim Connect, helps anyone who has been impacted by violent crime.

The DV Connect website has a banner across the top suggesting people view it in “private” mode, and a “quick exit” button that gets you straight to the Google homepage, which gives you just a tiny taste of what kinds of conditions some people are living in.

Money is just one part of the solution to ultimately end the need for people to flee violent situations; flailing about in a red dress once a year is a small way to help solve a big problem.

To donate go here.

Mentioning the War

Square Dancing at the Riverview Leave Area Brisbane, November 1943 (Wikimedia Commons)

War, war, what is it good for? Making movies, filling airtime on SBS before the weekend news, and museums apparently.

This week I visited the Macarthur Museum in Brisbane. No one in Brisbane has ever heard of it and it’s hidden away like something you can only find if you know someone who’ll give you the secret code word. Fortunately I do know someone. I can tell you (and won’t have to kill you afterwards) that it’s on the top floor of the MacArthur Chambers building on the corner of Edward and Queen streets. The secret to getting in is that you have to knock on the door. I’m not joking. You knock and the doors magically open. You are then directed to the lift, they wave a pass, and you ascend to the top floor.

Douglas MacArthur (Wikimedia Commons)

I don’t know much history and have never really known who Douglas MacArthur was. If a question at our weekly pub trivia was “Who said, ‘I shall return'”? I might have got it right. (It was him). The things I now know about MacArthur was that he was quite good looking when he was young and that he didn’t. Return that is.

If you’re the sort of person who loves war things then you’ll probably love the MacArthur Museum. I’m not into war. I even refuse to watch new movies that are set during any war because there’s enough violence happening in real time without using it for entertainment purposes. Turn on the news every night if you want some war footage. If you like it a bit graphic watch SBS. If you like it really graphic watch the French news; it has to be really bad for them to blur it.

The MacArthur museum is very well laid out and it’s fascinating to see what Brisbane looked like back when there were trams and everyone wore hats. MacArthur’s actual office is set up as it was when he used it. (It was so tempting to sit in his leather swivel chair and pick up the bakelite phone.)There were quirky things like the iron-on patches to reinforce the heels on your stockings, because it would cost too many clothing stamps to buy new ones if they wore through. It was also interesting to see the government controls imposed on everyone, even “youths and girls”, who from age 14 had to register for and carry an official identity card. Travel was restricted because of petrol rationing, the media was heavily censored, and people started growing vegetables to cope with food rationing. Sound familiar? I wonder if there were protests by people waving flags and frothing vitriol about conspiracy theories when they introduced these controls.

My parents were “in” the second world war. My father was a surveyor in the Australian Army and helped build the railway in Lebanon. My mother joined the Women’s Auxiliary Australian Air Force (WAAAF) not so much, she admitted, out of great patriotic feeling, but more to escape her small town and see the world, i.e. more of Queensland. One of her brothers was taken prisoner by the Japanese in Indonesia and subsequently beheaded, leaving behind a wife and three children. So there wasn’t the kind of wistful nostalgia about “the war” in our household that you tend to find in these museums.

There are souvenirs like uniforms and ration books, and pictures of people having a jolly time with the US servicemen, going to see American movies, and doing the jitterbug. There’s a picture of Hollywood star-of-the-day Gary Cooper when he visited Brisbane, with the caption quoting the report of the day saying he was even better looking in real life, and so cool that he was seen “even drinking a cup of coffee”. The people in the photos are almost always smiling as though it was all just a jolly fun adventure.

What I had never heard of was the Battle of Brisbane that occurred in November, 1942. It was not an official war battle but just the Australia servicemen getting fed up with the 80,000 American servicemen landing in Brisbane in their smarter uniforms, taking their women, getting paid a lot more, and not being subject to the same restrictions on food and everything else like the rest of Brisbane because they had their own supplies. Tensions bubbled over into a two-day riot and many soldiers were seriously injured, one Australian soldier fatally.

What they don’t show in these museums and memorials are the mutilated bodies, the mental and emotional scars, or the sheer terror people must have felt in Brisbane hearing Darwin had been bombed. Imagine that now! Imagine if all our phones suddenly pinged telling us a foreign country had just bombed Darwin.

What is the purpose of a war memorial or museum if not to ram home the fact that, like country music, war is awful? Someone I know once asked a group of us to think about the ways in which war had shaped us and our families. I’ve mentioned above how war personally affected my family. How has it affected you?

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Cedar Creek

About forty-five minutes drive north-west of Brisbane is a place where you can get away from it all and immerse yourself not just in nature, but in water so cold it’s easy to imagine it wants you to die. I once spent a whole day at minus thirty in the Canadian Arctic; that air wanted me dead. The water at Cedar Creek is possessed, I’m convinced, by a similar murderous intent, at least in winter. And contrary to what “southerners” will tell you, winter does exist in Brisbane. Don’t let pictures of people basking in the sun wearing T-shirts fool you; that’s just marketing spin. Some days it doesn’t even reach twenty degrees (Celsius).

Unfortunately, Cedar Creek has become so popular as a swimming and picnic spot in summer, you may as well be on a Gold Coast beach. Far from getting away from anything, you will be surrounded by hundreds of people, some of whom think you also want to listen to death metal and be amused by their drunken antics. Unfortunately, this means that on the very type of day you want to go swimming in a cool fresh stream so does everyone else. The only alternative is to go when no one else wants to: in the bitter depths of Brisbane winter.

Last Wednesday, I decided I did need to get away from the hectic hustle and bustle that is Brisvegas, so I drove out to Cedar Creek. Cedar Creek road ends at a gate because the people who live there don’t want a crowd of esky-toting, beat-box wielding thugs driving through and parking on their properties. Go figure. There is a small swimming hole near the gate, where you can sit on the rocks and picnic and have a dip, but for those willing to make the effort, paradise awaits.

You’ll need to follow the creek upstream for about twenty minutes. This is not as easy as it sounds as it involves a lot of strategic hopping from rock to rock, sometimes wading through shallow water and pushing through spiky plants. There are snakes, but they all go to sleep in winter and most of them run away if they hear you coming anyway. You’ll know you’ve arrived because, bruised, scratched, and wondering why you agreed to this Bear Grylls adventure, the creek will suddenly open out into a wide pool, fed by a loud waterfall.

The good thing is, you will have warmed up enough to feel like swimming, which is how I felt last week, so I stripped off and, without giving myself time to think about it, jumped straight in. I don’t think I could have felt more pain if I had dived into a pit of razor blades. Even my hair hurt. To call it a swim is probably not entirely accurate as the whole immersion lasted approximately three seconds.

I once read a list of things that are unAustralian to not do. One of those rules stated that on diving into cold water it was unAustralian to not yell out to those still on dry land, “It’s cold at first but it’s nice once you get in!” In the three seconds I spent in the water I did say this in my head, but on finding it to be a giant lie, swam as fast as I could back to the rocks, climbed out, and grabbed my towel. I had just changed out of my swimmers and into dry clothes when two young men arrived to disturb my solitude. But I didn’t mind, because all I wanted by then was to return to the warmth of civilisation.

Of course you can just go for a winter picnic at Cedar Creek and enjoy the serenity, but I think it’s unAustralian to not go for at least a micro-swim. And you don’t have to lie about it being nice once you’re in because you’ll be out before you can make that judgment. And then you can congratulate yourself, like I did, for being daring and fearless, especially once I was on the couch under my electric rug, because, after all, it only reached twenty-two degrees that day.