"Australia 1999" story # 13


Calgoolie, Queensland
April 5, 1999

In Outdoor Ed., Rob complained he was sick of Americans from the recent camping trip, and he revealed that, for Easter Break, he'd be travelling to Germany and the U.S.
     A collective groan erupted from the pre-dominantly American class, because he'd mocked us. Rob tried to make it up to us by turning his ridicule to a lesser-represented country.
     "Well," he said, "as soon as I get out of Germany, I'll be glad to see Americans!" He smiled, feeling safe with that joke.
     From the back of the room, the German voice of Kai called out accusingly. "Why's that!?"

Rob's vacation had obviously been well-planned. I, on the other hand, was the only international kid who'd woken up that day with no idea what he was doing for break.
     But, I lined things up all day, and, soon after Outdoor Ed., I'd collected a backpack (from Jess), a shipment of my favorite food from home, Seafoam candy (from my grandparents), a ride to Queensland (from Australians Kelly and Kelly), and a much-enjoyed hug good-bye (from Elkie, whose hair was pulled back to give her shining eyes and smile a lamb's sweetness). I hit the road, headed for a week of backpacking Frasier Island.
     On the ride up, I got to listen to "White Kelly" and "Black Kelly", as they like to be called, do their impressions of Americans. Their impressions were very good. That is, if the typical American was a guest of the Rikki Lake show, which is the impression people in other countries apparently like to get, something which results from the airing of Jerry Springer and Montell Williams all over the world at all times. Considering the American programming that unfortunately finds its way Down Under, Kelly and Kelly could've assumed I lived at home with my tattoed, pregnant 13-year old girlfriend, had four kids in four states - two with my brothers' wives, one with my psychic first cousin, and one with an 800-pound lesbian who hosts her own phone-sex line. In an effort to make me fell at home, they kept saying, "Kick him to the curb, girlfriend!" and "You're not a hero, you're nothing but a zero!" and "You gots to get'cho broke-ass a job, you beef-headed, stone-wash jeans-wearin', Vanilla Ice-listenin', Don King wannabe!" and stuff of the sort.
     I'd also never forget, until I'm senile, how affectionately Black Kelly (I think there was some aborigine in her - she had cute, pudgy-faced features and a caramel complexion) called to her car, Dino. On any moderately-sized hill, the Kelly's started pounding on the dashboard of the old, red, compact car, saying, "C'mon, Dino. C'mon boy!" At the top of the hill, they'd cheer and massage the dash. "Good boy, Dino, you're so good."
     My part in all of this was to crack the girls up every time I talked. I was regarded as the dumb foreigner. Naturally, if I asked what "petty" meant (petrol - gas) or if dingoes really had a diet for infants or even something quite normal, they'd make me feel comfortable by bursting into hysterics. As I gobbled my chocolate Seafoam in the backseat, I began to know precisely how Uter, the goofy exchange student on The Simpsons, feels.
     We stayed at black Kelly's house in the spacey suburbs of Brisbane. The next morning, we visited with friends of hers living at Brisbane's Nungee Beach. Their house was on an estuary, and though the water was too muddy to swim in, the dolphins' playing every morning made it an incredibly attractive suburban dwelling.
     Dino took us to meet white Kelly's dad north of the city, where we filed into his car for a ride through the Glass House Mountains. I sat in front for the tour. We drove past the steep, widely-spaced, bluish-colored mountains, sticking from their misty green valley, which Kelly's dad explained with a lazy, virtually unenglish country accent. The coolest sight was a gorilla-face-in-the-rock, whose eyebrows, nose, and snout, could be made out from a bushy hilltop look-out.
     The day before this, for the second time, I had discussed the Crocodile Hunter with Australians. And, once again, they'd asserted, "He's a wanker!" I couldn't believe Kelly and Kelly, native Queenslanders, could have felt that way about the fearless legend who lived and wrestled crocodiles so near to them. I would've expected them to have posters worshipping the man all over their rooms and possibly to have been involved in the creations of towering statues honoring him. But no. Geez, the nerve of some people!
     (How ironic that an American, upon learning which American tv shows appeared in Australia, could be so disgusted by the unrepresentative depiction of his country, while Australians, upon hearing what Australian tv show appeared in America, could be equally disgusted by their country's depiction, when the difference was: their country was being represented by the GREATEST SINGLE HUMAN ON EARTH!!! What reason had they to complain? Jerry Springer may have been "white trash," but the Crocodile Hunter was NO WANKER!!! ... Then again, I suppose it said a lot for our two countries' similarities, if, when young citizens of each country were together for more than hour, they both revealed that everything they knew of the others' country had been learned from tv!)
     Driving through the Glass House Mountains, we passed a huge billboard showing Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, in an intense struggle with a crocodile. His park was near! It was located in Beerwah, on the Glass House Mountains Tourist Route, and Kelly's dad said we could stop there. We drove, surrounded by very thin forest, until we came to another such billboard, this one located in the parking lot of the Australia Zoo ... home to reptiles, birds, mammals, and the Crocodile Hunter!
     If ignorance is bliss, Kelly and Kelly got to observe my stupidest hour ever. My face beamed with pleasure. The girls took my picture by Steve's photo, and they also had me wrestle a wooden alligator. I was so happy, I would've jumped in a crocodile's mouth if they'd asked me. I toured the park's snake cages, watched a guy in Crocodile Hunter apparel do an alligator demonstration, and bought some postcards of Steve and Terri holding pythons. I didn't get to meet Steve or Terri, but I vowed to return and filled out an application to volunteer at the park.
     Kelly's dad also took us through beach towns on south Queensland's Sunshine Coast. The sand was golden, the waves were playfully inviting, and the area boasted a near-constant sun. However, the bigger towns like Mooloolaba were lined with tall, tasteless hotels and represented, I think, an uglier side of Australia.
     There wasn't much more to see on the way to Kelly's home in inland Gympie, so her dad entertained me with jokes I was hopeless to understand. Mostly, the jokes "payed out" Americans and the Crocodile Hunter. They all involved the use of the word "yank" (an American) three or four times, "stupid" a subsequent amount of times, and "bloody" roughly fifteen times. They sounded something like: "Mate, bloody, a'duya bloody recog-bloody-nize a bloody stupid bloody yank when ay's een'a bloody mi'dl uhda bloodeequains lun eneremurehhh...?" As an Australian, he trailed off early in his sentences; as an elderly countryman, he cut off before the sentence was half-over. When he saw I wasn't going to answer, he'd laugh heartily, bang the steering wheel, and say, "Ah' rek'n 'cuzda bloody stup'd yank'd be bloody wearin' uh stupid bloody Crocodile Hunter shirt an' bloodee-eneremuuhh..." I always forced a nervous laugh, having no clue what he'd said, and waited for Kelly to say, "Oh, daddy," to spare me from more jokes.
     At Gympie, we were treated to a tasty fish dinner for Good Friday. Prior to the meal, Kelly's mom had said grace, and her dad had told more unintelligible yank jokes to the delight of all but me. I could do nothing but keep smiling, feeling more like the stupid bloody foreigner with every passing minute.

Due to rain the next morning, my backpacking trip to Frasier Island was postponed a few days. The Kelly's took me to Calgoolie, a coastal town, where we'd be staying with Kelly's aunt. There wasn't a lot to do, as we stayed around the house. Black Kelly and I spent most of the day laughing at how cute white Kelly's little cousin's were. I joked with Bianca, a chubby four-year old, that I'd be sleeping in her bed. "Then I'll sleep on you," she said with a smile. Aww, how cute ...
     But, after six hours, we were more than cuted out, and Raquel's arrival excited us. Raquel, yet another suitemate of Elkie's, Shana's, and white Kelly's, had big, brown eyes, long, straight hair, puffy cheekbones, a tight body, and a wonderful accent I'd describe as a whiny chirp. She'd come with a friend from Adelaide, named Chris, but she explained to me that her boyfriend at school had recently dumped her and begun dating Shana. (This guy could easily serve as a model for MY "Roommate Swap" attempt - although, Raquel was quite pretty, and I think in his case he'd mistakenly swapped down)
     Raquel didn't seem too sad, as she described her ex-boyfriend. "Well, you've probably seen him around. He's got a huge schnoz. I mean huge!"
     She said Elkie liked me. She recommended I have a talk with Elkie once I got home, and she was pulling for me.
     "I reckon you're a top bloke," she said.
     That was one of the most memorable, seemingly heartfelt complements I'd ever received. Even if I wasn't quite sure what Raquel meant, it was real neat how she said it.
     At night, the five teens drove to Noosa, which is like the Boca Raton, Florida, of Australia. It's a wealthy town, with luxurious hotels, fine restaurants, and a pricey shopping street. We danced to Britney Spears and the Offspring at the fancy Koala Club. Raquel, Chris, and I tired of dancing and left for a night swim.
     We found Noosa's beach only after four young guys jumped in our car to direct us (could you imagine such a thing happening in the States?). The beach was a tranquil, rock-outlined cove, located ABOVE the main drag, Hastings Street, which is actually below sea level.
     The swim was magical and romantic, if unneccessarily so. Stars and hotel lights reflected in the black water, and a gentle forest stretched to either side of the cove. Curling two-foot waves splashed against us predictably, and our places in the world seemed so insignificant and unthreatening we could talk about anything. Chris lived to surf, and Raquel felt sure she was meant to be a dolphin. She grieved a bit about her lost boyfriend, but the bodysurfing contests we had made her forget everything. Above all, the three of us adored the sea. By the end of the swim, I felt like I'd known Raquel and Chris for years.

I felt bad that white Kelly's cousins had to wake up Easter morning with a bunch of university students on their floor. We quickly scampered off to the wild waters of Calgoolie Beach. Waves and foam flung themselves in every direction like they suffered from serious mental disorders. Chris surfed. Raquel and I played in the waves. She tried teaching me how to identify riptides, information that probably could've benefited me given my recent history, but my brain had so atrophied from the leisurely life of an exchange student that I couldn't grasp it.
     We rode south to Mooloolaba, a town that, to my surprise, hadn't been conquered by bovines. Raquel, Chris, and I went to the beach (surprise!). Here, the waves were straight but mammoth, and they bashed my shoulder hard into the ground while I swam. I figured if I was hurting, I was at least gonna make Raquel get really, really dizzy, so I dared her to do ten somersaults in the water. Even being the dolphin she was, Raquel could only manage five.
     Raquel and I discussed our admiration for sharks, and she said her devotion for sea-life kept her from eating seafood - quite a unique idea, and I rather liked it.
     We lost the Kelly's somehow. The three of us had Easter dinner at a Thai restaurant in Calgoolie, where I watched with admiration as Raquel turned down an on-the-house seafood soup. Then, we returned to the rocky cape of Noosa's beach to talk in the moonlight. I was happy to hear Raquel had forgotten her old boyfriend and Shana and was having a fun break. We took another swim and staged another somersault-turning competition. Fittingly, we all tied at ten. But, my head spun so much when I finished that, with stars in the sky and in the water twirling feverishly, I felt like I was hurtling through the cosmos - which felt pretty cool, as long as I didn't think too long about the Thai food I'd eaten.
     The next morning, Raquel begged me to forget my notion to backpack Frasier Island alone and to join her and Chris's plans for the break. I compared my previous backpacking experience, on North Stradbroke Island, to the fun and cool accents of Chris and Raquel, and the comparison was pretty one-sided.
     So, I went with them. We grabbed a Mexican pizza at Cafe Noose, where, two days before, we'd gotten a pizza so delicious and spicy I'd nearly negotiated to buy the restaurant, before remembering I'd barely had enough money to buy the pizza.
     Chris bought a surfboard, and we headed out of town. We got to Rainbow Beach, the shoving-off point for Frasier Island, and we went for another night swim. This time, we played in the turbulent waters of a long, undeveloped patch of forest-lined beach.
     Obviously, it didn't take much to make the three of us happy besides a "good feed" (big meal) and frequent dips in the ocean of this beautiful part of Queensland.
     Back at our caravan park, I shared with them the American tradition of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. They shared with me some terms of Aussie slang. They may not have been the most productive words, but if, for whatever reason, I ever needed to tell an Australian he was gay, I now had two eloquent options (namely "poofdah" and "poojabber").
     I reckon I was heaps on me way to becoming best mates, even as a stupid, bloody yank.

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