Here & Now with S Sorrensen - Apr 1

Montville, Qld.
Sunday, 12.10pm:

It’s an English pub. But unlike real English pubs, there’s a beer garden. Of course, you don’t have beer gardens in traditional English pubs. Who would want to sit outside in England? (Okay, there is that special time in spring when the sun shines and it’s not cold. But three hours a year doesn’t warrant a beer garden.)

This is an English pub with a beer garden and I’m sitting in it, nursing a lemonade.

Montville, up on the ridge behind the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, used to be a little town. Now it’s a theme park. It’s almost unrecognisable from 30 years ago when I rode my motorbike along the winding, empty roads around here, exhilarating in sweeping curves and new love.

Because Montville is elevated, it has a brisk air about it, so there’s a plethora of European-style shoppes here selling ye olde junk. Dutch sweets and German sausages inhabit every Queensland village that sits above sea level.

So I’m sitting in an English beer garden with Fourex on tap gazing across the valley to where another village, Palmwoods, straddles the opposite ridge. A young Aussie boy with a guitar and backing tracks sings American hits from the 90s. (Old songs like these add to the ye olde pub vibe.)

Sitting next to me at this slab table is my granddaughter. She’s two and blows bubbles into her glass of water with her straw. Next to her is my son. Granddaughter looks up at me and wrinkles her nose. I look back at her, wrinkle my nose and cross my eyes. She roars at me like a lion, her hand pawing the air. I pucker my lips, widen my eyes and make chimpanzee noises. Frightened, she snuggles under her father’s arm. I lift my glass of lemonade and drink. She lifts her glass of water and pours it into her dad’s beer. He reacts too late and his beer is even more watered down than normal.

The first time I came to Montville was on a 500cc Suzuki Titan motorbike. That was before my son was born. Seated behind me on the bike was my son’s mother. Between us and hidden inside her mother’s huge duffel coat was my son’s sister. We rode into town, the three of us, like outlaws roaming the sierra, looking for petrol and cigarette papers. The town’s street was empty except for a few locals sitting on the public benches that used to dot the street. They stared at us and smoked. They showed no surprise when we dismounted and a toddler emerged from the duffel coat and waved at them.

These days, tourists by the hundreds walk up and down the strip engaging in that one activity that defines modern life – shopping. Childless people in bright clothes sit in cafes sipping lattes and eating carrot cake. Elderly people clutching rainforest tea towels look for public benches. Dads in striped polo shirts and long shorts lead their families into the olde English pub where the mothers show the kids the goldfish in the water feature. The kids are horrified to see the solitary goldfish has a huge deformity on its back.

I can see Palmwoods has also grown. I have special memories of that place. It’s where, all those years ago, we three on the motorbike spent the night after leaving Montville. There, on the verandah of an old house owned by a friend, with a crescent moon reflecting off the bike’s exhaust pipes, our young love first called out to the soul that is my son.

Eventually he chose us to be his family.

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