Travel to Brisbane

When I was told that the train to Brisbane would arrive in the city at 4am, I was no longer focused on the 14 hours I’d be on the train for, but now I was planning to arrive in a city that would be asleep.

Not all travel plans are perfect and I’ll admit this one was far from it. In hindsight, flying up to Brisbane would have been a much better option, but I had my heart set on train travel to keep the sense of adventure alive and relive the ‘Rolling Back Home’ escapade of 2011.

If my journey would have been a smooth ride like Melbourne to Sydney then 14 hours on a train would not have been an issue. But this trip would be more reminiscent of my 2011 adventure than I could have expected. When I bought the ticket I was told that due to rail works, there would be a bus replacement service for the first three hours of the journey up to Newcastle where we would then transfer onto the train.

The bus had a wheelchair lift that allowed access to an area towards the back of the vehicle. The bus driver hadn’t operated it before so as he was working on that I was shown to the smaller, accessible minibus that was taking the staff up to the station and I got I ride on there instead

It was a fast bus ride to Newcastle where we arrived before the passenger coach that had set off before us, giving me time to get on the train and set up in comfort. I’d opted for an overnight service on my way up to Brisbane thinking that it might save a day of travelling and I could make more of my time there. I was lucky to have the seat next to me free and it was a comfortable journey until I tried to find the best position to sleep in. I tried so many positions on the seat trying to get a bit of sleep and just as I’d found the best one with the seat reclined and my feet up sitting sideways, there was an unexpected turn in the journey.

An announcement was made by the train manager that the train would be terminating at the next station and there would be another bus to take us the remaining three hours to Brisbane. So at one o’clock in the morning we pulled into a town called Casino and were ushered off the train and onto the bus. I found out the reason we changed is because of track works happening on that part of the line. Something that the Queensland provider hadn’t told the New South Wales provider, apparently an accurate demonstration of communication between state lines.

Early arrival in Brisbane

Luckily I wasn’t arriving into Brisbane without any sort of plan. Santi, who I met last year when he was doing his Churchill Fellowship in the UK lives in Brisbane and offered to meet me with his friend Lachlan when I arrived, despite the ridiculously early time. Such a big help as the alternative would have been finding a coffee shop to hang out at until I could check into my hotel.

We stopped for a drive thru on the way back to Santi’s then hung out chatting for a couple of hours. When I met Santi last year, he was in the middle of his Churchill Fellowship so I was interested to hear how the rest of his travels went. Santi and Lachlan showed me around the area next to the river where he lives before we had breakfast with his friends.

I checked into my hotel in the West End of Brisbane. Not an area I knew anything about when I booked it but like most times I’m just aiming at places that have an accessible hotel and good transport links. This choice had proved to be a nice spot and really accessible to get to the centre and also for trains.

Transport system

Over my ten days in Brisbane, I used public transport regularly as I do in most places. Brisbane continued my overall experience of good accessibility with the train stations I visited being fully accessible with small platform gaps and ramps onto trains, bus drivers being helpful getting ramps out and large areas on boats for wheelchair seating.

The accessible transport system coupled with my power assist made getting around Brisbane centre very easy. Getting to some places further out was a bit trickier as bus routes didn’t cover all the areas that I needed to get to. My only minor gripe with the transport system is that buses and boats do not take bank cards yet, meaning you have to buy a ‘Go’ card before using them. Very minor though.

If you get the opportunity to visit Brisbane, I highly recommend taking one of the ‘City Cat’ boats down the river to take in the city. Or you could opt for the smaller, free city hopper service ‘Kitty Cat’.

Innovation interviews

I had a good amount of interviews planned for my time in Brisbane but through a mix of access needs and illness, about half of them were cancelled or moved online. Not being deterred by this, I took the opportunity to make more contacts and see a bit more of the city and local area.

Since starting my Churchill Fellowship, the scope of what I’m looking at has expanded quite a bit but I’m still keen on connecting with disabled innovators and in Brisbane that’s exactly what I did.

I had a chance to connect with Carol Taylor who works in the fashion industry, a partner in the designer firm Christina Stephens, and designs clothes for disabled people. Carol shared a fascinating story about how she turned what was a hidden passion into something that allows people to show who they are through the clothes they wear and feel great about themselves.

This was an interesting conversation for me. Interesting for research purposes for my Churchill Fellowship in the way it brought a new idea to the fashion industry of disabled people being fashionable rather than making do with what clothes makers think disabled people should be wearing. It was also interesting because when it comes to fashion, my chat with Carol made me realise that when it comes to clothes, I’m all about the functionality. Is that internalised ableism or just where my interests lie?

Next I met up with Matt Davey, a cancer survivor that founded Mend, a digital app that offers peer support and other resources to people going through cancer treatment and also other chronic conditions. I’m a massive advocate of peer support because of what effect it had on me and also what I’ve seen it do for other people countless times.

I then headed down to the Golden Coast to meet Tim Lachlan who set up WCMX Australia. It’s not very often that I step outside my comfort zone when I use my wheelchair. I don’t want to sound arrogant but I’m confident in my wheelchair skills and will quite happily do most things. That’s why going to a skatepark to try WCMX for the first time was such an interesting experience for me. As I was on top of the drop, I was thinking about the position of my hands, wheels, body, and casters. Making sure I knew what each had to do when I dropped. I stayed in my chair but didn’t do the trick correctly. It’s amazing how difficult some things are to unlearn.

Santi Valesquez who had been so welcoming since I arrived in Brisbane was not only a Churchill Fellow but also a disabled innovator. Santi has created an app called Hailo that visually impaired people can use to improve their experience of using public transport by letting them connect directly with the bus driver to let them know when they want the bus to stop for them and when they want to get on the bus, with all the information being relayed to them by audio updates.

Seeing more of Brisbane

As well as getting out to try my skills on a skatepark for the first time while in Brisbane, I was keen to get around and see what else there was to see.

One of the things that I’d been told about was the koala sanctuary, Lone Pine, located relatively close to the city and you can hold a koala. Not wanting to miss out on something so Australian I took one of my meeting-less days to take a trip out there. An hour on the bus and I arrived at the sanctuary filled with a range of Australian natives, most of whom were koalas or kangaroos.

It was a sweltering day and heat like I hadn’t experienced since I’d arrived in Australia. I’d piled on the sunscreen and had my hat on but was still doing all I could to stay in the shade. I went to the kangaroo field which was a two or three acre space with about 50 kangaroos hopping around. I say hopping, most of them were lying around in the sun. I took the kangaroo feed that I’d bought before entering and started to look for a kangaroo to feed. Most of them weren’t interested in food, which I’m guessing is because so many people had been holding it up to their face, almost trying to force feed them. I did find one joey that was a bit peckish.

Next I was off to get up close and personal with a koala. The koala I held was called Spur, he was slightly heavier than I was expecting and about as fluffy as you would expect a koala to be. He was placed into my arms and really held on tight with his claws, definitely not something that I’d want to be on the receiving end of other than the hug we had. The sanctuary was a fun way to spend half a day and a great way to see the native Australian wildlife without traveling too far given my time constraints.

Santi suggested that we do some sightseeing around Brisbane. Of the things that he suggested, going to one of the local islands for a beach day sounded most appealing to me. Another real sense of Australia. Rather than going to one of the tourist spots, we headed out with his friends to a spot where local people head to.

The beach was really accessible. Initially confronted by a set of stairs, we found a second route with a beach mat that went over the sand. Unfortunately the beach mat was only 20 metres long and didn’t get me anywhere near the sea. The lifeguards did have a beach chair though which had huge inflatable tyres on which meant I could get down to the sea.

It was only when I was swimming in the sea that I realised it’s something that I hadn’t done in such a long time. I’ve been in the sea, but the last few times I’ve done that was to scuba dive. Going to the beach just for a swim is something I haven’t done in maybe 15 years. I had so much fun bobbing around in the water amongst the waves and it made me think that I should make more effort to do it back home.

There was one more visit to the beach that I was going to make before I left Australia and that was to go scuba diving. I really love scuba diving but it’s something that I last did just before the pandemic in January 2020. When I got up to Brisbane I thought that it was the perfect weather to get back out and try it again.

Moreton is an island off the coast of Brisbane. Tangalooma resort on the island offers a range of activities which while I liked the look of them, I was only going to spend one day there which I planned to fill with a bit of drone flying and diving. I arrived at the Brisbane ferry terminal for a 7:30 am departure and when trying to get on the ferry I couldn’t believe that the gangway was too narrow for my chair. One of the downsides of the camber on my wheels. Staff were apologetic but that wasn’t going to help. It’s been a while since I’ve done what I did next, but I lifted myself up with the rails on the gangway and used my arms to shuffle over to the far side. Luckily it was only a couple of metres so it was just about possible.

That was the most inaccessible part of the day and things did get better once I arrived on the island. The paths were well paved, all areas that I went to had ramps and there were a good number of accessible toilets given the size of the resort. I explored a little outside of the resort to find a place to fly my drone but the terrain quickly became very sandy so I set up on a piece of grass, sent my drone up to look around the island and then headed back to the dive centre.

The dive centre staff were good when it came to offering help, letting me know that I just needed to let them know what to do. This has been my experience with the majority of the dive community which is probably why I feel so comfortable being part of it.

It’s been four years since my last dive but as soon as we went in the swimming pool for a refresher, it all came flooding back to me. Getting the gear on, getting underwater, the hand signals the mask skills, the regulator skills. In the twenty minutes that we spent in the pool I had the confidence boost I needed and was ready to head out to the sea.

Like the visit to the beach the day before, the dive centre had a beach chair which made getting to the boat that landed on the beach zero hassle. We were on the boat and at the dive site which was about a kilometre down the coast in no time.

It was a quiet session with around 8 scuba divers and 20 snorkelers on a boat that had capacity for 70. We had an easy dive, only going down to about 12 metres for 35 minutes while we looked around some wrecks. The wrecks were sunk by the Queensland Government through the second half of the twentieth century to give a place for recreational boat owners to anchor.

The sunken vessels have been the birthplace of a new coral reef and with it lots of reef fish and other marine life, all of which was amazing to get in amongst and explore. I took my GoPro with me to film some of what I saw, forgetting how difficult it is to hold a camera to film and balance with one hand. It was fantastic to be underwater again and it refreshed my desire to dive more and I’ll be thinking about my next trip when I head home.

Au revoir, Australia

There was one final thing to do before I left Brisbane. I’ve been towing around my broken suitcase for a month since landing in Melbourne. My initial attempt to fix it in Melbourne hadn’t worked and I needed to get something done to it before I flew out. Lachlan is a friend of Santi and offered to help me out. A car mechanic by trade, he picked up a metal plate and fixed it to the inside of the case and to the casters to make them stable and it worked. What a legend!

And just like that, my first trip to Australia has come to an end. It’s been an amazing four weeks that has flown by but also has been so packed with so many fantastic people and stories.

That’s the first leg of my Churchill Fellowship complete and I’m about to set off on the next leg that will take me to Aotearoa (New Zealand). Flying into Auckland then five weeks later flying out of Christchurch. No doubt that the next leg of my fellowship will hold more fascinating conversations and exciting activities. I’ve heard and seen so many amazing things about New Zealand and I’m excited to discover them for myself.

As I fly out, I’m already thinking how much I’d like to come back at some point. Maybe for an extended period of time. There are plenty of places that I’ve visited that I don’t think I’ve seen enough of. All I need to do is find a project that will bring me back over here. Feel free to email me any ideas!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *