A Night Out at the Theatre

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I really love old buildings. I love the detail in the architecture, the arched windows and the sense of character that I often find missing in contemporary buildings. Toowoomba is blessed to still have many of its historic buildings and I love wandering around the city streets, bemused at the way they sit juxtaposed to contemporary buildings, wondering about the people who helped build them or who used to work in them.

One of our favourite historic buildings is the Empire Theatre. It was opened on the 29th June 1911 and had the latest technology of that time to show the most exiting advent in entertainment – big screen movies! Sadly, much of the original theatre was destroyed by fire on 22 Feb 1933. Despite this devastating setback, the theatre was rebuilt and the two walls that were left standing after the fire were incorporated into the new design. Amazingly, the theatre was able to reopen at the end of the year on 27 Nov 1933. 

The Empire Theatre continued to be at the centre of Toowoomba’s cultural life for many years. Unfortunately, the lure of the television set and other entertainment led to the theatre’s closure in 1971. For a while it was used as a warehouse and then as a TAFE college and then sadly, it just fell into disrepair. Fortunately, this was not the end of the story.

Eventually the need for a performing arts centre resurfaced and the Empire Theatre was restored and reopened its doors on 28 June 1997. Today, the theatre blends contemporary technology with the architectural grandeur of its past, still retaining some of the features from both 1911 and 1933. One of the most outstanding features is the grand proscenium arch, which is possibly one of the last of its kind left in the southern hemisphere. The arch is back lit with a rainbow of colours and provides a stunning frame for centre stage.

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It still is the largest performing arts centre in regional Australia and hosts a variety of world class performers. You can read more about the Empire Theatre, it’s history and its cultural program here.

We have enjoyed seeing a number of ballet performances and musicals at the Empire Theatre. Last year we went to see a local production of Wicked and earlier this year we went to see the Pirates of Penzance. It was Bec’s first Gilbert and Sullivan musical, and she thoroughly enjoyed it. Not long ago the Empire Theatre was one of a number of locations around Australia that screened sessions from the Sydney Writer’s Festival free to members of the public and just recently Dan, Bec and I enjoyed the Queensland Ballet’s performance of Swan Lake.

There is something about the story of Swan Lake that fills our hearts with a blend of joy and sadness. If you only ever see one ballet in your life, it should be Swan Lake. The beauty and grace of the swans and the tragic ending of the doomed lovers always moves me to tears. Bec learned ballet for a few years when she was younger, so we have seen a few different ones – The Nutcracker, A Midsummer Dream and La Fille, Mal Gardée – but Swan Lake is always our favourite.

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West Creek Reserve

 

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We’re pretty spoiled for parks here in Toowoomba. There are the Japanese Gardens at USQ, the waterfall and walking track up at Picnic Point and Laurel Bank Park right next to Yellow Bridge where Dan goes everyday. Right in the centre of town there is Queen’s Park where many events and festivals are held. And then there are the numerous small parks and playgrounds dotted around the suburbs.

Just a few minutes walk from our place is the West Creek Corridor, a stretch of parkland that follows the creek into the centre of town. It not only provides a recreational area for locals but also a wetland sanctuary for birdlife. One of the main features, though, is a walking and cycling track that follows the creek. On any given day, weather permitting, you will see any number of walkers, joggers, cyclists, mums with prams and dog-walkers out for a spot of exercise or just a bit of fresh country air.

Most days I try to find time for a walk along the path too. I like the way the path meanders through different environments – under a canopy of tall palm trees, over open grassland and through a patch of tall, dark forest. The path criss-crosses the creek, so even if you go for a walk everyday, you can still take a slightly different route each time. And if you follow the path far enough, you will pass thousands of bats hanging from the trees.

The bats are a story in themselves. There used to be a miniature railway under those trees. Until the bats moved in. After fruitless and expensive attempts to move the bats on, it turned out to be cheaper to move the railway across the road to a different spot in the corridor. Once a month the Toowoomba Live Steamers run miniature steam trains along the railway and for the cost of a two dollar gold coin, anybody, even adults, can have a ride.

There are other fun things to do along the West Creek Corridor. You can rest for a while on a bench and watch the ducks and ibis on the lake. Or, if you’re more the energetic type, you can make use of the free fitness equipment scattered along the walkway. You can bring a picnic lunch or cook some snags on the BBQ while the kids explore the playground.

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When I wander along the walkway and see the birdlife, the leaves changing colour or the trees beginning to flower,  I find it hard to believe that Toowoomba was once known as The Swamp.  Sadly, I see that the magpies are starting to gather. Magpie season is just around the corner, which means we might soon need to give the walkway a miss for a while.

Lucky for us, though, we have lots of other places we can go for a walk in the park.

166 Days Till Summer

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Today is officially the coldest day of the year for Toowoomba and I can quite believe it. The wind is howling around the house, underneath the garage door and into our living area. It is absolutely freezing outside. This morning it was just 4 degrees at 7.45am when Dan and I ventured outside to go to Yellow Bridge.

I don’t have a proper temperature gauge, but my phone says it is 12 degrees outside. There is something wrong with those numbers. I think they should be the other way round. And it gets worse. Overnight it is supposed to go down to minus 1 degree, and tomorrow is not going to be much better than today. Hibernation is starting to sound like a very good idea.

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Although technically it is 12 degrees outside, according to the weather bureau, when you take the wind chill factor into account, it actually feels more like 5 degrees. At 6 o’clock this morning, officially it was 0.6 degrees in Toowoomba, but it felt like minus 5 degrees.  No wonder we are feeling so cold!

For those of you who live in places where the temperature regularly plunges below zero, the ground is covered in deep layers of snow and you look forward to getting out your skis and sleds, you might wonder – what’s the big deal?

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This is Queensland.

This is the Sunshine State.

It’s supposed to be…Sunny One Day – Perfect the Next

Now Toowoomba is on the top of the Great Dividing Range, and we can get cold winters. But even for Toowoomba, 5 degrees is cold, although it’s not quite a record – yet. Depending on whether you count the chill factor or not, the lowest temperature on record for Toowoomba is either 20th Jun 2007 (minus 16.7 degrees) or 25th June 1961 (minus 3.6 degrees).

Despite Queensland being the Sunshine State, it has actually snowed here in the past. Weather records have been kept on the Darling Downs since 1896, and in that time it has snowed at least 18 times. Of course, a snowfall here is nothing like a snowfall in real snowy places. You might be able to scrape up a snowball, if you’re lucky, but I wouldn’t count on getting out your skis.

On the bright side, winter here is usually short and sweet, so hopefully we won’t have to wait too long for better days to arrive. In the meantime, we’ll rug up, wrap our hands around a mug of hot steaming coffee and count down to summer. 

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Only 166 days to go.

The Japanese Gardens – Ju Raku En

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The Japanese Gardens are one of my favourite places in Toowoomba. A walking path meanders around the gardens, past tall trees, over traditional red bridges and past waterfalls and lakes. In springtime, the cherry blossoms are in flower and the ducks and other wildlife are nesting.  The garden’s official name is Ju Raku En, which means “enjoying peace and longevity in a public place” and it certainly lives up to its name.

When Bec was still at school, Dan and I would often come to the Japanese Gardens for a walk. After dropping Bec off at school, we always had some time to fill in before Dan’s day at Yellow Bridge began. We would wander along the pathways, although with Dan it was a bit more of a gallop. Sometimes we would climb up the steps to the ‘Distant Pavillion’, sit in one of the shelters and look out on the ‘Crowd of Ducks Lake’ or watch the water rushing down the ‘Dragon Gates Falls’.

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This morning I visited the gardens for the first time in a while. After walking through the large red gates, I took the path that runs along the perimeter, paused on the footbridge to take a quick photo of the waterfall (you know how much I love waterfalls), and then crossed over a red bridge to a shelter by the lake. Apparently the red bridges are a traditional Japanese feature, designed to ward off bad omens. I didn’t see any swooping magpies, so maybe it works.

As I came up to the lake, I was just in time to see a group of ducks,  swimming in formation from the island in the middle of the lake, right past where I was standing. Right in the centre of the group, were some fluffy ducklings, out for a morning swim. So cute.

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I love the lush green foliage in the gardens. It always feels cool and refreshing and makes a fabulous backdrop for the bright red bridges. The shelters are the perfect place to hide away with a book, and being right next to the university, the gardens are a great place for students to find some peace and quiet in between lectures. Thousands of visitors enjoy the peace and tranquility of Ju Raku En every year. Perhaps one morning I’ll see you here too.

Dog Alert

 

Now that the weather has started warming up, we have been getting outside a lot more. I had noticed that some extra padding had mysteriously accumulated in various places over winter so I have been determined to be more active. One morning I decided to take Dan for a walk around our neighbourhood block. It was going well until we passed a place that had a dog.

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Dan hates dogs. I can’t ever remember him having a bad experience with a dog, however, for as long as I can remember, he has been afraid of dogs. Now the dog that we passed was safely behind the front fence. It looked over the fence at us and barked at us, but we were quite safe. However, as soon as Dan hears or sees a dog, he tries to get as far away from it as possible. Even if it means putting himself in danger by standing in the middle of the road. It doesn’t matter how much I try to reassure Dan that he is perfectly safe; the dog is behind the fence, he can’t get you – he is usually determined to go in the opposite direction. Eventually, we managed to get past the dog, but it was very exhausting.

One of the things we like to do when we are camping or touring around Australia is visit wineries. I especially like the small family-run, boutique wineries and I have noticed how wineries and dogs often go together. Dan has a good memory. I used to think he remembered which wineries had dogs, if we happened to visit them again. But an experience earlier in the year has raised a different possibility.

Before Easter, we spent a weekend at a small town called Kingaroy just a few hours north-west of Toowoomba. We visited two wineries. When we arrived at the first place, Dan wouldn’t get out the car. We looked around, couldn’t see any dogs and tried to reassure him that there were no dogs. Reluctantly, he got out the car and followed us into the wine tasting area. I was tasting a few wines and chatting to the owner, and asked him if they had any dogs. He said they had two dogs but they were in the house with his wife. The next minute, Dan is trying to climb up my husband, Paul, who is over six foot. One of the dogs, a small dog, had escaped from the house. Climbing up the nearest human tree is Dan’s favourite escape strategy. Thank goodness he has stopped trying to climb up me.

When we went to the second winery, a strange thing happened. Dan got out of the car – no problems. I thought, this is a bit weird. Anyway, we go into the shed and I ask the lady if they have any dogs. No dogs. I explained about Dan’s autism and dislike of dogs, and she thought he could probably smell them. People on the spectrum often do have a heightened sensory awareness and Dan is quite sensitive to sound and touch. But it never occurred to me that he could smell dogs. The next time he refuses to get out of the car, we’ll know.

Spring – At Last!

 

Yesterday was the first day of spring. The sky was a perfect shade of blue, the sun was shining, and there was just a little breeze. It was the perfect start to a new season. I am so glad to see the back of winter, even though this winter has been unseasonably warm. When we moved to Toowoomba, just over two years ago, it was the middle of winter. That first week was absolutely freezing. One of the first things we did, was go out and buy electric blankets. I haven’t needed an electric blanket since I left Adelaide, twenty-one years ago. Technically, the Australian winter is June to August, but down south, winter can be much longer than that, beginning well before June and lasting well into spring. I can remember wearing so many layers of clothing that I felt like a waddling penguin. Queensland is different though. Winter in Toowoomba can be quite cold but at least it is short.

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When we first moved to Queensland from South Australia, the constancy of the warmer seasons was quite apparent. Down south we could have heat waves with temperatures over 40°C for up to five days straight. But then a cool change would come in from the ocean and the temperature could drop dramatically overnight. It’s not like that here. There are small fluctuations but generally the weather is fairly constant. It is definitely the land of the long hot summer.

The beginning of spring always seems to give a new burst on life. It’s the time to get outside, go for a walk, get active and shake off the winter blues. In Toowoomba it is almost time for the Carnival of Flowers. The city’s parks and gardens are a hive of activity, getting the floral displays ready for the influx of visitors.

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Laurel Bank Park, Toowoomba, QLD

Sadly, we don’t have much of a garden. Living in a rented house, we’re not exactly allowed to dig up the yard and plant stuff, but we do have a lovely little patio at the back which we have been busy filling up with pots of herbs, veggies and flowers. It’s surprising how many plants can grow quite well in a pot. The cherry tomatoes and strawberries are already flowering and I can imagine there will be an argument over who gets to taste the first strawberry.

As the weather warms up, we are looking forward to getting outside, spending warm evenings on the patio, with a cool drink and some nibbles, and watch the sun set in the west. Spring at last. Hooray!

 

Waterfalls

I have a thing for waterfalls. There is something about them that always draws my attention. Perhaps it is the sound of the water as it rushes down the rock face and hits the water below. Perhaps it is the freshness of the spray that lingers in the air. Or maybe it is just the way the sunlight dances on the water as it pours over the escarpment and weaves its way over and around the rocks. It is a symbol of life; quenching thirst, refreshing dry skin, essential for survival.

I grew up in South Australia: the driest state in the driest continent. There are a few waterfalls in South Australia, but like many Australian waterfalls, they can be seasonal. Most of Australia’s waterfalls are found in the Great Dividing Range, which runs from the tip of Queensland down through New South Wales to the Grampians in Victoria. It is over 3,500km long and the third longest land-based mountain range in the world. Toowoomba sits on the Great Dividing Range, or the Range, as it is often called.

One of my favourite places in Toowoomba is a recreation area called Picnic Point. It is actually one of the oldest recreation areas in Toowoomba, established around 1885, and has undergone a lot of changes since then. On a clear day, there is a great view to the east, down the Range, to the Lockyer Valley and beyond. But my favourite place at Picnic Point is the waterfall garden.

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It’s not a real waterfall. It was constructed back in 1965 on the face of a bluestone quarry and over the years they’ve done a lot of work to create a rainforest setting. It’s quiet, shady and secluded. Except for the steady drone of the traffic in the background, you could almost forget that you were in a large regional city. The rock face is about 5m high, so it’s certainly not a big waterfall, but I like the sound of the water as it drops from the top and flows down through a series of pools. On either side of the largest pool at the bottom, there are two old-fashioned lampposts that remind me of The Chronicles of Narnia.

As soon as I step out of the car, I can hear the waterfall. I know that every time I come to Picnic Point, except in times of severe drought, I can expect to hear that sound. Just the idea of a waterfall fills us with expectation. On our recent trip to the Crows Nest National Park I was filled with that same expectation. After walking through the bush, past the water pools, up and down numerous steps, I was expecting to see a waterfall. Sadly, I was disappointed. There was no water. Not even a trickle. It’s been a very dry season. Despite the disappointment, I am determined to go again. No matter how many times you see the same waterfall, it is never the same. Every time is different and that is the beauty of nature.

In the meantime, I know that I can go back time and time again to Picnic Point, wander down the short path to the waterfall garden, sit in the shelter, listen to the kookaburras laugh and watch the water as it tumbles down the rocks. When I have had my fill of serenity and solitude, I can return to the hustle and bustle, refreshed and replenished – until the next time.

Bush Running

 

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Every week my son, Dan, goes bush walking with a support worker up at Picnic Point. Dan is tall and thin and has long legs. It comes in handy sometimes. When we do the grocery shopping, he can reach the items on the top shelf. Dan didn’t inherit his long legs from me. He is very active, so when he walks, he is like a man on a mission. Once he gets into the zone, he just goes. There are two speeds–stop and go. His support workers have nick-named their bush walking excursions as “bush running.”

Now if you want to get fit, walking (or running) with Dan is a great idea. However, it does have its downsides. While he is in the zone, he has no sense of road safety. If he knows where he is going, he just goes, across the road without looking. One time I thought it would be a good idea for us to go for a walk around our suburb. As long as Dan was in view I thought it was okay. But then he got just a bit too far ahead, and it didn’t matter how much I called–he was in the zone. There was no way I could keep up with him and worried about what would happen when he reached the road, I had to ask someone to help me catch him .

Dan also has a tendency not to see people. When we are out among crowds, he tends to just barge through people. Fortunately, nobody has been injured yet. But it does mean that when we go out, I need to hold on to him and manoeuvre him in and around people and obstacles. In the past, he has even walked straight into a pole.

On the weekend, Dan, Bec and I went for a drive out to Crows Nest National Park, not far from Toowoomba, to see the waterfall. The walking paths to the pools, the look out and the falls, all have steps. Lots and lots of steps. I’m not really all that keen on bush running, so as we go down the path, Bec sets the pace from the front (she has long legs too) and Dan brings up the rear. As we were going down all the steps to the water pool, I  thought about how we would have to come back up all those steps. No matter. I put Dan in front, held on and he pulled me all the way to the top. As I said, he can be quite handy!

We laugh about the bush running and admire Dan’s stamina, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even though he is mostly non-verbal, he is always happy and makes our life very entertaining.