Tag Archives: Queensland

Walking my country

“I learned more about this place than I imagined was possible.”

FOR more than three decades I lived in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, until the call of the subtropics saw me relocate to Moreton Bay in South East Queensland in 2012.

From the very beginning, this place has been beautiful and story-filled, but it was also undiscovered country for me.

My sense of place is one of the strongest sides of me, but I knew it would take time to come across the stories and culture of this new place. I also undertook a petition in this community about marriage equality, which meant coming out publicly in a place where I was unsure what the general reaction would be.

So it was the perfect antidote, and an inspiring challenge, when VoiceMap approached me in 2015 to produce an audio tour for Coochiemudlo Island, right at the geographic centre of this archipelago.

IMG_1761I approached a friend, neighbour and author David Paxton, a member of the Coochiemudlo Island Heritage Society.

David has engaged in an ongoing conversation with the traditional owners of this part of Moreton Bay – the Quandamooka people – about the cultural heritage of Coochiemudlo Island. He’s also researched its European history.

Walking around our island home, in under an hour I learned more about this place than I imagined was possible, and through a process of editing and researching, we came up with a tour: Escape to Coochiemudlo Island, which is now available to download on your mobile phone via the VoiceMap app.

Everyone’s heard about Pokémon Go and many are into Geocaching. VoiceMap is similar in that it makes use of GPS (Global Positioning System) to navigate.

There are no signs on the tour, just David’s voice guiding you around Coochiemudlo Island, narrating its stories while you stroll the island foreshore and through its interior.

IMG_1756Some of the highlights include one of Coochiemudlo’s iconic accommodation destinations, Quirky Cottages, a holiday farm-stay like no other.

Sites of ancient Aboriginal culture and tales of explorers, settlers and farmers are woven into this unique way to interpret and understand the island.

The tour also passes through the island’s Ramsar Wetlands, a place replete with bird life; and it touches on stories of Matthew Flinders’ visit to the island in 1799.

Getting to know my community’s social fabric, its past and its natural beauty, has been a pleasure and a privilege. Our VoiceMap is just the third such tour in Australia, and Queensland’s first.

Coochiemudlo Island is not far from civilisation – we’re just 35 kilometres from Brisbane’s CBD – yet here beyond the edge of the city’s seaboard, life moves at a very different pace.

Our VoiceMap doesn’t give away all our secrets, or cover everything about Coochiemudlo, but I encourage you to come and experience a bit of what the island has to offer.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

Surviving the heat while the world’s watching

A Writer on how the story often gets told regardless.

THE world will be watching Brisbane, Queensland, for the upcoming G20 economic summit in the city. For a few weeks, if they’re savvy, international media (and social media) will be capturing stories straight from the heart of the Australian state named for Queen Victoria.

The last time this heightened media attention occurred was the focus on Russia’s gay and lesbian rights track record in the lead-up to February’s Sochi 2014 winter Olympics opening ceremony.

“Once the disenfranchised have a name, they can never remain a blind spot, even for an entire nation.”

At that time, equality advocates in Australia really had nothing to crow about.

When the same inquiring analysis cast its eye over Australia’s human rights standards at the Sydney summer Olympics in 2000, we were found wanting, and I don’t believe we’ve ever really recovered.

International press attention found the majority of Australians ignorant when it came to knowledge of Aboriginal culture and politics, and with Aboriginal athletes and performers taking centre stage at the world’s largest sports carnival, there really was no excuse for us to have so little idea about even the basics.

Fourteen years ago, I doubt most Australians could name the traditional Aboriginal nation in which they resided. I thought I did, until I realised I was living right at the junction of at least six of them.


I learned this not from my formal education, but from maps exhibited at Australia’s interpretive show for the world about the history of this land, once considered a ‘new’ world by European explorers, but in reality an island continent inhabited by the oldest established culture on earth.

These days, the names of Aboriginal nations are commonplace. The issue doesn’t stop there, of course, but once the disenfranchised have a name, they can never remain a blind spot, even for an entire nation.

In time, I believe an observable change in Aboriginal equality will stem from the year of the Sydney Olympics, because after the world witnessed the human face of our country, Australians had no more excuses for ignorance.

During the penultimate moments of the Olympic flame lighting, a technical glitch caused the rising movement of the cauldron structure to malfunction. It was supposed to rise around Kuku Yalanji and Birri Gubba woman of Far North Queensland, and international athlete, Cathy Freeman.

The four-minute pause allowed the world to take a longer-than-planned look at a living, breathing, self-defining Aboriginal Australian woman. Australians were in the box seat for the viewing – we probably needed to witness it more than anyone – and with the technical fault’s tinge of embarrassment, the reality of Cathy Freeman can never be extricated from the moment.

BANNED BANNER One of many which will not be seen by international delegates at the G20 in Brisbane.
BANNED BANNER One of many which will not be seen by international delegates at the G20 in Brisbane.

Australians should consider ourselves lucky we got off very lightly compared to other Olympic human rights controversies, and we should not point the finger so quickly at others. If we do, we’re forgetting the sting of the Olympic human rights flame as it shone the light on us.

It will be interesting to see if the cream of international political conservatism is allowed to learn anything while they’re staying in Turrbal country in the place known as Meanjin since long before it was renamed Brisbane by European settlers.

Early signs from the G20 are not promising, after billboards promoting action on climate change were banned by the Brisbane Airport Corporation, and Aboriginal offices have been forcibly closed by Brisbane City Council without adequate explanation.

We can only hope for a technical glitch to get the real story to the world.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.


Nuptials and the Deep North

WEDDING PARTY Elves around the fire at our reception.
WEDDING PARTY Elves around the fire at our reception.

A Writer encounters Queensland’s LGBTQI equality record.

ON the same day as the Northern Territory found that a dingo did indeed take Azaria Chamberlain, the Queensland Government decided to release some news of its own. Perhaps, since there was plenty of other distractions for the media, they thought we wouldn’t notice?

A very important factor in our decision to move to Queensland was its record on same-sex equality.

Despite the state being a bit late on decriminalising homosexuality in 1990, in 2011 the Bligh Government passed a bill allowing same-sex civil unions.

But on Tuesday, June 12, 2012, Newman’s new conservative government bowed to pressure from christian groups and repealed part of the legislation. Civil unions are still legal in Queensland, but no state-sanctioned ceremonies are allowed for same-sex couples creating such unions.

Apparently some christians don’t want to see same-sex attracted people ‘emulating’ marriages in our ceremonies.

Obviously such objectors haven’t been to too many same-sex marriages lately … you see, we don’t really ‘do’ marriage like these christians do. We ‘do’ marriage a whole lot differently.

“The tide has long-since turned for same-sex equality across Australia.”

Richard and I were married at Twizel on the South Island of New Zealand, during a Lord of the Rings tour guided by Discovery Tours, who take people into the foothills of the Southern Alps where location shoots were conducted for the movie trilogy.

We’re not dyed-in-the-wool LOTR fans, we just wanted to get married in a wilderness region without all the hassles of permissions and insurance. The setting was magnificent and soul-lifting, a perfect place to create a lasting union.

Back at home in the Blue Mountains, however, we went further by hosting a Lord of the Rings-themed party in our garden, for our family and friends. Richard thought of the costume idea, because he didn’t want to be the only one dressed-up.

We had quite a small house, but that was offset by a huge garden, so, in late May 2008, we invited everyone for what we hoped would be a lovely autumnal afternoon and evening, outside.

About half an hour before the ceremonial start to the party, the weather took a turn for the worse. Our guests, bedecked in everything from Hobbit feet to Ent branches, and smatterings of Elvish ears, sheltered in a billowing marquee.

Now, The Reverend Fred Nile might have prayed for rain on our parade, but as Richard and I dressed in our medieval-style outfits, a patch of blue sky shone out of the west.

By the time we were marching up the aisle of our driveway, to stand beside the anvil where our guests were forging our wedding bands, the rain was gone.

We were enveloped in so much love – friends playing and singing our favourite songs (our wedding march was ‘Moon River’); family taking care of us (my sister Jen was dressed as an Elf we named Gilgandra, which is pretty close to Galadriel); other friends speaking or performing for us; and everyone braving the conditions around a series of fires, well into the night.

It was an elemental celebration like no other.

Leaving the garden where this event took place was a little sad – little bits of sparkly confetti were always surfacing here and there in our cool climate paradise, a reminder of our wedding party – but this time in our lives was one step on a long journey.

You see, despite some christian’s doubts about the validity of our marriage, we really are in it for the long haul.

We could be angry that Queensland seems to be a case of two steps forward, and one back, for same-sex couples … but we’re already married, and we’ve headed north.

The tide has long-since turned for same-sex equality across Australia, and we were happy to ride that wave into Queensland, with our progressive votes at the ready.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.