#firstworldleaderproblems

As anyone who watched the news was no doubt aware, this past weekend Brisbane played host to the G20 summit; more than likely the biggest gathering of important world leaders that you can get. The news probably didn’t give you an account of how it affected people on the ground though, so here’s how things happened from my point of view:

I arrived in Brisbane on a greyhound bus at the Roma street transit centre, which was full of police, and started on the short walk to the Base Embassy where I was staying. Following on from the further police presence I saw leading to, and around, King George square, the security posted outside my hostel was also rather immense. Technically it was there to guard the Hilton a mere two doors down, but it covered just about half of the block. To get to my hostel I even had to walk past a “Pedestrians Use Other Footpath” sign, which made me feel both very cheeky, and very important at the same time. Sometime later I also found out that apparently Putin himself was staying next door, but I bet he didn’t have a picture of Morgan Freeman telling him to wash up in the kitchen.

As well as the presence of both the Queensland Police and S.E.S. (State Emergency Service), barriers were also in place along certain roads, such as Adelaide Street between King George Square and Queen Street Mall, to make sure that pedestrians could only cross the road at specified points. Or in the case of Saturday afternoon and evening, not at all. This road was being used by the various motorcades as they were leaving the convention centre, the main location of the summit, which lies just across the river on Brisbane’s South Bank.

All in the name of world peace.

All in the name of world peace.

Not only was the whole road blocked off from river to river, but even the police and S.E.S. officers guarding it didn’t know exactly when and which motorcades would be coming through. Apparently this was a security precaution, but I reckon it was just the politicians being as awkward as possible, you know what they can be like. I arrived at about six in the evening and had to wait an hour for the rest of my two minute journey back to the hostel. This could have been worse however, as I heard someone mention it had been closed since half past three, and there were others waiting unable to get to work, and therefore not getting paid.

There were some making the most of it however, including a street performer who came to entertain us, but who was largely ignored, and another bystander trying to get the two sides of the road to compete in a mexican wave competition. He didn’t get much response either, but fair play to him for trying.

And to be fair it’s not like all this waiting was for nothing. I did see two motorcades coming from the convention centre, flying the flags of Belgium and Japan, which each consisted of two police motorcycles, a couple of limousines and minibuses, followed by two more police cars. Somewhat later, this time headed in the other direction, was the U.S. presidential motorcade.

I actually forget how many vehicles it comprised of, but at least three of the U.S.’s own limos, and he vehicles in front were probably a full minute ahead of those at the rear. No idea if Obama was inside it or if it always has that much security, but either way I can only hope that something that size, going back to where most others seemed to be leaving, was for more than just someone leaving behind their favourite pen. In fact for all the disruptions it caused, I hope at least the summit achieved something that will benefit us ordinary citizens to make up for it.

Whilst this massive precaution was at least understandable though, it was the closure of an intersection on Sunday night that had people baffled. At the corner of George and Elizabeth Streets, a police car drove up and stopped to announce that no cars could continue, and no-one could even cross the road.

Nevercross the road unless you're sure you can cross back again.

Never cross the road unless you’re sure you can cross back again.

This also included the other police officers who were there by coincidence, and were stopped on their way to get some dinner. So strict was this closure that one woman who even made it across the street, was told to go back to the other side, and yet we could see people crossing just as always at the other end of the block. It was reopened not long after with nothing occurring that could warrant such a closure in the first place, save a motorcade going past the next intersection at which people were allowed to cross. I’m sure there was a reason for this closure somewhere, but have no idea what it was.

Better than London's South Bank.

Better than London’s South Bank.

That said, there was more to the G20 that road closures and a heavy presence on the streets; cultural celebrations were also going on, which included street musicians all throughout the Queens Street Mall. By far the most impressive had to be Colour Me Brisbane though, in which old buildings and modern skyscrapers alike were decorated with coloured lights after sunset. More than this, there was also an interactive desk located on the South Bank from which members of the public could control the lights illuminating the city centre.

This was just the start however, as the Treasury hotel was also decorated with a looped video display depicting the history of Brisbane. At least I think it was the history of Brisbane, but it was very impressive nonetheless.

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… and (lack of) exercise

My one night in Brisbane was merely a stopover before starting my proper journey along Australia’s East coast in Cairns; I figured I’d begin in the north and make my way down towards Sydney and Melbourne where I would catch up with some friends over here. This time of year I’d also be enjoying the sun, but keeping one step ahead of it as it got hotter and brighter. Although I was heading south for the winter as far as not being in Britain was concerned, I also wanted to make sure I wouldn’t overdo it in the Australian summer. As much as this plan is still pretty much in tact, and although I had booked a full week in Cairns to begin with, my southbound plans took a while longer to get off the ground than I had expected.

I booked a package deal which included membership to Job Search Australia along with several other benefits, one of which was an Australian bank account. Arriving at the Calypso, the Base associated hostel in Cairns, early on a friday evening meant I had the weekend to relax after my flights, which I thoroughly took advantage of. I went to the Job Search desk early monday morning, where my induction to the world of job seeking in Australia was unhindered by the Labour Day public holiday. Thanks to things like data protection however, I had to sort out my bank account myself, although was told how to do this. Thanks to the holiday, I also had to wait until the next day to sort this out.

Tuesday morning though I went to the Cairns branch of the Commonwealth bank, and also opened a savings, and superannuation accounts alongside the general current account into which I deposited my travellers cheques. Old fashioned I know, but online transfers weren’t really the thing last time I went travelling, and at least the cheques didn’t come with transfer and/or currency conversion fees. But one thing they did come with, was a three business day clearing period, and I was also told my debit card would take seven to 10 days to arrive. Despite this however, I’d done more to plan for a pension in a long weekend in Australia than I had in 29 years back in Britain. As much as I had to wait to get to the money in this account, I did still have a British debit card, and also an STA travel card, so wasn’t completely without access to any money, just limited as to how much I could spend. Time to get comfy, and enjoy Cairns for a while.

Cairns Lagoon.

Cairns Lagoon.

In Down Under, Bill Bryson describes Cairns as having a “devotion to the tourist dollar”, which is pretty accurate. “Every second business offered reef cruises or snorkeling expeditions, and most of the rest sold T-shirts and postcards” sums up the centre almost perfectly, although whether they are merely a new addition or Bryson chose not to mention them, there are also a number of adult shops and dancing establishments. I saw one particular climbing frame and slide in the street just in front of a store with a large “erotica” advertisement, and thought about taking a photo of this strange juxtaposition. Aussie laid back nature notwithstanding, getting noticed with a camera in a children’s play area before my trip even began probably wasn’t worth the risk though, and so I decided against it.

Having to survive on my own rather limited supply of tourist dollars, I instead spent my time in Cairns doing not much other than relaxing in the hostel, chilling by the lagoon, and dining on $5 pizzas from the Pizza Hut across the road. Needless to say, it probably wasn’t the best week in terms of working on my beach body, but then it’s not like I had one to begin with anyway.

Notice the tape round his mouth. And the blood.

Notice the tape round his mouth. And the blood.

The Calypso, like many hostels over here, has its own swimming pool, and also arranged different activities and entertainment during the evenings. These included bar pong tournaments and lizard, snake, & crocodile handling, all of which were in the open air bar/communal area which was also just a great place to meet and chat with other backpackers. Although this technically included people from all over the world, I think everyone except one girl from Canada was from Europe, and 90% of which came from either Britain or Germany. Not that I minded, as despite everyone’s ability to speak great English, it also gave me a rare opportunity to practice and show off my A level German.

For a city (not much more than a town really, just the biggest place for hundreds of miles) famous for its opportunities to do everything from riding classic steam trains to skydiving, there are certainly worse places to spend a week doing next to nothing.

Customs…

Hopefully I won’t be boasting about how much of a great time I’m having here in Australia when I say that so far the most disappointing part has been arriving here. Not that I mean getting here in general, just my actual arrival. Perhaps I had overhyped any expectations from watching too many episodes of Border Security, but going through the airport just wasn’t as action packed as I hoped it would be.

My very first experience of Australian culture however, was almost textbook. Immediately upon exiting the plane from Kuala Lumpur I walked down the corridor and had to turn a few corners; so far no different from any other airport in the world. What made it (stereo)typically Australian is that before any form of pretty much anything, I was confronted with row upon row of booze. At Brisbane airport it seems, duty-free alcohol is much more of a priority than any form of official, legally binding, and internationally important paperwork.

But unfortunately this is where my good experience seemed to end. Fully prepared that in this day and age of technical over reliance I would have to ask to have any kind of chance of having a stamp in my passport (even my visa was completely digital), I wasn’t prepared for the fact that you can’t ask a self-service immigration machine. Coming as I do from a select group of nations, I had the ‘convenience’ of allowing myself into the country. As much as I appreciated the trust placed in me courtesy of my nationality, I personally would have much preferred the human touch of an actual person welcoming me to their country, stamp or otherwise. Oh well, on to customs.

Like my previous visit to the USA quite some time ago, coming into Australia required me to fill in a form of important and confusing questions. As the Australian economy relies so greatly on agriculture, this included questions about whether I had spent time in or around farms and/or vaguely rural environments in the last month. Coming from Somerset I took the advice of “if in doubt tick yes”, and figured a few questions would be better than the heavy fines I had often seen handed out on TV. Having gone through auto-immigration, I also figured it would give me chance to interact with a real life person.

Customs itself then consisted of someone at a desk who scan read my form, asked if my shoes were clean, and allowed me to carry on my way when I said that they were. The closest thing I got to Border Security was a sign that said the programme was being recorded today, which again raised my expectations of the immigration experience, but I guess by 9 o’clock they’d just gone home and either forgotten to take the signs with them, or left them there for the next day.

The more self explanatory decor.

The more self-explanatory decor.

After a quick train ride into the centre of the city, for which buying my ticket constituted the my longest conversation with an Australian at that point, I then spent my first night in Australia at the Base Central hostel in Brisbane. I also did so in a style which I hoped would be indicative of my many travels round this massive country. I stayed in a dorm with “Jungle Room” emblazoned across the door, and despite a pair of lacy knickers hanging from a wall fixture, figured it was instead so-called due to the jungle mural painted on the main wall. A room I shared with people ranging from a quiet guy reading on his bed in the corner, to a pair of Scandinavian girls who told me I had beautiful hair, and asked me to check out their shirts to see if they were too short to be thought of as a dress. And they were.

Yep, backpacking in Australia was going to be alright.