I remember when you went to a travel agent to plan your holidays. After meeting with the agent, and talking about your holiday, you would leave with a handshake and a firm assurance of see you next week. Next week the agent, as you sat facing them, would open your travel documents folder and slide each document across their desk; it was upside down to them but facing you. They would explain your itinerary while unfolding a collection of three-fold brochures; local events and tourist attractions at each town, and day side-trips and excursions. They would have made overnight accommodation reservations, which always included a cooked breakfast, at holiday-friendly hotels and motels, or booked you into a caravan park or a holiday flat. And then with a flourish, the agent would produce from the drawer in their desk your railway or airline tickets. Even though the jet age had arrived in Australia most Australians still took the train to their holiday destination; but they were starting to take to the road. Australia was falling in love with it’s own car; the Holden was the king of the road. Family holidays were becoming long road trips with a caravan in tow, and mum sitting in the front seat next to dad.
I don’t remember mum and dad going to a travel agent for our holiday road trips to Sydney, Surfers Paradise, Canberra, and what must have been all of Victoria’s country towns. But I don’t think mum would have agreed to these holidays if she didn’t know where we were going to stay and how we were getting there. Dad was the one who wouldn’t have wanted any planning; but he must have gone into the city headquarters of the RACV and picked up road maps and pamphlets on the best routes to take and the condition of the roads, brochures on scenic attractions, leaflets about hotels that catered to the motorist, and handouts on the leading caravan parks and camping grounds. As a member of the Royal Automobile Club of Victoria, you felt a sense of eminence and entitlement; it was as if our holidays had been approved by Her Royal Majesty. Dad drove the old Princess Highway to Sydney. I only remember the huge open pits of the SEC’s coal mines at Moe and Yallourn, stopping in Lakes Entrance, and the Jenolan Caves and Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains.
The only planning I did when I went searching for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary was to buy a ticket for a berth in tourist class, below the waterline, on Lloyd Triestino’s Galileo Galilei, and for the second quest an economy class ticket on Thai Airways. The journey to the US was done with the same amount of planning; a stuffed Adidas gym bag and a Qantas economy class ticket. In the last thirty-plus years travelling to Australia, United Kingdom, and throughout the US has been for holidays; and for most of these trips, accommodation, car rental, places to visit, and the sights to see have been decided on before the journeys. Some say that planning the itinerary is part of the holiday. However, I don’t think the planning should be so detailed and absolute that it forbids any spur of the moment detours or flexibility.
On the most recent trip to The Land Down Under we had planned to stop over in the North Island of New Zealand for a little over a week, and then head off to Melbourne and an Airbnb in Albert Park. We had reserved a rental car for the first week in Melbourne so as to meander around the Mornington Peninsula wineries, drive to Castlemaine, and then rekindle faded memories by cruising some of the Melbourne suburbs that we used to haunt. The itinerary also included a couple of walking tours, high teas, and building tours. Sometime during the holiday, we were going to visit my brother and cousin Peter. We phoned my cousin when we arrived in Melbourne, and on the spur of the moment invited him on our day trip to Castlemaine, and so we headed off to the historic goldfields area of Victoria. On the drive back we spontaneously suggested we call on him next week for vanilla slices and cups of tea.
My cousin Peter has lived in Moonee Ponds for over thirty years. I remember when he bought the flat; we thought he had a few kangaroos loose in the top paddock. Moonee Ponds was just Moonee Ponds; a nondescript inner suburb of Melbourne bordered by Braybrook, Maidstone, Brunswick, and Essendon. Back then, anywhere past Footscray was off-limits for a Williamstown boy. Besides, Essendon was the home of the bombers; the rough and tough football team of the seventies. The only supporters of the bombers were those that lived within the shadow of Windy Hill; and if you were a true sons of the scray you hated Essendon. Edna Everidge also lived in Moonee Ponds. Edna is a character created by Australian satirist Barry Humpheries; originally a drab Melbourne housewife satirising suburbia. Edna is now a Dame and is known for her lilac coloured wisteria hair and cat-eye glasses. Her favourite flower is the gladiolus or gladdie, and she greets everyone with an affectionate Hello, Possums.
After catching the train to Moonee Ponds we station met Peter at the Rusty Duck. Just as we finished our flat whites and latte, Peter in a casual way, suggested a walk to Queens Park. He guided us along, and through streets lined with well-maintained nature strips and Federation style brick and weatherboard houses. And we crossed the traffic busy, tree-lined Mt Alexander Road into Queens Park. We aimlessly meandered along the winding gravel pathways, across grassways, and around huge shady trees; past the rose and sunken gardens, around the swimming pool and the restored curator cottage that is now a café, and skirted the bowling club and lake. Queens Park was laid out to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Silver Jubilee. The original swamp that became the park was a campsite for gold seekers heading to Victoria’s newly discovered Castlemaine goldfields on their first night out of Melbourne; and explorers Burke and Wills used it for their first camp on their ill-fated expedition. Today you can hop on board the #59 Airport West-Flinders Street Station City tram and it will take you right past Queens Park. Before leaving Moonee Ponds you shouldn’t forego the opportunity for a self-guided viewing tour of the peds migrating to Queens Park; you’ll be amazed by this magical procession, but will need to refrain from using camera flashes. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before they build an elevated wooden viewing stand.
And I had always thought Moonee Ponds was just Moonee Ponds; a nondescript inner suburb of Melbourne.
On the way back to Peter’s flat we made an impromptu stop at a Puckle Street cake shop for lamingtons and vanilla slices, and a spur of the moment pie and sauce. The kettle was soon boiling and my taste buds were reunited with the heavenly taste of the vanilla slice. It must have been the pleasurable encounter with the vanilla slice that caused Peter to make the off the cuff suggestion of watching Cinerama. As he fished around for the DVD we reminisced, and tested our memories about Melbourne’s first Cinerama theatre; the Plaza was underneath the Regent Theatre and Cinerama was installed in the late fifties. Peter soon found the DVD and the travelogue style Cinerama Holiday on the big screen TV caused joyous gushings of Todd AO, 3 projectors, glorious technicolour and stereophonic sound, curved screen; and the point of view bobsled ride produced murmurs of; it’s just like 3-D, just like you were there. And that gave rise to Peter spontaneously finding 3-D glasses, and swapping the Cinerama Holiday DVD with MGM’s 3-D colour musical Kiss Me Kate; starring Kathryn Grayson, Howard Keel, and Ann Miller.
I sat spell bound on the couch, that at one time had resting on it the doilies from Prince Charles’s and Diana’s seats when they visited a Hoyts theatre in Melbourne. The sizzling Ann Miller spent time dancing on Fred Graham’s coffee table and throwing her chiffon scarf at the audience, and tap dancing in front of the three-fold mirror in Fred’s apartment; Too Darn Hot doesn’t advance or contribute to the plot, but it was great 3D.
It’s strange how the unplanned guides you with unexpected, but connected surprises. A few days after savouring Cinerama and 3-D at Peter’s we did an off the top of the head visit to the Melbourne Aquarium; my brother’s grandchildren prompted this free-spirited decision. It was easy to forget about the aquatic animals, the mysterious stingrays and jellyfish, and seahorses because there was the fully immersive, eye-popping, high energy nine-minute 4-D movie Ice Age: No Time For Nuts. Scrat, a nut crazed sabre-toothed tiger battles a wonky time machine that has zapped his beloved nut. Now that’s a storyline. The 3-D projection is combined with vibrating seats, water spray, snow falling, and strobe lights. The little ones really enjoyed the experience but I think it could have been enhanced with a 3-D Ann Miller dance routine from MGM’s Deep In My Heart.
And when I think back and remember the highlights, and experiences of that recent time in The Land Down Under and New Zealand I wonder if
or if taking in the lawn bowls at the Moonee Ponds Bowling Club in Queens Park, and watching Kiss Me Kate in 3-D will be the keepsake memories. I should put aside some random time in the next few weeks to start planning a spur of the moment trip to somewhere; I wonder if you can watch 3-D films in Liechtenstein.