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     Volume 4 Issue 22 | November 26, 2004 |

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When Brisbane Beckons

Fayza Haq

I had come to Brisbane to escape the cement jungles of Dhaka where things like fresh grass or the new moon are hard to see. Sitting in the garden of my friend's house at Gordon Park, my eyes were soothed by the sight of sculpted pine trees with dripping rain drops like tiny falling stars hanging on to the Christmas tree branches. Side by side were the swaying palms and mango trees. Even coconut palms could be spotted in this land where koala bears and lyre birds were once roasted by European explorers for breakfast. Here the oleander bushes vied in beauty with the gold and white blossom bearing frangipani ones. Wild birds and dark, enormous butterflies flitted over the gilded Easter lilies, hibiscus and jasmine plants.

Here in Brisbane in the spring, it was pleasant and it rained lightly in the evenings. Golden cascading clouds scudded over the china blue sky. Soft breeze entered the netted rooms as the TV piped in cricket news. What better way to know Brisbane, which I had last visited over 15 years back! My memories of the place are mingled with the printed words of "Thornbirds" and other Australian novels like "All Rivers Run". There is something romantic and restful about a new country like Australia.

The paved roads were clean and drizzle washed. The houses were either on slight cliffs or on feat land, surrounded with nature like some paintings by the French artists Cezanne or Manet. Only a few of them had partial sections that were double storied. The rest had fluted red bricks for roofs or were neatly covered with painted corrugated sheets. Large blocks of beige and grey stones formed a part of the architecture of this sleepy suburb. Comfy cane chairs and potted plants were seen in the numerous verandahs. Gables and shuttered windows along with painted glass portion walls decorated many of the homes.

Even the shops and offices were neat, unimposing, homely and inviting. The women serving here didn't seem to be in a great hurry as they are in Dhaka. They didn't even mind if you didn't have the correct change while purchasing at stores -- not that I was a great shopper on my brief sojourn.

There were Chinese, Indian, Thai, Turkish and Lebanese eating places. But the food I mostly had, apart from afternoon sandwiches, were "egghoppers" and brain cutlets along with many assorted meat and fish curries done in the Sri Lankan way. This is because my host, Norman De la Harpe, is a Burger from Colombo. The Burgers, incidentally, are Dutch settlers who migrated to Australia, mainly Melbourne, Sydney, Parth, Adelaide and Brisbane after Sri Lanka got its independence. The range of food was endless -- homemade pickles, chutneys and liquors, that tasted of almond and orange. Occasionally we had roast chicken, potted pies, custards and other Aussie food, to set off the exotic oriental dishes from Serendip.

In this sleepy township there was no sign of the snakes, crocodiles or spiders with which we associate Australia, films like Crocodile Dundee perpetuated this idea. The comfort and cosy living I enjoyed was a far cry from the hardship of 18th and 19th century outback existence that one has read of so often in books. There were no over - crowded sheep shearing farms, or ancient jungles in the vicinity. Eating samosas and drinking tequila listening to old time favourites on the drawing -- room piano, I was full of contentment and comfort. It was an Arcadia of its own where nothing could ruffle you. It was steaming hot in nearby Rockhampton and Townsville, but with the air-conditioner on, when necessary, the fortnight at Brisbane was pure joy. "Why didn't you go to the Gold Coast or see the busy cosmopolitan life", people asked me. But for a break for a metropolis dweller, nothing beat Brisbane, with its picnic spots, overhanging rocks, and its assortment of flora.

Did I shop? Being on a tight budget I did more of leisurely window shopping than anything else. I didn't go beyond getting a few irresistible souvenirs in the form of key chains in the shape of tiny kangaroos and koalas. Friends in Dhaka had asked me for even opals and diamonds -- but my journalist's salary didn't quite cover their astronomical prices. With my small knapsack of goodies I was ready to head home.


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