A Tourist in 1963

Gerda McIntosh

We had migrated to Australia in 1956. By 1963 we had acquired a 10 square fibro home on a quarter acre block, complete with mortgage, 15 km from the G.P.0. Sydney, (which in those days was considered to be in 'the bush'), complete with two children, a dog, three stray cats and a few chooks in the backyard. We had also just become proud owners of a station wagon. We considered ourselves to be dinky-di Aussies, despite our different accents. The only thing that was missing was a holiday! Like our neighbours we were always short of cash, so we had to go camping. We’d never done it in our past lives. We invested in a gas cooker and collected an assortment of tinned food: baked beans, soup, stews.

With the backseat of the car folded down, the double bed mattress was installed – bedroom for mum, dad and three year old son. The front seat accommodated 6 year old daughter and the dog.

Our first trip was to Canberra, to show the children their/our-Capital, over 200 miles away, an enormous distance for us. We left on a Friday evening after work and school, the children fed and in their pyjamas. We followed the old Hume so-called Highway. It was narrow and winding. Leaving the City behind was exciting. Old gum trees loomed ghostly around and above us, illuminated in the high beam of the car. Each tree was different, some gnarled with branches incredibly twisted, some straight and majestic, some barks white and smooth, some brown and fissured, some peeling off in great strips. All so beautiful in their own way, just like people, I thought.

Somewhere, it may have been past Goulburn, we just pulled off the road and settled down to sleep. With the first rays of the sun, I drove my sleeping family to the next petrol station. The garage proprietor looked into the car and had a good laugh. After explaining the purpose of our trip, he invited us to use his facilities for early ablutions and have breakfast on his premises.

After cruising around Canberra, we parked right in front of Parliament House. We walked up the steps and were approached by a caretaker. It was a Saturday and of course it was closed. I am unable to remember in detail what happened next, but the doors were opened for us and we had a personal guided tour of Parliament House. I see ourselves in the Gallery with our guide explaining on which sides the Government and the Opposition sat and pointing out the seat of the Speaker. We all, especially the children, felt very important.

In the evening, on our way home via Batemans Bay, we again slept at the side of the road hidden among trees. The next day we followed a most scenic road along the coast and were awed by a spectacular view of the South Coast from Stanley Heights. The drive through the Royal National Park seemed to be never ending. We arrived home tired and exhilarated, ready for school and work the following morning.

This trip has become more memorable with each year. There was no 'tourist' mentality then, and as we found on subsequent trips in those years, locals would go out of their way to help individuals who took the trouble to visit their part of this Big Country.