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Cocktail hour at the Emporium Hotel
Scott Wintrow

I Can’t Get to Sleep
Not for a lack of trying, but as is the case for many tourists on their first trip to Australia, the sheer excitement keeps us awake on the flight. Factor in that, for the first time in our lives, we newbies are going into the future (with the time change, you can take off on, say, the 18th and land on the 20th, only to then call home, where it’s the 19th), and the 16 hours tick by rather quickly. Two hours after touchdown, we’re on a six-hour walking tour of Brisbane.

Susie Carleton, our tour guide from Brisbane Walking Tours and the Rhodes scholar equivalent to a Brisbane historian, showed us the beating heart of Queensland, complete with towering skyscrapers and so many cranes constructing so many new buildings that you can’t throw a rock without hitting one.
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A bottle tree in Brisbane
Scott Wintrow

My two favorite stops on the tour were both commemorative shrines to Australia’s military past: Anzac Square War Memorial and the MacArthur Museum Brisbane. ­Anzac Square, located between Adelaide and Ann streets, honors Australia’s soldiers throughout time. Almost everything in the square is symbolic: The 18 columns commemorate the year that World War I ended (1918); the bottle trees commemorate the Queensland Light Horse Regiments; the palm trees commemorate the military’s presence in the Middle East in both World Wars. “And we even have a cookie of the same name,” Carleton says. Made from sugar, flour, rolled oats and coconut, the Anzac cookie became an Aussie staple after their soldiers returned from war: The wives would send them in care packages because they didn’t readily spoil.

With history on my mind, we also visited the MacArthur Museum Brisbane. Housed in the Queensland Headquarters of the Australian Mutual Provident Society — on the corner of Edward and Queen streets — this museum was the actual headquarters for General Douglas MacArthur, commander of forces in the South Pacific during World War II. The eighth floor is preserved as if it has been hermetically sealed since 1945. No American should visit Queensland without a stop at the MacArthur Museum: There’s no better way to learn about MacArthur as gentleman and general, and you learn just how consequential a role Australia played in the Allied victory in WWII. “The general was a great man,” asserts Ron Rees, the museum’s assistant executive officer. “The entire world owes him a debt of gratitude. If it weren’t for him, we may never have known what it means to be truly free.”

Rees’ words stay with me as I wander down Warner Street later that night. I’m on my way to Electric Playground, an after-hours dance club that is the talk of the town. The plan is to just have a nightcap and then head back to the Emporium Hotel, my supertrendy residence du jour. I haven’t slept in almost two days, and we have an early-morning wake-up call for a trip to the Great Barrier Reef. But 10 minutes after arriving at Electric Playground, my game plan changes. I’m surrounded by the most beautiful people I’ve seen anywhere in the world, and not just pretty faces (although there are certainly many of those). The people in Brisbane are beautiful inside and out: hospitable, present well, friendly and fun. As night turns into day, and as I meander back to the hotel for three hours of garbage sleep, I think about the implications.