How You Going?

G’day, mate!
How you going?
Sweet as!

Corroboree has been in Brisbane for three weeks now, and as you can see, Eric and I are trying to learn a bit of the Australian language. What? You mean they don’t speak English? No, not exactly. So before I tell you about Brisbane itself, here a few linguistic tips should you travel this way:

G’day, mate! Though we do hear g’day and Eric has been addressed as mate, we have yet to be greeted with this quintessential Aussie expression in full. I think Paul Hogan, aka Crocodile Dundee, made it up. You can say g’day even at night.

How you going? is not an inquiry into what form of transportation you use. It’s the equivalent of How are you? and does not need to be prefaced with a hello or g’day.

Sweet as means good. You can also add as to the end of a sentence for emphasis: Today is hot as.

Paul Hogan did not make up barbie for barbeque. Aussies strive to shorten words whenever possible, and the ie format is popular. Breakfast is brekkie, a mosquito is a mozzie, and when you chuck a sickie (call in sick) and sneak off in your tinnie (small boat) be sure to take your sunnies (sunglasses). In a similar vein, university is uni, Brisbane is Brizzy, and should you make a mistake, no worries.

Lopping off the end of a word and replacing it with the letter o is also encouraged. Isn’t it easier to say arvo, servo and bottle-o than afternoon, service station and bottle shop/liquor store? Likewise, you are welcome to truncate ing endings and replace the letter r with ah. Watching, for example, becomes wat-chn, and nevah say never again.

Finally, under no circumstances should you root for a team, and when asking a passerby for directions make that Rout 66, not Root 66. Root is Australian for sexual intercourse, and they will laugh themselves silly at you, you flaming galah (gah-LA). I’m dying to hear an Aussie employ that expression, though not in reference to me. A galah is a pink-and-gray parrot, and you are an idiot.

That it’s not the King’s English is hardly surprising. Australia was founded in 1788 as a penal colony, peopled by convicts from all over England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Some spoke no English at all, others had strong accents, and they proceeded to forge their own still-evolving language. Which leads to the second thing you need to wrap your mind around in Australia—that in terms of European settlement, this is a very young country. The oldest building anywhere is believed to be a 1793 farmhouse near Sydney, while in Brisbane the honors go to an 1828 windmill and the 1829 Commissariat Store. Both were convict-built.

The Old Windmill, 1828
Commissariat Store, 1829. An enormous new casino complex is being erected next door.

At the same time, Australia has grown up very fast. Some might say too fast. The greater Brisbane area has a population of 2.5 million (10% of Australia’s total population of 25 million), and downtown Brisbane is a skyscraper city, with cranes visible in every direction building up, up, up. The overall vibe is new and shiny and the modern architecture is attractive in its way. Yet we’ve heard laments that historic structures have been lost in the rush to development. When you do happen upon one of the valiant survivors preserved on a tiny scrap of land it creates a sense of historic whiplash.

Albert Street Uniting Church, 1889
Now find the church
Formerly a theatre, this elegant space is now the Brisbane Visitor Information Centre

Downtown Brisbane is clean and eminently walkable. Eric and I have made excursions into the city by train on a Sunday and on weekdays, and both times we found the streets busy but uncrowded and the atmosphere relaxed. Along with the riverfront esplanade, the free City Hopper river ferry is a great way to take in the views. Brisbane also boasts an array of intriguing museums, most of them free, and there is no end of trendy stores, coffee shops and restaurants. For greenery, you can stroll through the City Botanic Gardens and Roma Street Parkland. The botanic gardens originated in 1825 when the area was planted with food crops by convicts.

The free City Hopper ferry
Banyan fig tree, City Botanic Gardens
Roma Street Parkland

Outside Brisbane, many of the suburbs have their own small-town feel and a main street lined with antique stores and artisans’ shops. Corroboree is berthed at a marina in one such suburb, Manly, southeast of Brisbane. Manly calls itself a “village,” and the term is apt: a low-key business area consisting of a few blocks of shops, a weekly craft/farmer’s market, and a monthly family movie night in the waterfront park. The houses are set close together, and while some are large and modern and others smaller and older, no two are alike. Especially pretty are the “old Queenslander” wood houses, charming dwellings built on stilts, with wraparound verandas, painted in fresh colors, and decorated with latticework. The stilts allow air to pass underneath and keep the house cool. Many new constructions adopt elements of the old Queenslander style.

Downtown Manly
A modern “old Queenslander” house

What’s big about Manly is the harbor. It contains four marinas cheek-by-jowl with total dockage for over 1,000 boats. Most of them are local and on the small side like us. We have, as usual, a few boat projects to address—install a new autopilot and engine exhaust elbow, replace the water filters, order some spare parts—but nothing serious. Our main objective is to get our feet on the ground in Australia and start exploring. In this we are being assisted by many new Aussie friends. Their hospitality, including the loan of a car, knows no bounds.

Manly Harbour

What’s not to like about Australia so far? Well, we certainly can’t complain (whinge) about the weather in Brisbane, at least at this time of year. This is winter, and while we’ve had a few shivery mornings, the temperature can reach the eighties in the arvo. Sunlight and cloudless bright blue skies prevail, with the area north of Brisbane earning the title of Sunshine Coast. Summer weather may be less enjoyable. Brisbanites (Brizzies?) tell us with regret and concern that temperatures are often in the nineties and the air humid, and the summers are lasting longer and getting hotter every year. The people we met last month in Cairns (Cans–drop that r!), a thousand miles closer to the equator, say it’s worse there. Global warming is taken seriously here.

Brekkie on a chilly morning. When you are warmly dressed, you are “rugged up.”

We can whinge about the highway interchanges. Even with GPS, it’s like trying to navigate a tangle of spaghetti, and we have had to double back and crisscross many a time. The fact that more lanes and interchanges are under construction doesn’t help.

The main drawback to Australia, however, is that it’s expensive. Dining out packs a wallop; a burger with fries generally runs $16-20 ($11-14 US). One reason, we’re told, is that Australia has the highest minimum wage in the world at $19.49 per hour ($13.60 US). Then again, tipping the server is neither expected nor required. There are also lower-cost, fast-food options, including McDonalds, KFC, Subway and Pizza Hut, and at the bottle-o you can take your pick of decent wines for $10 ($7 US). Interestingly, we’ve found grocery store prices to be on a par with the United States, though they also employ many workers.

Housing prices vary greatly by city but are again high overall. In this case, it’s not just the labor and construction costs, but supply and demand, a trend toward larger dwellings, and the fact that most of the population lives in urban areas along the coast. In manufacturing, the high cost of doing business has sent jobs overseas. Within the last few years, the few remaining automobile assembly plants have pulled out of Australia; not a single new car is now manufactured here. It’s cheaper to import Japanese vehicles.

Despite their homeland being one of the most expensive countries in the world, the Australians we’ve met live well and are happy with their social services and medical care. They expect to retire comfortably at age sixty and enjoy four weeks of paid annual vacation meanwhile. They are vocally unhappy about those who abuse the system and don’t work at all. If this invites comparisons with America, please understand that I am reporting, not judging one way or the other. I’m learning, trying to formulate a better understanding of what works and why, and being able to travel as we do is an excellent school.

Our next step is to acquire a van or camper as we did in New Zealand and hit the road. Because the last point to make about Australia is that this country is huge. At its widest, a drive across Australia from east to west is the equivalent of North Carolina to San Francisco. North to south, make that Quebec City to Key West. Even with a year here, it will be tough reaching all the places we’d like to see: Sydney, Tasmania, the outback, the Great Barrier Reef.

How you going?