By Stan Stewart
This trip was my wife’s idea for a birthday present. That’s how it was we flew from Auckland to Cairns (Australia).
I started flying for my work about fifty years ago. Back then flying was special. You dressed up to fly. I can’t remember whom we were trying to impress; the ‘Hosties’ or the Pilots, - they all farewelled you on departure.
Back then, even in economy, the meals were amazing. I remember three courses with heated crispy bread rolls. The bathrooms on planes were spacious and equipped with perfumes, sprays and potions. These latter didn’t last long. They were routinely stolen. Sprays from airlines logos when displayed at home carried impressive bragging crud. The duty-free stores were different back then. Front and centre of their displays were cigarettes – long packs with 25 cigarettes packets, ten to each carton. Non-smoking travellers were routinely pestered by smoking friends to buy a carton or two of these duty-free cigarettes.
Looking further back to teenage years, my most memorable journeys were bike rides – long bike rides – commonly 100 miles (not kms) a day. My longest ride was 1200 miles from Melbourne to Sydney on the Princes Highway, large portions of which were unsealed. I made this journey with a young male friend to attend a national youth conference in Sydney.
To my surprise, I made quite a hit at the conference with a bunch of public-school girls from Melbourne. This was completely one-sided and I could not work out why. Looking back, I know I was tanned, fit and innocent and I think this was appealing to this group of worldly-wise girls from Melbourne’s best schools. I was supposed to ride my bike back to Melbourne but under the influence of this feminine attention, I change my mind and took the train to be near them. However, as we drew close to Melbourne it was clear that the attraction of the boy from the coal mines waned quickly as Melbourne drew near and the public-school boys would be waiting for them on the station platform.
As young adults my wife and I had the opportunity to travel across the USA. We had seen some movies and documentaries of long journeys in the US on Greyhound Buses. It looked exciting to us, so we booked a couple of legs on these sleek looking highway marvels. But what the bus stories we had viewed made no mention of, was the Bus Stations. Our itinerary crisscrossed a couple of states. This meant some of our Bus Station stop-overs were an hour or more in length. The bus stations we encountered were scary places. The problem was that during the midnight hours, the bus stations we experienced became a refuge for street people and people who looked like they lived on the edge of the law. Even sitting in a bus station, made us uneasy. On one occasion I had to leave my wife’s side for a two-minute toilet stop. When I came back, she was wedged between two men and more were eyeing her up from across the hall. From that time forward we made all our travel hops in the USA by air.
Now, my love of journeying has not diminished, but something has drastically altered. Me! I have drastically changed. Two days ago, it took me nearly five minutes to exit the back seat of a taxi. It was starting to look like some mechanical apparatus would be needed to extract me from the seat. That was my first experience of this kind, but I am wondering if it’s a straw in the wind. Waiting to board Queensland’s super ‘Spirit of Queensland’ Train in Cairns, I had opportunity to read around about thirty colourful, exciting travel leaflets. Depressing! There was only one of them I had any chance of participating in -the Museum Tour.
Australia is big and flat and boring, and I love it. People in Australia and from around the world travel thousands of kilometres to see what is around every bend, every corner, on the Coromandel. In Cairns, one of the far north’s tropical destinations, currently three direct flights from Japan land every day. Before the recent disruptions from covid, five daily flights from China were the usual. But we have the weather and our roading problems. However, there can’t be any denying that the whole world would like to sample our bit of paradise.
For me, despite my pretence and bravado, there can be no escaping Old Father Time. I’ve been thinking I can still go on trips and take on new adventures, but they will be different adventures; not the kind that are featured on shiny travel brochures. Wrestling with new ideas and meeting new people will be my adventures. The light might be a bit duller, but it still sparkles.