In the eighties we had been living in Indonesia for about 10 years. In those days Jakarta was still a "hardship posting" for expatriates like us who had to come to terms with many shortcomings, amongst others, a lack of supplies for a Western style household, and an abundance of air pollution and traffic jams.
As once again Christmas was not far away, we were wondering how to put together a "proper" celebration in this mainly Moslem country, with a tree and candles and chocolates for the kids. Then one day the two of them came home from school with some hot news.
The new trend amongst the families of their friends, they said, was to spend Christmas in Australia, and it just sounded just like a land of milk and honey: beautiful holidays flats with functioning air-conditioning and no cockroaches; supermarkets full of oranges and even apples instead of our rather insipid tropical fruit, wide open country, clear skies and the beach with clean water right on the doorstep. This was Perth; the closest Australian city to Indonesia, Sydney would be not only double the distance, but double the prices as well. The flight to Sydney would be double the distance as well – and price. So we booked a flat in Perth and off we went..
How incredibly blue the sky was, the sun was glaring, unobstructed by humidity and it was not just hot, but burning on the skin. Straightaway we went to a lovely big department store and invested in a collapsible, travel-sized Christmas tree and some unbreakable baubles. There were fresh vegetables and fruit galore and real beef steaks instead of the old ox or even buffalo meat of Jakarta. At the checkout we got our first taste of the friendly, sociable locals. The cashier took her time with us, asked where we came from, and gave us a lot of advice, while the queue behind us joined in – no worries, take it easy everyone said.
Perth in those days consisted of a small, dense city centre and miles of empty suburbia. Good roads and not much traffic, so driving about was a pleasure. We looked with curiosity at the dusty, wilted space beyond – no tropical jungle green, just the greyish Eucalyptus trees. This was where the ingredients for our cough-and-cold remedy, the eucalypt candies, came from? Fascinating!
Our blonde children could walk in the streets without their cheeks being pinched by admiring Jakartians, and enjoy the freedom of riding their hired bikes without danger of being run over at every turn.
The whole family went wild in the Supermarket and shopping got to be a favourite pastime even for the children, who got a lot of the school supplies they had envied their Aussie schoolmates in Jakarta for owning, such as insulated drink bottles and lunch-boxes of the latest “in” brand.
At the beach, we learned to expect the rather strong and somewhat unpleasant wind which arrived in the afternoons and blew sand up in our faces. For some reason it was called “the Doctor”. So we relaxed instead at the swimming pool at our condo that even sported a Jacuzzi. And at long last I got to see the Kookaburras I had come to know through the song my children had learned at their British school.
We were to spend several more Christmas holidays in Perth. Sometimes I used to wish we could settle there, but had to accept that with our family in Europe and my husband's job taking us to Far Eastern countries, it was not practicable. Little was I to know at that time that Australia would become our home after all, some 20 years later.
But that is another story!