CAIRNS :: ARTS & CRAFTS CAPITAL OF FAR NORTH QUEENSLAND :: ROUND TWO
In late March 2011 I spent a sleepy Sunday poking around Cairns, the capital of Far North Queensland (FNQ), Australia, as I fled the horrific earthquake and tsunami and gempatsu (nuclear meltdown) in Japan. I had missed my connecting flight to Sydney due to all the manoeuvers needed to get out of a Tokyo in post disaster mode, and had thus been blessed with the chance to explore a part of the world I had never really explored before, in a part of the world I had never really considered visiting, until now. It was an unexpected diversion, and it took the edge off the mounting anxiety I was feeling about what was in store for me further south, once I regained my old existence there. For the past 10 years I had been living in Japan, and now I was coming home (hopefully not for long!)
As it turned out, readjusting to life in Australia proved much harder than I had expected. The country had changed, and not for the better, in my opinion at least. There was an oppressive spirit hanging over the land, although it was difficult at first to determine from whence it originated (in retrospect, probably it was all just the legacy of Howardism!) They didn't trust you with glass vessels in some of the downtown Sydney pubs, so you got served your beverages in plastic cups instead. Now, that's disrespect!
I spent the next five months hanging out at Umina Beach north of Sydney, searching halfheartedly for a job, and basically getting nowhere. The bright lights and endless delights of 東亰 was behind me now, and I started to regret I had a mistake, by returning to dark Down Under. But at least my online income was booming, and this was enough to dispel my doubts. I was on the road to becoming a fully-fledged Digital Nomad, and I had the world at my feet! Once I had repaid my debts I would be drifting again, to Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia... wherever!
In August of 2011, I found myself back in Cairns, this time with my father, fleeing the southern winter and punctuating our move from Umina to Lake Lake Haven. My Mum had planned to go to Europe for six weeks while the sale went through, but Dad didn't want to accompany her, and said he would rather relax in FNQ looking at birds, which are his speciality and his big passion in life. I was tasked with looking after him. Good old Cairns, the city which had sheltered me from the disaster in Japan, would lift my spirits once more and provide me a sneak preview of the rapidly approaching Vagabondist reality. I walked downtown after our flight and check-in, and found a nightclub on the Esplanade where I could drink Coronas and update my daily Google Adsense earnings on my iPhone, pretending that I was living in Bali. There were Wicked Campers on the street, and a party vibe in the air.
According to a brochure which I picked up in our resort, Dad and I had arrived just in time for the start of the Cairns Indigenous Arts Fair. The following morning, we both trekked into the city centre, to enjoy a coffee on the aforementoned Esplanade -- a 45-minute trip oneway. It was to become a habit for the rest of our holiday in Cairns. Past St Monica's Cathedral, and a bush that was full of spice finches. Unfortunately, I had a cold, which detracted from my enjoyment of the day. It was a Saturday, and most definitely not sleepy (at least in comparison to the NSW Central Coast!) By the time I made it to departures and waited in line for my serve, the plane was already out on the runway. I hadn't slept properly in at least a week, due to all the aftershocks and radiation fears in Tokyo, on Australian soil, and in one of the most beautiful cities in the southern hemisphere. As Lucky at One Mile at a Time would say, being bumped can be a blessing.
Naturally enough, the town's official art gallery was displaying indigenous arts and crafts. However, there were lots of unofficial galleries too, spruiking their own wares. We saw didgeridoo emporiums the size of warehouses...
... and tribal elders in the park.
There are also Aboriginal galleries and studios about town where you can watch artists at their work, such as this one in Orchid Plaza, in the Japanese Quarter.
As my This has become one of the my favorite places to relax and hang out. It is a quiet, chilled vibe in contrast to the hustle and bustle of the downtown bars. Mostly backpacker crowd: English, French, Germans, the odd Japanese. Events on virtually every night of the week: Tropical Tuesdays, trivial pursuit, beach volleyball on their sandy court. This being Queensland, there had to be at least one establishment in spitting range called the School of Arts Hotel. But it was too early for a beer.
Before too long we were out of the lush cane fields and into the outskirts of town. The suburbs were classic country Queensland, but with an undeniably international edge. Naturally, there were didgeridoo and Aboriginal art outlets for the tourists.
According to a post I read on Global Gossip's noticeboard, Blue Sky Brewery is the only bar in Cairns which makes its own beer. They sell copious quantities of the Pilsener, with jugs costing only AUS$6 from 5pm to 7pm. If you miss Happy Hour, you can nonetheless enjpy a bottle of the stuff for $3. This is the best deal I have found so far in Cairns. The toilets are pretty swish as well.
Following the Bama Way.
Fronting the wharf are the ...
...including this one practically groaning beneath.
Tanks Arts Centre: 46 Collins Avenue, Edge Hill. Phone: (07) 4032 6600. Fax: (07) 4032 2610. Email: email@example.com. Website: website here.
Rounding the corner I came upon the Coral Sea, bristling with windsurfers, sailboarders, and even the odd helicopter heading off to the reefs.
Small live bar with an intimate atmosphere and older clientele; I also found it a good place to interact with the local Aboriginal culture. Some of the performers I saw here were Aboriginal, including a wizened elderly gentleman who held his guitar upside-down. "You're holding ya guitar the wrong way!" a gin yelled at him, but it didn't seem to matter... that was the way he t, and he could play it reasonably well. He belted out a song called "Walkabout" which was popular with the indigenous members of the crowd,
Badu Art Centre: 274 Blanket Street, Badu Island. Website: website here.
. A Japanese friend of mine, Ken Anazawa, reckons this food court looks just like those in Singapore. "Australia is becoming more like Asia all the time," he said. Ken-san was right... Cairns is a little slice of Asia amidst the cane fields and wide verandahs. For Australians it is a gateway to Asia, and jets from its airport fly to exotic destinations such as Singapore and Papua New Guinea. I would never have known that, if I hadn't spent a few lunch hours walking around the place.