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INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL : Australia Bicentennial Is World-Class Party

March 06, 1988|SHIRLEY SLATER | Slater is a Los Angeles free-lance writer.

The Australians, never the type to shun any excuse for a party, are going all out to celebrate their bicentennial year. Festivities started on Australia Day, Jan. 26, when the tall ships sailed into Sydney Harbor to join in the spectacular re-enactment of the landing of First Fleet settlers in 1788. The celebration will peak during the six-month run of Brisbane World Expo 88, which opens April 30.

Like an oversize block party, the activities will spread around the nation from tropical Darwin in the Northern Territories, site of the $100,000 national camel races in April, to Hobart, Tasmania, where the first Australian hair-styling championship uncurls July 30-Aug. 1.

A thumbnail guide follows to some special celebrations, plus tips on things to see and do as long as you're there.

Brisbane, Expo

Brisbane, a big, friendly, semitropical city laid out along the winding Brisbane River, is fairly bursting with pride as it gets ready for its $600-million Expo 88. "It's the biggest single event that's ever been staged in Australia," Bob Minnikin, general manager, said.

About 50 states and nations from around the world, including the United States and California, Alaska and Hawaii, are putting finishing touches on pavilions under the theme, "Leisure in the Age of Technology."

In the striking river-front Queensland Performing Arts Complex, a concurrent arts festival will star the Monterey Jazz Festival, the English Shakespeare Company, the Comedie Francaise, the Australian Opera, Switzerland's Mummunschanz, the Flying Karamazov Brothers, the Peking Opera and dozens more.

Organizers promise entertainment "around you all the time" at Expo, with a whole new ambiance after dark: fireworks, laser billboards and fiber optics. On the Brisbane River they'll stage Hawaiian outrigger races and Chinese junk races, and present Polynesian dance festivals in the palm-fringed South Pacific lagoon.

Prawn trawlers from Moreton Bay will unload their fresh catch daily at Expo, including Moreton Bay bugs, a mini-cousin to the lobster, and Queensland mud crabs. The Kookaburra Queen paddle-wheeler will serve them nightly during a dinner cruise along the river.

The raffish old Ship Inn, a distinctive bit of historic Queensland architecture, has been spruced up for the occasion.

There's a bistro where the horse yard used to be, a coffee shop in the old barroom where wharfies used to have a round of beer and a piano bar upstairs where the inn rooms once were, complete with a holographic ghost of Lynette, who was murdered in Room 7. Next to Expo, it's open 24 hours every day.

Expo will be open daily 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. from April 30 through Oct. 30. A one-day ticket is $25 Australian (about $18 U.S.), a three-day ticket $55 Australian (about $39 U.S.). Admission to the amusement park area next to Expo is included, but the rides will cost extra. The site is accessible for the disabled.

In addition to good hotels in Brisbane, accommodations are available less than an hour away on the Gold Coast to the south. "Just as good as Honolulu," a former Miss Brisbane told us. Also along the Sunshine Coast to the north. The average temperature is 70 during the dryer, cooler months of April through October.

New and notable in Brisbane: "The Great Australian Art Exhibit" during Expo at the Queensland Art Gallery, part of the performing arts complex next to the site; a sunny, plant-filled California-style restaurant called Rumpole's, downtown in the Inns of Court; tiny, eccentric Possums in a former carport in the suburb of Newfarm, where Chris Chapman offers "real Australian home cooking, not silly stuff like kangaroo tail soup."

Sydney

Most Americans, especially Californians, instantly feel at home in sunny, sophisticated Sydney, whose magnificent harbor seems to have been created for sailing vessels.

Some U.S. entries will be among the boats in the two-sail Australia 88, a race for two-crewed boats starting Aug. 8 in Sydney, while 130 yachts from around the world are expected to compete in the nine-stage round Australia yacht race, a 100-day, 7,400-nautical-mile course beginning Aug. 20 and finishing in December.

The round Australia air race for light planes will finish in Sydney in early October, a week before the Bicentennial Air Show, Oct. 12-16, begins in suburban Richmond. Elements of some of the world's great air shows will be part of this aviation event.

While in Sydney search out tiny, tasty Sydney rock oysters, the Tyranny Zoo where the giraffes have a great view of the city skyline, the splendidly restored Queen Victoria Building full of chic boutiques downtown, the new Bluewater Grill at Bondi for super seafood on a sunny terrace overlooking the famous Bondi Beach, the Sydney Explorer Bus, a $6 tour of the city that lets you on and off as you please.

Canberra

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