A Virgin Backpacker on R&R in Townsville

After months and months of Word Fest Toowoomba preparation and delivery, there was a moment of clarity. Time to book a time to rest and reflect, and with plenty of friends to harass and a familiar city from my working past to revisit, I donned the compulsory mask and became an air traveller once again. Destination Townsville.

Far North Queensland is a place of extremes, and Townsville, though on a map appears to be in the tropical area of our vast state, is actually in a rain shadow and is usually quite dry. Humidity is stifling in summer, and the only sensible time to holiday is in winter. So on Tuedsay 8th June I landed with my pared down 7 kilos of carry-on luggage, and an exhausted body looking for a mix of Rest & Relaxation.

A delayed flight…….a combination of ramped up security checks not quite managing the throngs of travellers once again taking to the air, and the early hour made for a very quiet time on board as snoozing was the order of the day. My travel pillow is such a great design that it never takes long for me to drift off. Jetstar had offered cheap flights during the months of COVID inactivity, and I knew I would need a break, so I threw caution to the wind and decided this was a safe place to take on my first hostel accommodation.

Why, oh why? I have asked myself many times.

Rewiring my life path after decades teaching and in admin meant a chance to transfer those leadership skills in to planning and delivering a writers, readers and word lovers festival in my home city of Toowoomba. So it has happened and now my reward is a trip to the UK in September/October to explore Booktowns, bookshops and discover festival logistics to enhance the Word Fest 2023 planning. So, keeping the costs down has been the challenge. Hostels seemed to be calling.

So before heading to Autumn weather in Scotland, England, Wales, Ireland and Paris, I am here in Townsville – and lying on the top bunk of a 4-bed female dorm in the fully occupied Civic Guesthouse and asking Why, oh why?

It is 4 nights of practice! I can do this!

Day 1

Headed straight to the Blue House at 183 Fulham Road…..and my beautiful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mob. Absolute welcoming hugs and yarning up with the family that has made me culturally welcomed since 1985.

Then a deep breath and with my big girl pants on, I fronted up to the hostel.

My first night. I learnt:-

. Don’t choose the top bunk where the ladder is on the side – the end is easier to cope with the indignity of an overweight body encumbered by a hip with osteoarthritis getting up and down

. Gently assert space – long term occupants, especially young confident backpackers are messy and take over all available space in and on every available piece of furniture.

. Find out when they are leaving in the morning and hold on to toilet, shower and teeth cleaning times until they head off to their respective casual jobs

. Where the fire alarms, kitchen and extra bathrooms are

Ok, so I survived the first night…well til 3.30am anyway. Found a nook down the hallway with a table that is a reasonable height that doesn’t add more aches to your back and uninterruptedly spent time recharging the inevitable devices.

In between snoozes and snacks (another must-do is to find the closest supermarket, easy to prepare, but nutritionally-balanced food supplies and squeeze things in to the bar fridge designed for a six-pack of beer rather than food for 4 people), there was the CBD adventure to come.

Day 2

Sad! Even the addition of the Cowboys League Club in the downtown city centre hasn’t really energised the Flinders Mall. Loads of second-hand clothing shops, a semblance of a commercial hub, some tired infrastructure buildings in need of a spit and polish and the old Sugar Shaker now the Grand Chancellor Hotel.

However the Perc Tucker Gallery’s Percival Portrait Prize exhibition was a gem. Also picked up the Street Art Trail brochure there and saw a couple of the murals….tomorrow’s itinerary perhaps.

Townsville has had suburban sprawl and the smaller satellite shopping centres, the new hospital and the impressive football stadium are catering for the families, schools and sporting needs of a growing city still linked so firmly to its defence forces. The western suburbs have become the home of recent migrant groups and the local Indigenous groups are continuing their active campaigns for inclusion and practical solutions to youth at risk. Townsville is trying hard!

The evening dining experience with old friends at Yayo’s Greek restaurant attached to The Clarion Hotel was superb! The chargrilled octopus and the lemon roasted potatoes were the standout for me, though we all enjoyed our choices. And only 200 metres from the digs.

Bunk was fine, and found a little stool to help the last step down – a grateful bonus!

Day 3

Disappointingly COVID contact meant a planned meetup with another old friend was cancelled, but she suggested a few places of interest. So I explored the City Arcade and its hip boutique brewery and shopping, before a lunch hookup with my mob at the Hotel Allen where we enjoyed many laughs and congratulated long- time activist Gracelyn Smallwood on her inclusion in the Queensland Day Greats Awards.

Townsville is home again to niece Kym and family thanks to Defence Force deployment, so it was a fun twilight fish and chips adventure with Syd, Damo and Sam on The Strand while their Mum was ‘relaxing’ in the Officers’ Mess with a red wine on her 6 week course away. Tons of family spaces and food kiosks and icecreams later, the boys were ready for home and footie, and I was actually yearning for that top bunk.

Not sure why the room mates needed the aircon on, but it got chilly in the wee hours.

Day 4

Saturday slow start. Thawing out and thawing the frozen juice in the midget fridge. Sorting out the clothes to discard…..my travel quirk is to take things that need culling or replacing and throwing them out along the way……..and the ones to wear to lunch. That momentous decision-making was about as much as I could muster.

Then it was off to the Herbert Hotel to meet my Forsyth cousin, Ron. A steak was in order for my final day, after small no-cooking snacks the other days. Also needed to show some semblance of intelligent conversation with this quick-witted gent. A project to record the line of Robert Henry Forsyth for Clan Forsyth Qld needs many hands making light work….thank you, Ron …….and the technology of Otter. This app which converts talk to text is a boon! Helps with my MollyB Blogging work as well. Bonus!

MollyB Blogging……..facebook…come on biard, like and share

Last bunk night. Roomie He Huan is a Chinese Comedian based in Melbourne and she was in Townsville doing a gig for the Fringe Festival at Jezzine Barracks. Will be following her on Insta. Sadly too cold to go to the gig. Too cold in Townsville……oh my goodness, I never thought I would say that!

And so to the end of a quick r&r trip. I couldn’t resist a book browse at the airport…….

A virgin backpacker no longer. Paris here I come in October.