Confidence restored (of a sort), a nursery like no other, a stitch in time – and my very own Jackaroo…
Monday 30th March to Friday 3rd April 2020. Monday morning, and Elaine had her doctor’s appointment to secure her medication needs. But another incident dominated the day: news that heralded a change in our status as Brits Stranded Overseas. The British Consulate in Canberra had sent a generic email advising anyone of our ilk (BSO) that a deal had been struck with two airlines to provide commercial flights home from Australia. Clicking on a link in the email took us to a page where we could book direct – at a price. While I got busy enquiring online, Elaine and Sue drove off for the surreal experience of speaking to a doctor over the phone while parked outside his surgery.
On their return we were able to agree a plan of action: both of us could be booked on a flight back to the UK with Qatar Airways for the following Saturday. But it would cost around five thousand Australian dollars. It would all go on the credit card, of course – and our travel insurance would have to cover that. The important thing was we could get home.
Another landmark. Could we be confident that this booking wouldn’t be cancelled too? We kept reminding ourselves the link had come from a government-controlled source. (Hence the lack of confidence.) But as the week rolled on, we began to believe.
Especially when we hit a snag.
Next day, just when we’d downloaded the Qatar app: a flight change. Originally, we’d been told the first leg would be from Adelaide to Sydney via Qantas, with an hour and a half between landing there and departing for Doha on the first of our Qatar flights. Despite us needing to travel between two different terminals at Sydney, the timing was do-able. But not today, when Qatar announced they were bringing forward their flight by an hour.
It meant yet more lengthy phone calls for me, firstly to Qantas, and then to Qatar. I clamped the phone to my ear, mostly listening to something vaguely resembling music on a stuck record. During that time, Elaine marinated the meat for a curry, chopped a ton of onions and left my portion in the pan while she and Sue ate theirs. It was what they call “a learning curry”: Elaine had found Aussie’s curry powder comes in double strength… By the time I’d come off the phone with an earlier flight to Sydney as my reward, my wife was on her seventh glass of water. Cheers!
The situation had returned to “normal” next morning – a new month, and a subtle drop in temperature. Perhaps we could fit in another excursion before our customary walk on Normy beach? Both the Barringtons and Sue Mac had recommended we visit a local nursery. (Not the childish variety, but one filled with the sort of things that grow in soil.)
Raywood Nursery had the distinction of being completely outdoors, and situated in the midst of some of the thickest “bush” in the area. It was also well-hidden. The drive there took us along Three Bridges Road again, the surface turning to gravel as we took a turning south and east. Eventually we caught a glimpse of a signpost inviting us to plunge into something resembling a scene from Hansel & Gretel. One way in. Same way out but without the breadcrumbs.
There was no gingerbread house. The narrow track came out in a clearing near a picnic bench, with a splash of colourful foliage glimpsed through the stringybarks. Here was an autumnal delight: a kaleidoscope of gold, green, red and brown; all manner of trees and shrubs, many in pots to grab and go, and little paths inviting us to explore deeper into this enchanted forest.
We were not in a position to buy anything, although we did discover a little hut with an honesty box inviting us to help ourselves to hot drinks or locally-produced honey. Then we encountered the owner’s daughter, imaginatively named Rose. In conversation we found she had been pally with Sue Mac’s daughter Alison, the two of them having once indulged in unmentionable pursuits together… Now in retreat, helping her aging parents to run the Nursery, she encouraged us to browse further – whereupon we met the owner (her father), appropriately tending an area filled with roses, and an extremely large chicken.
Quentin introduced himself, and we learned how he had built the nursery from scratch in 1974, after inheriting a similar business near Adelaide from his father. We also met his wife Jenny, summoned using a local telegraph system peculiar to Raywood: shouting. Bearing in mind the size of the place, the family members had got used to hailing each other across the shrubbery, rather than adopting new technology. Oh, what a wonderful world!
Our experiences of Australian life were drawing to a close. After leaving the country on Saturday we would have spent a full month here, rather than just over three weeks as originally planned. There had been time to get to know people, and to have a more thorough understanding of local life and pastimes. While my original reasons for travelling halfway round the world had been family-oriented, the trip itself had brought so many more rewards. Both of us had grown to love Australia and its citizens, so being stranded here for longer was not a hardship. We would be sad to leave.
There are just two more events to note, so please excuse the more personal nature of these anecdotes. Like my sister, her namesake (and our hostess) is skilled with a sewing machine. Sue Mac has at least one room in the house dedicated to her craft, and had already given us the timely gift of two facemasks:
But I had one last favour to ask. Being blessed with a pair of skinny legs, I don’t tend to look good in shorts. They tend to flap around my thighs like an elephant’s ears (even without an African breeze) – so I’d been keeping my eyes open for a pair of tailored ones. Here we were, on our last full day in Australia with no clothes shops open, and a skilled seamstress on site. I had two similar-looking pairs of stone-coloured long pants with me. Could Sue take one and turn them into shorts that looked better? Of course she could! Bargain.
My ambition to test-drive this addition to my wardrobe by walking on a beach with Linc and Lyn was foiled by rain. Not just the drizzly stuff, but REAL rain – the kind that drenches you in seconds. We’d set off in the Jackaroo to meet at the Cape with only a passing shower to trouble us, but by the time we arrived the wipers were set to frantic, and we had to take shelter in the garage before tackling the twenty-foot dash into the house under the shelter of three umbrellas. Time to revise our plans – yet again.
Keeping our social distance in the Barrington’s garage-cum-barbecue-cum-play area was easy enough, so we let the wet stuff batter away at the roof and made the most of our last afternoon together. With the Jackaroo now back at base, the keys were handed over so that Linc could drive us back to Sue’s house. But he had another incredible surprise for us. This man is a retired police officer, and he has hidden talents. On previous visits I had spotted some colourful objects inside a cupboard with a glass door, and now Linc chose this moment to show me what they were – model cars made of wood, and he’d carved them all himself. The detail and the finish are stunning. See for yourself.
They are not intended as toys, but probably served as a craft to focus on toward the end of a career that was sometimes traumatic. I was mightily impressed, and then shaken by emotion when Linc asked me to pick one to take home. It’s not often words fail me, but…
That’s mine with the black roof, parked immediately behind the bright yellow convertible.
Want to know what I call it? “The Jackaroo”.
What's it about?