Another church, a welcome diversion – and more walking on water…
Tuesday 10th March 2020. Time to pack again. Living out of suitcases had not yet turned us into ‘backpackers’, but somehow we were adapting to this new lifestyle. One source of delight for me: Elaine now admitted she had brought far too many clothes with her!
Our target for breakfast this morning was a place we spotted on Sunday evening: ‘Henry & Rose’, a little café just off the Dukes Highway that boasted ‘the best coffee between Melbourne and Adelaide’. It was quite a claim. Since arriving in Oz it had not gone un-noticed that the coffee was almost always excellent. I had got used to ordering a couple of ‘Long Blacks’ with hot milk on the side, and I was keen to see how H & R measured up to the standard we met in Hahndorf.
We waited impatiently outside for the clock to tick over to 8.30. With us was another guy, who had stopped for breakfast on his way to Melbourne, having left Adelaide at 5 am. He told us a truck had overturned on the Dukes Highway some miles back, forcing a diversion that added another ten minutes to his journey. Would it affect us?
Breakfast (and coffee) did not disappoint, and afterwards we walked back towards Makin Street to see how Keith was looking during the rush hour. On the way we passed the old church my parents once attended, and where Mollie had even sung in the choir. Its doors had been firmly shut since our arrival, but now they were wide open.
A notice outside stated that the church could only be viewed by appointment, and with the public holiday closing everything else, I had resigned myself to this being just another lost opportunity. Once inside the porch we could see inside through a metal grille, but could go no further. The building is owned and maintained now by the National Trust, having ceased to operate as a place of worship for many years. It is now a museum piece, and for me it is a wonderful artefact of family nostalgia. Are those pews original? Alas, I’ll never know – but I signed the visitor’s book with gratitude.
That left me with one more task relating to my personal history. I had brought a copy of A Kangaroo In My Sideboard with me, and as it was unlikely I would ever return to Keith, I wanted to leave that book here as a mark of respect for what had happened seventy years before. The Community Library seemed the ideal choice, and so we made a brief stop there while I explained my quest to a smiling young librarian, and left satisfied I had done all that was necessary.
Back on the road again, I was beginning to actually enjoy driving in Australia, and even remembered where to find the indicators. I was not to need them for many miles, as our planned diversion to Meningie was another 65 kilometres distant. I had only two worries: 1) after speaking on the phone to Linc’s sister last night, I knew we needed to reach her house by around 11 am, and 2) what about this possible diversion? We were soon to find out.
We’d been driving for less than half an hour along the highway in the direction of Adelaide when we had to take a left earlier than planned. The road was closed in both directions, and we were diverted at a place called Tintinara. Remembering our breakfast companion’s remark about “an additional ten minutes” on his journey, I started to wonder how this might affect our ETA at Meningie. Indeed, we almost immediately lost connection with Google Maps, and after following mile after mile of quiet country roads with very few vehicles coming towards us – and nothing at all behind – it occurred to us both that we just might be lost…
I pulled over, well onto the verge this time (see Day Seven), and re-booted my phone to try and get in touch again with Google. Hallelujah! With satellite navigation re-established, we found we were exactly 35 minutes away from our destination, and it was now 10.25. The accuracy of that information can only be commended when I tell you we rolled up outside Bev and Mervyn Hill’s house at exactly 11 o’clock.
The aspect from their spacious bungalow was superb. A wide expanse of gently sloping lawn to the quiet roadway, with the reed-lined expanse of Lake Albert on the opposite side. Egrets and pelicans are a common sight over the calm waters, and the peaceful ambience of the spot is unrivalled. Our hosts came outside to greet us warmly, and we were soon sampling tea and biscuits and enjoying a chat in their kitchen.
Our destination later that day was to be the Grosvenor Hotel in Victor Harbor, which is managed by their son Andrew. Our choice of residence had been pure coincidence, mentioned to Linc month’s ago by email, when he had told us that Andrew was his nephew. Linc’s brother-in-law Mervyn had farmed all his life, and Andrew had done the same for a while, until ill health had forced Mervyn to sell up. Even now he had severe problems with his limbs, and needed ongoing medical treatment. Andrew still kept some livestock on his own small homestead near Victor, where he is married to a lawyer.
Bev and Mervyn showed us their motorhome, kept inside a huge garage and workshop, and the fruit trees behind, at the foot of which hid a ‘pet’ lizard, basking sleepily in the sunshine.
Bev was shortly to host a bridge session, so we didn’t linger too long, being anxious to reach the hotel and to explore the neighbourhood. Mervyn gave us some tips on the best onward route, using the vehicle ferry across the Murray River at Wellington, then skirting Lake Alexandrina via another sleepy spot called Milang. The final stretch took us through some truly fascinating scenery which a road sign helpfully explained as ‘Aboriginal Canoe Trees’.
Driving into the sprawling suburbs of Victor Harbor around 2.30 came as something of a culture shock. We had been out ‘in the sticks’ too long. Here were T-junctions, roundabouts, and even temporary traffic lights! There were more single-storey dwellings, but then the centre of town was largely two-storey with lots of shady verandas, many in ‘colonial’ style.
The Grosvenor (above) is particularly attractive, which is why we chose it back in October. It had a small car park at the back, already full, so we parked for a while in a 2P zone on the street and went inside. There was a charity auction going on in the dining area and reception, raising funds to support those affected by the bushfires that had devastated Kangaroo Island in the summer. Unable to check-in for the moment, we walked round to the other side and found ourselves in the main bar. It’s a shame, having to just sit around and drink a couple or four cold beers, but what can you do?
The accommodation at the Grosvenor was basic, but all that we needed. The rooms were all on the upper floor and opened out onto the shared balcony. This would be the only place we stayed where we didn’t have our own bathroom– a communal ‘Ladies’ or ‘Gents’ being available down the corridor. Next to our room was another set aside to make hot drinks, though we had no need for it. We left most of our luggage in the car, just fetching enough up the stairs (no lift!) for the one night we would be staying. Then it was time to see what else the town had to offer.
While Keith this morning had appeared a lot less like a ghost town than in the previous 36 hours, by contrast Victor Harbor seemed positively heaving. This is a seaside resort as well as a large residential area, and one of its particular highlights is Granite Island, reached by a 630 metre timber-built causeway.
Yes, that’s a tram track down the middle. It’s there because a particular attraction of this location is the horse-drawn variety. We’d arrived too late in the day to see them in action, but there were two beautiful Clydesdales berthed in a small stable near the start of the causeway, and we went to say hello.
Another couple joined us with the same intention. We heard the accent and Elaine asked if they were from England. “Yes, we are,” they said. “We’re from Nottingham originally, but we came out here fifty years ago!” Unlike so many other British settlers in Australia, these two still retained their English accents, but were just as chatty and friendly as all the Aussies we had met. Perhaps it’s something in the water?
After watching the Clydesdales get loaded up into their horsebox for a short journey to where they spent the night, we ambled across the causeway on our own two feet. We had no intentions of exploring the island tonight, as there would be a further opportunity during our stay. Granite Island is known for being inhabited by a colony of small penguins, but we didn’t spot any (apart from those below) on our brief visit.
Another couple ahead of us were being escorted by a local lady, and Elaine got chatting to her. She told us a little more about the place, and asked about our own trip. When we mentioned that our plans included a visit to Kangaroo Island, she told us she lived there. “Oh, I didn’t know people lived on it,” said Elaine, who had imagined a similar small island inhabited by kangaroos. “Well, they do!” confirmed our local lady. (More about the size of Kangaroo Island later.)
We returned to the Grosvenor, where dinner beckoned. Bev had personally recommended Elaine try the seafood platter for one, so that was what she ordered, while I settled for the pork. A well-stocked vegetable and salad bar provided Elaine with a generous-sized appetiser, while I played it a little more cautiously. That was a wise choice, as when hers arrived, Elaine’s plate was brimming with fish, prawns and fried squid… Over-faced? You could say that! (Delicious though, she tells me.)
It was all we could do to walk off our dinner afterwards by a little window-browsing around the block, checking out what Victor Harbor might be offering in the morning.
In search of Hurtle, sheep – and people!
Monday 9th March 2020. Today would be a box ticked on a mental ‘to do’ list. Some may wonder why I would make such an effort to reach a remote spot on the other side of the world – not to mention stopping there for two nights. The thing to remember is this: To my parents, Keith was once the object of their dreams. It was to be the place where they would live in a new house, raise their children, and start a business. New beginnings in a New Land. With hindsight, it was also the place that all but broke my mother’s heart, and where my father’s aspirations came to nought. In short, Keith had an important place in my family history, so I had to go there.
Our base for this visit was the Keith Motor Inn. Like much of the buildings we saw during our walk last night, it is a fairly recent affair, and the room was spacious and modern. It had an en-suite with a huge, walk-in shower, but oddly no wash basin. Instead, after using the toilet we had to return to the main room and use the sink that formed part of a mini-kitchen, complete with microwave, toaster and kettle. There was also a fridge, partly stocked with a variety of snacks and drinks like a hotel pay-as-you-go bar. The prices were quite reasonable ($9 for a bottle of wine), but our needs that morning were for something more than instant coffee and a bar of chocolate. As stated in Day Six, we needed to find somewhere in town that was open – and our best bet was the pub.
Following the directions given us by the barman, we found the restaurant was in a neighbouring building, and the entire staff (one lady) was happy to see us just after 7 am. This was probably because we looked to be the only other punters for a hundred miles, and how many times can you do the crossword? Our choice for a cooked breakfast was adequate but not inspiring, and we at least left with a better idea as to how we could fill our day.
Keith may be a one-horse town (with no evidence of horse), but when asked where the other 1,088 residents had disappeared to, our friendly breakfast lady said “The beach”. And why not? It’s only an hour away… It would take no more than an hour to complete my pilgrimage that morning, so for the rest of the day we would do likewise.
We’d already found the present butcher’s shop, on a site where Mollie once manned the counter (see Day Six), and we’d passed the church building (closed) where she’d worshipped, so all that was left to visit was the house. This was where Hurtle lived with his wife Grace, and children Geoffrey and Lorraine. Once the Veale family arrived in early November 1949 (the start of summer), Mollie helped there with household chores and looking after the children, then joined Eric and daughter Susan to sleep at a house further down the road belonging to Hurtle’s sister Gladys. But where exactly was Hurtle’s?
The above two maps hold the answer. The one on the right is modern, but the other was drawn by Eric Veale in January 1950 – and it is pretty much to the same scale. The arrow marks the spot where I took the photo below.
We spent a bit of time walking round the neighbourhood, examining other houses of a similar era, and found one that may have belonged to Gladys. We also spoke to only the second person we’d seen that morning – a neighbour of the old Hurtle property who reckoned to remember the family. He’d only been a boy, but he did remember Hurtle coming back to live in another house nearby in the late Fifties. As he was buried in Keith cemetery in the Sixties, it seemed to fit.
That was almost the end of my nostalgia trip for the day – until I spotted something from the car on the way back to the other side of the tracks: a station platform. These all started out as wooden structures, and the one at Keith should have been long gone. But what was this right by the disused track, next to a silage bin?
Mid-morning, and (almost) all my objectives for visiting Keith had been achieved. I hadn’t bargained for our visit falling on a public holiday, so we were not really getting a true reflection of the present-day town, but it could not be helped. Having spent the bulk of yesterday driving for over two hours on long straight roads, I did not relish doing something similar today – but what else was there to do? We knew how to get to the coast, and we’d been given a recommendation as to the best place to find both civilisation and scenery: a place called Robe.
Bearing in mind Hurtle was a sheep farmer, and my father had to adapt his book-keeping skills to slaughtering livestock, this particular animal had its place in my parents’ story. I hadn’t the least idea where Hurtle’s farm was (they used to drive out to it), but five minutes along the road towards Kingston we passed a field full of the critters. It might not have been the same farm – but I sure wasn’t going to miss a photo opportunity like this! So, I stopped the car at the side of the (empty) road.
In my defence, just remember how Keith itself was devoid of both people and traffic. The countryside is flat, has long straight roads with wide verges, and as I got out of the car with camera in hand for a two-minute break, there was just the one car approaching us from the opposite direction. The moment I had my camera raised to take the shot, a loud blaring of a car horn fifty feet from my shoulder almost made me drop the darn thing… Another car had come up behind us from nowhere, and with the other vehicle approaching at speed while our car partially obstructed the highway on his side – he’d had to slow down. Elaine was NOT a happy bunny. The sheep felt the same way and fled. I was in the doghouse. So, here’s the zoomed-in shot of the woolly stampede – and now you know what it cost me to get it!
There’s not a lot to Robe, but what there is does make for a pleasant few hours investigation. Like other small districts we’d encountered, there is just one main street to walk up and down, plus a beach and a small harbour. Thankfully, from our point of view, there was also more evidence of human habitation. We’d found where at least half the population of Keith had elected to spend the holiday.
The day had started off with plenty of sunshine, but on reaching the coast we found a strong breeze had sprung up, bringing a layer of cloud with it. By the time we’d done with shop window-browsing and worked up a thirst, we were ready to explore the bar at the Caledonian Hotel. This is what I would describe as ‘a real-ale pub’, with beer pumps displaying names that were entirely unfamiliar. On holiday, Elaine and I tend to drink a light beer like German lager, but nothing of that sort was on offer. The girl behind the bar kindly offered us some samples to try, and after finding the courtyard pretty sheltered, we took our choices outside. At first there was just one other couple (with dog) out there, but it seemed we were just the advance party, and the area soon filled up with families (and assorted dogs).
We learned two things here: The first was that the Aussies had come up with a light dark ale called ‘Happy Pig’ that Elaine found suited her taste… The second was a story about the Chinese. Years ago, a group of travellers from China wanted to migrate to Melbourne by boat. At that time there were mandatory port fees to pay throughout the State of Victoria, and none of the travellers could afford them. Now this place is only about 120 kilometres (75 miles) from the State border, so they sailed up the coastline to Robe, landed on the beach a hundred metres from the pub – and then walked over 500 kilometres to Melbourne! That’s a true story, and there’s even a ‘memorial’ on the beach to mark the occasion.
Back on the road, fuelled by a HUGE pizza and a side order of beer-fried chips (yum), we returned to base without incident (roos, sheep or otherwise). Relaxing in the motel after the long drive, I was surprised (pleasantly) by a phone call from Linc (see Day Three). While our planned rendezvous with him and his wife Lyn was still a couple of days off, he recognised that our journey to Victor Harbor tomorrow would take us past Lake Alexandrina at the mouth of the Murray River. His sister lived on the shores of the smaller Lake Albert at a place called Meningie, and she was extending an invitation to us for a refreshment stop on the way. Would we be up for a slight diversion? Of course we would!
In the event, we had no idea how much of a diversion it would turn out to be…
New heights, a German village, a house on water – and ghosts at the end of the road…
Sunday 8th March 2020. Our Wedding Anniversary! And it’s Number… er… (hang on a sec…) Number 6. Who’d have thought we’d spend our special day driving 240 kilometres (150 miles) along a road halfway round the world – and still be talking to each other by the end of it?
But the day started with a hearty breakfast and a fond farewell to the Glenelg Motel, then driving off into the unknown with The Three Bears dozing quietly in the back. Negotiating the traffic around Adelaide was relatively easy now, and would be a lot easier if I could just stop trying to indicate a right turn with my wipers. The Adelaide Hills were our first destination, the forested uplands beyond the City recommended by our fellow passengers from Dubai, what – four days ago now? How could time be going so fast?
To get there we needed to use the M1 motorway. In the UK that’s a three-lane, often congested, thrill ride between London and Leeds usually serving as an endurance test for drivers with a death wish. In South Australia it’s a picturesque dual carriageway, and a pleasure to use. Snaking gently upwards into the foothills, it takes around twenty minutes from leaving the motel before we reach a turn-off marked “Mount Lofty”.
We’re not talking Everest here. This particular Adelaide Hill is a mere 727 metres (c 2,400 feet) above sea level, but is the loftiest of its neighbours, and has a car park near the summit. Revelling in the contrasting scenery to that on the coast, we left the car somewhere around the 700 metre level and made a steady pace to the top.
And that’s the view of Adelaide from Mount Lofty. Note the band of green parkland, the thrusting ‘skyscrapers’ and the sea beyond. A panorama shot on a clear day might have picked out Kangaroo Island in the distance to the left, but not today. There’s a café and a visitor centre to explore too, but again, not today. We’d still got a long way to go.
We re-joined the humming silence of the motorway, but in ten minutes we left it again for another place we kept hearing good things about – Hahndorf. The guidebooks will tell you this is Australia’s oldest surviving German settlement, built by Prussians in 1839. They came by ship under the command of Captain Dirk Hahn, who gave so much practical help to the settlers in finding land to lease, they named the village after him. And it is a very pretty place.
The German heritage is self-evident with a host of small businesses (cheesemaker, leathersmith, candlemakers, galleries etc) lined up on either side of the single, tree-lined main street.
The next stretch would be longer, with our two-lane motorway merging into a single lane highway all the way to Keith. Broken regularly by short stretches of two-lane to allow passing opportunities for anyone unhappy with the 110 kph speed limit, the countryside flattened out, and the road ahead became almost painfully straight. Either side of us the scene matched the one I had described in AKIMS, as witnessed by Mollie and Eric Veale during their own train journey to Keith: The literature Eric picked up at the hostel suggests the enormous expanse of flat earth we have been crossing for the last two hours is termed “mallee-heath”. It isn’t what I would describe as desert, but a vast stretch of low-lying shrubs clinging to a pale earth that looks parched of water. While the leaves are probably green underneath, they look to be permanently grey with dust.
Half an hour passed, during which time we had our first sight of kangaroos… dead ones. Roadkill here is often a little on the large side, and emails from Linc had described the damage done to cars from such encounters. Both of us needed to keep our eyes open, although we had been advised the risk was greater at dawn and dusk. But we reached our next stop (Murray Bridge) unscathed, and by now we were ready for a bite to eat as well as a stretch of the legs.
Here's a little geography lesson for UK readers: Murray Bridge is a place where there’s a river called the Murray, and once upon a time (1836) someone built a bridge over it. That’s typically direct of the Aussies. In England, we’d probably have called it ‘Bridgetown Upon Murray’. Anyway, the river is big and wide (South Australia’s largest), and it was here it began to dawn on us that we were in the middle of a public holiday (the Adelaide Cup). So most places were closed.
In one respect that was fine with us, especially as we were able to park close to the river and not suffer any restrictions no matter how long we P’d. We also found we were right next to a shopping mall that was open, and which served excellent Asian street food at $9 a punnet. But if we’d wanted to post a letter or borrow a library book… tough.
Instead, we wandered alongside the river for a while. There was a wide, grassy area by the bank, occasionally speckled with the shade of gum trees, and a number of families enjoying the holiday sunshine. We spotted a paddle boat heading downstream, and then a similar large craft coming the opposite way. As it moored up near to us, we could see it was a houseboat – but unlike any I had seen before.
One of Elaine’s charms is her ability to talk to anyone (try and stop her). In a flash she was calling out to people on the boat, and before I could remind her what her mother had said about talking to strangers, we were walking across the gangplank and exploring a 6-double bedroom (each with en-suite) floating bungalow. The welcoming crew were all from New Zealand, three couples enjoying a holiday together cruising the Murray River, and we were even invited to a barbecue… These Aussies… (sorry – Kiwis) I tell you!
We had to decline any further hospitality and get back on our road trip, but our experience today had just added to the enormous bonhomie of the whole adventure: every day a different surprise had put huge smiles on our faces.
It was now mid-afternoon, and our eventual destination was just over ninety minutes away along the long straight and hot bitumen surface of the Dukes Highway. We were following the railway line that, if we continued, would eventually take us all the way to Melbourne, but trains were entirely absent that day. We were soon to realise something else was missing – anything on two legs.
On the approach into town, there was a sign welcoming us to Keith, where the population was declared to be 1,089. That figure has dropped by about a hundred since I first researched about the place in the late nineteen eighties. When my Mum and Dad arrived there in 1949, it was probably nearer to 500. Today, after checking in to the Keith Motor Inn, we went for a walk around town and found it virtually empty of people.
The ghost town that was Keith that Sunday night did at least look to have progressed since my parents left seventy years ago. We passed what I can only describe as two championship-level bowling greens made out of Astroturf, then a huge sport facility next to a modern high school (with community library). Like Glenelg, the housing appeared to be universally single storey, each with plenty of ground. We turned onto Makin Street and found our first human. He was staring mournfully through the window of a bakery (closed of course), and when asked, he told us it would be just the same tomorrow. “Where can we get breakfast, then?” “Not here, mate! The other one might be open up the road. Or you could try the pub?”
So, we crossed over and found the pub, complete with six punters – all male. (Note that, including the barman, the population of Keith now stands at eight.) The beer was chilled, but the welcome was other-worldly. Have you ever fallen asleep and had a nightmare where you enter a bar and everyone in it is a Martian? This was a little like that. The guys had a (shall we say weird?) sense of humour, delighting in our failure to guess that one of their number hailed from Finland of all places (I didn’t like to guess Mars). But they were chatty enough, sympathising with my personal connection to their home town, and one of them theorising he might just know a descendant of Hurtle’s, but he didn’t live here. Aside from the company, our attention was drawn to the multiple display of TV screens around the bar, each streaming sport events. It seemed the pub was happy to encourage its guests to bet on the results.
Fancy your chances on the 3.30? Not today!
Four wheels, two beaches, one gum tree – and farewell to Glenelg…
Saturday 7th March 2020. Today marked a major shift in our visit to Australia: we were to get a set of wheels… Normally, our holidays abroad wouldn’t warrant renting a car. I prefer to take a break from driving and let others do the necessary, but as already mentioned on Day Four, there was no longer a train service to Keith, so if I wanted to follow in my parents’ footsteps, I had to get behind the wheel myself.
But the long drive to Keith would be tomorrow. Today we needed to find our way to the other side of the airport to collect the SUV I booked online months ago, and explore the local sights a little more. Unlike our experience so far, not everything was to go to plan…
“Did you know you’ve got TWO vehicles booked with us?” said the girl behind the counter. We’d just arrived by bus at East Coast Car Rentals on Richmond Road. We’d congratulated ourselves on finding our way there so easily, even getting away with a free ride because the driver couldn’t change the twenty dollar note we’d offered for our fare. So news of a double booking did not go down well. Especially when the lovely Lauren followed up her announcement with “And they’re both pre-paid!”
In short, the online agent I’d used (Opodo) had b*ggered things up. Fortunately, only one payment had been taken, but it took several phone calls and signatures on documents before we were able to drive away in our gleaming white Hyundai Accent. Very soon the cock-up over booking (and insurance) was shelved at the back of my mind as I struggled with the need to remember my indicators were now on my right. And which way was it back to the motel?
Once order had been restored, we were determined to make use of our new toy and travel a little further afield. Our first destination was a neighbouring resort a few miles south, which had been recommended to us by more than one person. Google Maps helped us navigate past Glenelg’s Jetty Road until we hit the picturesque neighbourhood of Brighton, where another street of the same name gently sloped down to the sea.
It was at this point we realised the importance of understanding the local regulations over parking a car. Over the last couple of days we had noticed street signs with 2P, 3P or similar in bold letters. One of these was prominently displayed near an eminently suitable space right next to the main street cafés and boutiques. What did 2P mean? We asked the nearest shopkeeper, who told us we could “P” freely for up to two hours. What a relief…
The atmosphere was warm and friendly, hustle and bustle of the most relaxed kind, and after a brief browse up and down, we decided we’d spent enough energy to earn ourselves a good ol’ Aussie meat pie each. There was clearly a popular bakery close to the seafront, and we found a friendly guy behind the counter. Recognising our accents, he told us he once visited Britain to look up friends in Bristol. Did he enjoy it? “You bet!” As I handed over the cash, he scooped up an additional piece of sausage roll and brought all three plates over to our table in the sunshine. “Our speciality for you to try, on the house. Enjoy!” And we did.
Afterwards, we returned our empty plates, crumbs all licked-up, and thanked him for the extra portion. “I hope the English were as nice to you as you Aussies have been to us,” said Elaine sincerely. “You bet!” was the reply. Then as we were about to leave, he handed us another bag of goodies. “Something for you to have with a coffee later.” We couldn’t believe it. Inside were two ‘hot-cross-bun-flavoured’ doughnuts. Don’t you just love Aussies?
We never went back to Brighton, but this guy gave us a very good reason to want to come back to Australia. What an ambassador for both his business and his country.
We headed a little further south, but the coast road came to an abrupt end and we decided instead to turn north and seek out another recommendation: Henley Beach. Our cyclist companion Luke had particularly sung its praises, so why not?
Through neighbouring Glenelg, past the airport, we found ourselves back by the seafront in a quiet residential neighbourhood. No signs 2P or not 2P, but plenty of space, so this time we walked down onto a broad, and largely empty, swathe of sandy beach in temperatures that would have filled the equivalent anywhere back home. One of the benefits of visiting Australia at this time of year is the place is so vast that it is easy to have a football pitch-sized beach to yourself. Between us and the roadway was a very small patch of dune-like grass and scrub, and the lack of commercial units added to the general appeal, all the way to the distant jetty by the lifesavers’ clubhouse. We took off our shoes and indulged in paddling and picking up seashells.
We were ready to walk on water, so we did (on the jetty). Broad smiles on our faces at being here, we were just two out of many others enjoying the good life. Around us were people line-fishing, others just strolling in the sunshine – and three young lads cooling off by jumping into the sea. Someone had posted signs prohibiting this very act, but hadn’t turned up to police it. “No worries, mate.” Neither had we.
Another hour or so (who’s counting?) was spent taking in the scenery with the aid of a cold beer and a coffee, watching the world go by. Here’s a picture of Elaine and I showing off our new Yoga technique to the locals… (as if)
But we couldn’t let time pass by altogether. It was our last day in Glenelg, with at least one particular sight still left to visit. Returning to our motel, we made a brief detour into the nearest thing we’d seen to a housing estate. We’d come to look at a tree.
As the day drew to a close, we determined to make our last evening in this lovely part of the world as special as possible. After making a start on re-packing our cases, showering and changing, we walked back to Moseley Square via the beach. The sun was dipping lower and lower towards the distant horizon, and the light was pure gold. Crowds of people still thronged the sand and the promenade, so we joined them near the jetty and marvelled at the setting sun over the water. Could life get much better than this?
Elaine had her heart firmly set on some Vietnamese food in a restaurant she spotted previously, and it turned out to be a good choice. A busy atmosphere and tasty cuisine at good value, with more friendly Aussies at the table next to us. They were in town for the Adelaide Cup weekend (think Royal Ascot), and she was a milliner, so you can imagine where her focus lay. I’m guessing the guy had his attention on the fillies. The only thing lacking was the alcohol – so with that in mind we finished our meal and went looking for somewhere that a) didn’t have loud music playing, b) too many youngsters, or c) too few staff to provide a service. That was three venues round the Square that failed the test, so instead we walked back to the marina – and floated our boat!
The Oyster Bar met all three criteria, with a table for two and a friendly buzz. We’d settled for a glass of wine each, but Elaine soon had her eyes drawn to where two girls and an older man were sipping something resembling Guinness in a shallow cocktail glass. “Excuse me,” she said. “What is that you’re drinking?” “Here, have a sip!” said one of the girls (Aussie, of course). We learned this was an Espresso Martini, and it tasted as good as it looked. Now I should say at this point that I am aware this is NOT an Australian speciality. But our introduction to this drink DID come with an invitation to sample yet more Aussie hospitality. Somehow the drink flowed a little more freely, the chat did something similar, and I still marvel at how many of these little glasses passed our way when they cost $18 a pop… All I can say (or remember through a pleasant haze) is that Kristen, Annie and Don absolutely made our night, and once we took our leave for that short stagger back to the motel, it was the wrong side of midnight!
Adelaide Migrants, making tracks – and Life on the Streets!
Friday 6th March 2020. How do you feel about trams? Personally, I find them a little boring. As a boy, I was enchanted by the aura of the steam engine – a powerful, breathing beast of a thing that constantly needed feeding with coal, and yet could pull coach-loads of us hundreds of miles across the country at will. No wonder I grew up with a vivid imagination! But steam died out in the 1960’s and was eventually replaced by electric trains with as much appeal as a cardboard box, gliding on rails with no more effort than a quiet hum. The tram is a close cousin, and therefore I look at these modern buses-on-tracks with something akin to resentment. Those that now inhabit the streets of Manchester, Blackpool, Edinburgh and many other cities across Europe all seem to have been cloned. As do the ones that now operate between Glenelg and the City of Adelaide.
We boarded one of these look-alikes at Moseley Square after puzzling out the automated ticket machine with a Canadian couple and their daughter. We’d met the former yesterday, doing the same as us by trying to plan ahead. For a reasonable sum of $10.60 each, we could travel all day on the network, to include the northern stretch to Port Adelaide, which was our intention. Trams ran every fifteen minutes, and the journey into the CBD (Central Business District) took about half an hour. We passed through suburban Adelaide, noting the proliferation of bungalows in so many different styles. Here was another difference to the UK: no building estates that we could see. Residential housing had sprung up over the years as a result of individual plots being purchased, and then built upon to a particular specification. Land was cheap (there’s plenty of it in Australia). In my parents’ time it had been a shortage of labour and materials that slowed the boom in housing.
Today I wanted to look at the areas Mollie and Eric Veale had encountered when they first arrived in the country on 4th November 1949. They had spent their first few nights at the Elder Park Migrant Hostel, and we alighted from our tram a few hundred yards from the original site, just off North Terrace. Where the hostel once was, the Festival buildings now stand, Adelaide being very big on festivals.
The City is built in two halves, north and south of the River Torrens, and is surrounded by parklands. Our journey had taken us out of low-lying residences, through a pastoral landscape about half a mile wide, into the towering city district of concrete, brick and glass several storeys high. The buildings were a fascinating mix of old and new, with wide streets in a grid formation. It is not huge, but airy and graceful, and we had a very short walk past Parliament House, round the corner where the Festival Centre was being revamped, and into Elder Park itself.
The Rotunda is the centrepiece of the park. Donated by philanthropist and Scottish businessman Sir Thomas Elder, it was built in Glasgow in 1881 and shipped over the following year. Sir Tom was also known for having introduced camels to Australia. (Yes, really!) So, in 1949, my parents and sister were drawn to this same spot. It was, after all, on their doorstep at the time, and my Dad took several photos in the park.
On the left (above) is a view of the river taken by my father, with a similar view as it is today, taken from the Rotunda. In 1949 there were still several English oaks and elms along the paths, but these have all but disappeared after modern re-landscaping. One remains here (below), but the area still remains attractive to the eye.
I had a prior appointment at 11 am, where the curator of the Migration Museum, Corinne Ball, would show us round their exhibits. I was donating a copy of my book, which she had already partly read with interest as she was a migrant from Essex herself. She and her husband Duncan had come out on a working holiday in the nineteen nineties – and just stayed. Their personal experience was vastly different to that of so many earlier migrants (including my family), as the museum is intended to display.
You don’t have to walk far in Adelaide to be entertained. From February into March is Festival time, and every two years they hold a “Fringe” arts theme. It’s more “low-key” than Edinburgh, and we had no previous experience of how such an event might transform this city, but there were plenty of people out enjoying the pleasant weather, and it took less than ten minutes from leaving the museum to reach the pedestrian precinct of Rundle Mall (formerly Rundle Street). Here were families with young children enjoying a huge temporary doll’s house, and along the length were various forms of street entertainment, including this guy, a Canadian professional with a great style of humour, who kept plenty of us amused for around thirty minutes.
A couple of cold beers in the warm sunshine later, we were ready for the next part of our day. We retraced our steps up King William Street and back on to North Terrace to the splendid edifice that is Adelaide’s railway station. Externally at least, it looks much the same as it would have done to Mollie and Eric when they caught the train for the next leg of their journey. But inside? Probably not. We had to negotiate electronic barriers with our ‘all-day’ tickets and find the train service out of the CBD to Port Adelaide.
When my parents arrived by boat after a six-week voyage, the port was where they would have disembarked before taking a relatively short bus ride to the Migrant Hostel. The train (one of those boring electric affairs) dropped us off after a twenty-minute journey at a small platform, where we had to descend about a hundred steps to reach a major road, then trek another half mile before we spotted what would evidently have been (and still is) a major landmark.
While researching A Kangaroo In My Sideboard I had encountered a gap in time between the date of arrival in Port Adelaide, and their subsequent onward journey. What had kept the Veale family at the hostel for four days when Mollie had referred in her letters to Hurtle meeting them off the boat? A guy called Malcolm Thompson working at the National Railway Museum (in Port Adelaide) supplied part of the answer. The train service to Hurtle’s place at Keith only ran on certain days of the week. Today there is no rail connection at all. Malcolm had checked old records from 1949 for me, and it was this information, together with the logical deduction that anything in the hold would have taken longer to be offloaded than the passengers, that provided the solution: they had no choice.
So, I wanted to call at the Museum and leave a copy of AKIMS for Malcolm by way of thanks. Alas, I’d missed him, but we still had a lovely chat with another friendly Aussie before heading off to enjoy some finger-licking morsels.
The day ended by reversing our steps, up those to reach the platform, back by train to the CBD, and then the tram to Glenelg. By this time, we were showing no ill-effects from fast food, so we rewarded ourselves with a slow ice cream from one of the Jetty Road gelaterias.
Friendly Glenelg, Pavements of Memories – and the Battle of the Toilet Rolls!
Thursday 5th March 2020. Jet lag is a puzzling phenomenon. One of us (me) managed to sleep until 5 am, waking up to find I was alone in the bed. Elaine was sat on the settee opposite, reading an ebook on her tablet. “What happened?” “Couldn’t sleep.” Part of it may have been excitement. Part may have been a strange bed. But part of it could have been down to the 23 hours of sitting upright, drinking copious amounts of fluids (some alcoholic), eating six tray-loads of airline-processed food, and digesting the contents of half a dozen unmemorable movies.
Breakfast came after we’d spent the next two hours unpacking and having a shower. Outside the weather was sunny and warm, and the dining room a minutes’ walk away. Inside we met more beaming faces – from our hostess Samantha, and some guests, including a couple from the UK. No wonder they were smiling – the home-cooked food was plentiful and tasty (6 rashers of the tastiest bacon… mmmmm…) and the TV news was covering an incident in a Melbourne supermarket where customers had been battling over a scarcity of toilet rolls… Talk about Trouble Down Under.
After breakfast we completed the checking-in procedure with manager Kylie, who gave us a few pointers on where to find things. We were soon ready to explore, and like most people staying at the motel, we started by making our way to the beach.
Now seems the best opportunity to explain my interest in Glenelg:
This is Adelaide’s equivalent to Sydney’s Bondi Beach (without the surf). The airport is just up the road (see Day Two), and it is a popular tourist spot in its own right. But I have a personal connection. My Mum and Dad (and four-year-old Susan) found refuge in Glenelg for just over two months in 1950 after my Dad had a major bust-up with his “business partner”, Hurtle. My mother had a miscarriage here, receiving medical attention in a private hospital, and my father found temporary work in the town to raise necessary funds to pay for their passage home. Thanks to the letters kept by Mollie’s sister-in-law Elsie, and the photographs taken by Eric, I knew exactly what to look for in modern-day Glenelg.
As we left the motel, we were immediately struck by the sleepy ambience of the neighbourhood. All around us were single storey dwellings within their own grounds, grass-verged pavements and plenty of trees. The pleasant warmth and sunshine added to the enjoyment as we turned onto St Annes Terrace and arrived at a wide (but empty) road by a quiet marina with a promenade and gentle lawns. We followed the path leading towards the beach, nodding and smiling at anyone we met on the way, taking in the old-fashioned tram placed under a shelter in memory of its peers that ran between Glenelg and the City for eighty years from 1929.
Another curiosity we spotted under our feet were groups of paving plaques like this:
The ones above relate to a local policeman who appears to have paid the ultimate price doing his duty, but there were hundreds of others, seemingly personal memorials for private individuals in an area where the public passed every day. I’d love to have left one for my parents.
Also under our feet was a total lack of something we almost accept as the “norm” in the UK: dog poo. Perhaps the reason is a subtly different approach by local authorities all over Australia. No excuse for not picking it up if there’s always a bag handy…
We could see the beach before we got to it. This was displayed on the side of a building near the marina, and is a view of Glenelg Beach that would have been familiar to my parents if they’d been there in the summer:
Even from that photo, it is clear that the sandy beach is popular for a reason. As we reached it, we could see how light it was, almost white, and very fine grained. My Dad took several photos of Mum and Sue there, and to my delight we soon found the exact spot where some of his “snaps” had been taken. Look at these two photographs that have the same building (and tree) in the background.
Meandering slowly along the promenade, we met crowds of schoolchildren and their teachers assembling for a volleyball competition. It may have been the start of Australia’s autumn, but the sun was still strong enough for regulation hats to be worn.
Just around the corner, opposite the jetty, is the heart of Glenelg – Moseley Square. This is the community hub, where the tram terminus is surrounded by bars and restaurants, and where the main shopping street (Jetty Road) begins.
This area’s footprint has changed little over the years, and I’m sure my parents would recognise the town that is Glenelg today. It is an affluent area, well-maintained and with a busy high street that speaks of a strong economy. We walked up Jetty Road, taking in the atmosphere and noting the politeness of the local drivers, stopping for us as we negotiated side streets. That done, it was time to go to church…
Someone was just opening the front doors as we approached St Andrews, and they let us inside, delighted to hear my reasons for wanting to visit. They were just about to open up their “Friendship Café”, where various goods were distributed among the needy within the parish, so we didn’t stop long.
A little further along Jetty Road we came to the junction with Byron Street. This took us into a residential area where almost every building was single storey, many with a distinctive corrugated roofing typical of Australian dwellings. This was where the Veale family lived between early June and late August 1950. Many of the houses will essentially be the same ones my parents walked past on their way to the shops or beach, and the general impression they gave was distinctly colonial, with cool verandas and American-style mailboxes at their gates. All of them were individual, and several had fencing made of reeds, like the thatch we see on some English cottages. Others were in wrought iron or wood, but the general impression was of a “well-to-do” neighbourhood.
My focus was on Number 22. Split into two apartments, Mum and Dad lived in the right hand one, where my Big/Little Sister once managed to lock them all out!
My tour of Veale History was over for the moment, and we continued up the road to the Anzac Highway. Kylie, the manager of the motel, had recommended a bakery there called “Orange Spot”, but breakfast had been really filling so we only called in out of curiosity before returning to Moseley Square for a coffee.
The old Post Office had been turned into a coffee shop, and as it has been there since 1911, I am quite sure my Mum would have called in to send her letters to family at home – so this had to be our choice for refreshment.
There was nothing of the original left inside, alas, but the coffee was good, and the natives friendly. Elaine almost immediately struck up a conversation with an older couple from Tamworth near Sydney, pumping them for information on what we might find there. Then we were ready to shop. One of my first purchases was from the Vodafone store. My smartphone has a slot for two SIM cards, and with the next three weeks in mind, I needed a second SIM to access data and local contacts on an Australian number. We also wanted water for our fridge back at the motel, some snacks and maybe a few beers – so we asked for directions to a supermarket and found it just off Jetty Road. Here we discovered a major cultural difference between Oz and the UK: supermarkets don’t sell alcohol!!!
Instead we sampled the real thing at a bar overlooking the jetty ($8 a pint – about £4 each) before picking up some of the same stuff (West End - 6 cans for $16.90) at a liquor store on the way back to the motel. By now we could feel some real heat in the sun, and our respective levels of jetlag were calling for a little siesta.
It was also an opportunity to take the technical challenge of installing my new SIM card, and to test it by calling Linc. Up to this point we had only conversed by email, but after five years it seemed just as comfortable talking over the phone, with both of us feeling the emotion of being that little bit closer.
Elaine managed a little bit of sunbathing, sat outside the chalet, and then we started out on another ambitious endeavour: what would Aussie fish ‘n chips taste like? Linc had promised he would cook some fresh for us when we got there, but that was some time off and we were hungry now. So we took the short-cut through to Jetty Road and found our way back to Moseley Square. I have to report that the bar (for Linc) was set pretty low. The one place we found that looked anywhere near promising would have been better sited in Blackpool (not an appealing place in my view), and the fare on this occasion was disappointing.
But we walked it off up the jetty itself, enjoying a different perspective from that in the morning, when there had been so many crowds.
Two oriental-looking boys were at the end, doing some line-fishing with fish heads. They’d (literally) just caught a crab, and were checking against a size-chart to see if it was big enough for supper. A centimetre over, they were luckier than we’d been. We wandered back along that gorgeous beach, stopping to speak to two more friendly locals – a couple of girls who were looking after an area set aside for sun-bathers on loungers. Our first day in Australia was almost over, and we had been overwhelmed by the friendly nature of every Aussie we had met. All looked promising, and before we settled down that night, we enjoyed a chat over the phone with Sue Mac, calling us from Delamere, our hostess for when we would reach that area in another week’s time.
Our welcome to Australia was complete!
The Three Bears, The Three Eighty – and the Aussie Cycling Team!
Tuesday 3rd March 2020. I’d waited over thirty years for this day to come. Mum had died on 9th October 1985 at the tender age of 70. Dad had passed away 28 years earlier, aged 43, and their experiences living in Australia for a short while had only been briefly mentioned. Big Sister Sue was four years old when the Veale family left Adelaide in August 1950, so between us that particular period of family history was destined to pass from living memory.
Until Elsie found the letters.
I had a lot on my mind as I dragged the first case out to the car. Just after half past eight in the morning, a light drizzle and around 5 degrees Celsius. We had about an hour’s drive ahead of us, so if we left by nine we should be at the airport in plenty of time before our flight. I didn’t want to leave anything to chance…
We’d even got new luggage – a matching set in burgundy that reminded me of Goldilocks and the Three Bears: Baby Bear, Mummy Bear and Daddy Bear. Elaine had done a fair job of loading most of her wardrobe into Daddy Bear, and as I lifted this 23.8 kilo heavyweight into the boot of the car, I realised there was no room left in it, even for Baby Bear! So Mummy and Baby had to share the back seat – locked, stocked and labelled. We would be living out of these three for the next few weeks, so they were going to be treated with as much care as I and the airport baggage handlers could muster.
Driving to Manchester Airport was a familiar routine, joining the M6 motorway at Preston, then driving south to meet the M56 for the last part. Today the rain was persistent, and the traffic busy. Elaine wisely kept her head in a book while I battled with the wipers and the speed merchants to get us safely through the first leg of our long, long journey. But I did let one part of my brain ponder on how we’d come to this day.
Elsie gave me that bundle of letters some months after Mum died, in 1986. “You might like to keep these. I don’t know why I kept them, but it makes better sense that you have them now.” I had to agree with her. Two years before, I had won a national playwriting competition. Writing was becoming as much of a passion for me as performing. These letters were my Mum’s words, penned from the heart and presenting vivid pictures of a time before I was born. I had devoured those words in 1986, my emotions in free-fall as I learned so much about the life my parents led nearly forty years earlier. It took almost another thirty before I had the tools and experience to attempt it, but in 2018 my Mum’s story was finally told in the form of a published memoir, and I was at the right point in my life to follow her path. Tomorrow I would set foot in Australia.
This was to be our first experience of the “Meet and Greet” parking facility. Normally, our holidays were just a week long, and we would leave the car in an off-site park before taking a shuttle bus to the terminal. But this was a special trip, and the car was to be left for over three weeks. All went smoothly, and within minutes of parking up we were wheeling the Three Bears into Terminal 1. Our flight would be Emirates E018, scheduled to leave at 13.10, and we were dropping off our bags at almost precisely the regulation three hours before departure. The girl on the desk was friendly and efficient, but not open to Elaine’s enquiry about potential for an upgrade if the flight wasn’t full… Oh well – we tried. Economy Class would still be a wonderful experience?
Walking through Security with minimal hand luggage was a novelty, and we only had Baby Bear and Elaine’s small holdall for company. Our smallest case was a form of insurance: containing a few “valuables” and a change of clothing, just in case Mummy and Daddy Bear went Walkabout by the time we reached Adelaide. Could we be that unlucky?
We certainly felt relaxed and well-prepared once we’d passed the duty-free gauntlet. Time for a pre-flight drink, so while I was happy for one last pot of English tea, Elaine pushed the boat plane out with a couple of gin and tonics. At the appointed time we made our way to Gate 12, and had our first sight of the A380 aircraft that would take us to our stopover destination, Dubai.
I’d never flown in a wide-bodied jet before, and this even had an upstairs! We’d done our research (courtesy of Google) and selected seats at the pointy end, fairly close to the stairs up to Business Class, but away from the toilets and galley. The flight would be over seven hours, so we wanted to be as comfortable as our default Economy seats would allow.
We did find the experience quite pleasant, with just enough leg-room, and a complimentary pillow, blanket and headphones awaiting us. We had a seven-inch TV screen set into the seat in front, and a vast array of movies to choose from if we wished, while we charged our sundry devices from the adjacent USB port. (Okay, that’s the end of the commercial for Emirates.)
Take-off was more or less on time, smooth and very quiet for such a huge airplane. I found it fascinating to follow our progress on the screen in front of me, where I could see outside through three different cameras positioned on the outside of the aircraft. There was also an option to monitor the journey with real-time graphics depicting our route across the globe, including altitude, airspeed and the time left to reach our destination.
The other thing of note had to be the meals. Anyone who flies long distance will tell you it’s all about the food. The reason for this is not necessarily that what’s on offer is of a particularly high (or poor) standard. It is simply that there seems to be so much of it! When you’re sitting in one place for hours on end, trying to keep yourself occupied by watching back-to-back movies, or reading a book, the interruption of offers of complimentary snacks and/or drinks between meals is very welcome. So too are the meals themselves. The Emirates App I’d downloaded weeks before had provided details of the anticipated menus for lunch that we would receive, and soon after take-off the cabin staff handed out cards to confirm the choices available. In our case it was between Chicken Korma and Braised Beef, followed by Strawberry and Redcurrant Crumble. Proper metal cutlery came as standard, as well as a bread roll, coleslaw appetiser and a hot drink afterwards. All very welcome and well-presented – and quite tasty too.
Our flight to Dubai lasted around seven and a half hours, and we landed slightly ahead of schedule at around thirty minutes past midnight local time. Four hours ahead of the UK, we felt wide awake, and were happy to stretch our legs negotiating one of the biggest airport terminals in the world. The décor was impressive – marble, steel and glass, with a “cool” 23 degrees temperature and plenty of neon displays to inform the masses of our onward destination, or to encourage us to spend our dollars at any of the glittering displays of jewellery or high-class food outlets. Elaine was drawn to the former. (See above comments regarding food.)
With neither food nor bargain-basement jewellery to tempt us, the only pennies we spent were in the washrooms before passing through Security (again) to find our next gate for the longest part of our journey. The A380 had lived up to expectations, but the next leg was expected to be half as long again, through the night, and in an aircraft that could not boast an upper deck. How would a Boeing 777-200LR compare?
At the gate we got the first taste of new measures intended to cope with the spread of coronavirus. Until now, we had only seen one person at Manchester wearing a facemask. Here there were three officials with them on, and they were pointing temperature “guns” at our foreheads. A slightly intimidating experience, our discomfort aggravated further by being bodily padded down to check for weapons etc – but all in the interest of maintaining safety standards. It was about thirty minutes before our boarding time, and we found some seats away from the crowd, but soon there were plenty more joining us.
At this point I have to highlight a subtle difference between the two of us: while my strengths lie in the written word, Elaine can talk for England! And she’s very good at it. In fact, Elaine’s friendly nature towards people we met made the whole trip that much more enjoyable, opening up moments to treasure through conversation. Up until now our fellow passengers had largely appeared to be Brits flying on to other far-flung parts (as well as Australia), including one woman who told Elaine she was on her seventeenth trip to visit family in Adelaide. From this point on we would be getting to know some genuine Aussies!
Two men and two women sat on the seats in front of us, each of them clutching backpacks, and wearing identical black sports outfits. One of the backpacks had the name “Hayes” embroidered on it, and Elaine asked if they were on a cycling tour with Hayes Travel? “No,” was the reply. “We’re part of the Australian Cycling Team, and we’re just on our way back from the World Championships in Berlin!”
Indeed, the four were soon six, each with a different name on their backpack, and then around another twenty made their way past the temperature guns and body-searches. We found that their performance at the Championships had not been particularly successful – but then Team GB had done even worse… These were true Aussies: friendly, cheerful and optimistic. The Olympics in Tokyo were beckoning in the summer, so there was plenty more for them to look forward to.
Suitably impressed by our first encounter with the natives, it wasn’t long before we were called (in stages) to board our next aircraft, Flight EK 0440, leaving at 02.00 local time.
This time we were in the middle of the aircraft, getting a glimpse of the glitterati in Business Class as we walked through their compartment at the front to reach our seats. Not envious at all (!), we found a familiar collection of pillows, blankets etc awaiting our attention. In all respects the facilities of this aircraft were a good match for the A380, even down to the “starry” ceiling effect once the lights were dimmed for take-off. The difference this time was in our companions: A friendly Australian couple sat in the row in front of us, and immediately struck up a conversation, asking about ourselves and our plans. We told them the reasons for our visit, and they showed an interest, adding some recommendations for places to visit while we were in South Australia. They were from a town not far from Port Lincoln on the Eyre Peninsula, and they asked if we liked red wine. “Of course we do!” Their suggestion was to head to the Barossa Valley, and to look for a winery called Penfolds – a favourite spot of theirs. While we were chatting two more cyclists sat in the row behind us – and then a third came to occupy the window seat next to me. All of them had big beaming smiles, and we were already beginning to recognise these as an Aussie trademark.
We faced a flight of between 12 and 13 hours, crossing the Indian Ocean with India and Sri Lanka to our left, and then nothing but sea below us for most of that time. Adjusting to the time difference was not easy. Having left Dubai in the middle of the night, I had expected we would soon be trying to settle down for whatever sleep we could manage. But our cabin crew had other ideas, and started to serve us breakfast within the first hour. It seemed slightly surreal to be eating a cheese omelette, croissant and coffee at 3 am local time, but I wasn’t going to refuse it!
Sleep did come eventually, aided by ear plugs, an Emirates eye-mask, and our investment in a pair of special neck support/cushions that worked like a scarf wound tightly round the neck. I dozed on and off for a few hours, glancing at my screen one time to see a graphic of our plane flying over the ocean, but with the addition of a perfectly straight line crossing our path just ahead. It took a moment for me to realise this represented the equator, and instantly I remembered the passage in my Mum’s memoir when SS Esperance Bay had done the same. The Crossing the Line ceremony had been a colourful occasion for all ships in those days, and I had imagined my Big/Little sister complaining that she couldn’t see a physical line crossing the surface of the sea. Well, I could see it now!
The lengthy ocean stretch passed slowly but quietly, with the lights dimmed and most people either asleep or watching movies. I did watch a couple, but the experience seemed uncomfortable, the sound occasionally lower than I would like, and it was just something to pass the time. More memorable was the camera display underneath the aircraft, once we crossed the West Australian coastline exactly three hours before our scheduled landing in Adelaide. We flew above a terrain unlike anything I had seen before. The earth beneath was a rich combination of reds and browns, occasionally marked by yellow-ish streaks I assume were evidence of dried up river beds. Straight lines, indicating roads or railways, were a rarity – and townships of any size were completely absent. We might have been flying over the surface of Mars.
We landed with a bump or two, around twenty minutes early at 8.35 pm local time. We said fond farewells to our new friends, but the cyclists were still to make an impact on our progress. Border Control were masked up for virus prevention, and asked us if we had been to either China or Iran in the last 14 days? Realising it was a trick question, we both answered no. After safely collecting the Three Bears, we found ourselves in a lengthy queue behind two dozen Aussie cyclists as they meandered past more face-masked airport staff collecting immigration forms (we all had to complete them), with their special bikes boxed and crated in stacks on the luggage trolleys. One guy misjudged a corner (not medal-potential then) and yours truly helped him re-stack his load before we were able to escape into the warm Australian air and search for a taxi.
It was now around 9.15 pm, and our ultimate destination was the Glenelg Motel, about a ten-minute journey, so our taxi-ride was brief but door-to-door in a hybrid electric vehicle. The roads were quiet, and the fare twenty dollars (about £10). Undaunted by the gate preventing access to the motel, we and the Three Bears piled out in front of it. Anticipating our arrival “after hours”, the proprietor Kylie had left instructions for us to find our key in a code-protected safe on the outside wall. Everything went to plan, the gate slid open, and humans and bears were soon wheeled inside chalet number 7. It was a large room containing two beds (one a single), an en-suite bathroom, wardrobe, settee and a desk. We also found a fridge and essential instructions to operate the air-conditioning.
We’d been a long time away from our bed back in England. But with an opportunity to get our heads down on some proper pillows for a few hours, it would soon be time for the real adventure to begin.
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