Our upcoming move to Australia has a certain inevitability to it, now that I reflect back on my prior trips to the country. In 1975, when I was 11 (32 years ago!), my family was living in Dixon, Illinois. My dad was asked by his corporate bosses to go to Australia for the summer to help the company start up a South Pacific branch. So, in May of that year we flew from Chicago, via Hawaii, Fiji, and Sydney, to little Wagga Wagga, a country town in southern New South Wales. I was the oldest child, and I had two brothers and a sister who was a toddler. How my parents managed with so many little ones on such a trip, I don't know, given that V. and I are already starting to panic about traveling with our ONE child.
We rented a house on the Wollundry Lagoon (see my last post), and my mother promptly enrolled my brothers and me in the public school a few blocks away. Even though it was our "summer vacation," I had an excellent time taking classes and getting to know the kids. My two brothers, on the other hand, did not enjoy the experience, as they were picked on constantly about their accents. All three of us were repeatedly referred to as "yanks" and asked about Disneyland and Al Capone. My brothers eventually quit school, but I stayed on. I remember coming back from Australia with excellent penmanship (we had classes devoted to handwriting) and pronouncing 'plaque' as though it rhymed with 'rock'. I came back to Wagga and visited my old school in 1996 and then again in 2000. See the pictures below...the first was taken in 1975, and the second 25 years later.
With the exception of my dad, we didn't travel far from Wagga that summer. We did go to Canberra, Melbourne, and a winery in northern Victoria. Given the short time we were there, it's amazing how many friends we all made. In August my dad was asked if he'd like to stay another 3 years, but by then my mom and brothers were more than ready to leave. I think it was really hard on my mom especially, and I remember that she used to keep a calendar on the wall in which she crossed out the days that we had left. And nearly everyday she would sing John Denver's "Take me home, country roads..."
I was probably the saddest of us all when we left. I had a girlfriend (for the first time) and many friends, I played sports (the only time in my life, really), and I was a bit of a celebrity as the only American most of those kids had ever met. In the picture above (taken by my dad on our last day in Australia) you can see me in the light blue jacket, with two friends on either side of me. My mom is second from the left, with my little brother and sister standing in front of her. My other brother is standing on the far right. The other people were the Smiths, a family that we spent a lot of time with. After we came back to the States, they moved to Surfer's Paradise, which isn't far from where we will be living in Queensland. Unfortunately, it's hard tracking down any particular set of Robert Smiths in Australia.
Alas, it took another 21 years before I came back to Australia. I'll write more about that trip in Part II.