Stradbroke Island, an escape from reality

Travel

Tree branches, like two extended arms reaching for each other’s outstretched fingertips, form an archway leading to a place unlike any other, a world where time has no bearing.

One wave after another caresses Stradbroke Island’s sedate shoreline, our feet sinking into the soft, silky sand. It’s the type of satisfaction reminiscent of resting your head on a goose down pillow after an exhausting day.

The beach, barring a flock of seagulls circling above like starving vultures, was completely ours. I felt like Tom Hanks from Castaway, but unlike him, hoped there was no way off this peaceful paradise.

Everyone experiences a day they hope lasts forever, a perpetual escape from reality. This was one of those days.

As I chased the seagulls like an exuberant youngster without a care in the world and sauntered across the untrodden, unblemished sand, I peered out onto the vast expanse of the deep blue, the magnitude of which would leave even the most experienced seafarer speechless.

Shining and glimmering bright, the sun did its utmost to fight off the cloud’s menacing advances. Time was of the essence as the sun, with all of its energy, power and might, would remain uninhibited for only so long.

Dashing toward the Pacific Ocean’s wide open, gaping mouth with pace and intent I dove under a wave, my head popping up like an otter coming up to draw breath. I quickly realised how startlingly cold and refreshing the water is on Australia’s eastern coast in late autumn.

Wide-eyed and alert, I exited the frigid water before the sun became completely blanketed by cloud cover. As temperamental as a baby’s emotions, the skies opened up, battering the ocean and shoreline indiscriminately, with conviction and fury.

There was something ironically calming about the volatility with which the sky pelted the otherwise tranquil shoreline.

I would have stood up to Mother Nature’s wrath had it not been for the expensive electronic items I was compelled to protect, or so I tell myself. Invigorated, refreshed and full of life, I headed for shelter.

Almost as quickly as it began the violent storm subsided, calm once again prevailing across the island. The sun poked its head out once more as I sipped my perfectly made flat white.

Calmness pervades Stradbroke Island, Australia as nightfall looms.©

Unlike Tom Hanks’ perilous plight on Castaway, Straddie unfortunately does offer a way off of the island. A bus – although running less frequently than Rosie O’Donnell – transported me to a ferry for the final connection to mainland Australia.

The day, like every moment I hope lasts forever, felt as though it had evaporated in a flash.

Every moment, however, from my Straddie retreat, like the cave inscriptions of Ashoka, is forever etched and indelibly inscribed. I even had the pleasure of running into a lonesome – and more surprisingly awake koala – and a wandering kangaroo, underlining the already quintessentially Australian day on the island.

If ever entrenched in inconsolable despair, or asked to think of a happy place, my mind will immediately refer back to this day on serene Straddie, my Neverland and euphoric escape from reality.

Five types of people watchers

Opinion

Maidenhead, of all places, bustles with activity on this mild and temperate, albeit overcast (no surprise there), English spring Saturday.

Sipping on a flat white I find myself scanning passers-by, fascinated by people’s mannerisms, movements and the way in which they interact.

Locating someone with a smile amongst the clusters is as unlikely as catching a glimpse of a tiger in the Indian mangroves, more rare than an alcoholic passing on a free drink.

There is something incredibly soothing and peaceful about travelling on a train. And, no, I’m not referring to a city’s crammed subway or unventilated underground. Those types of trains are merely a means to an end, a necessary and unavoidable evil.

I’m talking about commuter trains that connect the world and, with the slightest gaze out onto the horizon, stimulate your mind and open your imagination.

Even though fully aware of the final destination, unless inadvertently hopping aboard the wrong train in a foreign land or finding yourself incapacitated by a drug stupor, you are forced to surrender control and let the tracks lead the way.

You  find yourself slipping into a state of comfortable helplessness. The tracks, as they cross bridges, slide alongside lakes and swerve ever so slightly into the distance, cannot be dictated to. The rhythmic pace at which trains zip down the track tends to settle even the most nervous traveller.

Powerlessness pervades while  barrelling down the tracks. Once you realise fate is out of your hands, sit back, relax and truly appreciate the undulating hills, meandering rivers, quaint towns, imperious peaks and memorising skylines that so often pass us by.

Photography

Brisbane bike polo, a revolution in the making

Sports

Brisbane Hard Court Bike Polo Association vice president Ollie Wykeham, who recently returned home from Geneva’s world championships, winds up for an attempted whack on goal during a friendly match at Musgrave Park.

Members of Brisbane’s flourishing bike polo scene return from Geneva’s world championships as questions about the sport’s legitimacy mount.

“To call it a sport at the moment is premature,” says Dwight Zakus, a lead sports organisation theory researcher at Griffith University.

“But nobody can stop them from calling it that.”

Lacking a formalised governing body and a uniform set of rules, bike polo falls short on criteria Zakus deems necessary for it be considered a sport.

Brisbane Hardcourt Bike Polo Association’s vice president, Ollie Wykeham, respects ‘abstract’ assertions made by researchers, but says the tyre-screeching, ball-bashing activity encompasses many traditional sports’ characteristics.

“You have the thrill of competition and there’s this insane camaraderie,” says the 26-year-old, who has relished swinging his mallet since being persuaded by friends three years ago to mount up.

Bike polo, in its original grass-court form, made an appearance at the London 1908 Olympics and has been riding its way on to hard courts since the mid 90s.

“It appeals to hipsters, people who want to be cool and ride their fixed gears. I was one of those people,” Wykeham says.

“In a weird way we are attracting outsiders and rebels, people who don’t have a social group or are a part of less socially acceptable groups.”

He says athletes from traditional sports are also drawn to bike polo as it kindles camaraderie.

Although Australian Polo Federation vice president Ian McDuie belittled bike poloists (link) by saying they should “try the real thing”, he insists it is a sport.

“There is no question that when people compete against one another physically and athletically it’s a sport,” he says.

Almost 400 players took part in the fourth annual world championships, in which the Brisbane trio – Wykeham, Domenico Natoli and Roberto Abacher – finished 20 places higher than in 2011.

Resolute in his continued plight to see bike polo gain credence, Wykeham says it is only a matter of time before it becomes a universally accepted sport.

If Wykeham has his way this hip polo variation will one day emulate its grass-court cousin and hit the groomed hard courts of the Summer Olympiad.