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Published: November 2nd 2018
In mid-1964, when I was nine years old, my parents took me out of school for five months and we travelled to Europe. I managed to keep a diary for the first part of the trip, but it seems that this eventually became a bit too much of a chore, and the diary entries run out after a few weeks. I've copied those that I did make in italics into the blog. My parents weren't really photographers, so photos of this epic journey are a bit scarce and limited to those taken by others, or my own efforts with a Kodak Box Brownie black and white camera - an icon in its day.
Now that I've got some more time on my hands I thought it was worth trying to capture all of this into a blog, together with some of my now very much faded memories of this expedition. "At about 2.15pm we left for the airport. There we were met by Aunties Nona and May, Hilary, Uncle Peter and the Barnard family. Also we met Debbie, Susan and Lindy, Uncle Charlie and Auntie Amy. We then got on the plane and after about ten minutes we took
off. We then rose to about nineteen thousand feet where we levelled off. At about half past four we had afternoon tea. Mum, Dad and me I all had biscuits. At about half past five we arrived in Sydney. We then got on a coach and went to the TAA Terminal. There we collected our baggage and caught a taxi to the Wentworth Hotel. There in bed I played and lost to Daddy in a "footy" game."
So what sticks in my mind from all of that?
I don't think my parents had done a lot of air travel at that time, and were very keen that we travel light and avoid any scary excess baggage charges. Mum was always very organised and routinely did a 'trial pack' about a month before going anywhere. As part of this she weighed everything to make sure we were under the limit. My school was very accepting of our travel plans, and held the view that provided I did some study while I was away, I'd probably get a lot more educational mileage out of traveling the world for five months than I’d get sitting in a classroom. What
did then come as a shock to my baggage weight obsessed parents was the 20-odd kilograms of text books my grade five teacher handed to them as an accompaniment to the homework schedule a few days before we left. It was then quickly resolved that the homework would need to wait until we'd stopped getting on and off planes, and the text books were air freighted to England to await our arrival.
My parents were avid gardeners, and were seriously concerned about what would happen to their beloved botanical collection during our absence. Dad managed to find a gardener, and had him turn up for a few hours every Saturday for a few weeks before we left to make sure he was going to do a good job. This all seemed to be working fine, but on the day we were leaving he failed to show. Dad rang him in a panic, and was told that he'd slept in, but despite assurances that he'd be there soon he was never seen or heard from again. I hope my parents didn't spend the whole trip despairing about the health of their treasured flowered friends.
It seems that a lot of our relatives were very interested in seeing us depart. I don't think that air travel was all that common in those days, and maybe also less safe than it is now, so perhaps they thought they'd better turn up at the airport in case they never saw us again. The now defunct TAA (Trans Australian Airlines) gave us a certificate to prove that we'd made the flight.
My Uncle Charlie Pratt was married to Aunty Amy, my grandfather's sister. He was a pioneer aerial photographer and lived close to the airport, coincidentally in the same street that we now live in. He kept his plane in his backyard, and towed it up the road on the back of his car whenever he needed to make a flight. His biography was published in 2016 - "Charles Pratt of Belmont Common, A Life in the Air" by Kevin M O'Reilly.
The Melbourne airport terminal was very small, and we had to fly to Sydney first, as Melbourne didn't cater for international flights in those days. I'd never been in a plane before and I remember my parents being very worried that I mightn't like it. We were going all the way to London by plane in short hops, and I doubt it would have been too much fun for my parents (or me for that matter) if their nine year old had decided that flying wasn't for him. My parents managed to convince the 'hosties', as they were then known, to take me up into the cockpit to talk to the pilot and have a look at what went on at the pointy end of the plane. Today's would-be terrorist hijackers can only dream of the level of unfettered cockpit access offered to passengers in 1964.
I had to get a passport. These were very much Cold War years, and an inscription in the front noted that it wasn't valid for travel to the USSR, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary, East Germany, Albania, Romania, Mainland China, Northern (sic) Korea, North Vietnam or Mongolia.
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