Brisbane and Reef Dreams

I have come to Brisbane, the capital of Queensland, by yacht.  The voyage along the Australian coast was a sail over summer seas, although the waters hereabouts are not protected from the Pacific rollers by the Great Barrier Reef as they are a little farther north.

 Brisbane city is tropical, and spreads itself along both banks of the Brisbane River at a distance of about eighteen miles from the sea. In an amphitheatre of greenish-blue hills this well-built and garden-like town of some two million inhabitants possesses all the amenities of a modern metropolis and something more besides.

Its climate is perennially bright and sunny. One of the things I noticed most in Brisbane were  the smiling happy faces of the passers-by, which seemed to reflect the sunny nature of the scene around and to contrast with the dull, lifeless, bored or worried appearance of so many thousands of the people one meets in the great cities of Europe and America.

One of the finest views around the Queensland capital is the ocean approach across the blue waters of Moreton Bay. The sea here is studded with green­ clad islands and the shores are fringed with yellow sunlit beaches, behind which there are so many bungalow residences embowered in trees that Brisbane, and its suburbs facing the Pacific, has been called “The Villa City.” One of the orthodox things to do when visiting Brisbane for the first time is to go to Mt Coot-tha, Highgate Hill, or other vantage point, and look round at the panorama of white roofs and green trees spread out ridiculously far over the undulating ground for a city of this size – at least it appears ridiculous to occupy such a space with a city of this size until one has become accustomed to the vast distances of Australia.

I did not start off to explore the hundreds of miles of streets forming modern Brisbane, where many-storeyed stone buildings stand up like granite towers above low roofs of corrugated iron and large patches of misty green trees. It has always seemed to me a waste of time to spend more than a few odd hours in the busy streets of typically Western cities, which so closely resemble each other that I have, on occasions, momentarily forgotten in which town and country I have been walking! Besides, the weather was altogether too perfect to spend the sunny hours where only those remained who were compelled to do so by their business. After wandering through the Botanical Gardens, where the palms and flowers are delightful, I drove to Sandgate, a little seaside resort facing Moreton Bay. Here all Brisbane, both young and old, lives the amphibious life.

My principal object in coming to Brisbane· was to penetrate into the interior of Queensland and to live for a few weeks the life of the back-blocks on a cattle ranch, or on a sheep station farm stay. It was for this reason that I did not go farther north this trip, although regrets came later when I read Randolph Bedford’s historic definition of heaven. He says :         

“This is  north-east Australia between May and September the Queensland coast for a thousand miles within the Barrier Reef – that coral wonder of the world-in the so-called winter. I have gloated over its memories in the bitter middle of the year in Melbourne, and in the end have rushed away from here due to its romance; and last January, in Glasgow, the smell of the northern sea, the colour of the great reef, the opulence of the northern jungles were so tangibly present that my home sickness broke out in verse at least once a week, seeing instead of the chimney-stacks of south Melbourne the mighty cedars of the Barron rising through the creepers of the jungle; and to my ears the reverberance of the Broomilean drowned by the thunders of the reef. From Broadsound to Cape York the days and nights, the sea and sky, the happy land, the ship that rarely rocks its keel an inch and never closes its ports for a thousand miles and more, are all expressions of tangible romance and of visible enchantment. The scented breath of a bush fire from the land, the tropic scents of the tide ­ barred reef mingled with the odours of towns that seem to be made of pineapples; distant reefs lying in the sea-like shadows, the mountains of the main blue in the distance, the lazy inner sea lapping 1,300 miles of cay and coral, the waters shining like a taut bow­ string under the sun, and by night a silver place that bears the ship as placid as a resting gull. The coast is full of the romance of effort and endurance. Cook and his coral-plugged and leaky ship beaching in Endeavour River after the anxious days of Cape Tribulation; Bligh and his boat of the Bounty; great Matthew Flinders; and Mary Watson, who agonised in a waterless cay and saw her child die before death mercifully came to herself.”

What would this Australian descriptive writer have to say about the vistas of snow-capped roofs, smoke and leaden skies of a truly northern town, I wonder? The Barrier Reef itself is known to only a few marine explorers.

“All its reefs and shoals and pools, and all its depths, are full of life; the channels and lagoons within the coral are instinct with bewildering beauty. All the corals are there­ not the dead bleached skeletons of corals which we see in glass cases flanked by a stuffed and preposterous blow-fish, but with all the brilliance of the living coral animal, which is no more an insect than the shark is an insect. The living reefs have all the colours of the tropics. Carbonate of lime can be a dead and ugly thing; here, on the Barrier, it is a thing of definite loveliness. Coral shaped like skulls, and therefore called Brain Corals, having the freaks of cerebral markings and giving their name to the peculiar Skull Island, which looks like an ancient battle-ground of low-grade types, the white skulls shining in the sun; corals corrugated like alligator skin; asteroids or star corals; the giant anemone and an attendant galaxy of sea-stars; the frills and furbelows of the clam shell-ultramarine and peacock-blue and green; corals spotted in turquoise and barred in black; corals, shrimp-pink, with yellow terminations; cup corals, convoluted and long­ stalked; corals in large ovate masses looking in the light green water like a flock of sheep in an English meadow in early spring; corals like cauliflowers in shape and deep violet, with cream edgings for colour; the nodular masses of organ-pipe coral; the corals of Dog Reef, near Port Denison-shaped like a swimming dog; the branching corals of the Medrepore Lagoon; all growing joyously in the opaline water, which is at once the mirror and the shield. All the beauty of form of the prepared coral is but the bleached skeleton of the brilliant life of the Reef.”

In the Dutch East Indies and in New Providence Island, one of the Bahamas group, I saw many coral reefs of like character and colouring, although their extent cannot be compared with that of the Great Barrier.