Travels Downunder – A Reminiscence

My wife and I have two children, a girl and a boy. Our daughter, the eldest, lives in France and our son, the youngest, lives in Australia. I’m not sure what we did to upset them so much that they both decided to move so far away. My wife prefers to think that we brought them up to be independent and to spread their wings. Well they certainly did that.
Our daughter lives in Normandy in a 17th century farmhouse with her partner, along with four alpacas, a horse, a donkey, six chickens and a rooster, two dogs and a cat.

Our son and his wife live in Brisbane and he’s been there since 2002 and he is the reason why my wife and I ended up joining the other 250,000 grey nomads travelling around Australia. Let me explain.

Our son didn’t take a gap year before going to university, and at the age of 26 decided he’d missed out, so he bought himself a round the world ticket and set off from London, on his own, with the intention of circumnavigating the globe which he expected to take about a year. All went well and we got emails every so often until about seven months in we got a rare phone call. He told us he was in Brisbane, it was the middle of their winter, and he was dressed in shorts and a tee shirt. Apparently that’s all it took to make him decide he wanted stay permanently, and he rang to say he had decided that he wasn’t going to be coming home after all. My wife cried everyday for a fortnight!!

Decisions were required. If we wanted to see our son again then we needed to make a trip to Australia. Now, we’ve been quite lucky in life and have travelled quite extensively all over the world but never to Australia. I must admit it was not even on my list of must visit places. I blame my teachers. I left school in the 1960s believing that Australia was pretty much a vast desert with a few towns and cities dotted around the outside. How wrong can you be!!  Sure, there are indeed vast deserts but there is so much more.  It has got the lot, mountains, tropical islands, waterfalls, beautiful rainforests and of course stunning beaches,  and wildlife not found anywhere else on earth, and best of all sunshine. Weatherwise Australia doesn’t do things by halves, when it’s hot it’s HOT, and when it rains it RAINS (they don’t deal in drizzle!!) and when it doesn’t rain there can be prolonged severe drought, sometimes for years. 

We eventually made our first trip out in September 2004 and went for five weeks. Well, we fell in love with the place. We packed so much in to that five weeks, from a visit to the Whitsunday Islands (I likened it to the Caribbean) a road trip to Cairns in North Queensland and the Great Barrier Reef, a flight out to the red centre and Uluru (Ayers Rock) and a road trip down to Sydney which included  a night at the opera in the famous Sydney Opera House.  We soon realised if we wanted to see more we needed to come for a lot longer.

So after a very tearful goodbye at Brisbane airport we arrived back home in the UK and set about making plans to take early retirement from full time work. A year of planning and preparing took place and in October 2005 we shut up our house here and set off for a year downunder. Neither of our children had, at that time, shown any inclination to get married so we decided to use the money we had set aside for two possible weddings and on arrival in Australia went shopping for a suitable car and a caravan. We ended up with a nice little Korean fourwheel drive wagon, and a caravan with a permanent  large double bed (no converting seats into beds every night for us!) Having never owned a caravan before we embarked on a very steep learning curve. Before long I soon had the hang of towing and manoeuvring the van and, if I do say so myself, became very adept at backing it into even the smallest spaces.

At that time our son was living in the charmingly named Cotton Tree Pocket, an area in the town of Maroochydore (a lot of Australian place names do take a bit of getting used to) which is on the Sunshine Coast just north of Brisbane.  We set off from there at the end of October 2005 which is the start of spring downunder. Our plan was to go right around the whole country in a clockwise direction and to complete the journey in the twelve months allowed on our visa; we had to be out of the country by the end of September the following year. Other than that we didn’t really have a plan or timetable, just keep going and stopping wherever we fancied. If we liked somewhere we’d stay a while, if not we moved on. This was our first mistake………….. 

To be continued…….