“I’m sorry sir, the lounge is closed. Can you please make your way to the Business Lounge on the left”, were the words which brought a smile to my face earlier today at Sydney Airport. I hadn’t planned to fly on Christmas Day; in fact, I hadn’t planned on coming home for Christmas. But I made a last minute decision, and here I am, sending you greetings from Lismore. The “upgrade” was a very pleasant surprise, especially since I was flying with the discount airline, Jetstar.
The flight to Ballina/Byron was close to full. “So that’s where everyone in Sydney has gone?”, I thought to myself. As is common at this time of the year, my suburb of Surry Hills is like a ghost town. As I wandered around the neighbourhood late yesterday (for some last minute Christmas shopping), the only other people around seemed to be groups of tourists (with Irish and French accents dominating). At my local pub there were more staff than customers! Only the local servo and a coffee shop were open this morning. Good coffee on Christmas Day – now that’s something that I’m not used to.
For me, Christmas has always either been with family in Lismore or with friends in Sydney. The only odd occasion was in 1989 when I was living and working in Bourke in western NSW. I worked in the morning, and then at about lunchtime began the long drive to Lismore. It was going to be about ten hours by my estimate, across dirt roads, and across the Great Dividing Range.
What I hadn’t counted on was a sudden heavy rain storm which turned the black soil plains of the outback into a sticky mess. Half way between Bourke and Brewarrina, and too far from either town to make it to either for safety, I found myself literally stuck in the mud. This was, of course, in the days before mobile phones, and so after making a few “deals with God”, I walked to the nearest property, explained my situation, and spent Christmas night with some friendly folk. They recognised me from the radio station.
Another couple of nights followed staying at a hotel in Brewarrina, before I was finally able to rescue my car, and make my way to Lismore via a much longer route.
“Do you remember that Christmas when you got bogged. You had mud in the car when you arrived”, Pat reminded me last night. “As if I could ever forget it”, I replied.
It wouldn’t happen now, of course, as the road is now bitumen all the way. And these days I never drive home. I always fly.
But the memory of that fateful Christmas came flooding back, with a big storm hitting the North Coast on my arrival back in Lismore. Or to be precise, for us, driving back from Ballina to Lismore, around Wollongbar. The storm lasted several hours, included some light hail, and saw us lose power only briefly.
Late tonight, in bed, with the sound of rain on the roof, it’s nice to be home.