After last year's Christmas being the worst in years, with a last-minute cancellation to the first Christmas I was looking forward to in years, and no gifts from anyone I gave gifts to (I know, it's not the "Christmas spirit" of giving to expect gifts, but when you are rejected by everyone at that time of year, it makes for a pretty depressing day). And I wasn't looking forward to the day this year, as it just reminded me how much I hated last year's.
I think the last Christmas I really enjoyed was in 1986. Despite recently losing my mother in unexpected, suspicious circumstances, my family spent the Christmas holidays with our cousins, and the kids were told to pick *anything* we wanted as our Christmas presents from the current store catalogues.... my father with a guilty conscience perhaps. Being young and greedy, I just picked the largest Transformers toy I could find in the catalogue (Metroplex)... and amazingly, I got it.
Since then, my family gave new meaning to the definition of dysfunctional, especially on Christmas, which was more a chore than a fun day for the kids.
Despite the forgettable childhood, one of the places I have a fondness for, is where I spent a few years of that dysfunctional childhood - Warwick in Queensland. It was the home away from home for me as I spend three years at one of the boarding schools there (Scots PGC College).
It might sound strange to have a positive impression of a "school", but this was more than just a school to me. This was my home for three of my most formative years as a child. Going back there a couple times since I left as a student, is like revisiting one's old home or neighbourhood... just to relive or remember ones childhood, or a better, simpler time.
And I think I was the only kid there that wasn't homesick, because I actually wanted to get away from the family. It was the best three years of my life (so far), and it was only while I was there last week that I realised that it had been exactly 20 years this year since I was at school there.
I couldn't believe it.
Where has the time gone.
So last week, leading up to Christmas, I booked into a hotel, and planned ahead for the weekend away. With Christmas landing on a Sunday this year, I didn't have to work Christmas Eve for a change. I could use the 24th to drive there and spend 2 nights away from anything that reminded me of Christmas, or more specifically, past Christmases - missing my mum for the early, good Christmases, my Grandmothers Jocelyn & Betty (the relatives I was closest to, and with both of them now gone, this would be the first Christmas that I wouldn't have either to talk to or even get the usual Christmas card in the mail) - I didn't want to be depressing anyone else around me with my own bad memories of the day.
I left home at around 2 or 3pm, and about 90 minutes later, I was driving through the centre of Warwick (it's south west of Brisbane, via Cunningham's Gap).
I saw signs up saying that it was the city's 150th birthday... which was an interesting coincidence. It was a nice touch to be in the town I liked so much, on a significant anniversary.
The town is large enough to have BigW & Target, but neither had much in the way of Transformers. (I'm a toy collector... did you really expect me not to do my "duty" and check out the toys?)
I did see this odd sight - 5 Transformers toys in the one store, despite it being rare to find just one in other stores:
Since the Toyworld was already closed, and neither of the Department stores had anything in them that I was missing, I didn't end up buying anything for the collection there.
I headed for the Buckaroo Motel, via Hungry Jacks (which had 95c Cheeseburgers... and I loaded up on Onion Rings).
Checked into the Motel, and the room was really nice:
I was also interested in it having a pool, but I didn't end up using it.
I told them that they didn't need to make up the room on Christmas, so that they weren't working too much on the day, but they still did anyway.
So the 24th was spent eating through my second Onion Rings challenge, and doing internet stuff (while watching TV of course).
I got up earlyish on the 25th, and after a quick shower, I headed out at about 10am. First up was a quick stop by the School... which at least would be empty of people, to not see me "casing the joint"... unfortunately that didn't end up going to plan. After about 2 minutes parked out the front, taking a few photos for my records, I suddenly see this guy at the corner looking at my direction. Perhaps one of the resident teachers living onsite, making sure I wasn't a vandal I guess. I wasn't really wanting to leave just yet, but I didn't want him calling the cops on me... so left.
So much has changed in the 20 years since I was a student there.
A lot greener than when they were in drought 5 years ago.
Apparently I went up there in 2006, and took a few photos... based on the dates on my photos.
This one is of the same area, but a whole lot browner.
That is the street leading up to the school, with the main campus on the right. The Assembly Hall is next to the road, with the two oldest dormitory's to the right of that - the oldest one has the clock tower. To the right of that appears to be a church, which is new since I was there in 1991.
On the left side of the road used to be just the old wooden buildings, that weren't used much when I was there 20 years ago, but since then, they seem to have been done up, and more recently there's something big built there now.
The front entrance of the school, which used to be the Main Office when I was there, but was later moved.
Compared to the photo from 5 years ago...
Lucky we didn't have a drought during my time there as a student. It would have looked so dead and depressing.
Everything was so green when I was there, with the 1 or 2 floods each year, with the Condamine River bordering the school, breaking its banks and getting close to the buildings (but never actually reaching any).
Looking back towards the oval and gully (which would get flooded, when we had the annual flooding).
And again, compared to 5 years ago during the drought...
Looking along the row of the older buildings (assembly hall and dormitories - the one next to the hall was the dormitory I lived in).
And a better angle to show off the Clock Tower... I was one of the only students ever entrusted with the school flag and Australia flag, which gave me access to the Clock Tower when the flag was required on its flagpole during special occasions. It was a restricted access, locked part of the school, making me one of only a handful of students (during my time there) to be able to climb up the 3 storeys and look out over the school from the top. Even most of the teaching staff didn't have access. It was a big responsibility, that I was given for most of my 3 years there, and I was grateful to be trusted with the school flags.
That was the last of the photos I took this year, before being "chased off" by whomever was suspicious of my presence there.
Some of the other photos I managed to take 5 years ago, of other parts of the school, and the parched, brown land around it...
The "unused old wooden buildings" (20 years ago) on the left side of the road, all done up now.
The dormitory that housed the students who were grade 8 or less, back when I was there 20 years ago. They were kept away from the older grades, which acted like a quarantine... minimising the peer pressure element of the older kids over the younger ones, who would be more easily intimidated and stuck in an environment with no escape.
I spent some time in this Dorm as a "senior" over the youngens, and it was a lot of fun... too much fun. I could have been a bit more responsible, but did get stuck with doing most of the "chores" when it came to watching over the kids and their daily routines.
The river crossing behind the school - the river was a regular hang-out/play area on weekends.
The gully near the oval, with the small empty dams - during most of my time there, they were full, and even had fish in them from the annual flooding. They did drain one though, to use as a rifle range for the school's shooting club, and the army cadets.
The back of the school, looking across the river. I think that was the new Dorm they built some time after I was a student there, and I think that was the building that burnt down a couple years ago. When I was a student there, they had an old dormitory and an old dining hall (which had a recently built kitchen).
And this was a sports complex (on the left), also built since I was a student there. They must have had some big donors or benefactors since my time there... then again, it has been a while, and they were building something new every two years while I was there.
And the Church, which was not there 20 years ago. Every Sunday we would be bussed to a church in town, and the girls from their dorms on the other side of town would be bussed there as well. (it was a co-ed school, but the boys dorms were at the school, while the girls dorms were across town where the junior grades had their classrooms)
So back to the present... Christmas day 2011... I headed from the School to the nearby Leslie Dam, which the school used for sailing, and was a nice place to relax.
I was out there by about midday, took a few photos, and read some comics I took with me.
Now this was even more amazing, looking a how different the Dam looked between drought (at 17% capacity 5 years ago) and being full this year.
Doesn't this look so inviting, and it's only a 90minute drive from Brisbane...
The front looks kinda boring though (taken 5 years ago).
Here's the spectacular bit. From the back of the dam, you can really see the difference between its highest level (now)...
and its lowest (5 years ago).
The other photos I took last weekend.
Looking across the water from the "saddle dam" (a secondary earthen dam of only 5 metres high at a nearby valley, to "plug a hole" when the main concrete dam was fully constructed to its current height). At capacity, the water comes up to the saddle dam (it gives the dam an extra couple metres of water height).
And at the boat club building, which the school would use for its weekend sailing. The dam was full during my time at the school, like it is in the photo below, but 5 years ago when it was close to empty, the water level was too low (and too far away) for sailing. Another thing I'm glad didn't happen while I was there... as sailing was one thing that was fun to get out and do on weekends.
And over to the left a little. (take note of the rocky outcrop in the middle of the trees in this photo... it is actually half submerged in the water, and will be a point of reference of where the shoreline is when the dam is at capacity, when looking over the 2006 photos below this one)
Here's those same trees from 5 years ago.... the shoreline is some 500+ metres away. And look at the other side of the Lake to see the gap between the shoreline and treeline.
And this photo was taken while I was standing on that rocky outcrop. That blue arrow is pointing to a car parked some 500 meters away, and they were still some distance from the water. All that grassed area to the left of the water would normally be underwater... and currently is. The tree line is where Capacity is.
This one is a composite photo of several photos. That rocky outcrop is on the left, and all that grassed area is now back underwater. (click on pic to see it in full size)
And that shot above of people parked at the end of the "boat ramp"... here's the concrete boat ramp that is actually below the water-line, and was totally exposed here, to the point that the water dropped beyond the ramp, making it useless at this level.
This was a second access point, nearby, and that small tree in the middle next to the dirt road is where the water was up to when I was there last weekend. I actually parked under those trees on the right, and read my Transformers comics for a couple hours, with the cool breeze rustling the leaves in the trees and occasional car driving along the road behind me as the only noises. The lake was a perfect sight for this quiet, lazy day.
I shoulda taken a photo of this spot as well, just to have another easily comparable location... maybe next time.
And one more from 2006, to show how much water was missing.
I returned to the Motel at around 4pm. I got a bit hungry (I managed to eat the last of the HJs for breakfast), so I drove off to find a convenience store or petrol station... Found a Shell, and grabbed a few items.
Back in the Motel, I spent most of the evening watching NCIS (bought season 7 on DVD the other day) while typing up my Christmas Turkey Pie post.
Checkout was a fairly early 10am, so I didn't stay up to late. I wanted to be showered, packed and off before that time, and got out with a couple minutes to spare.
During my two nights there, they only seemed to have about 4 or 5 rooms filled out of their 20... so was nice and quiet.
Between Brisbane and Warwick is the Cunningham's Gap. They were doing roadworks this year, which meant there were barriers up obscuring the view, but I did manage to snap this quick pick of the valley below the Gap. It'd be a nice spot to stop and sightsee when they finish the roadworks.
On the way back home I stopped off at the Hyperdome to see what sort of boxing day cheap stuff I could find.
No toys unfortunately, but I did end up buying a heap of half-price christmas lollies & chocolates. A sign of how down christmas sales are, is by how much stuff they have left over afterwards, and how long it takes to sell it.
Stores I've been to since Christmas have had aisles of unsold "food" junk... even a week later at half price.
A lot of that stuff I'm keen to sample, but wouldn't pay full price to do it. It's just empty calories.
A bit of a side track there... As for the point of this posting, this ended up being the most stress-free Christmases, as I didn't have to do anything, please anyone, or buy people gifts and be worried about if they would like it. And I didn't feel bad about moping around other people, in case it brought them down, making me even more depressed.
It ended up being so much better than I had expected, I may do this travelling/adventure thing each Christmas. Driving somewhere new and interesting, to distract me from what depresses me about this time of year, could be good for me (to start enjoying the day once again)... and for those around me, who would otherwise be stuck with my moping, or putting on an act just for their benefit.
I hope those of you reading this at least had a good Christmas and New Year.
See you next year... :p