Chapter 2 Australia / New Zealand (Week 1)


Thursday 17 May Departure and Arrival In Melbourne



Before the alarm blared at 5.00 AM I laid awake in bed fretting. I was reviewing my trip planning and going around and around in my mind, feeling dizzy like a twirling dervish.  “Had I done everything necessary?  What had I forgotten?”  I had started my planning eight months before, reading up about thirteen round the world packages, on the Internet. “Which one to choose,” I wondered. “They are all so different, so confusing.  Their rules and regulations take many pages of small print.  Those rules are sure to come back and bite me hard, metaphorically speaking.”  I listed, in Excel, a table containing long rows of many fancied exotic places that I would like to visit; such as Santiago, Rio de Janero, Athens, Rome, and Moscow, to name but a few, then counted air miles and stop overs.  Reality crept into my planning slowly like a kitten stalking a magpie on velvet feet.  “Fifteen stop overs with forty thousand air miles,” my pretty young travel agent Lula advised.  “It’s expensive at $4,000.00 each, but Singapore Star Alliance, gives best coverage over five continents. The package includes Air New Zealand, United and Air Canada as well as many others.” 


”So it’s too many air miles to South America,” I’d exclaim disappointedly.  “Why not fly to Puerto Vallarta on the West coast of Mexico.  I want to see my cousin, Robert Pugh, who lives there.” “That would take three of your five North American stop-overs,” she said.  Another destination dashed.  “No, the Philippines are outside the 40,000 miles. Star Alliance doesn’t fly to Kuching.  Vietnam is outside your range as well.  It’s only 40,000 miles not 400,000 miles”, she had said disgustedly.  On and on, I listened to a litany of denial.   At last, to my agent’s relief, I’d settled on my route, a special discount flight to Melbourne, one way ($425.00 for two, non-refundable e-tickets), joining the Singapore Airways Star Alliance for Christ Church, New Zealand, Nadi, Fiji, Los Angeles, Vancouver and on through Canada, Europe, Africa and Asia. “I’ve never booked a fifteen stop-over, 40,000 mile trip before,” the agent had congratulated me. Sadly, she added “Much less to a quadriplegic passenger in a wheelchair.  This wins the prize.” 


I mentally reviewed my bookings for my hotels and cars that I had painstaking made via the Internet for some places but not for others.  I thought, “Was I too flexible with my bookings or not flexible enough?  I had paid for many hotels in advance to gain special rates.  Imagine the confusion if I were sick or missed a flight. Had I checked my passport closely enough, had I obtained all the necessary visas, was my travel insurance adequate, and would my transferred $45,000.00 to my two Visa cards really cover this epic journey? What would happen if my Visa card was declined or swallowed by machines overseas?”  “Relax,” I told myself. “You’re competent, well travelled and courageous. All you really need is some cash, credit card and a passport.  Richard is also carrying traveller cheques. You’ve checked everything carefully.  Believe that you’ll have a wonderful trip as you had carefully planned.” 


I calmed down and reflected, “At least I’m not frightened like Richard appears to be.” Richard was my travelling companion and long-time personal care attendant of nearly thirteen years.  I thought, “He was so terrified that a war would occur in Iraq and the Iraqis would use anthrax, and smallpox, causing a world-wide epidemic.  Remember when he told me, ‘Fuck Egypt and you can stick the pyramids up your ass, Don.’ Not very diplomatic, but Richard is to the point and likes the F--- word.   I had thought quietly, then, to myself, ‘piss off, Richard! I’m paying and I’ll decide where to go.’ But as a good counsellor does, I had recognised Richard’s strong anxiety, actively listened emphatically and what I replied was, ‘Yes Richard, I understand that you’re very fearful about your safety in Egypt.  We will discuss this issue in Poland and reach a mutually agreed on solution, then.  Remember, it’s eight months away.  Our safety is my prime concern.’


Now the war between United States and Iraq was over, Richard’s fears seemed so ungrounded, but airlines throughout the world had lost seventy five percent of their regular tourist traffic during February to March 2003. Many people had been anxious like Richard had been about terrorism and the effects of the Iraqi war.


As the trip neared, in March, Richard raised the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) fears. ‘This is a new mutated virus,’ Richard warned.  ‘It’s killing young healthy people and there’s no cure.  Sixteen people have died in Toronto from SARS.  There has been a world health warning about the city, and we are going there?’  ‘Richard,’ I’d replied. ‘I know you want to be safe and take no risks, but there are now three people with SARS in Fremantle hospital, only fifteen kilometres from your home.  If SARS breaks lose, we could die anywhere.  Try not to think about the risks, instead think of the exciting good times ahead, beaches and seeing your mother in Poland.’  Richard had seemed reassured.


I reflected too about Richard’s bad back.  Richard is on a medical pension because x-rays had revealed severe degeneration of vertebrae in his lower spine.  Richard wasn’t faking the condition or the very real mind -searing pain, which he often silently, stoically endured.  In January 2003, he had twisted his back while exercising, and suffered crippling pain for weeks.  “I must be totally bonkers, really crazy, a high level quadriplegic taking a personal attendant who couldn’t even lift a suitcase, on a five month world trip. He can’t lift my wheelchair up a large step. He’s not up to assisting a lift into a plane seat. Look at those strong young beautiful girls who offered to go and you declined them. Richard will get excited, try lifting too much, and will bugger himself.  He’ll be in severe pain and useless for helping me.  The trip will become a nightmare you won’t forget for a long time.’ 


My anxiety escalated with these unhelpful thoughts. ‘Dispute these thoughts, Don,’ I said to myself. ‘Look at the evidence thoroughly and don’t jump to conclusions.  You are good for a quadriplegic of your level at using a transfer board in and out of a car, or on and off a bed.  Richard merely assists but needn’t lift. My suitcase at thirty-three kilograms is too heavy, but Richard can wheel it, while porters do the lifting in hotels. Richard is very aware of his limitations. He has reported to work daily for thirteen years, so he can handle daily routine. He probably exaggerates his weaknesses to protect himself and he deserves a long service reward.  Remember, in three weeks of trial trips to Penang, Puket and Kalgoorlie, Richard coped fine.  He’s proven himself and is the best choice for the job.  He’s done it for years and there are no surprises for him in dealing competently with a quadriplegic.  Remember, too, Mark Perry, a quadriplegic friend who flew to Europe and his new attendant who quit there in the first week.   Think too of Lily’s possible reaction if you did choose a girl. You don’t need that aggravation.”  I relaxed myself with my new belief that Richard would cope well and be a success story.


I found relief getting up at 5.00 AM to catch Qantas flight QF762 to Melbourne, as I really had awakened at 3.00 AM, pondering the journey ahead, slightly hung over from the delightful Margaret River Evans and Tate Cabernet Sauvignon and three Grand Mariner liqueurs consumed the evening before with my good friend and fellow inebriate, Michael Hand. “I wished I had passed on those liqueurs,” I dismally thought feeling tired and a little sluggish.  My fellow traveller and personal care attendant Richard arrived promptly at 5.00 am to assist me with a quick shower and dressing, tasks that he has done five days a week for the past thirteen years.  “How’s things? I’m so excited to get going,” Richard buoyantly greeted me and we got down to business. Ninety minutes later, I kissed my wife Lily Auld goodbye as I departed for a nearly five-month trip around the world.  “Take care and don’t invite any strange men in,” I joked.  “Have fun,” Lily said, “and come back safely.”  Soon, at 6.20 AM Richard and I and our two heavy wheeled suitcases were hoisted by a hydraulic lift into a wheelchair taxi and my manual wheelchair was strapped firmly to the floor with a seatbelt looped tightly around my waist.  The big burley driver in his mid 30’s introduced himself as Neil Alexander.  We got into conversation as he deftly manoeuvred the cumbersome van through early morning Autumn fog and into heavy rush-hour traffic on the forty-minute drive from Cottesloe through Perth and along the palm lined sparkling azure waters of the Swan River to Perth Domestic Airport on the East side of the city. 


“You must know most of the wheelchair users around here,” I commented to break the ice.  The driver replied, “Yes, it’s like a family.  I have confirmed repeated bookings by the same people every day and really get to know them.  I get invited to weddings, parties, funerals and other family events.  I really prefer driving wheelchair taxis.  It’s more rewarding than one time fares that you never see again.”  “Do you know my quadriplegic friend Mike Wright, with his big bushy white beard and hair?” I asked.  “Yeah, I’ve picked him up at the Quadriplegic Centre a few times.”  Already I was making connections and building relationships.  Neil continued. “I lease this van for $700.00 a week.  I need to clear $1000.00 weekly to make money.  I’m studying at Edith Cowan University, Mount Lawley Campus to become a Design and Technology igh School Teacher..HHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhh   hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhjjjggg  ````



  High School teacher.  I used to be a boilermaker and I worked in large metal fabrication plants twelve hours a day. I now drive the taxi between classes and on weekends.  It makes enough money to support my family.”  I empathised, “It must be hard doing full time studies and full time cab driving and find time for your family too.” I added that I used to teach high school but went to Edith Cowan University Mt Lawley Campus as well, like him, for three years to study psychology in the early 1990s. “I’m now a school psych at Warnbro High School. Kids call me psycho.”  “Yes, I know Tony Gillespie who teaches there,” the driver responded. We talked about both of us mutually knowing Tony and what a great guy he was and I said, “I don’t think that you’ll have any trouble getting a job.  Where do you want to work?” “Hamilton Hill area, I think,” Neil stated.  “I went to high school there in the late 1970’s. I did the Alternative year 11 course in 1979, and then left for an apprenticeship.”  I was amazed and exclaimed excitedly.  “I worked there too from 1977 to 1981.  Do you remember me?”  Neil didn’t, but we mutually cognised on coincidence and the small size of the world.


By this time I was feeling car sick as Perth wheelchair cabs don’t allow the wheelchair passengers to see out beyond the windowless extended top.  As my stomach rebelled, I lapsed into silence.  I fantasized of all those disabled convict-like passengers condemned to daily trips around Perth without them ever seeing their own beautiful city, thinking sadly of them seeing just grey fibre glassed van walls day after dreary day. I thought, “This van makes me feel like the early convicts locked in and hidden away in the dark holds of stinking convict barques.  I feel terrible.”  I refocussed and felt so happy that I drove my own car and was not condemned to this daily torture.  Neil explained, “Windows are an extra $2000.00 because the upper fibreglass must be reinforced.  A decision was made to abandon them five years ago.”


Arriving at the airport with plenty of time to spare, my newly found friend helped drag our bags to the Qantas counter. I had booked my first $450.00 E Ticket via the Internet and had no paper proof of purchase.  Paper tickets were on their way out apparently. I worried, “Would they know that we had booked and paid for the flight when we had nothing to show them.”  Saying a cherry hello, a friendly woman Qantas staff member found us in the computer and asked for photo identification.  No problem for me, but Richard’s Polish id didn’t match the English name. Not good enough. “We’ll miss our first flight,” I fretted.  Fortunately, Richard found suitable identification and we checked our bags through, with the girl ignoring my 5-kilo of excess baggage and we were cheerfully wished a very pleasant flight. 


After clearing a beefed up security check with six alert hard working security guards and gigantic x-ray machines, we grabbed an omelette at Café au Volo, and then transferred from my wheelchair to an airline aisle chair twenty minutes before departure.  With two women assistants and my well-travelled wooden transfer board, I managed to shift my heavy bulk into the tiny tipsy aisle chair by leaning my head against the airport wall and lifting with straight arms, without falling on the floor and without any lifting by the female attendants who clearly were frightened of lifting a heavy quadriplegic.  “Why do they employ females for this job” I wondered throwing ideas of gender equity out the window. “We need a strong man here for this job.”  They strapped me in place in the tiny chair like the bag of potatoes I sometimes feel like, first a chest strap, then a leg strap.  I was bumped and pushed into the plane hitting every seat as the attendant fought to get me down the aisle.  “Are you ok?  Watch your arms. We’re nearly there.”


The Boeing 737-400 with its configuration of six seats divided down the centre has the advantage of arm supports, which lift, making transfers from the aisle wheelchair into the airline seat relatively easy.  Unfortunately, these planes are really cramped for my nearly 2-meter height, giving little foot room and forcing my knees into the seat ahead.  Richard struggled to push me into place.  “This has knobs on it,” I thought. “Wish I could afford business class.” 


Happily we were granted a vacant seat, between Richard and myself, which allowed a pleasant uneventful flight to Melbourne and photographs by Richard from the window, “We’ve got the same as business class up front,” gloated Richard, “three seats for the two of us.”  I read Wilbur Smith’s new bestseller Blue Horizons thinking, “this title symbolises my own journey of exploration” and I also tapped on the ACER laptop computer. Richard chortled at the in-house entertainment, the film White Oleander enjoying its gritty realism about a girl fostered out from an unsupportive mum. “This film tells a story just like the experiences of some of the girls I see at work in my school,” I thought. “I’m on holiday and don’t need this aggravation.”


A relaxing four hours passed. We finished our tasty Penne lunch, set our watches forward two hours, and touched down smoothly at Tullamarine Airport on time at 3.00 PM.  After all the passengers departed (I’m always first on, last off) I was assisted by another woman passenger assistant into the aisle chair and pushed smoothly to the aircraft door and airport landing bridge, where my own wheel chair awaited.  With the help of two men I was easily lifted across to my own chariot.  I do really like airlines that organise that service for their clients rather than forcing me to ride an unstable, unwieldy aisle chair up ramps and down lifts to the baggage pick up area. A+ mark for Qantas. [This turned out to be a service provided by all the airlines throughout the trip. My only difficulty was in Cairo, Egypt where my wheelchair arrival was delayed fifteen minutes.]


Our bags were waiting, so Richard wheeled them and me a few meters to the Avis counter where a pretty young girl greeted us and asked for credit cards and drivers’ licenses.  “Its $3500.00 deductible, if you have an accident or $350.00 if you pay a $27.00 daily insurance fee.  Toll fees are an extra $7.00 daily.  Would you like a Magna or Commodore?”  I elected a new red Commodore with 3,000 km on the clock.  Richard embarked to find it somewhere in the bowels of the airport dragging a suitcase.  He returned for the second case, and then returned for me. 


The weather was cool outside, at least 10 degrees Celsius below Perth’s balmy 26 C.  Perth may be the skin cancer capital of Australia,” Richard commented, “but Melbourne wins the rheumatism award.  It gets so cold your joints ache.  The weather changes so severely, each day that you need to take extra clothing to work.”


Reaching the car, I struggled into the passenger seat.  Because my triceps muscles are paralysed, I lack all lifting strength in my arms.  I’ve learned to lock my elbows, keep my arms rigidly straight, and to lift some of my body weight with my weak shoulder muscles.  I can’t lift my whole weight, but I’m strong enough to push myself sideways on a smooth transfer board surface.  This assumes my feet are in the car, and slide forwards, that I can lean forward to lift, resting my head on the dash, and I have a convenient support structure in the door.  These conditions are met at home and I easily slide into the driver’s seat, independently and reliably.  However, I’m not used to getting into passengers’ seats and I struggle, curse, and generally need assistance by a vigorous push.  This was the case here. “Push Richard. Damn it, I’m stuck. Ah! OK, I’m there.”  By 4.00 PM we were in the car, adjusting mirrors and seats and were moving again.



Map Name: Melbourne central Australia

Knowing that Richard only drives a few minutes daily around Perth, I thought anxiously, “Would he cope with the heavy fast moving freeway traffic? Melbourne drivers were crazy, so angry, aggressive and impatient, weaving between lanes, doing U turns and behaving without regards for others. Would we have an accident on our first day?”  Such thoughts were unproductive, making me tense, coiled like an overwound alarm spring.   Nevertheless, Richard handled the car deftly.  We drove south along the four lanes Tullamarine Freeway, preparing to merge left onto the Western Link freeway and twenty kilometres later to merge left onto the West Gate Freeway to proceed the last ten kilometres into the city.   [I know now that this wasn’t the best route to get to our destination.]


Richard mused, “I first arrived in Australia in 1983 at this airport in a 747 Qantas airline filled with Polish refugees.  Few spoke English. Mostly, nearly all the refugees had university degrees in engineering and were experienced bridge builders, electronics engineers and so on.  I was the exception with my tourism degree, which was not really accepted.  Then the Australian government actively recruited the best-educated and skilled workers from my communist country, people that had been trained at a cost of millions of zloty. I can’t understand why it was permitted.  I was so excited when I arrived here and didn’t know a word of English.  We were placed in a migrant camp, near here, called Sunshine.”


I looked about at a dry treeless plain stretching away from the freeway, with lower socio-economic housing scattered about.  “What a euphemistic name,” I thought.  Richard continued enthusiastically.  “Four of us shared a room with toilet and shower.  Accommodation, food and travel were free for six to twelve months.  We attended English classes daily, with many of the smarter migrants moving on to St Kildas near Philips Bay and attending university.  I tried for a Bachelor of Education but my poor English let me down.  Melbourne has over sixty thousand Polish people, with large Polish churches and clubs.  The Polish play an important part in Melbourne life.”


Now we had negotiated the sweeping Pascoe Vale bend and were headed south on a six lane busy Western Link.  “Wow,” I thought.  “This pocket guide map, courtesy of City Link, may be free but it lacks detail.  This 500-page Melbourne street directory is so detailed; I can’t navigate by it in this dark bouncy car.  Finding our hotel may be tricky.”  Unfortunately, this prophecy was accurate.  “Go left off West Gate Freeway along Kings Way,” I said “and we should get to the Crown Casino.  The Spencer St, Flinders St Holiday Inn is near there, somewhere.  I don’t have an exact map.”  However, we didn’t really know the route. 5.00 PM turned to 6.00 PM and a gigantic full moon rose above the tangle of rush hour cars, tail lights, stop lights and high rise flats.  The sun slowly set making street signs hard to read.  “I know this street,” Richard exclaimed. “It’s Chapel Street in Windsor. I used to walk along it for hours looking into windows. I’m excited. It’s so good to see Melbourne again after twenty years. I’ll ask this fellow the way to the casino.”  Armed with directions, by 7.00 PM we approached the Crown Casino on a freeway.  “There it is,” Richard shouted.  “I recognise that logo. It’s huge. None of this South bank stuff was here twenty years ago.  I’ll turn here.” 


“Wrong move Richard,” I thought as we merged onto a six-lane toll freeway.  “It’s ten kilometres until we can get off.”  At last, we got off, renegotiated the city, asked directions and at 8.00 PM drove into the Holiday Inn, 1 to 5 Spencer Street. I thought, tired and irritated, “An optimist would say we’ve seen Melbourne by night.  I think I’d prefer to take a taxicab next time.”   Valet parking organised, the car looked after, now signed in with my visa card, up a lift for disabled people one level, down a corridor and around, then up another public lift from level one to two, then down a corridor and we’ve reached room 226, with its wheelchair, wheel-in shower. Confused! So were we. All we needed was a map to find the room again. Sigh! “I need a drink, Richard,” I said. “Make that a double Makers Mark from my bottle.  There’s ice in the fridge. Help yourself to a stiff one. Ah, that’s better. Let’s go see the casino.”


The Holiday Inn on Flinders and Spencer Streets is only two hundred metres from the Crown Casino, a stroll across the Yarra River on a wide bridge, across the busy road and tram tracks, then into the pleasure palace.  Watching Richard’s reaction was a pleasure.  Having visited the Casino six years before with Lily, I knew what to expect, cavernous halls stretching for what seems kilometres, packed with people, pokies, black jack tables and roulette.  Richard has overcome (mostly) a chronic gambling addiction that for years had kept him wedded to the roulette tables of Perth’s Burswood Casino. I had warned him not to gamble and he had agreed that he would not waste his money again, particularly after losing a large sum of money in the International Room two weeks before. “I’m overcome. Wow!  I feel right at home here,” Richard stated. “This is huge. It’s the place to be.  Feel the action, the life, and the energy. Perth is dead compared to Melbourne.  One can really go all out, and have a good time, here.”  I felt sceptical hearing Richard’s optimism.


Richard pushed my wheelchair through the throngs of young people to the Crown Tower complex, a high-rise hotel, characterised by a gigantic room with a sound and light show playing on a glass chandelier ceiling, showering colours off tinkling glass crystals.  A powerful fountain ejected jets of colourfully highlighted water in the corner.  Entering the five stars Crown Hotel lobby, Richard stood flabbergasted.  “This is awesome.  Look at the size, the marble, and the decorations.  I’ll check out room prices.”  Richard returned with a sheet telling us a weekend room was $430.00 per night.


Leaving behind the high rollers, we pushed outside, walking along the Yarra River, checking out the continuous string of restaurants and cafes.  Large gas flares ejected spouts of fierce dragon breath, fiery inferno -like flames from eight twenty-meter brick towers spread over a kilometre along the river promenade.  Computer controlled and timed to erupt every few minutes, Sir George of dragon fame would have admired the mighty roars, yellow flickering illumination, and radiation of heat.  “Glad I’m not paying their gas bill,” I thought.  “I’d go bankrupt for sure.  It’s certainly very impressive at night and a great tourist attraction though.” 


We dropped into the Automatic Café for a pint of Tasman Strong Arm Beer and tasty Spaghetti pasta.  With the clock ticking the midnight hour, Richard pushed me back to our hotel, where we predictably got lost looking for the room and ended up returning to reception for help. We later learned that the hotel was constructed in a complete circle with a three-story glass roofed beehive structure in the centre to contain the reception and administration.


Getting to bed for a quadriplegic is always problematic, emptying the leg urinal in a wheelchair accessible toilet, brushing my teeth, taking my prophylactic bladder medication, transferring from the wheelchair across a board to the bed, then being undressed, leg urinal removed and urinal bottle put into place. Tapping and expression or pushing now empties my bladder, and the bottle is emptied. Then, it’s replaced between my legs with a cloth strap through the handle and under the legs.  Richard is highly experienced and in spite of an intoxicated state, he handled the job with dexterity.  The first day of my trip had ended.


Good Friday 18 April, the South Bank Yarra River


I awoke in the morning tired, after a poor sleep, caused by the hotel windows and walls occasionally emitting very loud cracking noises, like joints being shifted.  “This is unreal,” I thought despairingly. “This whole crazy place is tumbling down.”  Then there was my legs twice spasming and falling onto the floor.  Unfortunately, this problem caused Richard to sleep poorly as well as I woke him and requested assistance.  The solution in future was to tie my legs to the bed with a Velcro strap or my belt.  At home I use a surfer’s leg strap with great success. [Richard strapped down my troublesome leg using my belt every night for the rest of the trip and this problem didn’t reoccur.]


Getting up on a bowel treatment (BT) day, which occurs three times weekly, is a dismal experience.  A process, which takes a non-disabled person ten minutes to complete the three S’s, takes my carer and me nearly two hours.  Richard has assisted me for thirteen years now, except when I have been travelling with Lily.  Firstly, there are suppositories, which are inserted wearing a plastic glove, and which take half an hour to work.  Then, at home, I transfer across my trusty board to a specialised heavy stainless steel wheelchair, which contains a toilet seat called a commode.  It’s constructed in a special way so that it may be wheeled over a toilet bowl.  I’m not sure how other quadriplegics carry or handle commodes when travelling, but it quickly became apparent to me that I couldn’t travel with both a wheelchair and heavy commode.  In 1980, I hired a now deceased craftsman to construct a fibre glassed toilet seat and moulded container, to replace the removable seat of a standard push wheelchair.  This flat light weight seat sits easily into my suitcase. When mounted, a bowl sits under the toilet seat atop of the wheelchair crossbars to prevent unpleasantness.  The entire construction is lightweight and may be fitted in two minutes to transform, presto, my wheelchair into a commode.  This wheelchair adaptation doesn’t go over a regular toilet seat, but the container is quickly emptied down a toilet.  The inventive contraption may be used in rooms without access to toilets.  

Richard assembled my commode then wheeled me into the bathroom, where the process of bowel evacuation takes about thirty minutes.  I always pass this time happily while drinking strong black, preferably plunger coffee and reading books or computer magazines.  I then shower.  This operation requires a wheelchair wheel-in shower which consists of a drain in the floor and hand held shower piece.  These facilities are available in my room this morning, so I’m in good humour since hen’s teeth are more common than wheelchair showers.  Richard assisted with the shower, and then wheeled me back to bed, where I transferred by rolling from the wheelchair onto the bed and waited to be dressed. Dressing takes twenty minutes, with the really difficult part being the painting of skin bond adhesive on to my penis, and then rolling on an external catheter.  This device, which I call an Irish condom, tongue in cheek, is simply a condom with a tube in the end to fasten to a latex leg bag, which is secured to my upper and lower leg by two Velcro and cloth straps.  This bag has a tube and tap at the end for emptying into toilets.  When equipped I usually require a bag to be emptied only once a day.  Once dressed Richard and I set off for a buffet breakfast in the Clarendon Street Café, included in the room price.  This restaurant, we found, was the only way into the Holiday Inn hotel, without pushing up a long, very steep ramp.  We were beginning to know our way around.


This meal was excellent with Richard and me consuming scrambled eggs, bacon, sausages, fruit, juices and three coffees.  Returning to the room refreshed and happy, I typed away while Richard tried to contact Polish friends of his from the migrant camp of twenty years ago. Richard was successful with one name from his tattered address book and talked rapidly in Polish for twenty minutes. Then he told me his conversation. 


“When I came out as a refugee, I stayed with Les Peck, a Polish civil engineer refugee who spoke fluent German.  He had constructed things, buildings or bridges I think, there for a decade.  He and I lived together in the camp and studied English together as neither of us spoke a word of English.  He then sent for his Polish wife and right away gained a job as a lowly road labourer for three months.  I was studying and washing dishes myself then.  Les told me then that he had enough manual work and unbelievable to me, he got promoted to boss.  He’s a bit arrogant.” Richard continued. “He’s been late having children and answered the phone for our unexpected chat by asking, ‘Do you have kids?’  When I said no he said, ‘don’t you know where to put it or how to use it?’  He boasted of his economic success to me from being a manager of a gas company; his houses, and a summer cottage, but said he was on his way out and couldn’t see me.”  Richard said goodbye but rang him back with a further enquiry.  “Les was irritated, and said he was rushed and had to leave, but would like to talk later.”  Richard added, “I last saw him twelve years ago in Perth with his wife and daughter when they were on a driving holiday in a new Commodore.  I’m disappointed we missed him.  He’s an unusually talented man, and a migrant success story, arriving here with no English and ending up as a wealthy manager.”


Richard tried other contacts unsuccessfully.  “You’ve got to write annually, Richard,” I patronised.  “Once every twenty years isn’t often enough. Email helps these days.”  Richard was particularly saddened and disappointed to miss Voychuk with whom he had roomed during his two years in Melbourne.  Speaking fluent English, Voychuk had fled Poland in 1983 from fifth year of architectural school.  In Melbourne, he enrolled in industrial design and covered the walls of Richard’s flat with intricate air brushed photographic like drawings.  “He gained an excellent well paid job,” Richard noted, “that allowed him to bring out a wife, but I think he has now migrated back to Poland.  Perhaps, we’ll meet him there.”


Richard and I settled on our outing for the day, a long walk along the South bank of the Yarra River, and back along Flinders Street.  It was Good Friday, so everything was closed.  Beginning at the huge Trade Exhibition Hall, which featured a sale of $2.00 books and $4.00 DVD movies, we gradually rolled and strolled through a vibrant crowd on the wide pedestrian ways along the river.  Melbourne is essentially Australia’s successful experiment in multicultural society,” Richard commented as we weaved between Italians, Greeks, Yugoslavs, Turks, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and numerous other nationalities, with many speaking their own languages.  “It’s an exciting place to live, because everything is so large and there is so much variety.  Look at all the museums here, the concert halls, convention halls, hotels and restaurants.”  I was impressed with the street life, buskers singing, playing instruments, and street performers running impromptu shows.  We passed the time pleasantly, consuming a cappuccino in the sunshine and fresh air and admiring the numerous beautiful young women thronging the walkways. 


Crossing the Yarra River to the North Bank, we gazed in admiration at the Fisher and Paykel M.I.L.K. outdoor photographic exhibition. Their theme was people, family and community life around the world.  From there we admired the unique architecture of the S.B.S. TV broadcasting network with its colours and odd shapes and enjoyed Melbourne’s brightly painted modern trams running on steel tracks.


Arriving back at the Holiday Inn at 6.00 PM we discussed dinner.  “Let’s try the Dragon Boat Restaurant, downstairs,” I suggested. “Dishes are $30.00, a bit expensive, but it’s convenient.”  Richard agreed.  Sitting down, we suddenly found ourselves surrounded by four hundred Chinese diners, most in large family groups and speaking Cantonese.   This, to me, was always the litmus test for quality restaurants.  Service was fast, attentive, and dishes large, and tasty.  “We’ve waited only ten minutes but the place is packed. It’s hard to believe that they’ll cater for so many people so effectively,” I said to Richard. “This is a great meal, and really wonderful restaurant.  We chose well.”


Ready for bed around 10.00 PM I asked Richard if he was heading off to the Crown Casino only a short walk away.  Richard hit the nail squarely on the head with his heated reply.  “The Casino is boring as hell,” he exclaimed.  “People there don’t want to talk or make friends. They’re totally focussed on winning money.  They’re monkeys, mindlessly pulling slot machine arms repetitively.  There’s nothing to do there.”  That comment put to rest my fears that Richard might find himself penniless, early in the trip.


Saturday 19 April Visit to St     Kildas


Leaving for a swim at the Albert Park Aquatic Centre, at 10.00 AM, Richard was told it was a ten-minute walk from the hotel.  Returning three hours later he ruefully explained. “I’d forgotten how Australians measure distances.  One kilometre is really six. I walked like hell for forty minutes.  All the tramlines veer right or left from where I wanted to go.  The Centre is the biggest and best I’ve seen, only a year old.  Fantastic.  I had a great time.”  I had spent the three hours absorbed with the laptop.


In the afternoon Richard and I set out for St Kildas on Philips Bay.  My friend, Janet had recommended we check out the Monarch Cake Shop at 103 Acant Street, near Luna Park.  She had told me that she hung out there because of the good prices and multicultural vibrant youth scene.  Richard also told me.  “I spent most of my two years in St Kildas because many Polish migrants moved there.  In the 80’s, the area was cheap with lots of brothels and prostitutes.  Now it’s luxury high priced flats.”


Valet service fetched the car, Richard installed my two-meter ham radio gear and we set off, south up Spencer Street to Alberts Park.  This park is big, with well-mown verdant lawn stretching over kilometres around quite large lakes populated by white and black swans.  We reached St Kildas without incident and parked in an ACROD bay near Luna Park.  Acant Street was busy, with hordes of young people of every colour and nationality moving past cake shops, restaurants, beauty salons and a variety of other stores.  Street buskers sang and pamphleteers harangued the passers-by.  Richard set out to do laundry and visit the Polish cake shop, while I scanned the two-meter band to chat to VK3s on Melbourne’s repeaters.  Richard returned with Poppy Cake, a traditional Polish Easter delicacy.  “The owner migrated here from Poland fifty years ago,” Richard told me.  “But speaks perfect Polish. He is a Polish Jew who knew no English, but set up the cake shop and survived.  Now he is a millionaire with many shops. He only chatted to me for twenty seconds, and then excused himself to serve another customer.”  Richard sighed, “You have to work so hard to become wealthy.  I talked to his son.  He lamented that his dad had never taught him a word of Polish and he had no connection with dad’s culture.”


Richard and I walked passed Connell Park, filled with picnickers drinking cartons of beer.  “Look, there,” Richard exclaimed.  A boy and a girl lay on the grass tongues entwined and heavy petting was occurring.  “This is so common here. People are so open with their feelings and unrestrained.  I’ve never seen these displays elsewhere in Australia.”


We walked along the beach then returned to admire the scary sophiscated rides, roller coasters, wheels and other thrill seeking rides at Luna Park.  Young multiethnic children dominated.  Richard and I enjoyed their screams and excitement vicariously.


Checking my watch I noted time running on to 5.00 PM.  The sun was setting and air getting cool.  I had promised to meet an ex-girlfriend, and still a good friend of mine, twenty-five years down the track, Janet.  Janet had driven four hours from Albury for the date, and was staying with her sister Belinda, and Belinda’s husband and three teenage kids.  We were meeting at my hotel at 6.00 PM for drinks and a meal.  Janet had come into my life in 1977, when I met her at a folk dance and fell in love.  Soon Janet and myself were dining out, spending our nights together, and canoeing, camping, dancing and travelling on weekends. 


I also SCUBA dived every Saturday and Sunday morning, flew a Cessna 150 in the afternoons to obtain a private pilot license in December 1977.  I was employed full time as a curriculum coordinator, a prestigious, unique research position in Hamilton Senior High School under an innovative principal, Frank Usher.  I had been hired to assess educational needs and to help teachers design more exciting, relevant and effective curriculum.  Simultaneously, I was completing course work and a thesis for a Masters of Education degree at Murdoch University, basing my thesis on a description of the curriculum planning processes I was supervising at the school.  Life was really exciting and incredibly busy for me, as I looked forward to continuing the position and obtaining a PhD.  My adventures with Janet were icing on the cake of an exciting, happy life.


By December 1978, Janet and I had rented a house in Claremont, Perth to set up house keeping.  I organised a lift via Travel Mates, a firm specialising in matching drivers with passengers for long trips, to join Janet with her parents in Melbourne.  Janet was working and intended to fly over later.  The visit failed to occur as the car that I was travelling in rolled over in the Nullarbor Desert, breaking my neck and severing my spinal column completely at the cervical 5th and 6th vertebrae.  Janet received a call to say I was back in Perth, unlikely to live, and sadly condemned never to walk again. She was told I would be placed in the Royal Perth Rehabilitation Hospital spinal centre for nearly a year to come, if I survived.


My parents flew over from Canada and shared the Claremont suburb house that Janet and I had rented together; an irony that Janet ended up living with my parents rather than me.  They got on ok. My mother respected, understood and got on well with Janet. Janet was devastated by the accident and flew to South America for a month’s holiday.  She decided to return to Perth to explore her life together with me as a quadriplegic.  We visited restaurants and took a week’s holiday two hundred miles south to Albany, in Western Australia.  Janet found that I was heavily dependant and hard work, as are most quadriplegics.  Janet has always been honest and open about her thoughts, in my opinion too open and undiplomatically so at times.


No one wants to be a burden on some one else.  I decided that I was better off in an institution, the Quad Centre, for a while, rather than making another life a misery.  I commenced dating a nurse, Shirley Marriage, and rented a house in 1980 for her, myself and my parents to share during their two month visit to Australia to see me and avoid a Canadian winter.  I continued wining and dining with Janet, whom I liked, believing never to burn my bridges.  After a stand up fight between the two ladies, who had accidentally collided in my Quad Centre bedroom, Janet decided to return to Melbourne.  Shirley and I also parted company, after I met Lily Auld, a student teacher, aged twenty-one years of age, at work, later to become my wife of the last twenty years. 


I have always liked Janet, and she had visited my brother, George, mother Hazel and sister, Margaret during one of her overseas trips to Canada in 1998.  Thus, I felt excited and happy to hear Janet’s voice on the phone at 6.00 PM. “Meet you at the lift,” I said.  “It’s great to hear you.”  Janet looked as good as ever, no older, tall, and slim with black hair.  “It’s a coincidence,” Janet said.  “I last saw you seven years ago on your fiftieth birthday, on your car trip on the Great Ocean Road and the goldfields.   Now you’re back on my fiftieth birthday.”  I demurred that this was accidental and offered her Makers Mark and coke.  After three glasses each between Richard, Janet and myself, we demolished the remainder of the bottle.  I recalled that Janet was always a good drinker.  Richard offered his expensive Polish 40% proof Zubrowka Bison Brand Vodka containing a four-centimetre straw, which provided the vodka with a unique flavour.  I disliked the stuff, but Janet, clearly considerably more acquainted with vodkas than me, appeared to recognise the brand.  “This vodka is tremendous,” she said as she knocked back two more drinks. 


We talked of old times, joked, laughed and shared updated information on our families.  More than slightly drunk, I suggested we find a restaurant on the South Bank.  Janet insisted on pushing, and I held on tightly as we careered full-tilt through crowds of holidaymakers.  Nothing wrong with Janet’s back, like Richard’s.  “This is a fit athletic woman,” I thought although I cringed and felt embarrassed when we careered into a woman’s ankles.


We chose a restaurant.  I order Janet’s recommendation, Andrew Garrett’s Shiraz, a very nice drop, to go with fresh tandoori snapper.  Janet and Richard chose medium Victorian beef and vegetables.  They even managed chocolate mousse and ice cream. Pushing back, we were mobile liabilities, probably too drunk to recognise our menace to strollers.  I can’t remember much of this trip.  In the hotel, I moderated my alcoholic intake, but Janet sampled Richard’s vodka, without apparently much effect.  “I’ve got to catch the 11.00 PM train to get home,” Janet said.  “I’m sorry I can’t stay much longer.”  After sharing memories and laughing, 11.00 PM came around all too soon.  After three nice kisses, Janet was gone.


It was 3.00 AM in the morning.  “I’m getting up,” Richard muttered.  I felt terrible, still drunk, dog-tired and hung-over, all in one.  “Got to give up drinking too much,” I thought.  Richard showered, dressed me, and helped transfer me from the bed to the wheelchair. I left him feverishly packing, as I pushed to the lobby, paid our $619.00 bill, and organised to have the car valet delivered. The bellhop fetched the luggage.  “How do we get from here to the airport?” I asked the concierge.  We plotted our route and I felt confident as a navigator.  By 4.15 AM we were travelling.  I felt regret as Richard and I pulled out into the darkened street.  I had become familiar with the quirky hotel design and Byzantine streets of South bank. This place had been fun.  There was no traffic as we drove through Melbourne, north up Spencer Street, intersecting with the toll city-link freeway to the airport.  Within thirty minutes we pulled up to the departures unloading area of Melbourne Airport.  No dramas like our four-hour trip from the airport.  I usually find my way provided I prepare myself first.


The luggage and I were unloaded next to ANZ desk 23 and Richard left to fuel and return the car to Avis. I set next to a middle age lady in long skirt that immediately latched onto me like a leech.  “I’m mentally emotionally disabled, like you,” she said.  “I’m an ex government worker on a pension and I’m appealing for compensation.  I’m also helping youth in hospital.  Look at this letter, I wrote to the Premier.”  I glanced at an incoherent, badly typed letter abusing politicians about inhumane treatment of youth in Melbourne’s Austin Hospital.  I thought, “This biddy haunts politicians and undergoes painful medical tests just to get attention and sympathy from someone.  I think those suitcases of hers are empty and she haunts the airport like a harpy seeking out passengers to talk with. She’s nuts!  She's nearly as bad as a few of the alcoholic parents I deal with at work.  I don’t need a therapy session now.” She carried on, “I’ll help you.  I want to interview you about your accident and how you were treated in hospital. I’ll write the Premier for you. What’s your name and why are you in a wheelchair?” She held an open notebook and pen and looked expectant.   I said politely, “I’m sorry, I don’t do interviews and I need to read this book.” I opened Wilbur Smith and escaped into a fantasy world, while she prattled on to me for a half hour, as if I were listening.


At 6.30 AM Richard returned saying, “I filled the car with gas and got it back ok.  Had to back up on the road when I missed a turn.  Been looking for you for forty minutes below in arrivals, not realising you were upstairs in departures.”  We booked our luggage, cleared customs and immigration, did the baggage x-ray routine, bought a litre of Bundaberg black label rum duty free, and then enjoyed a cappuccino and a bun as we waited for boarding.  Transfers went smoothly with female attendants, and even my legs fitted between the seats.  I relaxed for the 2,200-kilometre flight in a Boeing 737-400 from Melbourne to Christ Church over the Tasman Sea.


Advancing watches two hours ahead to 3.00 PM, we admired a good view of the New Zealand Alps as we flew West, near Queenstown, and Mount Cook, and on over the flat verdant green of the farm-studded Canterbury Plain.  I put on my high school geography teacher’s hat and lectured Richard, “New Zealand has a population of four million people. This city, nick named the garden city, has a population of 300,000 and is the gateway into the South Island.  It was originally a Church of England farm settlement, which required settlers to possess a letter of piety to get entrance.  That might exclude us, Richard.  It’s my favourite kiwi city and has the Avon River flowing through the centre.  I was here three days with my parents in 1977.”


On landing, a female attendant volunteered to lift my heavy bulk into an aisle chair four centimetres higher than the airline seat taking offence at my pleads for a strong male.  “It’s ok, I’ll do it,” she repeated twice.  She strained and grunted, and I exhorted, “try harder, we need a big lift, yeah, nearly.” I ended up between the two chairs perched precariously.  I had told Richard, who is physically unable to lift anything without injury to his back that he must always put on a show of helping.  Otherwise, the attendants become distressed and nasty.  Richard tugged feebly at my belt, making up for his lack of strength by urging me on vociferously.  A male attendant helped more effectively by lifting my legs at my knees.  With minor buttock abrasions, I made it into the aisle chair and was wheeled to the air bridge where my wheelchair waited.  I thought, “Good on ya Air New Zealand. A+ for you.”  A quick effortless power lift by a male attendant transferred me to my own wheelchair in seconds.


At the Avis counter, Mr Navigator, me, made sure the cheerful red headed male clerk, marked the route to Holiday Inn, Christ Church, on the city map.  This paragon typed, talked on the phone, and handled numerous enquiries by a Japanese family of three, all simultaneously giving a constant stream of directions like, “It’s a $400.00 fine if you take the car from the South to North Island. Just check it with Avis and pick up your new car on the North Island.”    We obtained a white Mitsubishi Diamante, equivalent in size to an Australian Ford Fairlane, which accommodated our bags and wheelchair simultaneously.


We drove directly to the hotel, missing only a tricky turn into Oxford Terrace, a deficit quickly remedied as Richard asked directions from a friendly grey haired driver.  I sent Richard out in the car for take away while I updated my diary in our new hotel room.  I turned in early, after a large filling take-away chicken pie and a polar bear while Richard took the car into the city and explored until midnight.  He reported on his nocturnal adventures.


“I walked between the Casino and a large Cathedral, which peeled bells every fifteen minutes,” Richard said.  “The city was totally quiet, being Easter Sunday with no one on the streets.  The side streets were like those of Kalgoorlie, wide, with low priced small neat houses with tin roofs.  In the city, there are lots of white and Maori prostitutes around the bridge across the Avon River.  I wasn’t confident to talk with these people.  It was funny asking directions as no one lost their way in Christ Church.  I’ve never seen so many bordellos and entered one to find that they are charging $200.00.  The city’s very small and one can walk the entire downtown area in two hours.  There was a good range of ethnic restaurants filled with people.  The city is exceptionally beautiful.”


Monday 21 April 2003 Mount Cook


I slept well and woke refreshed, except Monday morning was the dreaded BTs, a process consuming two hours from 7.00 to 9.00 AM.  Fortunately, I enjoyed a long hot shower in the wheel-in shower.  Left over chicken pie takeaway constituted breakfast.  Richard packed and I paid the $100.00 Holiday Inn bill, then we left to drive around the city centre. Turning on the local radio, I heard a pop tune with the words, “It feels so good to move in you….” “That’s a bit explicit,” I thought and changed stations to hear, “This is Christ Church chat radio.  Today’s topic is whether we should change the age of legal intercourse from fourteen years of age.   Many think it should be lowered.  What do you think?”  I turned off the radio, commenting, not very politically astutely, “They’ll be discussing ethics of doing sheep next.”


I noted the British background in the vast majority of residents and use of British terminology such as Motor Sales for car sales.  Streets were often four lanes in width, creating a spacey, leafy, pleasant atmosphere.  Single storey wooden frame, tin roof cottages predominated on the back streets reminded me of the unpretentious New Zealand life style where housing was affordable.


Driving around made Richard disoriented.  “I’m hopeless at knowing where I am and which direction to take. I always go east thinking its west.”  I recalled Richard setting out East from Perth to York and ending up nearly in Geraldton, 200 kilometres north of Perth before he realised his mistake.  “I didn’t care. I wasn’t going anywhere, any ways,” Richard ruefully explained.  Now, to prevent a similar occurrence, I gave up photography, became navigator, and soon we were headed south on Highway 1, planning to take Highways 79 and 80 East to Mount Cook, a distance of four hundred kilometres. 


Richard went through a speed camera at sixty kilometres and was strobed.  “Had your picture taken, Richard,” I joked.  “I wasn’t speeding,” he muttered.  “Perhaps not, but the light on the camera flashed,” I replied.  “You won’t have to pay, we’re leaving NZ,” he said.  I contradicted him, ‘you will pay because Avis will charge the ticket to my Visa, and I’ll charge you. As driver you are responsible for your speed and tickets.”  Richard drove silently for the next half hour. [We never received a bill for that ticket!]


The green flat plain was dotted with numerous large paddocks of sheep; everywhere we looked. Some paddocks were populated with one or two thousand snowy white animals.  Holstein dairy cattle added back and white colour to the bestial scenery, reminding me that dairy products in NZ were the cheapest in the world; a dollar for a milkshake or double scoop ice-cream. Unusual eight metre neatly trimmed hedges, constructed from tightly packed spruce trees, acted as windbreaks towering like prison walls and bisecting the countryside.  Bridges hundreds of metres in length spanned gravel beds of enormous dry gravelled floodway rivers.  Turning eastward we also spotted deer and emu farms as well as Black Angus cattle and stopped to allow traffic to cross numerous single lane bridges.


As we drove east in mid-afternoon towards towering snow capped mountains, we climbed steadily, while the temperature dropped and the mid-April autumn colours intensified; brightly coloured tall yellow poplars lining the two lane highway, like picturesque sentinels.  Oncoming traffic, being the end of the Easter holiday, was unrelenting, nearly bumper-to-bumper.  Richard pulled out to pass in the face of an oncoming car, and badly scared me.  I gasped, “Jesus Richard, take your time.  I’m in no hurry.”  I calmed myself by thinking, “Richard is very good at not speeding.  He won’t do a dangerous move like that again.” We stopped for a coffee, overlooking barren Alpine meadows and large lakes. As the sun dipped below the horizon at 6.00 PM, it painted the snow clad sides of Mount Cook, picturesque orange and yellow and made us shiver in the near zero Celsius temperature.


We pulled in Mount Cook National Park and spotted the thirty odd buildings of the townsite.  Lights glowed in the lengthening shadows, highlighting an enormous hotel, the Hermitage (Aoraki) lite like a passenger liner, ten stories high, appearing to sail sedately, at the foot of the mountain.  We booked a disabled room for $90.00.  “You’re lucky,” the receptionist told us.  “We have five such rooms but four are booked already to a tour of disabled Americans” We met the group at dinner, mostly elderly folk from Alaska, Texas and other such origins. Rod Gothe and Andy Huesing, who were the directors, were both paraplegics in quickie wheelchairs like mine.  Rod had very long hair and was darkly suntanned, reminding me of a 1960’s hippie but he was very friendly and talkative.  “We met on a street corner in Cairns in 1993 and Andy and I got talking.  I’m from Melbourne and Andy lives in San Diego.  The idea hit us.  Why don’t we run tours for disabled folk from the US to Australia and New Zealand?  We called ourselves Neverland Tours  found a good market. Advertising took most of our funds then, but now we advertise on the Internet for nothing and get customers from all over the US. We run three tours a year, about fifteen clients, with this one being an eighteen day tour of NZ for $3,500.00 US.”  “Who goes?” I asked.  “Many elderly people with mobility problems, who use four wheel gopher cars.  They have the time and money.  We research venues and activities specifically for the disabled.  Tomorrow we’re doing a helicopter trip around Mt Cook, and treks along tracks made for bicycles. Would you like to join us?”  We politely and sadly declined saying we were off to Queenstown.


I found myself feeling irritated and despondent, with this emotional clue making me aware and focussing in on my thoughts.  “I’d hate to travel with a group of other disabled people and these people aren’t really disabled, only elderly,” I thought.  “They can stand, walk short distances, use their hands and control their bladder and bowels.  They are way better off than me.  I bet this tour wouldn’t take a quadriplegic like me.  These people should take folk like me.”  Hold on a minute I counselled myself in my mind silently.  “These people are having a wonderful time, and the tour bus with its lift lets them take their electric chairs with them.  They are doing more activities than us.  If you took your attendant on such a tour you could reduce costs, also take an electric chair, be spared the bookings and organisation and have a good time. If you contacted them, they might even have an attendant to share amongst more disabled passengers, further lowering expense.”  I added to myself in my mind, “I guess they are doing a good job and I should keep their email for a future trip.”  I felt more buoyant with this new belief.


[Andrew wrote me in September, saying, “I cannot express enough how much I have enjoyed reading your journals. Thank you so much for mentioning what we do and how we do it. Ironically, you mentioned how our group didn't include anyone like yourself. That was just the composition of that particular tour. Being a quadriplegic myself we actually started to cater to people like ourselves, I guess older people just have the time and the resources to travel with us. Congratulations on all your success I am very impressed by your journey! It was a pleasure meeting you please stay in touch and don't ever hesitate to send adventurous disabled travellers our way! We appreciate any help we can get!

Kind Regards,

Andrew Huesing
Director, NeverLand Adventures, Inc.
ph. 800-717-8226

I'll give the hippie your best!]


Richard undressed me and put me to bed around 11.00, then went out to explore the hotel nightlife.  “It’s dead,” he reported disappointedly a short time later. “Reception’s closed, the bar is empty and it’s as quiet as a tomb.”   


Tuesday 22 April Queenstown


We were pressed for time when we awoke as check out was set rigidly to 10.00 AM. Richard showered me, we enjoyed a coffee for breakfast in the room, and then I checked out, paying $90.00.  We took photographs of Mount Cook, the highest mountain in New Zealand at 2,753 metres and as we drove west on the highway we passed a helicopter flight centre. 


Richard pulled in to price flights at $175.00 for twenty minutes to $375.00 for forty-five minutes.  I sadly thought, “I can afford a flight but won’t be able to get into the helicopter.  People underestimate the difficulty of lifting me, volunteer then drop me or hurt themselves.  I can’t take the risk, and I don’t want to embarrass myself.”  “Hold on a minute,” I counselled myself.  “Richard can’t afford to go and we don’t have the time anyways.  It’s noon and we have a 271-kilometre drive ahead. Put these self-defeating thoughts out of your mind.  You flew around Mount Everest in a small plane with Lily in 1985 on that six-week tour of India.  You can do it if you want, but not today.”


Starting the car, Richard asked me the way out.  Still smarting from my self-counselling, I snapped.  “You know the way. You just drove in five minutes ago.”  Richard shouted with frustration, very loudly, “You know I’m fucking useless at finding my way.  Tell me where to go!”  I stayed silent but thought, “there’s only a twenty metre driveway out of here.  What are the odds Richard will turn right and drive back to Mt Cook?”  Fortunately, Richard turned left and we continued west.


We stopped at Twizel to let Richard buy fruit, cheese, and crackers and milk for lunch and to refill the car at $1.00 a litre.  The service station attendant said, “Used to be nine thousand people here twenty years ago when they built the damns and water canals, lines and sub-station.  We produced enough power for the whole South Island.  Now there are a thousand people.”  I praised the green mown lawns, gardens, wide streets and excellent condition of the single storey, tin roofed, brightly painted bungalows.


Highway 8 twists and winds like a cut snake through canyons for the next eighty kilometres, the large hills eliminating all radio reception in the car.  One hundred kilometre speeds drop to thirty-five kilometres per hour on some corners, with streams below the highway dressed in the reds of an NZ native bush and yellows of poplars.  Then the land flattens into farming country filled with grazing sheep.  “The New Zealand economy rides on a sheep’s back,” I commented.  “Unlike Australians, most New Zealanders are country people.  They are incredibly hospitable and honest.”  We stopped in Cromwell, for a coffee, then commenced the seventy kilometre drive on Highway 8B to Queenstown, the most incredible drive of the journey.   This highway follows the riverbed of the Kawarou River, site of a major gold rush in the nineteenth century.  The road winds left and right, and up and down, lined by a drop-off to the canyon below and backed by large hills.


Arriving in Queenstown at dusk around 6.00 PM, we checked into the Aurum Suites at sunset, and then drove down to the Bombay Restaurant for an Indian extra hot beef, lamb and chicken curry meal and a Morrison Black beer.  Getting out of the car I noticed my one and a quarter litre capacity leg urinal, euphemistically nicknamed ‘fish’ was tightly full.  Ignoring this predicament would lead to Noah’s deluge, so I elected to empty it in the dark against a wall, near the car.  There is an eight-centimetre tube, usually tucked in my sock, and six-centimetre cord.  I am fortunate to be able to empty my fish independently, an act which I proceeded to do. I heard an angry shout, “What are you doing, asshole?”  I felt utterly humiliated, seeing a river of urine flowing downhill all the way across the street.  “I’ve been sprung,” I thought.  “ I’m so embarrassed.”  “But that’s not right,” I thought.  “People never shout at the disabled. They’re either embarrassed and turn away, or they offer to help.”  I looked and realized, “This man thinks its Richard being indecent in the dark. He must think Richard has an enormous bladder or is busting.”  I chuckled and felt cheerful.


“This is great,” I said as we dove into a dynamite curry and tasty beer and we eventually took the remainder back to the hotel for two breakfasts.  The waitress was a truly beautiful lively blonde girl with an infectious smile.  As the restaurant emptied, Richard enquired, “Does an Indian own this restaurant?”  “No,” she replied, “it’s owned by a Chinese Singaporean who owns a string of them right around the world.  He flies around the world quarterly, and we see him for a few days, only when he drops in quickly and checks up on us.”  I asked, “How long have you been here?” She replied, “Four years.  I came from Warsaw in Poland.”  Poland!” Richard exclaimed excitedly and launched into a Polish conversation.  “My name’s Agnieszka,” she said speaking in broken Polish, “and I was born in Warsaw with an engineer for a dad, who spoke many languages.  He abused my mum, and my mother and I, aged eight, migrated to Melbourne in 1983. I love the sun, the beach and surfing there.  I saved my money and spent two years in Canada in Vancouver and Whistler snow boarding.  I moved here with my boyfriend four years ago, but don’t have a relationship now.”  “Why Queenstown?” I asked.  “It’s a mini-Vancouver, tourists, jobs, night-life, mountains, skiing, water and a city in a very small area.  It’s as beautiful as Vancouver but takes minutes rather than hours to get around.”  We talked about my trip to Poland, which she had visited three times, and her view of men.  “In this century girls look after themselves.  It’s impossible to get men to take care of women.  I want to be like the Spice girls, independent, but Posh does ok with her man. My boyfriend and I were in different spaces.  He was way behind me and he was stumbling really badly. He couldn’t keep up.  I don’t keep in contact much with my dad. He doesn’t know English.”  Richard then monopolised the conversation, listing the places we were visiting in Poland.  Relegated to audience, I could see this girl’s interest waning, and her eye movements suggested she wanted to move on.  When Richard reached his punch line, “why don’t we meet and I’ll take a letter to Warsaw,” she quickly declined.  We said goodbye and headed back to our room for a nightcap. Richard spoke angrily to me, “She’s damaged from her dad’s abuse.  I don’t have any success with girls lately.”


Richard undressed me at 11.00 PM then headed back to town for two hours.  He reported, “This place is filled with drunk young tourists from all over the world, lots of pubs, British, Irish, German and hundreds of restaurants, coffee shops and two casinos.  The pubs are packed with drunken young people, shouting, laughing and singing.  I saw three young Dutch girls staggering down the street holding each other up.  Each took opportunities to fall in turn.  It was very funny. Queenstown’s very beautiful, a tourist Mecca.  Why didn’t I know about it sooner when I was younger since it’s a perfect place to get laid.  It’s very cold in April, though, down to freezing.  My ears are frozen”


Wednesday 23 April 2003


Richard aroused himself at 7.30, and began the two-hour BT process of getting me going.  The Aurum Hotel room, with its twin beds, high quality furniture and large wheel in shower was the best we had stayed in to date. It’s unique in its policy to sell rooms to investors for $186,000.00 then renting them for the investor, at a boasted eight percent annual return. It’s one of a hundred hotels scattered around the city. We opted to finish our Indian meal for breakfast, and then Richard took a long bath while I typed.  At 2.00 PM we ventured into town to take photos, consume cappuccinos, window shop and admire the many beautiful young ladies in the town.  Richard commented, “I really want a girl, but I’m getting old and they’re in their twenties.  It takes so much work.  I only fantasize.”  I said sadly, “At least you have a sex life, Richard.  I have no feeling, and only get high blood pressure and headaches.”  I then disputed my comments to myself. “Get off it, Don. Don’t get yourself down.   You didn’t do anything when you were able bodied and as a happily married fifty six year old man, you’re not in the least interested in chasing twenty-year-old women.  They are hardly older than girls you counsel in the high school.  Sex has never been a part of your life style and you haven’t really missed it.  You are really enjoying your life the way it is.”  I felt happier after this bit of self-therapy.


We drove East along the lake for forty minutes on a serpentine road that hugged the mountainside, sometimes skirting the beach and sometimes climbing up the mountain.  We drove down an exceptionally steep hairpin road to the lake and parked next to the Thistle and the Rose, a van.  Donald emerged from the camper van, carrying a fishing line, to catch his nightly trout meal.  This white haired Scottish gentleman came over to our car, while Richard took photographs of the lake.  I asked him, “Think it’s going to rain?”  He talked about the gravel dust storm caused by the high winds and added, “We camp here for $10.00 a night paid to the Department of Agriculture.  There are no amenities, but we’re self-contained and love this mountain setting.  I love New Zealand. I came over here forty years ago to visit my brother. I had thought about migrating to Canada, but on the boat trip over, I met my wife, and we settled on a farm in Taranaki.  We get droughts every few years but generally our life is good and the climate better than Scotland or Canada.” Asking about tourism, he added,  “Queenstown like Rotorua lives on tourism.  The British and American exchange rates at two to one make this country an exceptional tourist value.  Taranaki is also popular with tourists.  These Maui camper vans are a good way to tour the country cheaply.  I have been to Vancouver and in many ways, this place is similar.”


Returning to the hotel around 6.00 pm we rang Tanya, the manager / receptionist to pay up.  “She’s very beautiful,” Richard warned, “from a South Pacific island.”  Tanya, in her twenties, with long lack hair and eyes and beautiful smile and teeth, arrived about 7.00 pm.  “I’m from Tonga.” she told us, “and I left when I was nine before they used washing machines.  I went back at thirteen and they had modernised with a jet airport for the tourists coming to see the statues.  There are 140 islands, there, mostly uninhabited, which can only be visited by yacht.  I’m been manager here for the last five years, working a ten hour day, four day week, but it extends into twelve or fourteen hours daily.”   Tanya and I negotiated the hotel rate.  She wanted $140.00 a night, but I had booked by the Internet for one night at  $125.00.  We settled amicably for $265.00 for the two nights.


After a glass of duty free Bundy and coke, we visited the hotel dining room after a difficult exhausting push up a very steep driveway for a meal of blue cod, a local NZ fish.  We met the waiter and bar attendant Rasmus, a solid young man in his early twenties, for bottles of the popular NZ Spleight beer in front of a large crackling fire.  In perfect English he told us, “I’m from twenty kilometres west of Copenhagen in Denmark and arrived in February for a six month stay to view the mountains and forests.  It’s all heavily settled flat farming land in Denmark.  I like the beauty of this place.”  I told him I had ridden a bicycle through Ireland, Norway, Sweden and Denmark in 1973 with Stephen Malone, an ex high school student of mine.  “The Little Mermaid is really small, isn’t it,” I commented, “and I loved Tivoli Gardens and Elephant Beer.”


Rasmus helped us negotiate the multi-level hotel maze back to our room, where I brushed Richard’s suitcase, with my wheelchair.  In a Dr Hyde and Mr Jeckyl manner, Richard turned on me almost like a savage dog and shouted very loudly and angrily, “Don’t you fucking touch my suitcase!”  Rasmus relaxed manner evaporated like water in summer heat.  He looked at Richard as if Richard was unbalanced and quickly left.  Richard told me, “I paid my wife Hisako $200.00 for the case and want to keep it in good condition.”  “Richard.” I said, “I felt highly embarrassed that you used obscenities, in front of people doing us a service, because it offends them and demeans me.  I would like you to keep such language private between the two of us.”


Thursday 24 April


Our plan today is to depart the hotel 8.00 AM, drive highway 8B up the Tawarau River gorge to Camwell, turn east on highway 8, make a dog leg turn and proceed through central Otago on Highway 85 to Palmerston, then hike North nearly three hundred kilometres on Highway 1 to Christ Church and our Holiday Inn hotel: a total trip exceeding five hundred kilometres.


The Tawarau River gorge with its steep hills and rapidly flowing river is exceptionally scenic and we made many stops to take photographs. We stopped at a tourist site outlining the gold mining history on this river.  Camwell is a beautifully laid out city on a large lake, overlooked by steep hills, frosted with snow.  After taking advantage of a photo opportunity from a roadside vantage point, high above the town, we pushed on through the rolling countryside, making one stop at a fruit orchard.  The worker sent us on our way with a free bag of apples, telling us that he wasn’t interested unless we purchased a truckload.


Highway 85 is exceptionally scenic, arid rough and empty country with immense hills, dissected by rivers and creeks.  The region has a unique, colourful character.  We passed a farmer’s fence two hundred metres were burdened with shoes, male and female, of every variety numbering into the thousands.  I wondered if this was a reoccurrence of the Watson Lake syndrome.  In 1988, I had spent eight months circumnavigating the United States and Canada in a large Bluebird camper van.  Passing through Watson Lake on the Alaska Highway in the Yukon, I observed an entire city block subdivided into streets lined with some ten thousand-city signs taken from towns throughout the world.  In the beginning a tourist had posted one sign, another tourist and other.  The signs gained a life of their own, multiplying

 to become the defining feature of the town’s fame.


We stopped at an isolated Spleight pub in the middle of no-where.  Using the toilet Richard was amused by a brightly painted skilfully executed cartoon in German painted on a board.  Scene one was a man combing his hair with a toilet brush and saying, “this isn’t right.”  Scene two showed the brush on the buttocks, with the man saying ‘this is better.’  Seen three presented the man cleaning the toilet, saying, ‘this is right.’  Richard asked the pub owner about the cartoon.  “One of our farmers does a lot of business in Germany.  He was over there, saw the cartoon and was given it as a gift.  He gave it to me.”


Friday 25 April


Up at 4.00 AM, Richard accomplished the quadriplegic two hour routine competently, we checked out $115.00 poorer and then we got lost driving to the airport.  It was dark, and I found the small map print and street signs were impossible to read.  Time drifted to 7.30 with a 9.00 plane departure, and my anxiety escalated. “I’m lost. I’m going to miss this flight and the one to Fiji.  I have car and hotel bookings.  I can’t stand this.” Anxiety beyond a certain point causes panic and reduces efficiency. Telling myself, “it’s ok, you can do it,” I relaxed.  We stopped at a service station, I got reoriented and we drove directly to the airport, dropping the baggage and myself at NZ departures and Richard returned the Avis car. (Cost $520.00)


Richard chatted to a NZ deer farmer, as we waited for our one-hour NZ flight 508, Boeing 767-200, from Christ Church to Auckland.  “I first made my money by mining in Australia then I bought one thousand deer and two hundred larger Canadian Elk,” the farmer boasted. “I sell ninety percent to Germany and Scandinavia.  The bottom’s dropped out of the market, decreasing each animal from $700.00 to $240.00. Times are tough but they’re easy to care for, just feed and slaughter.  My brother handles sales and marketing.”  Time to go and a quick two lifts by a male attendant placed us in complementary business class seats with the fight smooth, giving us a view of the Southern Alps.  Richard happily tried out the buttons on his business class seat and snapped photographs.


We had one hour in Auckland to disembark, transfer from the domestic to international airports, shop and board the Boeing 767-300 three-hour flight to Nandi, Fiji.  My wheelchair had been booked to Nandi, and I was confined to a small awkward horrible NZ wheelchair, and pushed into the domestic departures lounge.  “Someone will be along in twenty minutes to drive you to international departures,” I was reassured.  Twenty-five minutes later, Richard was worried, but I had escaped into Wilbur Smith.  Thirty minutes later, I suggested Richard talk to Air New Zealand services.  Again, Richard saw someone. Ten minutes prior to take-off, nothing had happened.  I was worried, thinking, “I’ve no luggage, wheelchair, nothing. What will I do if I miss this flight?”  I wasn’t convincing myself things would be ok and I was getting scared. Then a services person, of middle age, rushed and stressed, with radio crackling, rushed in and assured us he would have us on the flight.  He found the wheelchair had a tall pole on it to prevent theft and wouldn’t fit the van.  He radioed reports, did marathon lifts, found us another wheelchair and drove us to international departures; quickly pushed us through customs and immigration, helped us pay $50.00 departure tax, and got us on the plane.  “Hell of a job,” he confined.  “I’ve been rushed off my feet all day. Worst day of the month.”  We thanked him enthusiastically and the plane took off thirty minutes late without allowing us to do duty free shopping for liquor.  Safely seated on the plane at ten thousand metres in a special area granting us two metres of legroom, we were starting to feel happy after a chicken meal and two glasses of Kingston’s pinot age cabenet sauvignon.


End of Chapter Two