Heron Island, Australia Straddling the Tropics

Five years ago I moved down from Los Angeles to Brisbane. The period that followed is idyllic in my memory and will probably always stay that way. It might not have been so great at the time; I was lonely a lot, somewhat of an outcast with my silly accent and strange notions about tipping. But the good outdid the bad. For one thing, the Australians taught me how to drink…sort of.

Three years ago, almost to the day, I left this place; my job and my friends, on a well-documented six month trip home.

I’m back now, briefly. It feels good.

Melissa and I were greeted at baggage claim by another Matt. He held a sign that read, “Internet Dancing Sensation Matt Harding.” That’s me. I’m Internet Dancing Sensation Matt Harding. Or IDSMH, if you prefer.

Turns out Matt was leaving in two days on a trip around the world. I hadn’t been in touch with him for ages and had no idea. We agreed to meet up for a couple weeks in Europe, so I’ll theoretically have someone to hold the camera during the final stage. I hope that pans out.

We had drinks in the Valley. I got to introduce Melissa to a lot of my old friends. Had a big barbecue a couple days later at Adam’s house. I wish I’d brought a camera. Oh, well.

We visited the new Pandemic office. It’s tripled in size since I left. Destroy All Humans eventually paid off and they’ve risen from obscurity to become the leading game development studio in Australia. They’ve absorbed refugees from other floundering studios and are hungry for more.

They’re doing well enough, in fact, to afford not one, no, TWO copies of Guitar Hero; the greatest videogame experience ever invented.

Img_1242 Guitar_hero

Being a rock star was never an ambition of mine. Too much work. But they’ve finally figured out a way to simulate it with what I would imagine to be shocking accuracy and only a few minutes of ramp-up.

Yes, you too can perform “Iron Man,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Ace of Spades,” and many more. And you’re actually vaguely mimicking the actions involved in hitting each note. I now know the thrill of making noises that approximate actual, recognizable songs. And the thrill is mighty.

I ache to return home and purchase the necessary equipment. It is how I intend to spend the second half of this year.

Melissa and I went to the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to do some dancing. Well, me dancing, anyway.

Ellie1 Matt_roo

My goal here should be pretty obvious. It took some sneakiness, but we achieved it and got a great clip.

Ellie2

This belongs on a greeting card. Flip it open and it says, “No worries on your birthday, mate!”…or something equally inane.

Img_1580_1

At the entrance, they gave out little bags of kangaroo food. The Asian chain gangs found it momentarily amusing to feed the kangaroos, but dropped their bags in front of the nearest one as soon as they grew bored. This resulted in dozens of kangaroos so overfed they couldn’t even stand up.

Funny…but sort of not.

Img_1587

It’s hard to look at these guys and not imagine them talking in blokey Australian accents. I don’t know how that works, exactly. Maybe it’s a lifetime of talking kangaroos in cartoons, but it just seems to suit their facial features.

The Koala Sanctuary also has one or two koalas on display.

Ellie3_1

Actually, more like 50. They’ve got more in captivity than anywhere else in the world. It’s an obligatory stop for passing celebrities and dignitaries. The gift shop has a wall of fame featuring the likes of Nelson Mandela, the Pope, Marilyn Manson, and other has-beens – all with koalas clawing desperately at their sides.

The sanctuary also houses freaky giant muppet birds.

Emu

And retired cast members from Narnia.

Wombat

We stayed for the afternoon sheep-herding performance. I can’t even speculate on where that instinct comes from in dogs, but it sure is handy.

Ellie4

On the way back, I got a call from a reporter for the Brisbane Courier-Mail. She’d gotten word through the grapevine that IDSMH was in town. She had no idea who that was or what it meant, but figured it’d be worth a chat.

Img_1601_1

It was the first time I’ve been interviewed by someone who hadn’t actually seen the dancing video. The whole thing is kind of hard to explain. She was gracious about it, but I don’t think she ever really figured out why anyone should give a crap.

Fair enough.

After the awkward Q&A, we went to the center of the outdoor mall for a photo shoot in a crowded area. I had to dance, of course, but it was different from normal dancing in two key ways:

One, I normally don’t dance longer than 15 seconds at a time. This guy had me going non-stop for 10 minutes on a Brisbane summer afternoon, which left me panting.

Second, I’m not usually in the company of a professional photojournalist with a massive camera and one of those beige adventure vests that screams, “Whatever I’m taking pictures of is very, very important.” I had a hundred spectators wondering what in Xerxes’ colon is so special about a flailing imbecile on the sidewalk.

One would think I don’t mind making a spectacle of myself in public, what with my current occupation. One would be wrong about that.

By the end, the photographer was cottoning on to what it’s all about. He stopped shooting and stood there aghast.

"So someone is paying you to travel around the world, dancing badly everywhere you go?"
"Well…yes."
“My God. That’s the greatest scam I’ve ever heard of. You must be some kind of genius!”

That’s me. I’m some kind of genius. Or SKoG, if you prefer.

Andy picked us up early the next day to go hiking in the Glass House mountains.

Melissa and Andy had never met, but they’d both heard me talking about the other for years. Andy is a good friend and one of my favorite people. He’s the guy who brought me down to Australia. We climbed Kilimanjaro together. In the dancing video, he’s the guy laughing his ass off while the giraffe runs away.

Andy is an avid outdoorsman and experienced “bushwalker,” which is Australian for hiking. When I suggested the excursion, he threw out Mount Beerwa as an ideal and thoroughly fulfilling destination. "The first 10 or so meters are a bit steep," he warned, "but once we’re past that, the rest is easy."

Wall_matt

Andy is full of shit.

“Steep” means an inclined surface. It does not mean a vertical surface. That’s called a wall. You don’t hike up a wall, or “bushwalk” for that matter. It’s called rock climbing. It’s hard

Melissa made it up on her own while Andy glided up and down the rock face on his magical hover-boots. I, meanwhile, was overcome with terror. I clung like a koala on Madeleine Albright’s sagging bosom. Couldn’t move. Coordination isn’t my strong suit. Adrenaline-related activities aren’t much of a specialty either. The only way I made it up was with Andy’s hand on my ass, literally pushing me to the next handhold. Not my proudest moment.

img_1268_1 Done_1

And that is not my proudest pair of shorts. I bought them in New Zealand before the Routeburn Trek, and it took me a little while to realize just how much the dumbass I looked in them.

We got to the top. The view was fantastic. And I suppose I should’ve been so overwhelmed by the achievement that it made the whole thing worthwhile.

img_1266

But I still just wanted to strangle the guy who brought me here.

For the descent, I wasn’t taking any chances. I sat against the rock and made my way down in a controlled slide. By the time I reached ground, my dumbass shorts had an enormous hole worn through the dumb ass. They were ruined.

Oh, darn.

With six weeks of non-stop travel behind us, we really needed a vacation.Next up after Brisbane, four days on the Great Barrier Reef hideaway of Heron Island.

Joining us: Andy and Christie, his ladyfriend and our former coworker at Pandemic.

It was the first time any of us had done a matched-couples vacation. It felt very grown up.

We flew up to Gladstone and caught a morning helicopter ride to the island.

dsc04119 dsc04131

dsc04190

Heron Island is a tiny lump of sand-covered coral peeking above the surface near the reef’s southern tip. It’s barely a kilometer from end to end. You can round the island in hal f an hour.

img_1642 img_1643

img_1313

dsc04217

Heron is so named after the wild adundance of birds that live here. Tens of thousands. The staff cleans the walkways daily, but they’re permanently stained with white poop.

Also, if you’re not a heavy sleeper, best to bring earplugs. The birds go all night.

The island is spitting distance from the imaginary line called the Tropic of Capricorn. If the line was big and dotted like it is on maps, you’d see it in this picture.

img_1648

The accomodations are basic, but you don’t spend much time there. It’s mostly about the diving — which, unfortunately, kind of stunk during our stay. Bad weather conditions allowed us only a few dives, and they weren’t nearly as good as I remember from previous visits. Nevertheless…

img_1620a Img_1627

Img_1623a Img_1629

It was good practice with the camera for our looming trip to the South Pacific.

Plus Melissa got a lot more comfortable underwater.

Img_1636

But we spent most of our time just drinking and talking and laughing.

beers dsc04256

We played a lot of board games, a lot of pool, and some comically oversized chess.

dsc04257 chess2

I learned that Balderdash is a lot less lame and yuppie-ish than I assumed. Or maybe I’m a lot more lame and yuppie-ish than I used to be.

Celebrity Heads is a game in which each player wears a card on their forehead with the name of a celebrity written on it. Players can’t see their own cards, so they have to ask yes or no questions until someone guesses their celebrity correctly.

I learned that Kermit the Frog may seem tricky, but is actually fairly easy to work out. Uma Thurman, on the other hand, blends in with a dozen other blonde, thirty-something, kung-fu academy award nominees.

We watched a DVD I got sent from iFilm with entrees for their dancing video contest. My job was to judge the 11 best. Why 11? I don’t know.

The videos ranged from delightful to disturbing, astonishing to embrassing, brilliant to braindead.

The nadir, perhaps, was the fat guy in the bonnet and diaper, performing a striptease with man-sized milk bottle as prop.

No one needs to see that.

Or maybe it was the similarly rotund preteen on her shingled rooftop, pantomiming some bubblegum pop tune in an outfit of rainbow fluore scence. Halfway through the performance, she takes to a nearby chair for a breather. At this, Melissa blurted, "Ohh, fatty, do you need to sit down?"

The unexpected bullying caught all of us off guard, Melissa included. She is, evidently, a closet fatty-hater.

But aren’t we all?

dsc04261

We spent a lot of time scanning the shoreline for sharks, which are plentiful and really — all else aside — incredibly graceful creatures.

This man had us fixated.

dsc04262

"Now where did I put my red underpants?"

dsc04210

The kid on the left there was a terror. His parents set him loose while they did their own thing and basically left the bartenders and wait staff to babysit him. He demanded a non-stop flow of milkshakes until they finally cut him off. The kid went and got his dad, who instructed them to keep giving him whatever he wanted.

I pulled a bartender aside. She told me he’d been going at a steady seven milkshakes a day since he arrived.

img_1293

I deserve this for Melissa’s Cannonball Run shot in my last post.

And that’s about it. Tomorrow it’s back to the mainland. We’ve decided to try to rent a car and spend a few days driving up the coast to Cairns for our flight to Guam.

Time permitting, I’m hoping to visit the fabled "outback," which I never managed to see when I lived here — mostly because I couldn’t convince anyone to go with me. I have a captive companion now, so we’ll see how it goes.