The Big Issue : Edition 463
THE BIG ISSUE 18 – 31 JULY 2014 11 MY WORD MY EARLIEST MEMORY is of a family holiday at Henley Beach in Adelaide: Dad kneeling in the bathroom, diligently fishing out the spending money I had dropped in the toilet of our hotel room. Most of my best memories of my father involve travel: Dad slinging me over his shoulder and walking straight past a black-and-white-striped snake as diners at a Fijian hotel scatter; Dad in the middle of a lagoon in Nouméa, yelling while extricating an eel attached to his leg; Dad managing to maintain his composure while our canoe alarmingly drifts away from Port Vila towards the ocean; Dad holding me as I peer out over a breezy cliff at Norfolk Island; Dad taking me out past the breaking waves at Bondi Beach... But the memories pause at age 11, the year my parents divorced. As a teenager, I see him infrequently. But one year, aged 16, on the day of my grandfather’s funeral, my sister and I travel from Canberra to meet my father and stepmother at Circular Quay. It’s a ‘Watson’s Bay day’; warm, breezy, bright and sublime on Sydney Harbour. We catch a ferry to Mosman, eat a hearty pub meal, talk, catch up and travel to the funeral. It is a bittersweet day. I lose one relative, but regain another. The travels resume. I visit my father and stepmother in the Barossa Valley, South Australia, over two summers. The first time is great. We go for walks, visit wineries, watch the cricket from the hill at the Adelaide Oval, and drive to the Adelaide Hills and Yorke Peninsula. The second trip is not so good. Dad is out of work. One day he walks out of the house and drives us to Sedan. It’s probably a nice place, but all I remember is sitting in an empty pub, watching Dad throw back one glass of spirits after another, then speeding home through the desert in silence. Returning from Europe in my early twenties, I meet Dad in Kuala Lumpur. For 10 days our incomplete relationship is forgotten. On our ‘Malaysian adventure’, nothing goes wrong. We stay in four-star hotels and enjoy sumptuous buffet breakfasts that keep us going until late afternoon-teas of cake and strong coffee. We try unidentified kebabs at a street market, then walk slowly back to our hotel through the night streets of Melaka. We venture into a village in northeast Malaysia, where people appear amazed and amused to witness a father-and-son team of camera- wielding Westerners. We pull over at roadside stops to rest or to wait out a monsoonal downpour, sitting under a canopy to drink a sweet, milky drink and breathe in the tropical air. We eat well, sleep well and relax. The only discordant note is Dad’s gentle criticisms of my driving, comparing me to the local drivers who are prone to cutting corners and ignoring road rules. (We see constant reminders of the consequences: small signs with skulls warn of the road toll.) On another, later trip, I see the other side of Dad. Travel inconveniences cause him to slip from disappointment into deep depression. With every hire car in Tasmania booked out, we are marooned in Hobart and on the last day he checks out of the hotel without saying goodbye. In more recent years, my trips to see Dad are to a suburban nursing home in Labrador, on Queensland’s Gold Coast. Ironically, he ends up interned at a destination he previously avoided with zeal. I help organise his things at his house at Mount Tamborine in the Gold Coast hinterland. My visits are melancholy affairs, witnessing Dad slip further into dementia and ill health. But however much his memory fails, the good travels and the adventurous, enthusiastic and assured traveller of yesterday are clear and present in my memory. My next visit to the Gold Coast is a perfect, sunny, late-November day; mid- 20s and a light breeze from the east. He may not have loved the Gold Coast, but it puts on its best for his farewell. » David Ward is a freelance writer, historian and heritage professional based in the Blue Mountains, NSW. PHOTOGRAPHBYiSTOCK A Life Journey DAVID WARD GETS TO KNOW HIS FATHER – IN GOOD AND BAD TIMES – THROUGH TRAVEL.