When I first came to Queensland in the early 1980s, it was lovely, but definitely a bit rough around the edges – cheap sparkling wine was labelled ‘Champagne’ and meat was marinaded with a quick slosh of Castlemaine XXXX as it was plonked on the barbie. My how things have changed! Now there are multiple wineshops offering single vineyard wines from all over the world, and even the smallest town has a gourmet restaurant offering a tasting menu.
And the beaches are still wonderful, but definitely more sophisticated. The Cool Cabana – like an enormous umbrella weighted down by sand-filled tentacles – has taken the region by storm and every beach-going family now owns one for some essential shade. I was thinking of importing one to the UK, but then I came to my senses and realised that what we need on a British beach isn’t a sun shade but a wind break, and there are already plenty of those available at every seaside resort.
I’m sure I remember learning about beaches in my geography lessons at school, and we were taught that there is a regular progression of beach types as you move up the coastline. So stone beaches give way to shingle beaches and then shingle beaches give way to sand, and then back to shingle and back to stones. But I think that must only apply to British beaches, as I’ve never found a beach in Australia that was anything other than the finest golden sand … how unfair!
I was glad to see that some things haven’t changed, and there are still the lifeguards in their distinctive red and yellow on every beach, and the Surf Club in prime position overlooking the water. And there are plenty of would-be surfers having lessons. Last summer I saw the surf school students in Cornwall shivering in their wetsuits as they learnt to ride the waves, and I felt really sorry for them. But now I realise that although the British surfers may get chilly, at least they’re not at risk of being eaten by a shark in Padstow.
Brisbane has changed too. When I first visited, it was a colonial city, very much looking to England as the mother ship. Now it’s an international city full of bright lights, challenging art exhibitions and hipsters with baffling dietary requirements
But one thing definitely hasn’t changed: the school uniforms. And they look as though they haven’t changed for at least sixty years. I noticed that the students even have to wear regulation school shoes – at my fairly strict school they abandoned the rule about regulation shoes in the 1970s, because so many girls rebelled against them. But I was impressed at the way the students here wore the uniform – no shirts hanging out as a defiant gesture, or skirts rolled up to customise their look. Australian schools obviously produce much more compliant students than English schools. I wonder what the secret of their success is?