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  • Writer's pictureJoanna

Aussie Mom

I knew coming to Australia would be emotional for me, but I had no idea how extraordinary it would be.


Actually... that's a blatant lie.

I know how emotional I can get.


I knew this trip might just be powerful enough to put me over the acceptable emotional edge.


If you look at the first leg of my journey on a map, it's a bit wobbly. I was going up & down Queensland like a frog on a bicycle pump. I had to perfectly time each of my visits to coincide with all my friend's days off work. Many of them had initially said to me, "Just come whenever and you can go sightseeing while I'm at work."


No.

No. No. No.

I was not going to do that.


True... I am in Australia now as a tourist, and the normal activity tied in with being a tourist is to go around the country and 'sightsee'.... and, of course, I had no interest in hanging around the house all day while they worked.


Sightseeing would be the acceptable second best.

Right?


Wrong.


In my defence of not particularly wanting my main focus to be sightseeing, I was there to visit old friends. I'd done my share of sightseeing in 1994/95.... kinda... We can just go with that. If we're being honest, I think the majority of us spent more time in the farms and the bars and the fast food joints than on the tourist trail... but still...


This time, I was there to visit... and to stroll emotionally down many, many memory lanes. After all, it had been thirty years since I'd last touched down on Australian soil... and I was beyond ecstatic to be seeing some familiar faces again.


I welled up with tears every time I thought about it. As I mentioned above, Australia was set to be an emotional overload.


I arrived at Brisbane Airport and I was exhausted. I don't know why I always fall prey to the redeye flights. Yes, they're significantly cheaper... but they're a nightmare.


Always have been. Always will be.


I can't sleep on planes, no matter how hard I try. What I am good at though is managing to convince myself that I will...


I don't.

Ever.


And if I do occasionally doze off, it's never long before I am rattled awake with a crook neck.


What I need to do is start forking out the extra $20/$30 and getting myself booked on decent flights. I'm old enough to know better. Or am I? It's debateable...


The first thing I did when I arrived in Brisbane, was find a bench that would suffice as a bed, cover myself with my quick-drying, blue travel towel... and pass out. It was 5 AM... so the travelling mobs had not yet descended on the domestic terminal. I used my purse as my pillow and then tied the straps around both my left arm and my backpack handle... so that if anyone attempted to grab something, I would be jolted awake.


Of course, no one was interested in stealing my dirty, stinky stuff and I had a somewhat peaceful sleep, on and off, until about 8 AM.


I finally decided to get up and move along when the crowds started to gather and I was inundated with a gutwrenching feeling of guilt for not allowing anyone to sit down.


I was a bit freaked out about my rental car. I had to play my cards right and I was cautiously preparing my story to be overly convincing when I walked into the Enterprise office. I had my International License... but my actual Canadian Driver's License was in Canada. A lot of good it was doing me there. I had survived thus far in Southeast Asia with a variety of rentals, but I knew Australia might be whistling a different tune when it came to strict rules and regulations regarding rentals, licensing, insurance, contracts and agreements.


To make a long story short, I had accidentally allowed my licence to expire. By the time I realized the error of my ways, it was much too late. I was leaving the country two days later... and they were only able to send my replacement within 4-6 weeks. I contemplated getting it sent to me overseas, but the thought of losing it somewhere in Southeast Asia didn't appeal to me. At all.


So... I let the lies and deceit begin...


I decided to say that a bag of mine had been stolen and inside of that bag, was my Canadian Driver's license. Karma is going to get me... I just know it.


My cunning plan worked. They bought my story and they even empathized with me.


Enterprise was perfectly fine with my International license, my passport, my credit card and a mere picture of my Canadian license on my phone.


Phewf.


I can't even imagine if they hadn't accepted it. I would've had to have figured out trains and buses very quickly.


So I got my car and headed right up the east coast to Hervey Bay... to see Ethel ❤️… my Aussie mom.


This woman.

Wow.

What a special lady.


They say that absence makes the heart grow fonder... and it's true. She was still as wonderful as I had remembered her to be. Visiting with Ethel was the highlight of my trip to Australia. Throughout my travels, I have had the privilege of meeting some pretty stupendous people along the way. Perhaps at the very top of that list has to be this woman, Ethel Moore.



Ethel and her late husband, Peter, ran the City Centre Backpackers, in Bundaberg. This is where many of us ended up, penniless. It was a working hostel... which meant they would find us jobs on the local farms and try their best to keep us in check. She could have and rightfully should have, beaten the crap out of all of us on more than one occasion.  Instead… she was always there to give advice, lend a helping hand and even provide the occasional home-cooked meal.  She always encouraged all of us dirty, poor backpackers to save our money and see more of the country than just the tomato fields and dive bars of Bundaberg.


I was on the receiving end of a few scoldings due to my late-night loudness, foolish behaviour and general juvenile delinquency.  Ethel was never to be trifled with, but there was always a sparkle in her eye and despite how genuinely awful most of us could be, she truly adored us. She and her late husband, Peter, were two of the most wonderful people I ever met... and meeting her again, thirty years later, has to be one of the top moments in my life.


One I will never forget.


She was our Aussie mom... and our guardian angel.


After I had posted our meeting on social media, one of the other backpackers who had been in Bundaberg with all of us wrote;

"Absolutely amazing, there are many of us who would never have survived without the wisdom, care and cakes of this woman."


All true. All of it.


I was a kid at the time... only 21 years old and looking back now, there is no way I should have been released into the world unsupervised. I think Ethel picked up on this... and treated me like I was one of her own for the duration of my time in Bundaberg. And I was in Bundaberg for a long time. I remember one time, and I bring this particular story up frequently. I ended up in Sydney and my friend, Brenda & I irresponsibly decided to spend ALL of our money to go see a Rolling Stones concert. A few years ago, during COVID, I made an effort to scour through my Australian memories and wrote down everything I remembered and had journaled during my year there.


Here's part of the story...


  • Had about $140 Australian left to my name.

  • Spent $7 for a cot in a dorm room in the cheapest hostel in Sydney.

  • Spent $10 on Subway, getting dinner/snacks... and mix.

  • Spent approximately $20 in the bottle shop.

  • Spent $100 on a Rolling Stones ticket. ~ Voodoo Lounge World Tour. April 2nd. 1995. 


So there I was, the next day... hungover, broke and stranded in Sydney.

I had NO money to my name.

I had no place to go... no place to stay... and no way to get there even if I tried.


Nothing.

What to do?


I called Peter and Ethel in Bundaberg. 


I have NO idea what my year would have looked like if I had not come into contact with these two guardian angels. They bought me a bus ticket and I was on my way back up north...


Back to Bundaberg...



Ethel and I had a fabulous time catching up and talked at length about the hostel, the farms, the backpackers, the shenanigans, family, life, work, travel, what's become of old friends... and everything else in between.


Sadly, Peter passed away a few years ago and unfortunately, her daughter, Debbie, was travelling in the UK and I never got to see her. They were also a huge part of my year abroad.


I don't think any of us will ever forget Peter going through the hostel early each morning, hollering out, "Get up ya lazy bastards! Get up!"



She has a beautiful seaside apartment and a network of wonderful neighbours who popped in to see her... and me... while I was there! She had been telling everyone that one of her 'kids' was coming.


I felt like a kid again...


I really did.


I think, for those couple of days, I was a kid again...










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