The pas­sage of time

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - NEWS - HEATHER COURTIS NAREMBURN, NSW

A Con­tiki tour of Europe seems to have been a “com­ing of age” event for gen­er­a­tions now. Our kids have done crazy things on their tours, and in 1971 I was no dif­fer­ent.

Our driver, Brian, some­how got us from Lon­don to Is­tan­bul and back in a sec­ond-hand Ford Tran­sit van, 13 seats, camp­ing gear on the roof. Among our group were a mar­ried cou­ple and 11 good-look­ing An­tipodean girls in their early 20s. When the ve­hi­cle reg­u­larly needed re­pairs, lo­cal men went crazy over a bus­load of un­chap­er­oned young women. In the camp­grounds (no ho­tels for us) we of­ten spent the night hud­dled to­gether for safety in the cook-tent to pro­tect us against the an­tic­i­pated siege of lo­cal youths. The van had one mu­sic tape, played daily for 14 weeks; I can still sing ev­ery word of The Bea­tles’ Sgt.

Pep­per’s Lonely Hearts Club Band al­bum. We had left our fam­i­lies to see the world. When we could af­ford stamps, they re­ceived post­cards or an aero­gram, or a brief phone call at Christ­mas. We re­lied on trav­eller’s cheques, not credit cards, and there were no mo­bile phones, in­ter­net or Face­book. Pho­tos had to be de­vel­oped from film. There was no McDonald’s when money was short and we were hun­gry, but we lived fru­gally and funds stretched. Ca­sual jobs were plen­ti­ful; we worked to travel and were self-reliant, even so far away from home.

In 2005, one of our group tracked down the oth­ers and we held a re­union in Ade­laide. Not ev­ery­one could at­tend but most did and it was hi­lar­i­ous. We were from Perth, Ade­laide, Bris­bane, Syd­ney and New Zealand. Diaries were brought out and read, with no­ta­tions as to who was put to bed in a col­lapsed state, how of­ten the bus broke down, names of boyfriends picked up along the way, and the con­sump­tion of ouzo and wine.

There have been sev­eral more re­unions. We are all still trav­el­ling, have brought up fam­i­lies, had ca­reers and some of us are re­tired. Nowa­days, as I sink back into my busi­ness-class seat and look for­ward to five-star ac­com­mo­da­tion, our Con­tiki trip seems light years away. But as soon as I see the gang and the diaries are read and the songs sung, I’m 21 again with Europe at my feet. We were Con­tikis then. More like “An­tique-ies” now, un­for­tu­nately.

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