“The wind was now fair, the sky serene…and the termperature of the air delightfully pleasant. Joy sparkled in every countenance and congratulations issued from every mouth. Ithaca itself was scarcely more longed for by Odysseus, than Botany Bay by the adventurers who had traversed so many thousand miles to take possession of it.”
Watkin Tench, 1788.
Terra Australis Incognita may indeed have proved a felicitous destination for First Fleet Officer Mr Tench. The stench of the convict hordes below obviously didn’t permeate to the deck above and interfere with the fresh sea air and scent of eucalyptus whistling in his nostrils. Mr Tench was one of the first of many who pined in heady anticipation for the sight of these Australian shores.
Fyodor and Valentina Rusakov (Francesca’s Grandpa and Nanna), fleeing post-war Europe and the looming spectre of the gulags, with little Juliana and Nina (Francesca’s mum and aunt) in tow, arrived by boat in Adelaide in 1949. Grandpa fondly referred to Australia as the ‘Lucky Country’ long before the 1964 book coined the phrase with the somewhat harsh words:
“Australia is a lucky country, run by second-rate people who share its luck“.
Notwithstanding criticism of those who have governed here, for the Rusakovs, along with an entire population of other refugees and immigrants over the past 224 years, it really was.
Last but by no means least, for us Odycyclists, catapulted bike-less, to antipodean depths in mid-December, Australia had the ring of adventure accomplished.
For Uncle Paddy, though, it was a different story.
While old Watkin Tench paraded on deck, Paddy languished down below in the hold. For him the word Australia had an altogether different ring. Great Great Great Uncle Patrick Delany (to be precise) – a devilish rogue and Macheathian villain – was convicted of highway robbery in 1783 at the York Lent Assizes. He was sentenced to be hanged but reprieved at the eleventh hour, his punishment ultimately commuted to transportation on the First Fleet of convicts to the penal colonies for a period of seven years.
Having escaped the good ship ‘Mercury’, Paddy was thrown into the stinking hold of the scurvy-ridden transport vessel, ‘Friendship’, where he festered for eight long months in Portsmouth Harbour before the ship finally set sail. Chained and diseased – without ever laying eyes on the golden sands and delightful, turquoise, shark-infested waters of Botany Bay – he met his doom. The records say he died at sea on 23 June 1787. Not so lucky for some.
With such a deep-rooted connection to these antipodean shores, it was no wonder that Francesca was granted immediate citizenship and the Odycyclists were invited by the Prime Minister, Rolph Harris and the entire Aussie cricket team to regale the populace, Homeric-style, with tales of pedalling across continents, the cities of men they saw, the pains they suffered and the frogs they ate with sticky rice.
In fact, Australia was not originally our planned final destination as you can see from our map of the planned route, but a desire to tread even further in Juliana’s footsteps, indeed to the culmination of her own epic voyage to Adelaide in 1949, had begun to grow. It seemed a fitting tribute. Us, pedaling on terra firma, where 5 year-old Juliana had rolled on the wine-red high seas, taking in the walls of Rome and the Suez canal as she went. We wanted to spend Christmas with Nanna, to see as many of the Aussie relatives as possible, and to visit the places where Juliana had grown up.
And so we were greeted into the bosom of our Australian family and friends for a sunny, southern hemispherical Christmas. We were taken to Woodside, now army barracks but then rudimentary refugee camp, where Francesca’s Mum’s family lived in a corrugated iron shack until Juliana was 9. We found Hendry Street where the family had moved in the fifties – their first ‘real home’ in Australia – and from the bedroom of which 17 year-old Juliana dreamed and plotted her escape to London and its Swinging Sixties. We were entertained by the lovely octogenarian Anna Supco, Nanna’s friend, who told us tales of arriving on the boat at the same time as the Rusakovs. For her the land had truly been incognita. With no knowledge whatsoever of what Australia had in store, she had been gobsmacked to see white people when she landed.
We spent a wonderful christmas with Nanna – delighting in the twinkle in her eyes, smiles of recognition and her mischievous appetite for champagne! We feasted among cousins and second cousins we had never or barely met, came face to face with koalas and kangaroos, manta-rays and toothy sharks, wineries, golden coasts and panoramas galore and were fattened up in true Aussie Throw-Another-Shrimp-On-The-Barbe fashion.
Unclad? Well, no nudy beaches for us, given Sam’s terror of Australian wildlife and desire to have at least some meagre protection from the Great Whites’ jaws, but we truly did feel naked without our bikes and our numerous panniers. Had we had another 12 months it would have been a joy to have cycled Down Under and beyond, but that odycycle will have to wait. We do not feel short-changed, mind you, having lounged on Sydney’s city beaches, hopped madly along at her yearly festival, watched the fireworks whoosh impressively on NYE, gazed on at India’s humbling in the 2nd Test at the SCG and finally, grooved along with all those Melbourne groovers (you know who you are).
We now write on the eve of our journey back westward. Tomorrow we will be back in Thailand and preparing for the final leg of our voyage back home. We leave with mighty memories of the Lucky Country and how fortunate we were to be among such wonderful family and friends at the very end of our adventure.