Family Adventure “Down Under”

On the 14th March 1994 Debbie, Alex, James, Emma & I set out from 56 Southcote Avenue Feltham, by taxi at 10am to London Heathrow to catch a Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, but that wasn’t our final destination oh no…

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On our way!

We were en route to Sydney Australia for the rest of the journey by Garuda Indonesia, via Abu Dhabi, Singapore, JakartaBali and Melbourne!  This was a journey of seven take offs and landings and the only time we got off the plane after Frankfurt was in Bali for a six hour stopover, although we never left the transit lounge…

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McDonell Douglas MD-11 in Frankfurt

Why on earth, I can hear you ask, did you go such a circuitous route and the answer lies dear reader that I was taking advantage of the (then) travel policy of my employer to take my family away on a business trip as long as the total cost to the firm did not exceed that of me travelling alone in business class.

This meant a tortuous search, as well as journey, to find the cheapest route and airline combination to enable five to travel for less than the cost of one!  Remember we also had to repeat this journey in reverse at the end of our fortnight’s adventure…  In the end we managed the first week in Australia as holiday for me to recover and explore New South Wales in a hire car with the family.

Looking back it seems a miracle that we made all the connections, although to be fair when most passengers disembarked the plane at the various stops we decided to stay on the plane with the cleaners surrounding us as the children, Alex (ten), James (six) and Emma (three) were fast asleep and seemed to cope much better than the adults!

We remember that when we did exit the aircraft at Bali the extreme heat outside was like hitting an oven in our London winter clothes so we headed straight for the nearest airport t-shirt shop to kit us all out with more sensible attire.

A few quick words about Garuda Indonesia, the air hostesses were brilliant with the kids especially Emma and I remember her being cuddled asleep in one lady’s arms to allow Debbie brief respite on the return journey.  Also I remember being told that the rather heavy landings were due to the pilots often coming from a navy background where to be safe landing on aircraft carriers this was the recommended approach!  The other thing stuck in my mind was the huge number of aircraft meals and drinks we were offered which were very tasty and the Indonesian announcements which sounded like “param balam” repeated in staccato to my English attuned hearing.

After at least 36 hours of elapsed time we finally arrived in Sydney to an awaiting stretched limousine (see past New York post) which  whisked the exhausted family to the Harbourside apartments at McMahons Point arriving about 8am.  The car had been organised by Peter Wisneski the IT Manager for the Howmedica Asia Pacific region.

My job in the second week was to help him configure a Novell LAN and set up his Lotus ccMail hub and Notes server as part of the strategic investment methodology (SIM) project that Stuart Davie the future CIO had worked on previously with me as a KPMG consultant.

So back to the holiday, the first thing was that our self-catering apartment was on the fourth floor of the tower block overlooking the Sydney Opera House through the Sydney harbour bridge, you just couldn’t get a more perfect location.

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4th floor nearest corner flat











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Alex looking through the bridge towards the opera house
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Debbie asleep while the kids play

The first day though as you can see in the picture above Debbie (pictured asleep) and I were exhausted after the marathon journey so we decided to explore outside on foot and have something to eat at a local cafe with the kids trailing behind us.

Debbie and I remember Emma screaming at one point when a large fly landed on her face and we wondered what on earth we’d let ourselves in for!  The meal was some kind of pasta but our appetites just weren’t there so the kind owner packed us containers of our left overs to take back to the apartment’s microwave.

Being self catering we went shopping at the local Woolworth’s which wasn’t like the UK version but a supermarket!  It wasn’t far away from the apartment but far enough to warrant the hire car which I picked up a day or so later after Peter took us the first time to help orientate us.

The car I hired was a “Holden” which I believe was owned by General Motors, it had a huge (to me) V6 engine that roared every time I put my foot on the accelerator which was so sensitive this happened a lot and we lurched forward rather alarmingly!

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Once I got used to how quick the car was and where McMahon’s Point was geographically (remember this is in the pre-SatNav era) we used it to explore quite a lot of NSW including Bondi beach, Manly beach, Botany Bay, the Blue Mountains and Peter Wiskneski’s family home, where he, his wife Sandra and son Grant hosted us for a delicious “barbie“.

One day the boys went with Peter & Sandra to Taronga Zoo while Debbie and I took Emma up the Sydney Tower and later we all visited a wildlife park to feed a Joey & cuddle a koala.

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Bondi beach was nearly deserted as it was nearly winter!
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A deserted Manly beach where the locals all wore sweaters!
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Captain Cook’s Botany Bay – he is a distant ancestor of mine!
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Seven Sisters in the Blue Mountains

We followed Peter’s car to the Blue Mountains where on the way we enjoyed a wonderful “dim sum” lunch at one of his favourite Chinese restaurants and Debbie remembers a Lazy-Susan in the centre of the table allowing us to take our pick of the exotic (to us) fayre.  The view from Govetts Leap lookout was spectacular.

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Peter’s bungalow in Quakers Hill
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James’ koala at Featherdale wildlife park
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Same koala but with Alex!
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Emma feeding a wallaby
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Emma and I at the cafe in the Sydney Tower Eye
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Debbie and Emma with her “blackcurrant cup”

Peter originally came from New Zealand and his wife Sandra was on very strong medication for controlling her epilepsy and their son Grant had cerebral palsy so it was doubly sad to hear some time after our return to the U.K. that Sandra had passed away.

Our last memory of Sandra, Peter & Grant was them enjoying a farewell roast lamb dinner cooked by Debbie at Harbourside to say thank you for all their hospitality during our stay.

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The children weren’t invited to the top table!

As a parting gift she gave us a VHS video of “An Affair to Remember” as we’d watched it together on TV on our fourth wedding anniversary to take home.  A lovely lady and I often wonder what happened to Peter & Grant and whether or not they eventually returned to New Zealand.  She took this photo of all of us outside the apartment just before we flew back to the UK.

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Over the years I’ve been offered a number of relocations with work but Debbie has always vetoed entertaining such an option especially as she would be left alone at our new “home” while I was at work and no doubt continuing to travel abroad.

So much to my surprise while I worked the second week Debbie enjoyed Sydney and the friendliness of the people so much she was confident enough to explore Darling harbour by ferry with the three children on her own and enjoyed shopping around eventually buying the boys “Mighty Morphin Power Ranger” figures & Emma a “Bananas in Pyjamas” inflatable beach ball amongst other things.

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Daring Debbie sans hubby!

So much so that she told me that if I was ever offered relocation to Australia she would have certainly considered it, although she knew leaving her elderly parents behind wasn’t an option.

In retrospect though I’m glad the offer never materialised and so we weren’t tempted, as we thought it was quite warm in their winter, I’m not sure we could have coped with their summer!

The return trip to the UK started off with us paying a departure tax at Sydney airport which came as a bit of a shock but we got safely on the plane and made our way in reverse from the outgoing trip.

Further experiences of “note” on our return home were the following:

  1. James was sick in Jakarta airport after too much cherryade and an unfortunate female business woman in killer heels stood directly in it pushing in the queue!
  2. Emma refused to go to the toilet in Jakarta airport as it was essentially a hole in the floor with ants crawling everywhere
  3. A film crew blocked the moving walkway at Frankfurt airport and I had to shout at them to let the family through for our connecting flight to London which we almost missed due to late arrival
  4. Our luggage was not so fortunate and on arrival at Heathrow had been put on the wrong flight!  24 hours later they were delivered to our home address

Twenty three years later would we go back? Yes but only in the lap of luxury and with no kids!!!!


Family Adventure “Down Under”

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