My World

VIPs tour DownUnder...

In a previous post my partner and I have travelled to her homeland of Philippines more than once…  Those times, my partner’s father had generally done the driving around and so I wanted to one day return the favour.  In 2012 it was our chance to tour her folks and siblings around in Australia.  The situation in her home town at the time was darkened with the recent death of a cousin she thought of as a brother at the hands of a criminal gang.   Because of the justice system in Philippines the family was being threatened by others associated with this gang and life for the immediate family was lived increasingly inside the home compound.   So, we invited them to visit here and take a break from the dangers and all the emotional stress at home. 

 

The process for touring people from the Philippines was not as easy as just booking tickets but visas had to be got and this meant invitation letters had to be written.  This all took time but planning the itinerary for their trip down under took probably just as long.  You see, there wasn’t just my partner and I out here in Australia to consider but her younger sister and husband to think of as well… they were living on the Gold Coast while we were living not so large in Longreach, central western Queensland.

 

I had time on my hands due to finding myself in a small country town and ‘between jobs’.  It probably wasn’t the best timing but we made it through and I believe everybody enjoyed themselves.   As the vehicle I had was a 5-seater  the logistics of driving myself and my partner down to pick up the family at Brisbane International Airport and then bring them back to Longreach was not so simple.  There was not only the great distance involved but the fact that there would be four of them coming out from Philippines.  There was my partner’s mother and father, another younger sister and younger brother to think of.  It was decided that I would drive down and pick them up alone.

 

The language barrier wasn’t as bad as I first thought when all this was being planned.  It was difficult for me at the very start when I picked them up and drove to Longreach but my sister-in-law had spent some time in London in the UK and understood a fair bit of English and sometimes acted as interpreter for me and I am so glad about that.  My partner is normally my interpreter with the family but I had many hours in their presence without her and we somehow managed to get through all the complicated things like ordering food that was not normal to them. I mean, they have the fast food restaurants in Philippines but a lot of meals there come with rice whereas out here the menus are slightly different.   After spending every day with the family I didn’t find the face-to-face language barrier as hard as I had initially feared.  It’s not me speaking English that’s the problem it’s the confidence with English in reply that’s the difficulty but everyone tried their best to communicate and in fact a number of questions were asked and hopefully replied to with clear enough answers to satisfy curiosity.   

 

Longreach, as I have mentioned before, is 1200kms north-west of Brisbane.  So, I drove down, was not really an unusual trip for me at the time as I had done this drive every month or so it seemed while we were in Longreach and my dad was living in Brisbane.  But my dad had moved down to Newcastle, New South Wales at that time and everyone else involved was either working or couldn’t logistically get to the Airport to pick them up.  I stayed overnight at a motel near the airport because they would arrive early hours of the next morning.  Well, the plane must have got in early as they were pretty quickly through Customs and coming out of the Arrivals doors not long after I arrived there to greet them.  My partner and I had made up a sign welcoming the VIPs to Australia….I had barely enough time to get the sign up and wave it about as they came out the door. 

 

It was then an early morning on the road out of Brisbane and our first breakfast was had at good old Hungry Jacks in Toowoomba.  We had booked a motel  family room in Mitchell for that evening thinking that the family would be tired from the flights and then driving all the way back to Longreach in one day would be too much.  Mitchell was kind of a halfway point between Brisbane and Longreach.  We had lunch in Roma at the KFC before taking some leftovers and heading to Mitchell.  We arrived at the motel a fair bit earlier than I had originally intended despite getting a little lost in Toowoomba earlier that day.  So, the family slept and ate the leftovers of lunch for dinner and really didn’t see anything of these little towns but this was just the beginning of their long adventure here in Australia.  I would have liked to have taken them to the hot springs while in Mitchell but we never got there, we were too tired.

 

On a funny note, I don’t know what it is with me and the town at the top of the range i.e Toowoomba but every time I went through there and stopped off the main road I would get disoriented and struggle to find my way back on the right road out of town.  It doesn’t happen to me often but it happened to me on this occasion and instead of switching my phone to navigate I simply took the family on the ‘scenic route’ round town.  Ended up stopping at a petrol station to ask for directions, luckily most of the family was asleep in the car while this was happening and I didn’t have too much explaining to do.  The next day we would drive the rest of the way to Longreach, I had promised them they would see kangaroos and it took the early morning drive out of Mitchell to finally see our national symbols hopping across the road.  I remember my father-in-law asking several times “where are the cowboys?”… to which my answer was always “no cowboys, just stockmen or farmers out here”.

 

The family then spent almost a week with us in Longreach, every day I would tour them around the sights of Longreach and small towns surrounding Longreach.  One day, we went to Winton and visited the Dinosaur museum and the Waltzing Matilda display.   Another day I drove them to Stonehenge and Jundah and we had lunch at the outlook.  Another day it was off to Muttaburra and Aramac.  We also did a quick run to Ilfracombe and Isisford.  I think they were shocked at the remoteness, the vast open areas of land and the very small amount of people that make up these towns.  We made sure they met members of the Aussie-Filipino community in Longreach, we had dinners with them and they got to wander around the town itself.  We went down by the Thompson River and they got to go through the QANTAS Museum and the Australian Stockman’s Hall of Fame.  They were even in town for an even more royal visit when Prince Charles and Camilla came to Longreach.   We hadn’t planned that one but it was nice to see.

 

One funny little anecdote to this part of the trip happened on one of the first days in Longreach when we took them shopping at the local IGA Supermarket and Mama couldn’t believe the prices of fruit and vegetables here.  She walked away saying she wasn’t going to eat much from now on.  I have talked about the prices of groceries in regional areas in another post  ‘Australia is a rip-off country’…  though I think she kept using the conversion rate to calculate expenses and was blown away by the cost of so-called basic items like fruit and vegetables.  They come from a farming area in Philippines and were shocked at the prices on the shelves here in Australia.  I thought, maybe seeing this, they might think twice about assuming that people from Australia are rich but since their return to Philippines it hasn’t had a big effect. 

 

From Longreach I drove them to the Gold Coast to visit my partners sister and brother-in-law. We left Longreach in the afternoon and we stayed the night with Aussie/Filipino friends in Blackall. On the drive to the Gold Coast we stopped for a few photo opportunities and to break up the drive. My partner’s sister and brother-in-law had a small one-bedroom apartment in Southport so fitting all of us was a tight squeeze but they managed.  We were there to show them more of Brisbane, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast.  I took the VIP’s to see Australia Zoo, Mount Tamborine and various sites in between.   Given our budget we couldn’t stretch to some attractions but they still had a good time and saw plenty.

 

My partner caught a bus down later in the week as there were already five of us in the car touring around, she worked till the last moment then got a ‘greyhound’ and arrived the next morning.  The next morning I drove the VIPs  to Brisbane to meet up with my partner off the bus and parked the car at a friends house.  We all wandered in the city and then we six caught the overnight bus to Newcastle, New South Wales.  The next morning we arrived and then toured around Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and the Hunter wineries with my dad.  We were joined along the way by my partners sister and brother-in-law as there had been a bit of a muck up with the original bookings and they had caught the later bus down to Newcastle.  We all stayed overnight with my dad and his partner at that time and we had dinner with his siblings and their family.  It was an interesting meeting of cultures and language. 

 

The next day all eight of us travelled by train down to Sydney and toured the old City by hop-on hop-off bus.  We spent the night at my partner’s aunts place and the very next day we went on a day tour to Canberra, the nation’s capital.   In these tours there were some pretty funny moments and we saw all the sights such as the Opera House, the Harbour Bridge, Parliament House and the War Museum.  After a particular tour through the National Gallery of Australia, we jokingly called ourselves the ‘bad group’. 

 

During the Gallery tour certain persons were caught getting too close to some of the paintings and then others were caught running around and disrupting others.  There was a reason for the latter, we honestly thought one of our group had got separated from the rest.  You had to be there to understand how funny it was then when the security guard started asking me questions like “what tour are you on” and “who’s your tour leader”??  I guess this went on report somewhere, I hope our tour guide didn’t get into too much trouble.  Luckily we weren’t in the Gallery for very long or otherwise I think we would have been shown the door.

 

By this time, their time in Australia was rapidly coming to an end and what was left was to get back to Brisbane and then Gold Coast by train and spend a day or two with the sister and brother-in-law in their apartment.  We again somehow managed with multiple air mattresses and toured a bit more in Gold Coast before we would head back.  Along the way though, my partner had received calls about job interviews in Canberra from a recruitment agent.  Given that we had just toured Canberra and it was a place we had previously talked about living in since my dad had moved  to Newcastle she could hardly say no. 

 

Leaving the VIPs on the Gold Coast on their last day or two in Australia was hard but we left them in capable hands.  My partner and I then drove  back to Canberra, stayed overnight with my cousin and her family before  a day of interviews then a quick drive back to my dads in Newcastle where we  stayed overnight  before the two-day drive up through Burke  staying overnight and then back to Longreach.  She was subsequently successful in one of these interviews and that is what took us to Canberra at the end of 2012/beginning of 2013.  It was one helluva ride, all up the family had only been with us three weeks but we had packed so much into those three weeks. 

 

The ‘VIPs’  had seen parts of rural and regional Queensland, a fair bit of coastal Queensland and New South Wales, two state capitals i.e Brisbane and Sydney and the nations capital Canberra.  All that in three weeks, not a bad effort considering that three of them had never before been out of their own country.  I’ve got to say, it took us a little bit to get back to normal after the family’s departure but there has been so many kilometres done since then that I’m not sure we’re back to normal yet. Besides, what is ‘normal’ anyway??

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wina | Reply 10.02.2014 20.05

Nice one:) hope to visit you soon;)

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