Friday, March 22, 2013

Starry, starry night

The landmarks of central Australia feature as iconic images on countless postcards and in numerous travel books. Yet many of the backpackers who visit Australia never make it this far inland. With Tiger airlines now offering budget flights to Alice Springs, this may be set to change.

'But is it worth it?' That's the question I get asked when I mention my trip to the Red Centre of Australia. The next comment is usually 'once you've seen one bit of the outback you've seen it all'. People don't seem to have the same issue with the countless beaches of the East Coast, not that I don't understand the appeal of lazing in the sun and watching the world go by. Yes, the outback is miles and miles of ‘nothing’ but that's exactly what makes it so special.
I'd heard the statistics about the size of Australia: one country almost the same size as the entire USA, Ireland is more or less the same size as Tasmania, and so on. But only by travelling to the outback did I really get a sense of the vastness that is Australia. Whether standing in Kata Tjuta, facing the iconic Uluru or surveying the Breakaways, you can't help but understand how big not only Australia is but the world in general. That experience is only intensified by sleeping under the stars and seeing the sky lit up with such a clarity that is only possible with the complete absence of city lights and modern living. You also realise how little you need to enjoy travelling and maybe life in general - no tents required, just simple swags, and a night topped off by a couple of beers and dinner cooked on an open fire.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Child's Play

In today's tech savvy times it can be easy to forget that most online games and mobile apps take inspiration from the humble board game. These traditional games are now getting big in Brisbane, quite literally.
Video games tend to divide people into two categories - those who love them and those whose inability to play them means they hate them. Finding myself firmly in the latter category, I reminisce for the much simpler era of the board game. We played them because,during Christmas holidays ,or the often equally cold and wet Irish summer, they were sometimes the only thing we had to play. These games like Scrabble and Monopoly have been making a bit of a comeback. First came the app versions and then the seal of approval from hipsters craving the nostalgia and retro feel of a truly 'interactive' game. Like most things, a gimmick can lend momentum to a comeback (just ask Betty White) and there aren't many gimmicks as eye-catching as a chess piece that could look eye to eye with a four year old child. That's just what Brisbanites may come face to face with on Thursday evenings in the city's St. George Square.
Games Night is a monthly event held where people can come to mix and play giant (and normal sized!) board games.
The next date for Games Night is 28th March 2013. For more information visit .

'White Man in a Hole'

The baking heat of the Australia outback can be known to force people indoors but not usually underground... unless you live in Coober Pedy. The majority of locals in this South Australian town reside in underground "dugout" homes - a tradition originating from the opal mining industry for which the town is most famous. The name Coober Pedy originates from the Aboriginal words 'kupa piti' meaning 'white man in a hole'. This subterranean style of living results in constant mild temperatures without the need for air conditioning. But this is just one of the unique features of the town of Coober Pedy.

Stone mad for golf
For the golfer bored with lush greens and sea views Coober Pedy Opal Fields Golf Course boasts a unique experience: a grassless course. The club also has the exclusive privilege of sharing reciprocal playing rights with the Balgove Course in Scotland, which is part of the elite St. Andrew's Link Trust.

Meet the Joeys
Tourists in Australia are bombarded with chances to hold a koala or pat a kangaroo. This usually comes with an entrance fee and expensive photo opportunity but that's not the case in Coober Pedy. At Josephine's Galley and Kangaroo Orphanage Terry and his wife run an art shop and a kangaroo sanctuary in their back garden. Terry is very unassuming and modest about the work they do. However, the reputation of the centre has grown and the couple have been woken on nights with people on their doorstep with injured kangaroos. Terry nurses these animals back to full health with a typically laidback Aussie attitude, smoking his cigarette and chatting happily with tourists as he feeds the baby roos. The really unique point is that admission to these feeding times is free. However, the sanctuary does run on donations and for $20 you can donate a tin of kangaroo feed and be immortalised on their wall of signed tin lids.

Raise your glass
The local graveyard emphasises the uniqueness of the local community, whilst also showcasing the Aussie brand of irreverent humour, including one beer keg headstone with the epitaph 'Have a drink on me'.

Friday, January 25, 2013

All shook up

Summer in Australia is a time for festivals. Not every town, however, is satisfied with a round up of the latest pop stars. Having developed a large and loyal following since its inception in 1993, the Countrylink ParkesElvis Festival continues to celebrate the king of rock’n’roll in a variety of inventive ways.


Before I arrived in the small city of Parkes I pictured a handful of Elvis impersonators crooning and swooning a few middle aged couples. ‘That’ll be a nice chance to see regional Australia’ I thought.

So I made a spur of the moment decision to explore the quiet side of Australia. Next thing I know I’m sitting in the Royal Hotel bar surrounded by a group of Elvii* whose claim to fame is riding to victory in the 2012 parde atop inflatable pink flamingos.

I should have taken the hint of things to come when I got off the bus and saw a middle-aged Elvis, in full Vegas gear, casually filling his car at the service station.
The rest of the weekend would be a blur of sequins, hairspray and swing dancing. On Friday, a young boy strikes his best Elvis pose without the slightest encouragement. Saturday sees Elvii of all shapes, sizes and ages take to the streets for the parade. Sunday morning, more than thirty couples renew their wedding vows under the Love Me Tender arch. By Sunday evening, the Elvii from day one have forsaken their sequins and are now dressed in Priscilla wedding dresses. One of the dresses was purchased on Ebay from a bride who hoped it would bring as much joy to the new owner as it did to her. I doubt she ever could have pictured where this dress would have ended up but it most definitely did bring joy to the people of Parkes.

Elvis was originally considered a bad influence, with his swinging hips and curling lips. In Parkes it's quite the opposite. There is something for everyone at this festival. Whether you're a happily married couple wanting to renew wedding vows, a young child learning to swing dance or a somewhat shocked tourist soaking up the great atmosphere and making a mental note to pack some blue suede shoes for next year.




* Elvii is the plural of Elvis, a surprisingly common word in this part of Australia..