Chapter Sixteen

 

I’d arrived in the city just after dark and headed out to Albert Park and took a room at the Gunn Island Hotel, in the suburb of Middle Park. Staying at the Gunn Island Hotel is a bit like the worst house in the best street. The hotel is situated on Canterbury Road in the well sort after suburb of Albert Park. I was given a freshly painted, bright sunny room with just a bed and a small side table, no TV, radio or even a copy of the Gideons Bible. There was a shared bathroom at the end of the hall. At the opposite end of the hall was a TV room which had an unkempt appearance. I walked in and turned on the TV but it wouldn’t fire up. I looked around for the power cord to see if it was plugged in. It led into a weird looking box. I bent down to pull the cord out, as I touched the box, bang, I received a powerful electric shock. No TV while I’m here, I thought to myself as I turned around and walked out, still shaken from the shock.

The view from the small window was perfect - it looked out over the Melbourne skyline, Albert Park and the street below which appeared much like a courtyard, was full of cafés, restaurants and lined with trees. At the end of the street was a small supermarket selling wine, a small selection of fresh vegetables, delicatessen items, bread and milk. Next door was a small takeaway and on the other side was a newsagency. At the end of the street was a bicycle store and a TAB betting agency. All the other shops were restaurants and café’s. What was once a simple working class suburb had become the hangout for the well to do. I parked Hewie, under a tree around the corner, out of sight of all the BMWs, Jags, Mercs and Saabs that took the parking spaces on the main street.

The ground floor of the hotel had recently been refurbished with varnished wooden floors, modern lighting, boutique brewery and restaurant with up market prices. But for some reason they didn’t refurbish any of the rooms upstairs. They’re still in good condition and the room I was in had recently received a new coat of paint. But the hallways and the small guest kitchen was needed a good deal of brightening up. Even just a coat of paint would have worked wonders. But for some reason the management didn’t care. I felt I was the only person staying there. On the second evening I met another guest while cooking my dinner in the kitchen. He told me that there were a few others staying there but like himself they were semi permanents and all had casual work or on contracts.

City view of Melbourne from the $40 a night room at the Gunn Island Hotel, Middle Park, Melbourne.

Directly across the street from the hotel was a light rail stop with trams passing every ten to fifteen minutes heading to the city. On the other side of the tram line was Albert Park. The location was perfect and the rooms were $40 a night with a discount for an extended stay. But there was only one problem - I had no way to connect my PC to the internet so I could go to the office. I really needed a place with a telephone, so I went searching. The first place I went to was a block of self contained holiday flats called Warwick House just a few kilometres away opposite the beach on ort Phillip Bay in St Kilda. I’d stayed there three times before on visits to Melbourne. They were simple, clean, serviced apartments, each room with its own kitchen, bathroom and telephone. When I arrived I found the building had been demolished and replaced with a new block of fancy condos with “for sale” signs in their windows. Like the rest of Australia, Melbourne had just gone through a massive real estate boom. I fondly remember trips to Melbourne and stays at the Warwick. They were always in the middle of winter. I’d start the day with a jog out to the café at the end of the St Kilda pier for breakfast. But the Warwick House was no more. At least I could still enjoy a cappuccino out on the St Kilda jetty. Or so I thought, I walked across the busy road and over to the jetty. Once I passed the trees I could see to the end of it – but there was no café. I walked out to find what was left of the beautiful old wooden building was just what was left after the cleanup. It had obviously been burnt down. Is there ant justice left in this world? I just get to like something and zap! away it goes.

I spent the rest of the morning looking for an apartment for a couple of weeks. I wanted something in the $800 - $1000 a week range in the St Kilda area. But it didn’t exist or else I was looking in the wrong place. One place came close to what I wanted but the room was dank and had no morning sun. In fact it had virtually no sun at all. I’d have an internet connection but would have to sit in my apartment all day with the light on. I went back to my room at The Gunn Island Hotel and found it to not that bad after all. I could do most of my work at one of the internet cafés. Instead of being in front of my PC all day and TV half the night I could settle down and do something constructive – like read a novel.

I didn’t have a landline but I did carry my mobile which gave me excellent reception from most main centres around Australia. The most notable without a reception was Kunanurra.

Christmas was just a few days away. I recived a call from a good friend, Aisling. She’s a Sydneysider but had just arrived in Melbourne for Christmas with friends.

“Why don’t you come too. It’s up Moira Kelly’s place up at Killmore. Moira runs the Childrens First Foundation. She brings children in from all over the world and cares for them while they have operations to fix their deformities. Most of the children come from very poor countries like Somalia and Albania. You’ll love Moira, she’s like Melbourne’s Mother Teresa. Did you really drive all the way around Australia in that old car? I don’t believe you! Is it actually still running?” she said

“Yep, it sure is still running. It did the distance without missing a beat.” I told her.

“You mean you have it with you here in Melbourne?”

”Sure do”

”That’s great, I’m staying at a hotel in town here. How about coming in on Christmas Eve morning and picking me up? We’ll have some lunch and then go up to Moira’s for Christmas. It’s about a half hour’s drive out of Melbourne. We’ll need to make a detour out to Moonie Ponds to pick up some fish that a restaurant has donated.”

Christmas eve came and I picked Aisling up at her hotel. She messed around for an hour or more then all of a sudden announced.

“We’re late!, We’ll need to head out and pick up the fish now, no time for lunch!”

We headed out through the suburbs, Aisling wasn’t impressed with Hewie. Not that he didn’t go, it was just that he was old and furthermore, Hewie’s interior isn’t anything to write home about. When I first bought him I had the front seats re-upholstered. The back seats were a bit rough, but the lack of carpet and engine noise associated with the lack of insulation made riding around in Hewie not much better than riding around in an old truck.

“I can’t believe that you made it from Albert Park, let alone driving this thing all the way around Australia. Hey look, there goes another one.”  Another Morris passed us as we sat waiting for the lights to change. It was full of people and they all had their arms out the window waving at us.

“Quick, Aisling wave back to them!” as I put my arm up to wave back. She looked at me with a smirk and grudgingly gave them a wave. We headed off when the lights changed and had gone a block or two when another group of people on the footpath caught a glimpse of us driving along with the hood down and they all started waving.

“Quick, Aisling wave to them!” I again stuck my hand up. She waved and looked over at me. I knew what she was going to say.

“Why is everyone getting so excited over this piece of junk!”

How do you answer that question? I thought to myself, best I don’t even try.

”How far is the restaurant?” I asked.

”Take the next on your left I think that’s it there. We’ll park out the back in their parking lot” We drove in and parked at the back door. Aisling went inside and came out with the restaurant manager. He came out and took one look at Hewie.

“Do you think you’ll fit it all in?”

“Why, how much fish is there?” Aisling asked him, expecting that we’d come to pick up just a small box of fish.

“Come inside and have a look. There are boxes upon boxes of food. I don’t know how you’ll fit it all in that little Morris. She’s a beauty, I have an FJ Holden”  he said.

My ears trigged up, I slid my hand down under the dashboard and pulled the lever and released the bonnet and opened it. A big smile appeared on his face as he looked in on the side-valve engine.

“Hold on a minute”…. he said, as he turned and ran back inside the restaurant. A few minutes later out he came again, this time, with the chef, kitchen-hand, barman and a waitress. They all stood and looked at Hewie and his little motor in a sort of disbelief something so small and simple could actually propel a car along. I looked over at Aisling, she stood there shaking her head, like the restaurant staff, she was also in a state of disbelief.

“What does that old piece of shit have that gets everyone’s interest?” was written all over her face.

The restaurant staff brought all the food out. There was enough to feed an army. There was smoked salmon, fresh oysters, prawns, fresh fish and boxes of fresh fruit and vegetables. I packed it all into the back of Hewie. Just as well I’d taken my tent, sleeping bag and most of my clothes out and left them all back the hotel”

“We thought you’d come here with a small truck to pick it all up,” the restaurant manager said.

“We though you just had a few kilo of fish for us. Not all this, but thanks anyway, they’ll love it” said Aisling.

I loaded it all in, apart from a box of tomatoes that just wouldn’t fit. I then put the hood down and fitted in the side curtains to keep it all contained. We thanked them all for the tenth time and wished them all Merry Christmas for the twentieth time and headed out towards Kilmore. I hadn’t looked at the map to see how far it was out of Melbourne. Aisling assured me that it was about an hour’s drive.

Two hours later we were still puttering along the Hume Highway headed north. We had a heavy load on board, two adults and the fruit, vegies and seafood were heavy. It kept Hewie at a steady maximum of 60 kph.

“Can’t we go any faster?” said you know who.

After a couple of hours drive we turned off onto a dirt road. This bought Hewie’s speed down to around 40 kph.

“Do you think we’ll make it? Is your car OK? Maybe you should take it to a mechanic” I tried to assure her that this is how Hewie was born, he was running perfectly, but still that look of disbelief was written all over her face.

The sun had gone down and it was starting to get cold and a strong westerly wind had started blowing. A few hours before, the temperature was around 35 C. Now it was in the low twenties and we were feeling the cold as the chilly wind blew in under the hood. But that’s Melbourne weather in summer - stinking hot one minute and freezing cold the next. If you’re from Melbourne and you visit Sydney and tell everyone you’re from Melbourne, the Sydneysiders will quickly say something like.

“I couldn’t live in Melbourne, it’s too bloody cold”

If you’re a Sydneysider and go to Melbourne and tell them you’re from Sydney, you’ll hear. “I couldn’t live in Sydney, too hot and humid!”

Now if a Sydneysider goes to Brisbane, the Queenslanders will tell him that Sydney is too cold. “Couldn’t live there!” they’ll say “Too bloody cold!”. But equally, the Sydneysider will tell the Brisbanite that Brisbane is too hot and humid! Just to be a little different my gripe about Melbourne is not that it’s too cold in the winter – no Australian city is cold if you compare them to New York, London and Paris and even  Hobart could be considered as having a warm winter. My gripe about Melbourne weather is that it can be too hot in the summer. Days of  35C. and over are common during the summer in Melbourne but are no not as common in Sydney and Brisbane.

We got our coats out and put them on.

“Can’t you turn the heater on Kerry?” Aisling asked.

“Heater? What for? It’s the middle of summer”
“Yeah, but I’m freezing!”

“I would put it on, but the car doesn’t have one”
“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaat,it doesn’t have a heater???”
“Yeah, that’s the way it rolled off the production line. It seems they didn’t think heaters were essential in those days.” I told her. She sat there and shook her head in disbelief.

We couldn’t arrive at The Childrens First Foundation soon enough for Aisling. The home stood on the top of a hill a short drive from the entrance. I thought that it would be a small home, but instead it was a very large house that housed Moira and her children and the many volunteers who work tirelessly to care for the children while they wait for their operations. Most of the operations are done at the Royal Melbourne Childrens’ Hospital. The home was exceptionally well organized. You’d think that a large house full of kids would be a disaster area. But not this one! Everything had it’s place, all the beds were made, the kitchen and bathrooms were spotless.

Moira, the founder of the foundation, is very much “hands on” working with the kids, doing everything from peeling potatoes to sweeping the floor, Moira is hard at work. But she is also the personality, her face shines with the love of what she is doing. The more love and hard work she puts into the foundation the more her face glows with the love of the children and the life she has chosen. She told me how she dreamed of what she wanted to do. Right from back when she was a teenager, she dreamed of working with children like Mother Teresa in Calcutta. “But how will you buy a farm and build a home for yourself and the children her mother asked her.

“Someone will give me the land and then someone will come along and build a home for me” she told her mother. Her mother shook her head and gave up.

If you look around at the people in your life and even look at yourself, you see that for people who have a made a dream in most cases the dream has come true. For most people their dreams were simple, a house, a car, a family. Just look around you, those dreams come true everyday. For Moira, she had the dream and it came true. People came along and gave her the land. Then others came along and built the home. She’s a natural when it comes to public speaking and that’s where she keeps the money rolling in to keep her dream alive - through charity donations.

On Christmas Day we all sat down to Christmas dinner around 3pm. That evening the kids all got together for some carols.The next morning we all awoke to the news that a tsunami and had killed 2000 people. By the end of the day that number had risen, the news on the TV started to show film and we realized that a major disaster was unfolding. Aisling was about to meet her new boyfriend at the Melbourne airport and both were to fly down to Tasmania for 2 weeks’ holiday. I had planned to go back to Melbourne on Boxing Day but she convinced me to stay an extra day so that I could drop her off at the airport on the way through.

“We’ll have to leave here about two to three hours before your plane is due to depart.” I told her.

“That’s a bit long, how far is it to the airport?” she asked.

“It’s only about an hour’s drive at the most from here,” said one of the volunteers.

“So we’ll leave about two hours before the plane is due to depart. An extra half an hour for the slowness of your car, should do” Aisling said.
“No way!, we’ll leave three hours before. I don’t know where the airport is, I don’t even have a street map of Melbourne. The plane goes at three o’clock in the afternoon so we’ll leave here at 12 noon,” I warned her.

“OK, OK, OK,” she said. But I could feel that she knew what time she wanted to leave and didn’t take my warning any further. As I somewhat expected, next morning we managed to leave closer to 1pm than 12am. With just an hour and a half to get there, with no street directory, we were going to be pushed for time. Furthermore it started to rain, and heavy. Water started coming in under the hood. I stopped and we both put our raincoats on.

“I don’t believe this! We’re inside the car with our raincoats on!” Aisling said as she covered her face with her hands. But the rain wasn’t half the problem. Traffic started to build up and we didn’t know how far we had to go. Then a sign appeared with Tullamarine Airport 30 kms. We had less than an hour left. The traffic got worse. Soon Aisling realized that there was no chance of catching the plane and called Simon who was waiting for her in the departure lounge.
“Hello Simon!. You won’t believe this, I’m late all because of this piece of shit car that Kerry is driving me to the airport in. It’s his fault! He should get a better car! He just went around Australia in the thing. It looks like I’m not going to make it. Just get on the plane and I’ll meet you in Hobart.”

I looked at my watch. “Hey Aisling, your plane is about to take off in five minutes and we’re still miles from the airport!” I said .
“Yeah and it’s all your fault that I’m going to miss it!”
“It’s not my fault, I told you we needed to leave early!”
“What’s Chris think of this thing?” she asked.
“She loves it. She thinks it has loads of character.”
“She must be crazy. Here I am not only missed my flight, but I’m soaking wet!”

“Maybe you should get on the phone again to Virgin airlines and see if you can get on a later flight,” I suggested. She started rummaging around in her bag looking for her ticket.

“I’ll call them and tell them that I got a lift to the airport in a friend’s old car and it broke down. Maybe, as you say, they can get me on the next flight” She found her phone and started to dial the number, but then threw the phone back into her bag.

“The battery is flat!” I passed her my phone. She typed in the numbers and dialed again.

“Now don’t lie and tell them that your friends old bomb car broke down on the way to the airport. Jest tell them you were late, nothing else.”

“Why’s that?”

“Because if you tell the person on the other end of the line that you came in an old bomb and it broke down, the person may be a classic car enthusiast and ask you what type of car it is. If you tell them that it was an old Morris, they won’t believe you that it broke down – Morris Minors don’t break down – everyone know that” I said.

She looked at me with a coy look, not sure if I was telling her the truth or just pulling her leg. Maybe there was an ounce of truth in what I said. I’d just been around Australia in the old thing. She stopped for a minute, gained control, called and quietly, in a humble voice explained to the reservations clerk that she was late and missed her flight, no excuses. The clerk was pleased to help her.  Luck was on her side. There had been some cancellations. He put her on a flight that was due to leave in an hour. A look of cool relief covered her face. We arrived at the airport in due time and she boarded her flight to Hobart and met up with Simon.

Returning to the hotel at Albert Park, I spent the next day preparing Hewie for the last leg of the journey. I cleaned the spark plugs, which appeared clean anyway, filed down the ignition points, greased all the grease nipples, and checked the oil in the gearbox and differential. It’d been over 11,000 miles since the oil had last been changed. It was looking dirty, in fact it was black. But at least the engine had an oil filter, unlike the last motor which didn’t have such a luxury. I’d always be sure to change the oil every 3000 miles.

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