Quests

Mom & I forced ourselves to rise before dawn our last morning at Carnarvon National Park. We were in search (again) for the platypi who had eluded us at dusk the first evening in the park. We arrived at the main viewing area but didn't see any movement whatsoever. So we went to an area a few hikers told us about. As we approached the second site it sounded like something big had just fumbled into the water. We didn't see anything but continued to wait on pins & needles. Mom & I kept seeing ripples but it was from tree branches hanging in Carnarvon Creek. Then, to our left, more bubbles. Since I was sitting lower on the rock I saw the platypus first & pointed him out to Mom. It swam a little closer to where we were perched, but since it was hunting, it kept disappearing underwater. After 5 minutes of observing the platypus, it submerged for the last time. I was so happy for Mom; that she was able to see a platypus with her own two eyes! Another native Australian animal she could cross off her list. Walking back to the campground I couldn't believe I almost stepped on a brown toad! I cautiously avoided him, quietly removed my camera from its case, snapped a photo & motioned for Mom to see what I found. As soon as she came over she exclaimed "Michelle it's dead." "No it's not!" I replied. I poked it with a stick.... it was a petrified! I had been Punk'd by Mother Nature. Mom had a hardy laugh though!
We wasted no time in getting on the road to Brisbane. It was 8 hours of driving, but broken up by fuel stops and meal breaks. When you don't live around a major metropolis, driving into the city is always an overwhelming experience. The single lane "highway" became 5 lanes wide. The exits became more and more frequent. Brisbane's skyline grew larger and larger ahead of us. Of course, the traffic became worse. The quaint country backroads we had been driving all the way from Mackay to Ipswich now turned into a maze of one-way streets. Our neighbors were no longer kangaroos and tents, they were Hermes and Gucci. It was culture shock. Honestly, I think I saw more Asian/Indian people than Australian/American. Mom & I made it into the room just in time to watch Deal/No Deal -- after driving around a good 45 minutes trying to locate the hotel in the heart of the CBD a.k.a. downtown area (stands for City Business District).

FIRST STOP: MT. COOT-THA LOOKOUT
I expected Mt. Coot-tha to be a bit of a drive considering it's a mountain, but it was a quick hop from the hotel. We drove to the top of the lookout and I was able to Canon Photostitch a panoramic of the view of the area. For about 160 of the 240 degrees you could see the Brisbane River snake through the landscape, from Brisbane to the greenhillsides in the distance.

From here we also descended to J.C. Slaughter Falls on one of Mt. Coot-tha's many walking trails. The more we hiked downward, we knew the return trip would be intense. The Falls were underwhelming. After all our hiking the cascade was barely trickling. It was slack as a.k.a. what a waste of time!
SECOND STOP: MT. COOT-THA PLANETARIUM
After the strenuous climb back to the lookout, Mom & I drove to the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium. I've always been a space buff. The universe never ceases to amaze me or challenge my thinking in the most abstract way.

THIRD STOP: MT. COOT-THA BOTANIC GARDENS
Not to be confused with Brisbane's Botanic Gardens in the middle of the city. I bet this place is stunning in the spring/summer. It wasn't horrible in the winter, but a lot of plants were not blooming. Mom & I did check out the tropical plants biodome, the Japanese garden/bamboo forest, the fruit trees, and the touch-me plants section.
The next day Mom & I drove across the Story Bridge to the south side of the city for an opportunity to personally make authentic didgeridoos. When we asked John -- the instructor -- about all the didgeridoos in souvenir shops he said they were all made in Bali & overpriced & that none of the profit went back into the artist's pocket.

Throughout our day John shared wonderful stories, insights into his tribe's way of life & powerful arguments. Consider this: the aboriginal people of Australia are thought to be some of the oldest races of humankind. It wasn't until 1976 that indigenous people were granted inalienable rights and realized as owners of much of the land. In February 2008 the Prime Minister (for the Australian Government) finally made a formal verbal and written apology to ["only"] the aboriginal children of the "stolen generation". What stuck in my mind the most though was John's comment that Australia gives so much of its money away to save face in the form of foreign aide and diplomacy in the Middle Eastern countries, but often when it comes to Australia's native people and their abysmal circumstances, a blind eye is turned.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR MAKING A DIDGE:
ONE. We chose our piece of Yellow Box Tree -- from inland, southern Queensland. It should be about half your height. Some branches were light wood; some were darker colored. Some pieces were straight as arrows; others had many curves. TWO. Using a blade, we shaved the bark/outer layer of skin off to get to the actual wood. This was the labor-intensive part & took a lot of time. In fact, Mom & I both developed a blister on each hand (the next day I felt like I had arthritis & carpal tunnel syndrome in every hand/wrist joint). However, this was where you could really start to see the characteristics of your piece of wood.

Mom's didgeridoo was so smooth and in tact, but had a commanding brown line going from top to bottom. If you turned the piece around you could see the line/contrast where dark met light wood. It was small, therefore higher-pitched, and not long.

On the other hand, my didge had a few extruding knots to break up the monotony of the single, light color of the wood. It was almost as tall as me, which gave it a deep, bass sound when played. There were a lot of little holes from the termites all over and around my piece. Plus, it noticeably curved (I don't like symmetrical things).

THREE. We sandpapered -- with the other edge of the blade --the texture of the wood. Although Mom's didge took more time to shave, it needed little smoothing. However, mine was easier to shave but needed some quality time to look more polished. Then, we rounded one end which was to become to the mouthpiece. FOUR. Applied wood laquer -- which lightly stained the wood -- & let it dry to seal the deal. It was a chilly day in Brisbane so we had to blow dry the lacquer. We had the option to paint a decoration on the didge, but like the authenticity/outcome of burning the wood better.
(Mom's smooth, darker piece & my curvacious, lighter piece with its tiny holes in the foreground)

FIVE. Mom & I drew the designs to be burnt into the didges, but John actually did the branding. Mom created a pattern with aboriginal symbols such for walking & sitting/a resting place. I created a scene to signify the fourelements (air, earth, fire, water) because we depended on them so heavily the past week while out camping. I started with the sun which shined on the aboriginal symbol for waterfall with nourished the tree whose branchesbecame the aboriginal signal for fire. I love it! SIX. Mom & I melted beeswax to mold the mouthpieces. We received a few tips from John regarding how to play our didgeridoos and circular breathing -- which is the hardest part about learning how to play the instrument. The company mailed us a CD with exercises. I hope to become a didge master honestly. Yet, we were asked to only play the instruments in the privacy of our home because it is shunned for a woman to play a didgeridoo. In fact, in most tribes it's not like a guitar & anybodycan have a go. John told us in his tribe only the medicine man/shaman was chosen to play.

It was getting dark and we had been chatting/working all day so Mom & I returned to the hotel after a delicious meal at Little Tokyo. Of course, we tested our instruments much to our neighbors' dismay. We were awful.

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