Today it is fifty years since I left home!
I was inspired to travel because my Pop (grandfather) and my Uncle Paul were travelling when I was a little girl and there was always great excitement when a postcard or letter arrived from them. Then my dad had some business trips overseas – this was a pretty big thing in the 1950s and 1960s. In fact when he flew to London in 1959 it took 4 days, with the plane and the crew and the passengers stopping to sleep each night.
I just had to go overseas when I grew up.
In 1970 I celebrated my twenty-first birthday, which was a very big occasion. One of the best presents I received was a Kodak Instamatic, very basic, but my first camera ever.
About that time QANTAS had a promotion called The How, why, when and where of here, there and everywhere, which I thought was very exciting. I had only travelled on airplanes twice before – to go to Canberra for work, so this was huge.
I left home when I was twenty-one on Sunday 18 October. I had worked for three years as a computer operator at CSIRO, so I had saved enough money to get me there and start my adventure, but I would have to work if I wanted to stay away. I had been studying at night school, learning programming and statistics.
Going overseas was a big adventure for anyone young. Melbourne had a brand-new airport called Tullamarine, so lots of my friends and family came to farewell me and to see the new airport.
My first destination was New York and the flight stopped for refuelling in Fiji, Honolulu and San Francisco. It took about 48 hours to get there. I was met by my boyfriend Rodney, who had left Australia a year earlier.
New York was big. Apart from finding the accents difficult to understand, it was an overcrowded, noisy place, full of yellow taxis and screaming police sirens. And I was much too excited to sleep.
We took the ferry around Manhattan Island, climbed the Empire State building and walked along Sixth Avenue. I saw my very first colour television at Radio City Music Hall.
From there I visited Canada – Montreal, Toronto and Niagara Falls and Ottawa.
There was a curfew in Montreal. the Front de libération du Québec (FLQ) had kidnapped some politicians and killed one of them, so a state of emergency was enacted. I was not used to seeing fully armed soldiers on the street.
I finally arrived in London in November, just as winter was settling in. I was young, I didn’t notice the cold. But I did go out and buy a beautiful purple leather coat with a hood with black fur. I got a casual job in a chemist shop near Victoria Station.
My first real job in England, was with the Marconi Company in Chelmsford. I started in February 1971. I was employed as a junior programmer using Assembler language. I had to learn it first, so I sat at a desk and read through the manual for the first week – that is how you learnt programming in those days. I wasn’t anywhere near a computer.
In Chelmsford I met new friends, shared digs with two other girls, had a massive social life – going to the pub, going to parties, hosting dinner parties and travelling whenever I had the time.
At Easter I booked myself on a tour to Holland, my first European country. I loved the quaint houses, the tulips, the windmills and the clogged shoes. Now I really had the travel bug.
My new friends at Marconi came from different parts of the United Kingdom and many of them invited me home to meet their families or to take special trips with them. I went to York with Chris and Manchester with Judith, I hitchhiked to Berlin with Bernadette and hitchhiked around Ireland with Chris. I climbed the Snowdonia horseshoe and went gliding over Cambridge with other friends. Absolutely things I would never had done if I had stayed at home in Melbourne, Australia. Absolutely things I would never have done if I stayed with one boyfriend.
And I had a new boyfriend. His name was Tim and he was a keen sailor, so I learnt to sail on the River Crouch. Tim was also pretty adventurous, so we toured a bit including a hiking weekend in the Lake District.
But I was overseas to travel and explore the world, so after 8 months of working and playing and saving money, I set off to see Europe.
I traded in my little instamatic camera for a more complicated camera, which soon broke down, so I was travelling with no camera at all. I packed all my belongings into a trunk and left them with Tim’s parents. I bought a back pack and a sleeping bag and packed the bare necessities, and I was off.
Tim came as far as Paris with me, then another special friend Pat joined me, and we took an old steam train to Zagreb in Yugoslavia (now the capital of Croatia).
Pat and I were blown away by this new and exciting country. The boys whistled at us, which we thought was hilarious. The food was different. In the evening everyone went out walking, promenading. I was seeing a whole different world.
We got to Rijeka on the coast, expecting some sunshine and swimming, but it was October and it rained. Camping wasn’t very comfortable, so we hired a tiny caravan to sleep in and kept warm with one candle, and laughed a lot.
We took a ferry to Split where we discovered the best cream cakes ever. Sadly, Pat had to go home, she still had a job. So, I was really on my own, and still no camera to remember where I went.
I took the ferry to Dubrovnik and met a boy who was planning to hitch hike to Istanbul. That seemed like a really good idea because I would be safer travelling with someone else. We met some Americans who were driving a kombi van, so we stayed with them until we reached Sofia, then we got a ride in a slow bumpy truck to the Turkish border and a bus into Istanbul. I laughed because the Turkish bus had a heap of live turkeys tied on the roof.
The noise and smells and colours of Istanbul were mesmerising. Crowds of people, hot Turkish bread, kebabs, coffee in the very famous Pudding Shop, beautiful mosques, markets full of silks and rugs. I have been to Istanbul again, recently. It is still a fantastic city to visit.
I met a Swiss boy called Christian, who wanted to go to Cyprus, so we took the train down to Famagusta and ‘hitched’ a boat ride there. I certainly wouldn’t recommend doing that these days. In Cyprus we hitchhiked around the island and then I stayed a little longer and worked in a bar to get some more money together. I was always poor, just spending money on staying at youth hostels and buying food. I walked as much as I could and mostly just looked at famous places from the outside – but it was all a lot of fun.
Tim (from England) wrote to me and suggested we meet up for Christmas, so he took a train to Athens and I flew there from Cyprus. He told me which day he was due to arrive and I waited in Syntagma Square all day for him, but he didn’t show. Turns out the train ride from London took one day longer than he thought.
Fortunately, Tim had been able to get my camera fixed, so I was able to take photos again.
We explored Athens, then took a bus and a boat to Italy and then a train, arriving in Rome for Christmas Day. We didn’t have anywhere to go to celebrate Christmas but somehow managed sitting on the steps of the Vatican with a tin of sardines, bread rolls and a mandarin for Christmas lunch – probably one of the most unusual Christmas celebrations in my entire life.
We hitch hiked back to England, through Austria, Germany, Luxembourg and Belgium. Of course it was winter and very cold. I had never been in such cold weather before.
We reached Luxembourg on New Years Eve and walked into a restaurant to order their cheapest meal, a bowl of soup, but ended up staying for dinner and joining in the celebrations. Even though we weren’t dressed up for a party and we didn’t have a lot of money, everyone made us feel very welcome.
In England Tim’s mother cooked me warming meals, washed all my clothes and mended my worn out jeans. I felt very spoilt and enjoyed a few days of luxury. But I still had things to do. I was soon back on the road again, this time to Genova in Italy, where another of my father’s contacts had arranged a job for me.
Once again I was working for the Marconi company, but this time I wrote a program in FORTRAN to calculate how sound waves could pass through telephone lines at different frequencies, which allowed multiple connections on the same piece of wire. Groundbreaking stuff in the early 1970s. And the programming was done on punched cards – much easier to manage than paper tape.
I shared a flat with three Italian girls who were all studying at university. We all spoke English, so they could practice for their exams. I learnt a lot about Italian and a lot about linguistics.
Being a foreigner in Italy was a huge advantage. Everyone, and I mean everyone, wanted to show me their part of Italy – the mountains, the beaches, the restaurants, the night clubs. It was a lot of fun. But not surprisingly, I got sick, I was exhausted. But that didn’t last long.
Every weekend that I was free I was on the road. Sometimes I would explore Genova – the city, the hills behind, the very famous cemetery. I often hitch hiked somewhere – I went to Florence and Venice and Pisa and Milan and Turin and Monte Carlo and Switzerland. My six months in Italy was very, very busy and a heap of fun. Not only did I make some wonderful friends, I bought some trendy clothes and new underwear and lost some weight, so I looked much slimmer and better.
I left Italy in July 1972 and went to Austria to visit friends in Vienna and then to Germany to visit the beautiful Neuschwanstein – just looking, I couldn’t afford to go in.
But I was wanting to enjoy some home comforts, so I made my way back to England. It was so easy to just speak English again. I visited Winchester Cathedral, I clambered all over Stonehenge and explored Cheddar Gorge with some people from the youth hostel where I stayed.
I wasn’t in England for very long before I met Bruce and Denis. Well that’s another story for another day.
Extract of a letter home, approx June 1971