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A Potter's Moll: “How’s The Queen?''

...The flora and fauna are so remarkably different. I was particularly struck by the beautiful purple jacaranda trees and by the extremely tall and ubiquitous gum trees. The expression ‘up a gum tree’ now has more resonance. Gum trees are nicknamed ‘widow-makers’ because they can suddenly drop huge dead limbs...

Liz Robison and her potter husband Jim have just returned from Australia with an indelible impression of a wonderful country.

Do please visit Jim’s Web site
http://www.jimrobison.co.uk/

G'day! We are back from Australia full of happy memories and indelible impressions of a wonderful country. (Full of chest infection as well, but that’s another story.)

As it was partly a business trip, workshops had been arranged for potter husband, Jim, in Townsville and on the Sunshine Coast, north of Brisbane, both in Queensland. Then in Canberra at the Australian National University.

We topped and tailed the trip with a few days holiday: first in Cairns, from where we hired a car and explored the Daintree National Park and tropical rainforest. Then we had a cruise out to the Great Barrier Reef where, in a glass-bottomed boat, we saw some of the amazing coral formations and marine life.

We ended up with a friend who used to live here who now has a small-holding at Woodend, near Melbourne in Victoria. (You have to get used to the adjective ‘Victorian’ not meaning old.) We were in the city the day before the Melbourne Cup and came upon a parade of bands, horses, jockeys, trainers and musicians along one of the main streets. Great fun!

I enjoyed the vibrancy of the language and became aware that there are many Australian accents and that the one I find annoying, with rising intonation at the end of each utterance, is mainly used by the young. Everything is abbreviated if possible. Eskie (ice-box), brekkie (breakfast), pokies (one-armed bandits), ute (utility vehicle or pick up truck).

I had a day trip to Magnetic Island off the coast of Townsville, (where I saw a sign outside a pub saying: ‘Toad racing Tuesday nights’) Captain Cook named the island because the ship’s compass was playing up as they sailed past. The next day someone asked me: ‘How was your trip to Maggie I?’ When I asked someone where he was originally from, he replied: ‘Tassie.’

You have to smile on being told in a shop: ‘Have a nice arvo’, and we have been chortling ever since at the nickname for the colourful micro swimming trunks that lifeguards wear – they are known as ‘budgie-smugglers’.

The flora and fauna are so remarkably different. I was particularly struck by the beautiful purple jacaranda trees and by the extremely tall and ubiquitous gum trees. The expression ‘up a gum tree’ now has more resonance. Gum trees are nicknamed ‘widow-makers’ because they can suddenly drop huge dead limbs.

The plethora of exotic birds was stunning, from the threatened cassowary to the eclectus parrots (male: green, female: red). that we saw in the rainforest area. The cassowary is a huge emu-like flightless bird with razor sharp claws and two long red wattles at its neck and an extraordinary big bony crest on its head, which it uses to butt a way through undergrowth. Apparently it can run at speeds of up to 50 miles an hour.

Other birds seen in abundance were sulphur-crested cockatoos, butcher birds, and kookaburras, the largest kingfisher in the world. Two birds, the drongo and the galah (the emphasis is on the last syllable), have given their names to terms for slightly stupid people, ‘galah’ being slightly less derogatory than ‘drongo’.

In Victoria we visited fascinating gold rush towns – Castlemaine, Daylesford and Bendigo. The latter had a large Chinese settlement during the gold rush of the 1850s who, despite being discriminated against managed to retain a community in the town which still proudly leads the annual Easter parade with its huge dragon.

Driving in country areas reinforces the vastness of Australia. We stayed with someone who lives an hours drive from Canberra and the last seventeen kilometres were on dirt roads. You realised how likely fires are when you see the dry conditions with so many trees and brush under them. There had been terrible fires near Woodend last year.

Also driving on country roads it was interesting to see how many people have improvised a mail box at the end of their (sometimes very long) drives. We saw a milk churn and an oil drum on their sides, an old dolls house, a kennel and best of all, an old microwave nailed to a post.

We were royally entertained by many kind people and one memory particularly lingers. We were seated at a dinner during a Clay festival, next to a local councillor who had helped to secure some funding to being Jim to the festival. During a lull in the conversation she turned to me, put her hand on my arm and said: ‘How’s the Queen?’

More from me in a fortnight.


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