A life on the ocean wave

  We’ve been cruising the Aegean. But first, a quick tour of the sights and sounds of Athens. Stop us if you’ve heard it all before.

As night fell, we espied the Parthenon from our hotel window. BA having mislaid Tere’s suitcase, mind you, she was in no fit state to enjoy it. (Fortunately it turned up on day 2).

The temple of Zeus, just sitting there in the heart of the city.

The changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier, next door to the Ministry of Silly Walks.

The temple of Poseidon on Cape Sounian. Evocative ain’t the word.

Our first port of call, off the east coast of the Peloponnese, was the picturesque island of Monemvasia, settled in the 8th century by Greeks fleeing a Slav invasion.

Next came Santorini, now entirely populated by Koreans and Chinese doing fashion shoots.

Here a wine tasting also brought us face to face with local wildlife.

Everywhere the churches were iconic (sorry).

Here beneath the silver clouds is our cruise ship, the Silver Cloud.

In the Turkish coastal town of Marmoris, we met up with Tere’s cousin Siobhán and her partner Kenan for a traditional lunch of kebab and chips.

Probably our most spectacular excursion was to the ancient Anatolian city of Ephesus, dating from the 10th century BCE. The Romans built the library of Celsus at the start of the 2nd century AD.

A signpost to the local house of pleasure. Words superfluous.

This excursion also took in the final resting places of the Virgin Mary and John the Baptist, who emigrated to these parts together after the death of Christ. Allegedly. The museum nearby houses the bust of Commodus, aka Joaquín Phoenix in Gladiator.

No tourist in Turkey can avoid the statutory carpet factory visit, complete with pizza-style rug spin. We felt sorry for them, with sales having plummeted disastrously this past year for obvious reasons. But not sorry enough to buy one, though we were tempted.

Mykonos was lovely, albeit rather blowy the day we called in.

The Turkish city of Çanakkale on the southern shore of the Dardanelles is convenient for a visit to the Gallipoli WWI battlefield, but we chose a trip to ancient Troy. This proved a bit of a disappointment. Achilles and co didn’t leave much behind for tourists. So the highlight of the day proved to be Brad Pitt’s Trojan horse, donated to the city by the movie producers after filming (in Malta and Morocco, mark you).

Last stop the Greek island of Lemnos, very untouristy and all the better for it. Now home to the miserable drizzle of May Day in England!

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The party’s over

We arrived in Melbourne under sunny azure skies, a delightful antidote to the Tasmanian chill.

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Truly an idyllic scene under the Yarra pedestrian bridge as the Friday afternoon sun slowly began to set.

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This is a city on a much larger scale than Sydney or Brisbane. The centre seems to have been totally redeveloped since the turn of the century, with a range of — ahem — challenging architecture.

imageWe wondered about tumbling property prices (geddit?).

imageFed Square is the Marmite (or rather Vegemite) of this trend. Love it or… well, decide for yourselves.

imageTraditional areas remain, like the much-loved Queen Vic market. (Does anyone call it that? They do now.)

imageThese fine old terraced houses lie around the original university campus.

imageChinatown dates from the 1854 gold rush, when ambitious Chinese came to seek their fortune. It led to riots and, ultimately, the notorious White Australia policy.

imageBut the only building we’d ever heard of was the mighty Melbourne Cricket Ground, for some reason known here as the Imm Say Jay. Unless we’re very much mistaken, that’s Dennis Lillee putting the fear of God into England batsmen.

imageThe weather changed dramatically on our second day. Rain cascaded down, the temperature dropped and the wind got up, with surprising results. It proved to be an omen.

imageWe took a trip out to the Great Ocean Road to see the Twelve Apostles, limestone stacks millions of years old. Actually there were only ever nine of them, and one collapsed a decade ago. So here are most of them…

image… and these are the others.

imageWe finally encountered roos in the wild, if you can call a golf course wild. Yes, that one is wearing a blue tag.

imageKoalas too, up a gum tree as ever.

imageNearby were crimson rosellas…

image… and king parrots, perched on our van hoping for sustenance.

imageThis one photobombed our intimate koala portrait.

imageTere duly fed them birdseed. Note the crutches, bought in Hobart where her “good” knee seized up.

Sad to say, it got worse. Here we now sit in a Melbourne hospital where she has just undergone an arthroscopy. Our trip ends here, and we’ll be home when the medics say it’s safe for her to travel. It was fun while it lasted! G’day to you all.

Hobart des artistes

If we have apprehended Antipodean geography correctly (and it’s never been our strong suit), Tasmania is the closest Australia gets to New Zealand. The climate certainly reminded us of South Island and, after the warmth of Sydney, we were glad we brought our winter woollies.

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Hobart today has two claims to fame as far as tourism is concerned. One is its history of seafaring explorers. As with Kiwi-land, it seems the French were actually the first Europeans to arrive but got elbowed aside by the Brits.

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The other is as a contemporary artistic hub. We stayed in a converted jam factory called the Art Hotel, its jam-packed walls now a preserve for the fruits of Australian talent, spread thickly across the… (cont. p.94).

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Occasionally the two combine, as here in Salamanca Square.

imageAs rain clouds rolled across Mount Wellington, we briefly feared we might have got caught up in an open-air performance of the Rocky Horror Show.

imageBut soon the sun was again shining on Tasmania’s Government House, regarded as one of the best Vice-Regal residences in the Commonwealth.

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But these days the jewel in Hobart’s crown is MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art, hewn out of the sandstone of the Berriedale peninsula. It opened in 2011 to house the private collection of professional gambler David Walsh, who likes to describe it as a “subversive adult Disneyland”. Get the picture? He certainly did. (Photo by MONA.)

imageIn another downpour, we searched desperately for a way in. Not big on signage here.

imageFittingly, the first work we came across featured water cascading down the sandstone wall to spell out random words. Here, also fittingly, it’s Rockstar.

imageIt was dark in here. Maybe because this is a land of often searing sunshine, Aussies seem to like interiors, notably restaurants, where you stumble around, barely able to see your hand in front of your face, much less read a menu. (As a pro on one of the innumerable home improvement TV shows here remarked the other night while enthusing about somebody’s hideously gloomy new kitchen, “Black is the new white!” At least it’s an improvement on the old White Australia policy…)

Meanwhile, MONA’s order of the day seemed to be juxtaposition. Contemporary stuff alongside ancient artefacts…

imageA European artist’s Fat Car…

image… and nearby, one of those quirky Ghanaian coffins in the shape of a car.

imageHere, a ghostly photo of William Wordsworth’s death mask (top right) gazes down on an Egyptian sarcophagus.

imageThe attempt to juxtapose at all costs can seem quite desperate, to the detriment of the art and the viewer’s appreciation of it. These wall hangings from Mali and Nigeria stand on their own merits, unlike some of the western “art wank” (MONA’s own description) on show. The pieces called Cloaca and Cnuts (our deliberate misspelling) in particular spring to mind — fair descriptions of those who selected them for exhibition, perhaps.

imageAnd to these eyes, this massive Snake by Sidney Nolan, Australia’s best-known 20th-century artist, only seemed to emphasize the massive elephant in the room (or rather, not in any of the rooms): the total absence of any indigenous Australian art.

This is Brian Pseud handing you back to GautreysGoGlobal — oh, wait… they’ve nicked off to Melbourne!

On the waterfront

Sydney. Its Opera House. Its Harbour Bridge. Its blue waters.

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These are they.

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Many keen beans are prepared to spend a fortune (up to $A373) and have their cameras and other possessions confiscated just to walk across the top of the bridge. Did we? What do you think?

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A fine view of the skyline can be had from Watson’s Bay, a ferry ride away. Useful tourist tip: make sure the ticket machine is working, or you will end up buying a $A10 Opal card that’s good for nine years. Did we? What do you think?

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Beaut Bondi beach. Balmy.

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Argyle Cut provides a grim reminder of Sydney’s colonial origins. Convicts had to cut through the solid rock by hand to create the passage in the mid-19th century. It took 16 years.

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We took a day trip out to the Blue Mountains, so-called because from a distance the refraction of the light makes them look that colour. Note the Three Sisters top left.

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We finally got to see a cassowarry…

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…a wombat…

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…an echidna, or spiny anteater, the only living egg-laying mammal…

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…a quokka, another marsupial…

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…and a baby roo in the pouch.

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These cherry blossom were aflower in Leura, a delightful mountain village. Dozens of Asian tourists were after the same shot. Sakura!

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After 33 years, we were finally reunited with Diane and Barry, Mike’s colleagues from Tokyo days. Next reunion: 2049.

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And we met up with Elena and Ron, friends we first encountered in Vietnam three years ago.

Next up: Hobart!

Rock around the clock

That sums up our time at the Ayers Rock resort, built around the two iconic rock formations of Uluru and Kata Tjuta in the arid Red Centre of Australia’s Northern Territory.

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We first saw Uluru from the sky, already getting an idea of its looming singularity amid the barren desert landscape.

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We watched the sun rise behind it next morning, creating a mystical glow.

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We were surprised to find Ned Kelly there too, thankfully armed with nothing more potent than a Panasonic Lumix…

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… useful for snapping the noontime moon above the rock as a Qantas A380 flew over.

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We were led into the nooks and crannies of the iconic monolith, a sacred location for the Pitjantjatjara Anangu, the Aboriginal people of the area. The photo shows the spot where food is prepared, the ancient sandstone worn smooth from centuries of grinding seeds to make flour.

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The painting is probably a map of local waterholes.

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This huge natural feature on the rock wall, an apparent cross-section of a human head, features in one of the many Anangu creation myths.

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A goanna lizard popped out of the bush to check us out, then vanished just as fast.

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We enjoyed a gourmet sunset dinner, accompanied by a didgeridoo player who assured us that despite appearances, he is indeed an Aborigine.

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Kata Tjuta, which lies 35km across the desert bush terrain from Uluru, is quite unlike it in appearance. Though both are millions of years old, their geological formation processes were quite different. (If you want more than that, Google is the chap to ask.)

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Mike struck out to explore Kata Tjuta’s hidden mysteries.

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It was cause for reflection.

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As the sun set, gorgeous colours appeared behind Kata Tjuta.

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British artist Bruce Munro’s massive Field of Light installation was, we fear, no match for that natural beauty. Sorry, Bruce.

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As we flew away from this magical place, we saw the huge salt lakes spread out below, reminders that 500 million years ago, this arid place was a vast inland sea.

Sydney here we come!

Nem con

Now back in Queensland, the intrepid GautreysGoGlobal team plunged into the rainforest to bring our readers more of the vicarious thrills they crave.

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Just time for a quick snap at Walu Wugirriga, meaning “look about”, across the bay from Cape Tribulation. (Some mightily godfearing folk were in charge of place names back in the day…)

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Here in the forest, strangler fig vines grab hold of unsuspecting trees and slowly throttle them to death.

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The cycad is a bit of a slow learner. It grows about 1cm a year. On the plus side, it’s been known to live for a thousand years or more, according to our trusty guide, Frank. He is a naturalized Aussie, originally from Switzerland, who’s been around these parts almost as long as the cycad. Schwyzerdütsch and Strine together make for one weird accent, believe us, and he seemed most put out that we had seen (or rather heard) through his linguistic disguise.

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There must be a reason they’re showing us boring old trees, we hear you mutter, and you’re right. Other forms of wildlife were hard to discern. This friendly fellow is a skink lizard.

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We took to the Daintree river in search of bigger game, again without much luck. Seventeen species of bird live in the Australian rainforest, but we can offer only a solitary nightjar.

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This was the nearest we got to the crocs that allegedly abound in these waters.

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We did get to feed some cute wallabies, though, at a sanctuary-cum-café.

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Next day dawned bright and clear — perfect for taking a catamaran out to the Great Barrier Reef. This is the pontoon on Agincourt reef where we spent a delightful arvo.

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All you pub quiz habitués don’t need us to tell you that coral is neither vegetable nor mineral, but animal. Its closest relly is the jelly, known as a stinger in these parts.

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Myriad shoals of fish live in synergy with the coral. We did spot some gorgeous clownfish, now travestied under the sobriquet Nemo, but they proved elusive for our camera person. We did, however, learn that Nemo is a fully paid-up member of the piscine LGBTQ community, regularly transitioning between genders. That’s something Disney omitted to tell us.

imageSome tourists frittered the time away scuba diving or snorkelling. We preferred to optimize our visit amassing fishy facts.

imageFor example, the waste that fish excrete after eating coral (see photo) makes up 30% of the sand on the ocean floor.

imageThen it was feeding time, for us and the fish. Here Gus the GT ( giant trevally) shoves aside dozens of red bass to get his snout in the trough.

imageBy far the best view of the reef is from above. We duly took to the skies in a chopper.

imageThen it was back to our beach hotel in Port Douglas, where the trees resound with the cries of swooping parrots.

Now for the Rock.

Closer to Bali than Bondi

That’s Darwin, in the words of the Lonely Planet guide. Its climate is tropical. This is the dry season, and during our visit the temperature reached a sticky 35.

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Discounting (as most everybody seems to) the tens of millennia of Aboriginal presence, Darwin’s history is brief. Browns Mart Theatre was built as a mining exchange in the 1880s.

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Cullen Bay is Darwin’s most desirable residential district.

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Darwin faces the Timor sea, adjoining the Indian ocean. Seafood restaurants abound, including the prizewinning chippy Frying Nemo.

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Ironically, the original cathedral built in 1902 was devastated by Cyclone Tracy on Christmas Eve 1974. The surviving part was incorporated into the award-winning new design.

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One of four remaining 1930s government-built homes that set the architectural style for post-WWII Darwin. The city was attacked in 1942 by the same Japanese squadron that destroyed Pearl Harbor.

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The banyan is revered by Buddhists as the tree of knowledge. This one has been a landmark throughout Darwin’s history. In front is the HMS Beagle Ship Bell Chime sculpture, linking the city to Charles Darwin’s voyage in the 1830s.

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Prizewinners in an indigenous art competition on display outside the Museum and Art Gallery.

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Wallabies roam the outskirts of Darwin, according to the signs warning motorists. These are the only ones we came across.

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The cage of death at Crocosaurus Cove offers tourists the chance to get up close and personal. Sadly for us, it was fully booked up for the day.

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These babies frolicked menacingly for our benefit.

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For some reason, Tere identified with this solemn toad.

On to Port Douglas!

Physical graffiti

Alice Springs and Darwin both lie in Australia’s Northern Territory state, separated by 1500km of bushland. We chose to make the arduous journey on foot. Well, sort of, if you count staggering along a train corridor between our luxury cabin and the gourmet restaurant seven carriages away. And believe us, sleeping on two-berth couchettes (“twinnettes” in local parlance) is no picnic at the best of times. Rest assured that we lived to tell the tale.

On day two, the train stopped at a one-horse town called Katherine so we could visit the Nitmiluk national park and sail down a stretch of the Katherine river to one of its 13 magnificent sandstone gorges.

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imageThe views need no words from us.

imageBoth predatory saltwater crocodiles and their less scary river cousins lurk in these waters. The former are lured into these traps along the banks by the promise of easy meat, then released into a sanctuary.

We disembarked to examine prehistoric paintings executed on the sandstone walls.

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imageThese are anything between 10,000 and 40,000 years old. The handprints in the third photo are supposedly the oldest. (If you’re reading this on your phone at the bus stop, by the way, you’ll just have to trust us that this is what you’re looking at.)

Hang on, we’re just pulling into Darwin now. Laters!

A town like Alice

It’s not all sunshine in Australia. There IS weather. Devastating floods in South Australia right now, in fact. But even in the north, where we are, our travel was disrupted. Our flight from Brisbane to Alice Springs was delayed, then had to divert to Mount Isa to refuel (the plane battling the strong winds and storms used up too much) before finally touching down next to the Flying Doctors base.

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Alice Springs is the iconic pioneer town in the Red Centre. The scenery around it is spectacular, although we had no time to head off into the Bush to really see it in daylight.

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But we were lucky enough to catch the last night of Parrtjima: A Festival in Light, the first authentic indigenous event to feature a light show installation.

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This illuminated part of the MacDonnell (no, not him) Ranges which surround the town, recreating original paintings in light with audio of the artists explaining their significance. It was magnificent, and it seemed entirely fitting that the local kids should turn it into a floodlit playground.

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Indeed, schoolchildren had illustrated three giant caterpillars in interpretation of the local indigenous Arrernte community’s dreamtime story about the creation of Alice Springs.

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Illuminated “skirts” featured watercolours by five local artists on a butterfly theme.

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In town, there wasn’t a lot to see, except the archetypal Anzac monument and the Flying Doctor museum, plus another housed in the former prison and dedicated to the women pioneers who helped build the town. No macho jokes please. If it wasn’t for us women…

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imageTalking of beautiful birds…

imageMeanwhile, the reality of modern Australian life for its indigenous peoples was very sadly evident as groups shuffled along to the Bottle Shop or sat in the shade of colonial statues.

imageAnd so we head northwards to Darwin overnight on The Ghan — a train almost a full kilometre in length.

From camel milk to coconut water

After Dubai’s unbearable 38 degrees, a very pleasant 26. Here we are in Brizzie (as the locals call Brisbane). An abundance of colour…

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… along this bougainvillea walk on the south bank of the River Brisbane with three generations of Huckles (our oldest and youngest friends).

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We espied this Waratah tree at the Botanic Gardens and were able to identify it as a member of the Protaceae family, the proteas being the national flower of South Africa, where we were exactly one year ago. Who said our trips are not educational?

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Locals say the Brizzie skyline changes every year with so much construction — testament to its growing importance commercially and for tourism. And a far cry from the days when the shackled feet of convicts marching up and down created the first main street of Brisbane.

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Tourists are indeed well catered for.

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And in among the new buildings there are reminders of the colonial past, such as the eternal flame to commemorate the Anzacs.

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Australia is of course world-renowned for its abundance of wildlife. The ibis, together with the brush turkey, now seems to have colonized the city. Not everyone is as happy about it as this underdressed resident.

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We took a jolly cruise up the meandering Brisbane river to the Lone Pine koala sanctuary and discovered these two showing off more than their prowess with a eucalyptus leaf. This apparent passivity was belied by their disconcertingly loud bellows.

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Sanctuary is provided to more than just koalas here. We think these two are wallabies. No doubt we will learn in due course how to tell them apart from their better-known cousins.

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Our first sighting of everyone’s favourite marsupial, the duck-billed platypus! Hopefully not the last.

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Long before the arrival of Matthew Flinders and the establishment of a penal settlement here, locals would go up Mount Coot-tha — which now affords a panoramic view of the city — in search of the honey (ku-ta) of these tiny stingless bees living in the eucalytus trees. This one is now to be found at the bush reserve nearby.

Now we’re off to a town like Alice, after being bounced out of bed at dawn by our phone alarms going off one hour early. Both devices had smartly taken account of the clocks going forward last night — except that daylight saving time doesn’t apply in Brisbane. Always carry an old-fashioned wristwatch, folks!