From Qld Mick in the UK - Fascinating Personal Story from an 'Aussie Lover'
(received Nov 2013)
An Aussie Love Affair ... A Pommie Perspective
Back in the eighties, I was a London motorcycle courier and I frequently passed by Australia House and the Australian state tourist offices, one of which was Queensland House. For no other reason than curiosity, I would nip in and pick up a copy of the Gold Coast Sun, a newspaper full of job opportunities, enticing pictures of the area and constant references to sun, warmth and beaches. Brisbane kept jumping out of the pages at me, and I would wax lyrical about going there. I wanted to go to Brisbane. Why? Why not Sydney, Melbourne, Perth? This is a bit of a misnomer because I wasnt completely green about Australia. My dad had emigrated there in 1956 with his common law wife, as they were known then, but I had no knowledge of his whereabouts. Australia was somewhere I had long dreamed about going, but had about as much chance as going to the moon. As I understood it, to gain entry to Australia you needed to be brainy, wealthy or young. I was none of these. I had a wife, two young kids and none of the required qualifications. I had been a London bus driver and worked on the line at Fords, but even so, emigration wasnt likely. By this time, the £10 Pom scheme had ended too, so it would be full fare for us, even if we wanted to go, but this idea wasnt something we talked about or even contemplated. My wife had family here, I had none to speak of. Emigration was not on our agenda. But, had the Gold Coast Sun sowed the seed of desire to go there? Almost certainly.
My dad however, had been in my mind for thirty odd years. Where was he? A number of visits to Australia House proved fruitless. In 1996 I got lucky. After many visits over a number of years to the street where he had lived in Surrey in the fifties, an elderly lady told me she knew of a cousin of mine who had recently been in touch with another cousin, my dads niece, who knew where he lived down under. Apparently, the lady had known all my dads family, she knew his nickname and most astonishing of all knew me, as when I told her of my reason for knocking on her door, she knew my name, yet I had never met or spoken to her in my life, never, ever. The cousin she was referring to had lived with my dad when she herself emigrated down there some years earlier. A letter from the cousin told me that he was living on Mornington Peninsular,Victoria, in the Greater Melbourne area. When I got home and told my wife I had found him after forty years, my emotions went through the roof. Contacts were made, letters exchanged and I got a Christmas card from him in December 1996. I also had letters and photos from a sister I never knew I had, although as it later transpired, she was his and his wifes daughter, the little girl who had been running around his house the last time I saw him in the mid fifties. I digress. In November that year, I bought a used motorbike. It was rubbish. I took it back and got a full refund. Straight after Christmas there were adverts in the national dailies, offering Sydney for £500. For the money, it was Sydney and return, set times, set days, no alternatives. It was cattle class on a budget airline but nevertheless, it was cheap..ish and affordable. My wife suggested I use the motorbike money to go and see my dad. By this time he would be in his seventies, and having taken so many years to find him, I should go while hes still with us. I booked the last seat and flew down in March 1997. I wrote to him and told him about my impending visit. He replied that he would be holidaying on The Gold Coast for the week I was there. I didnt know where that was. It got better. My sister, in reality my half sister, lived on The Gold Coast, and from her letters to me, couldnt wait to meet me, as, until October 96, she didnt know I existed. She only found out via the cousin I had written to while trying to locate my dad. That was it. I would stay with her and her husband.
From Sydney I would have to get to The Gold Coast. I bought an internal flight separately direct from the UK. The flight was the last Ansett of the day to Gold Coast Coolangatta airport. Arriving overdue at Sydney, Kingsford Smith, a manic taxi ride ensued from International to Domestic. Why is it that when youre late for a connecting flight, the terminal gate is right at the end of the concourse? Ground staff put a call through to advise Ansett of my arrival. Breathless, I boarded the aircraft, the door closed and we were away. I had to catch this flight, as missing it would mean catching the last Qantas to Brisbane, which departed later than the Ansett. This would have had its own problems. My sister and her husband lived at Southport, which of course was much nearer to Coolangatta than Brisbane. They were meeting me at Coolangatta and would have set off while I was mid air between Sydney and The Gold Coast. I didnt have a mobile phone then, neither did they, so I had to make it to Coolangatta. I made it.
We had planned to meet altogether at dads rented apartment at Burleigh Heads. Arriving mid-week, I would stay with my sister for two weeks and join up with him and his wife for dinner and a re-union on the first Sunday. After a good nights sleep, I woke to the sounds of Australian wildlife. I heard my first ever live Kookaburra chattering away in the distance. But there was one sound which lives with me to this day, and will live with me for the rest of my life, the ubiquitous Australian Magpie. The first time I heard it, I knew I was here. Im finally here, Im in Australia, somewhere I had only dreamed about and never ever, thought I would go. Up and dressed before mid- morning, I made my sisters acquaintance and over toast and tea, we set about catching up on family matters, many of which had been written about before in letter exchanges, having finally made contact with them all in 96. Living on a small complex, after breakfast she showed me the communal swimming pool, which I enjoyed. It helped me get over the jet lag. Once again there were those chattering birds. Fantastic! I love them. Its ironic that of all the sights and sounds that Ive enjoyed on that and subsequent trips down under, and believe me there are hundreds, those bird sounds are right up with the best of them, almost at the top of the tree so to speak, no pun intended. The next couple of days would be taken up exploring my surroundings, the shopping malls etc. and taking a trip or two. Currumbin Zoo was one, as was a visit to the fly boys at R.A.A.F. Amberley. At the time I was heavily into collecting military caps and patches etc., so something from Amberley was a must. My wife couldnt then and still cant understand why, when youre on holiday eleven thousand miles away from home, why would you want to waste time visiting an air base? To me thats it. When youve come eleven thousand miles, and theres one only sixty miles away, its got to be done. I really wanted to see their F.111s. I had seen one at a UK air show, but it would be great to see one at home as it were. While there, I managed to secure a used 1 Sqn. cap for $10 after some barter and banter with the astonished airman actually wearing it. A base tour wasnt forthcoming, so he passed the cap through the gate. A return trip the following week would get me another one, from a base policeman, who on hearing of my enthusiasm for militaria, gave me one of his, with his name and number written inside. He also gave me a very brief base tour, brief only because I had to get the Sunbus from out in the sticks that Amberley was, back to Ipswich for the train back to Brisy, and then the coach back to Southport. Being unfamiliar with the trains and buses I thought it best to get back in good time. Ive still got both caps. And so thanks go to Cpl. Anthony ????? R.A.A.F. A better base tour would ensue a few years later on a subsequent visit to Qld., but thats part of another much bigger story of a holiday to my favourite country. I once corresponded with the former C.O. and then met him at a UK air show, and that has another interesting little anecdote.
By the time I got back home from Amberley, it was evening. It is now Friday, I had only been here a couple of nights and the trip of a lifetime was about to turn sour. I wont go into details, but the night was spent not at hers, but in a hurriedly arranged local back packer hostel, where after an also hurriedly arranged taxi ride, I arrived five minutes before the owner went off for the night, The hostel wasnt exactly exciting either, but really I needed no more right then. It was a roof over my head. I had no idea if there were other people in the building, consequently, could I leave my belongings in the room while I went out? I only had one holdall, but even so? I was hungry by this time, and a walk along the street to find a late night convenience store came to nothing. I did find a closed shop just up the road so at least I would know where to go first thing next morning. As for the room with its four bunk beds, well it was basic to say the least but it was clean and tidy. This was my first experience of this kind of thing so maybe it was the norm. It was somewhere to get my head down anyway. The bedding was that old stripey stuff so often seen in 1930s American films. I didnt bother making the bed. I got a pillow, covered myself with a blanket and went to sleep, thus ending a very traumatic last two hours. Next morning I went along to the little shop where I bought a sandwich and a bottle of milk which I took back to my room. While out for my early morning stroll, I noticed a very nice motel, which due to the time of day, hadnt yet opened. After my snack, I checked out of the hostel and made my way to the motel, which by now was showing signs of life. In the family room sat the owner, his wife and their children, having breakfast. He welcomed me in. His accent sounded familiar. By sheer chance he was from a town in my old home county of Essex. Pouring out my sorry tale he offered me accommodation, not only for that night but longer should the next chapter go wrong. Finding something to do until it was time to meet my dad was another matter. I was reluctant to give the credit card a bashing. Fortunately it was Saturday, and tomorrow I would finally get to see my dad, and his wife of course, effectively my step mum, lets call her Ann. I had in real terms, known her too since those days back in Surrey in the fifties. I spent the day ambling around Southport. I wrote home about the whole sorry saga.
After a very comfortable night in the motel, I passed the hours away until it was time to meet my dad. By mid- morning, thinking that by now they would be up and about, I called them and explained my situation. After a brief description of what had happened, I asked if I could join them earlier than planned. I think they already knew what had happened.
I made my way by bus to his Burleigh holiday home, where I met him for the first time in over forty years. We got on well. I bore no grudges. What happened between him, my own mum and Ann was long gone. They were all service people, it happened in wartime. I was just glad to have caught up with him. I sensed he wanted to tell all but couldnt, certainly not with Ann around. In fact as he and I sat in the lounge, I felt he was just about to open up, when she walked in with the tea, so that was that. A better opportunity never arose during my stay with them. I told them about my acrimonious departure from my sisters and asked them not to take sides, but to decide for themselves who was in the wrong, or in the right. For me it was a very upsetting and not easily forgotten episode. After a cup of tea and a chat, it was time to take in the beautiful beaches of Burleigh Heads and the little town a short walk away.
We got on really well. They took me for a night out to a huge R.S.L. club at Tweed Heads. This was a revelation for me, as we had nothing like it at home. Another unforeseen bombshell was coming my way. Due to the fact that I was supposed to be staying with my sister for the duration of my stay, they had arranged for friends to join them, so as it was a two bedroom apartment, I would have no bed. I still had a day or two to spare before their friends arrival so I had a nice couple of days at Burleigh, chatting with the life guards and procuring one of their familiar red and yellow, they were then, shirts, on the promise that I wouldnt wear it during my stay. I enjoyed a drink at the club house too. All was not lost. I still had over a week to go before going home, so what could I do?
Back home in the UK, the company I worked for owned a sailing company in Melbourne. Some months prior to my departure, they had sent Tom, one of the directors down to run it for three years, taking his family with him. By now I had made contact with my dad, so I told Tom about my dad living near there, and how envious I was about him, Tom, going down to live in Aus for three years. He said that if I ever got down there, I could stay with him. A phone call to a very surprised Tom secured the latter half of the week. There was another problem, how did I get to Melbourne from The Gold Coast? As with the international, the domestic ticket was one return flight only, and that was straight back to Sydney. So a method of getting from Sydney to Melbourne and back had to be found. Financially I wasnt exactly flushed, the whole trip was done on a shoestring budget. It was now Tuesday of my second week. Ann phoned the airlines and brought my return trip to Sydney forward. I desperately wanted to see Sydney in daylight, as when I had arrived the week before, it was dark and I barely had time to get to domestic departures let alone see any sights. You cannot go to Australia, having flown 11,000 miles and twenty three hours, having never been before, without seeing two of the most iconic sights in the world, that bridge and The Opera House. Staying there was another matter. She made another phone call. The Y.H.A. could find me a bed. The Y.H.A., isnt that for young people? What I didnt know was that I would be sharing board and lodgings with the League of Nations. We said our goodbyes, and I made my way, by bus, to Coolangatta.
Having arrived at Kingsford Smith, I took the familiar green and yellow airport bus to Sydney Central and found the Y.H.A. The Y in Y.H.A? Thats a joke in itself. Please do not misconstrue what Im saying here. Im not referring to the revered organisation,but the idea of me staying there, as in the Y bit. The staff couldnt have been more helpful. Neverthless, Im middle aged and I would be sharing a room with very exciteable Japanese teenagers, who used the room as a meeting place. A fish out of water or what ? The contrast between the Y.H.A. and the back packer hostel couldnt have been more diverse. It was heaving with people from all over the world, Americans, Scandinavians, Asians, and assorted other Europeans. The facilities were excellent too. And it was huge. So, despite an unhappy interlude, my time on the Gold Coast started a love affair with Australia, and I knew that I had to come back. Even before the unpleasant episode, I had written home and told my wife, you would love this place, youve got to come here. If the Gold Coast wasnt enough, and it certainly was, the next chapter would confirm it. Looking back, I wish I had seen more of Brisbane, as after all, it was here that I first lusted after some ten years earlier. However, here I was in iconic Sydney and I had to make the most of it. There was even an irony in my being there, as my dad, who I had come all this way to see, had been there himself in W.W.2 during his time in the navy.
Having checked in at the Y.H.A. for that night and the following weekend, it was time to see the big city. I walked the length of George Street down to Circular Quay. George Street also, was heaving. I was in a state of euphoria, the shops, the sounds, the people. Very soon I would experience yet more euphoria. I got to Circular Quay and there was that bridge, surely one of the most recognizable sights in the world, and Im here looking at it. Ive seen it on film, in pictures, on TV and Im man enough to admit I did get a bit emotional, for no other reason than disbelief. I felt the need to hide my face. I couldnt believe I was here. Then in the opposite direction was the Opera House, the Royal Botanical Gardens, the navy base at Wooloomooloo and so on. I had plenty of time to kill before the trip to Melbourne, so a ferry ride to Manly was a must as was a bus ride to Bondi, somewhere else that is an absolute must. How can you visit Sydney from the other side of the world and not go to Bondi? I had a great few hours there, likewise Manly. I love that place.
So now I have to get to Melbourne. I have three options, train, plane or bus. I opted for the latter. I booked myself on the 19.00 Firefly service from Sydney Central. The Firefly took twelve hours, arriving at 07.00 next morning at the Spencer Street terminal. This alone was an eye opener. Before clearing Sydney, it stopped at various towns en route, as it headed out into the wilds of New South Wales, via where, Liverpool? Then on to Goulburn and Albury, and the fantastically named Wagga Wagga . Around two a.m., I couldnt believe my eyes when in the pitch blackness, I could see lights twinkling in the distance. It was a Macdonalds, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, where the bus would stop for the passengers to stretch their legs and take on some food and drink, that is, not to actually take on the Firefly, as the driver told us in no uncertain terms prior to departure in Sydney, that this was not permissible. I didnt want to get ejected so I complied, as did everyone else I might add. Back home, I would eventually get a scale model of the Firefly from the good folks at Trax.
Tom met me at Spencer Street and drove me to his house in the suburbs, as he had to get ready for work. After a few hours sleep, I ventured out to check out the surroundings, and found myself at the local beach. A stroll along to St. Kilda was very enjoyable. That evening we all went out for a meal. The next day, having dropped him off at the office, he loaned me his company car, and I enjoyed a grand tour of the Melbourne suburbs, the city centre and the superb Dandenongs . I actually felt at home. After a great couple of days with Tom and his family, it was time to get the return Firefly to Sydney, where I would spend another day taking it all in, still finding it hard to believe I was there. In less than two weeks, I had been to the Gold Coast, Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. Little did I know then that I would return to Melbourne four more times in later years. I knew I had to come back to Australia, and I did, in late December 1998 with my wife and son, then on my own in 2001,02,03 and with my wife in 06. It transpired that my dad had died in 2004. I had last seen him in Frankston Hospital, Mlb., in March 03. In 2005, I received a small payout as part of his estate . It was made out to me AUD, so I felt it had to go back there. My wife and I stayed at Trinity Beach, FNQ, where we experienced our second cyclone, the bad one, but thats another story. Had that little piece of my dads estate not been sent to me, I may never have known about his passing, but I wont comment on the circumstances surrounding that. In fact, for four of those holidays, I was only there for a week, which many people find astonishing bearing in mind the time it takes to get there and the added jet lag after each trip. Would I go again for just a week? Is the Pope Catholic? It might appear from the above that I must have been wealthy to come down so often. That wasnt the case at all. A lot of hours were put in at work, the flights were cheaper then and the cost of living in Australia was lower. Then of course was the old chestnut of paying for some of it when I got back home. Was it worth it? Absolutely!
Am I an Aussiephile? I almost eat, sleep and drink the place. I buy calendars from Aus, even though some public holidays dont equate. For a wedding anniversary gift awhile back, my wife and I treated ourselves to three large prints of Australian scenes of places we have been, one picture taken from Mrs Macquaries Chair looking across Farm Cove towards the Opera House and the Bridge, one of the beach at Surfers and one of Palm Cove, FNQ. They are framed and hang on the walls. We look at them and say weve walked along there. I drink my tea from an Australiamug, I have a collection of nearly two hundred Australian model cars many of which I display at motoring events. I frequently wear T-shirts bought from there. My twelve year old Grumpy Old Man goes down well here. I get cases of Aussie beers from an importer. A favourite song? Why, Men At Works, Down Under of course. Ive adopted it as my anthem. I get Unique Cars magazine every month and have done for over ten years. Why, again? Barring a lottery win, Ill never buy anything from it. Im an avid V8 Supercars TV viewer, a fan of Dick Johnson and Craig Lowndes and I met Brocky when he came to Goodwood. I often watch old Bathursts on You Tube. As for TV, I watch a British TV show here called Wanted Down Under about Poms who have the chance to emigrate due to their particular skill. Even though Ive seen them all before, I still watch the repeats and want to throw things at the TV when they whinge about it. I watch anything related to Australian wildlife, even if its only a small part in a general wildlife programme, rather than solely about Australia. Then theres Water Rats, a long time favourite, though its really old now, and Bush Tucker Man which occasionally turns up on cable TV. OlLes must be quite old by now. Great bloke. Never watch Neighbours. I used to but it lost its edge and was taken over here by an indepedent channel which means adverts, it was on BBC for years.
Subsequent visits have taken me to HSV where I missed Skaifey by five minutes, been to Ford at Campbellfield where I was given some merchandise, all of which I still have. I went to the Neighbours set in Vermont South, where my wife had to restrain me from trying to get a part as background. I/we went to Australia Zoo when Steve Irwin was in the process of building the Crocoseum. His death was a great disappointment, even though as he was busy, we never met him when we went there. Seeing his death reported on TV hit me like a sledgehammer, as did the deaths of Peter Brock and my all time hero, Frank Gardner who I saw race many times here in the 60s and 70s. I use Australian cars and place names as internet passwords, hence my e mail address beginning qld. Ive even got a CD by John Williamson. We were on the train from Kuranda to Cairns and one was playing. I had to get it. That was back in 1998. I still play it from time to time. When he sang Give Me a Home Among The Gum Trees at Steve Irwins wake, I nearly cried. I love Qld., despite experiencing two cyclones. Done The Reef twice, love the Northern Beaches and Port Douglas and probably rate Cairns as my favourite place of all, yet before I went for the first time, I didnt really want to go there. If anywhere epitomises no worries its Cairns. The place is so laid back its horizontal. The Sunshine Coast and Noosa too, what a place that is. Weve stayed at Surfers twice, and the first time there is yet another story, one which even now we find hard to comprehend as actually happened. Been to Byron Bay, too many new age VW camper types for us. Just love Port Stephens. Ive got so many memories from my visits, I could go on about Australia til it gets boring. Myself, my wife and my son have more memories and recollections from Australia, than anywhere else we have ever been. I advise people not to start me off, there arent enough hours in the day. We recently had the annual fireworks night here to celebrate Guy Fawkes trying to blow up the Houses of Parliament back in 1605, and of course we have them at New Year. The London show is good but it doesnt compare with Sydney. There are no fireworks anywhere in the world to compare with New Year in Sydney. We know. I feel just a bit smug when I tell friends that Ive seen the Sydney fireworks. Anything else is less.
When do I/we, hope to come back? Sadly not for about three years. I/we want to come for about six weeks next time, as it may well be the last time, who knows. The next time I want to see the real Australia, the Outback, Kakadu, The Kimberleys, Id even like to go to Walkabout Creek as in *Crocodile Dundee*. Seen that film so many times, its corny I know, yet I never tire of the scenery. Ive seen the New York settings, but its the Australian places I want to see. I still havent been to Adelaide, Perth, Canberra or Tassy and only called in on Darwin en route to Singapore on the way home. I would love to travel on the Indian Pacific too, what a trip that must be. Whats it like to cross the Nullaboor and stop at those little towns along the way? The Ghan, thats another one. Whatever I end up doing, wherever I end up going, Ill enjoy it immensely. In many respects it gives us a big problem. As it will probably be our last trip, where do we go? Really we should see places we havent been but how can I not see Cairns, The Reef, Noosa, Sydney and Melbourne one last time? Had it not been for the cyclone in 2000, we would have had a holiday on the Whitsundays. As a result weve never seen them, nor any of the other islands in Qld. I want to see a V8 Supercars race, but A/ which one, it has to be Bathurst surely, but Id love to see the Clipsal 500, and B/ by the time I get down there, will it still be the same format as it is now? It certainly wont be Holden and Ford, and personally, Im not interested in the other makes.
So when will I get back? We wont go again while our ageing dog is still with us, and then theres the expense. Were saving already, but it isnt as cheap to come down these days as it was back then, and I understand that the cost of living has gone up in Aus. It is often said that you should never go back to a favourite place as its never the same. Many people Ive spoken to, who have been down in recent years, including a Pom who lived there, have told me that it isnt as good as it used to be, and we wont enjoy it as much as we did before.
For us, its worth a try. If I never came again, the memories and experiences I have from previous visits will live with me forever. Its not all about me either. My wife is really looking forward to going again. Shes almost as passionate about Australia as I am. For us, theres Australia, and then theres everywhere else.
CANT WAIT !
*You wouldnt believe it! After I wrote this I went to bed and turned on the TV. After a bit of channel hopping, what did I find, Crocodile Dundee. I swear I didnt know it was on. I hadnt checked the TV guide in the paper, nor scrolled through the channels for forthcoming programmes, and the channel screening it hadnt showed a trailer for it. Coincidence or what?