Day 25 – Sat 21 May 2005 – Bound for Botany Bay

And, it all works. A thoroughly pleasant flight back, no significant symptoms, lots of snoozing, and Premium Economy is so, so comfortable. You feel like you’re curled up in your own warm little cocoon. I’m in an aisle seat of the (three seat wide) centre section. Somehow Hong Kong seems much closer on the way back, where we re-board after a one hour stopover for the run down into Sydney. It makes you realise just how big Australia is when it only takes a few minutes to leave British airspace, but one sixth of the flight is over the Australian continent.

About half of Sydney from the air – the airport runways extending into Botany Bay – Sydney CBD and Harbour above and to their right – (Photo: Tim Starling)

As we commence descent and overfly the NSW Central Coast, an older American lady in a nearby window seat asks if I want to use a spare seat for a better view. She hasn’t been to Australia before, so I bore her with a running commentary about what we’re flying over in the dawn light and suggest her and her travel partner use the Sydney Explorer (a jump on, jump off Sydney sites tour bus) to look around Sydney. ‘Oh no’, she exclaims indignantly, ‘I and my friend would never use PUBLIC transport!’ I don’t bother trying to explain.

I can see the entrance to Sydney Harbour below and I can’t helping thinking about what my mother’s ancestor must have thought as the convict ship Eliza slipped through the Heads and up to Sydney Cove on Thursday afternoon on the 6th of September 1832. Probably he thought he’d been exiled half a world away from everything and everyone he knew and loved. Yet, within seven years his sentence would be over and he would have met his wife and young son at one of the same wharves, and led them into a country with huge promise. In so doing he also saved them from the Irish potato blight of the 1840s that killed more than a million and sent a million more offshore. He and numerous others like him would bring that Irish sense of equality that ensured the English blight of class distinction would never take root in the antipodes. I chuckled at the thought that being descended from a convict is now regarded as being quite chic.

Sydney Cove in the 1840s (Copyright: State Library of NSW) 

It’s Day 25, or is that really Day 26, because it’s now early Saturday morning (Australian Eastern Standard Time) on the 21st of May, as the VA A340-600 makes its final approach over the ‘picturesque’ Kurnell Oil Refinery, descending over Botany Bay for a smooth and easy landing on runway 34 Left. We take a taxiway left and hold short of runway 07/25 for traffic before crossing it and arriving at the same bay from which I departed a few weeks before at the International Terminal.

As a returning Australian citizen, with nothing to declare, no organic goodies, no odd traveling habits and no history of naughtiness, it takes only a few minutes to clear Customs and Immigration. After changing money back into Oz Dollars, it’s a short walk to the International Terminal Station and a 10 minute wait for the East Hills train, with the opposite platform gradually filling with people heading for the city. A rush of breeze announces the imminent arrival of a Cityrail M-set, which I board for the familiar trip home. After London Tube travel the Cityrail trains seem enormous by comparison. It whirrs into the tunnel and after a few minutes under the Cooks River surfaces into a burst of early morning light at Wolli Creek station.

Wolli Creek station and the airport tunnel entrances (Photo: Gareth Edwards)

Whenever I’ve travelled overseas its always left me with a heightened appreciation of just how beautiful Australia is, and how lucky I am to live here. Suddenly the quite ordinary suburbs I passed through only a few weeks before look lovelier. I notice the big houses, the parks, the light, the space and the sense of freedom everything seems to have. I wonder how much of that is in my imagination; Australia is hardly flawless and maybe it’s as much a mixed bag as the UK. It’s a country with the worst of European connected beginnings and the blood of perhaps some of the worst of its European beginners runs through my veins. It’s a country that should have been a miserable failure; and yet it isn’t.

It’s still early morning as I get off the train and stroll down the exit way at East Hills station, my big trolley bag bumping along behind me as it has done for so many miles. April and May are superb months in Sydney, neither too hot or cold, but with just a slight nip in the early morning air. I’ve already reloaded the local SIMM card in my mobile phone and ring for a cab. They’re bit confused about which side of the station is ‘west’, but I’m sure the driver will figure it out.

East Hills Station western entrance (Photo: abesty)

As I wait, another train pulls in from the city and out of it pops a group of young yobbos, one of them balancing a partly consumed slab of ‘tinnies’ on his shoulder. As they wait for someone to pick them up, a young woman with a pram wheels round the corner and up to the station. It’s clear she doesn’t know them and it strikes me that in London she would probably be a quite wary of them, and perhaps with good reason. But not here. She immediately opens up at them with, ‘Geez, have you blokes started (drinking) already?’ ‘Oh, no’, says one sheepishly, ‘we’ve been out all night and we’re just getting home!’; and his mates laugh.

It’s nice to be back where a woman with a pram in an ordinary suburb still feels free to put shit on a random mob of young males. It’s nice to be back home.

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