Despite a somewhat similar culture over here to the UK a few major differences are apparent, one of these being the ability to host a successful BBQ. The British BBQ experience, usually triggered by a glimmer of sun through the ominous clouds and cries of “Sunshine! Excellent! Let’s have a BBQ!,” has, in my experience, always followed a predictable pattern.
As the guests begin to gather in the garden (after adding their contribution of crisps or salad to the large pile of crisps and salad), the men congregate around the BBQ, while the women end up chopping onions. After the initial struggle of lighting the BBQ in the wind, the hungry guests begin to eat the crisps and salad realising that it may be some time before the main food arrives. Conversation begins to fade apart from the occasional “those clouds are looking a bit ominous” and “shame, it was so nice yesterday” as the food takes aaaaggges to cook. Once it’s finally ready, pretty much everything either tastes completely burnt with no other distinguishing flavours, or burnt on the outside and completely raw in the middle. So after an evening of crisps, salad and half a burnt burger, you go home and cook dinner anyway. The epitome of the British BBQ experience is using a disposable BBQ, sheltered under someone’s porch to avoid the drizzle (definitely 100% safe), whilst shivering and waiting for the food to cook; all the time being able to see the oven through the door.
However, the Aussies have the art of barbecueing down to a tee. The sausage sizzle (a barbecued sausage on a single slice of white bread with optional grilled onions) is pretty much a daily feature of the campus. 500+ hungry international students wanting lunch? No problem, they are so efficient everyone can have seconds, even thirds. The free-to-use BBQs in public parks are well used and maintained, plus the sheer number of them encourages people to cook outside alongside all the other events taking place in the parks.
With public parks aplenty and a beautiful climate, life here is to be lived outdoors. (The provision of deck chairs instead of benches in many of these parks is an aspect I particularly like). Roma Street Parkland is one of the world’s largest subtropical gardens in a city centre and encompasses an area that was once Brisbane’s main rail and goods yard. The spectacle garden and rainforest and fern gulley are really cool.
The City Botanic Gardens contain what has now become my favourite tree. The Banyan Fig Tree, planted in the 1870’s and native to India, acquired its name from the Hindu merchant caste, the Banyans, who set up their stalls under the shelter of this expansive tree. Renowned for its vast growth, it sends down aerial roots to support the large branches. As the roots develop into new trunks the tree spreads – apparently one in India covers 1.5 ha with over 1,000 subsidiary trunks! It also provides a natural air conditioning system and welcome shade from the sun.
Maybe due to the sunny climate, I’m not sure, but everyone here is so friendly! From shop owners who greet you like a long lost friend, to bus drivers wishing you a good day, to everyone shouting “thank you” to the driver from halfway down the bus, to the lady who lent me 2 dollars when I jammed my coin in the trolley, the friendliness is definitely contagious. The public transport system is also very efficient, with citycat ferries and separate busways and touch-on touch-off cards, although the dark and depressing underground Queen Street Bus Station is not somewhere I’d want to spend a lot of time. In fact, in contrast to the impressive outdoor areas, most places are so well air-conditioned inside that you actually feel a bit cold.
There have been lots of orientation events on campus, including market day, where all 50,000 students descend on the Great Court to sign up for a multitude of clubs and societies. In the midst of the chaos I was surprised to hear the familiar sound of bagpipes from members of the UQ Pipe Band! Although they were disappointed to hear that, despite my origins, I have never actually tried to play this bizarre instrument.
A highlight of the welcome events was a performance by Nunukul Yuggera Aboriginal Dancers who showcase Aborginal culture with traditional song and dance and also a didgeridoo!
My main challenge this week is to overcome 23 years of conditioning that tells me that sunshine = holiday as the classes get into full swing. But, just before that, I have another sausage sizzle to attend.