Brisbane’s changed. When I first visited in 1969 to enrol as an external student at Queensland University, it was like – and this was a cliché at the time – a big country town. Red traffic lights performed the same function as Christmas lights: a bit of razzle-dazzle without noticeable impact on the passing parade. Brisbane’s now a sophisticated and beautiful city, with its river - once regarded with no more affection than a stormwater drain - now the focal point of a first class metropolis.
I visit Brisbane many times a year and, along with Sydney, it’s my favourite Australian city for walking. Whether through the Botanic gardens and across the footbridge past the Maritime Museum to South Bank, or downriver along the floating boardwalk and eventually to the Breakfast Creek Hotel for a well earned beer. The ASOPA reunion kicks off a week from now and I must say I’m looking forward to Brisbane as much as I’m looking forward to the event itself.
Highlight 1 - The Friday meet and greet. “Who are these old people,” you ask yourself. “What are they doing here and where are the fresh faced mates of my youth?” I have a theory that the eyes never change. People say their name and you look into their eyes and, yep, that’s them. Another marvellous thing. Even with people you haven’t seen for 40 years, there are no awkward pauses. Class and rank and social status count for nothing. This is the relationship you haven’t had for 40-years renewed as if you’d been at the Goroka Club together last night.
Highlight 2 - The Saturday river cruise aboard Lady Brisbane and the subsequent lunch at South Bank. By now the shock of the new is truly gone and the anecdotes and reminiscences flow like fountains. The old friendships have been ignited and are on fire.
Highlight 3 – The Reunion Dinner. The Sofitel ballroom is the venue for a program focusing on our shared history and experiences as well as providing a continuation of the day’s celebrations. Ken McKinnon speaks and we hear a message from PNG Secretary for Education, Joe Pagelio. A gift for PNG schools is presented. And representatives from each ASOPA intake reflect on what it was that made their cohort special.
Highlight 4 – A lazy Sunday sitting around and yarning, culminating in the Bow Thai farewell. It seems the weekend has evaporated. Or it has gently burst, puffing out a warm bubble of nostalgia. This is when the real schmaltz sets in: when it’s time to say goodbye.
Brisbane will never feel the same again.