Aug. 24th, 2010

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Canberra is cold in winter. I know, I've got friends who chuckle at the thought. The rivers don't freeze, the snow melts when it hits the ground, snowploughs aren't parked in squadrons at the council workshop etc.

But for Australia, it's cold.

And that makes the annual trip up to Rockhampton a pleasure in its own right. Sooooo good to wear light clothing and to feel the heat of the sun. Mind you, in summer it's a different matter, and the humidity, let alone the heat, lays waste to we southerners.

Still, I regard Queensland as paradise in winter. Kerri's parents on the Gold Coast, and mine in Rocky, just north of the Tropic of Capricorn, and the living is easy.

Kerri came up with me for my high school reunion last month, and we staid with her father in Southport, so she declined to take three or four days off work for the Rockhampton trip. And when the kids discovered that I wouldn't pay for their airfares, they decided the money was better spent on their joint mortgage. Besides, they are also saving for the April trip, and I'm going to have to count my careful pennies too. So it was just me this time.

Darling Daughter took me to the airport and she hit a wrong turn and we had to go round and round before finding the carpark. Canberra Airport is about 110% temporary roadworks full of potholes and bollards and crash barriers in red and white and confusing signs. I know my way around, because I'm out there several times a day, but every day is a new adventure, and if you haven't been for a year or so you could think it was a different place entirely. We often see old Canberra hands, out to collect Aunt Judy from Perth late at night, and they are driving the wrong way, heads out the window trying to make sense of the confusion, parking where they shouldn't and getting parped at by rude taxidrivers.

The new terminal building - or at least the first stage - will be open next month, so it was probably our last time in the Business Lounge. The view is lousy and the food not much chop, and mid-morning the bar wasn't open, so it was just robot coffee and a bikkie.

I did this trip with carry on only, and the flight in a Boeing 737 up to Brisbane was fine, but the second leg to Rocky was in a Dash-8, and the overhead racks are too mean and small for even my tiny rollaboard, so it had to go under the seat and squeeze my toes. I had enough time in Brisbane for a couple of flutes of sparkling. Pinapple Noir with hints of Pinot, I called the fruity wine, but it hit the spot.

We flew out over Moreton Bay, crossing the coast again somewhere north of Redcliffe. The suburbs dropt away and then it was mouldering mountains covered in trees, farms and forestry. I caught a sight of Skyring Creek south of Gympie, the hills rising away from the highway and a long orange curve of new fourlane construction. I couldn't make out any details, but it looks awfully close to Federal State School, that small and oddly named rural establishment.

Middle Sister and her two kids - who had flown in a half-hour before - waiting for me, and then out to Kabra for a seafood feast. We stopt at a grog shop, where I collected a slab, another bubbly to add to the duty-free in my bag, and I was delighted to see that Rocky had progressed to the stage where pear cider may be had on the shelves. I scooped up an assorted half dozen. Jersey, Sweden and Magner's from Ireland. A grand comfort for the aches and pains and broken toes, to be sure.

Mum and Dad were there, as well as Older Sister and Younger Sister and her ranga lad, and we had a fine time, cracking open the champagne and testing out the cider and crunching up kettle chips. Brother joined us, along with two of his sons, and we got stuck into the tucker - glorious big prawns and sweet chunks of fish in foil on the barbie.

A cake and a song for Dad.

There's not too many times nowadays when the parents and we five children are together. Dad's looking well and we chatted a bit. He's spent decades going to Hong Kong three times a year and I never even knew he had a passport! He would have flown into the old airport, circling in hard against the mountain and then gliding down through the apartment towers, the jet blast flapping the washing drying on the balconies. My own travels began after it closed, and the new place is not nearly as exciting, though it's a very dramatic setting to be sure.

And, O the warmth of the tropic air! Cold old Canberra was a million miles away.
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Morning on Thursday, and the living was easy. Tea around the table, then I accompanied Mum for a walk around the house out in the sun. She sets a fair pace with two walking sticks twinkling away. Another walk up and down the street with red-head nephew. There's some sort of radio transmitter in a cow paddock, stretching away up skyscraper high, and we decided it was an alien landing beacon with a helicopter landing pad on top.

Nephew is big into Star Wars and Star Trek and has the toy collection to prove it. We walked along the parched street talking about space battles, having a fine time.

Lunch was a birthday treat out at Yeppoon, but first we had to get there via Big Sister's house in Rocky. The car she was driving is all buttons and electronics with a builtin satellite navigation screen and we had to work it out on the fly. I'm still convinced that it was pure chance we ended up at the right place. That's my usual method of navigation in Rockhampton. It's all built on a grid system and you just point yourself in roughly the right direction and knightsmove until you arrive.

We set the GPS for Yeppoon, but it's no chore to follow the highway out, and Middle Sister was leading the way. Brother was batting cleanup in an orange V8 behind us, a rumble on the roads. I got to sit in the back and watch ranga lad fill up an old notebook of mine - from when I was eight years old - with pencil plans of spaceships and aliens and scenes of starcruisers spitting out streams of laser bullets. He's got a talent, that one!

Footlights Theatre Restaurant is an odd sight in sleepy Yeppoon, but it was a good choice for a lazy lunch. The tables line up towards a stage and the walls are covered with posters and old-timey signs. "Gentlemen should Refrain from Cursing" "The Waitresses are Not to be Trifled with" "Larrikins Will be Ejected".

We were eleven at our table for lunch, and a larger group came for afternoon tea. We had our first two courses, then a film short and the show, and then dessert. The other group had the show followed by their tea.

It was quite a long affair, actually, and we chatted and played a silly word game, making sentences out of nouns. My red-headed Middle Sister declared she was feeling a bit off-colour, so I pointed at her, saying, "Ginger ails."

She groaned and pointed at the upright on stage. "Piano stools."

Oh, yuk!

The waitress bustled around serving out the food. Vegetable soup and a roll for starters, and a choice of Chicken Mornay or Roast Pork for the main.

The film was an old Buster Keaton short, funny and foolish and full of sight gags.

Then the show began, our waitress transformed into Ma, from the well-known Snake Gully world of Dad and Dave. For my American readers, think Ma and Pa Kettle, and you won't be too far off. Mabel was a buxom young farmgirl, all double entendres skipping over the head of Ma mixing up the damper. Dave came home, a couple of milk cans in hand, dropping them in surprise at the sight of Mabel chatting up a male audience member.

Don't sit in the front row for a show like this, that's all I'll say!

There were a half-dozen skits, funny songs, and assorted foolishness. Some of the costumes were inventive, such as the diminutive male actor almost completed covered in plaster and bandages. A cast member, to be sure. He was good, nearly toppling off stage as he wobbled on his crutches.

He came out again, white jacket and bow tie, singing a song, and I waited for the comedy to begin, but he sang it serious. Annie's Song, and he was good. I was lost in my thoughts of my lady far away.

And then it was over. Dessert was served. "Apple Crumbles!" I exclaimed to the actress/waitress, but she missed it.

I got a CD of songs and a DVD of the skits for Dad, who had been singled out repeatedly from the stage as a birthday boy. And then away home for a quick tea.

Baby Sister drove me back into Rockhampton for a sibling talk, where we sorted out plans for the future and our next gathering. My suggestion for Paris met with widespread approval, so long as I paid for it.

Dinner was at a Stonegrill restaurant north of the river. This was a new one on me. You order a cut of meat - or fish or some vegetarian concoction - and it comes out served on a sizzling hot holystone sprinkled with salt. You immediately turn the meat over to sear the second side, and then slice off pieces to cook the sides for the half hour or so the stone remains hot. Kind of like a Korean Barbecue, except the stone is on a tray brought out from the kitchen.

And absolutely delicious. I had an eye fillet with was tender and tasty. You order the sauce you want - I had mushroom - and it comes out cold in a little ceramic container which you put on a corner of the stone to heat up for spreading on your meat, or dipping it into. Chips or veges or salad on the side.

Makes for a simple kitchen service, lots of fun, and food cooked exactly as and when you like it.

Then home again to bed.


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