Plane and sim­ple

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - PENNY HUNTER

Deep in the dark­est cor­ner of my vault of me­mories, just be­fore the mem­ory of los­ing my mother in the women’s wear sec­tion of Pig­gott’s depart­ment store, is the one of my first flight. I must have been about three, perched on the lap of great-grandma Hunter. I can’t re­call where I was go­ing or where I’d been but no doubt there was no lap belt in­volved and I’m pretty sure my grandma Beryl would have been sit­ting nearby, puff­ing on a cig­a­rette.

Skip ahead to the mid-1970s and my next flight seems ex­tra­or­di­nary in hind­sight. My fam­ily of five is head­ing off on a camp­ing trip. We’re load­ing all our gear, not into a four-wheel drive, but into a dinky sin­gle-engine plane. Far too soon af­ter take-off from Toowoomba’s lit­tle air­port it skids to a halt on a pris­tine beach on Fraser Island, where we go wild for a week, for­ag­ing for eu­garies to use as fish bait, leap­ing off sand dunes and be­friend­ing a lone mut­ton bird that later dies un­der the fly of our tent.

There was no cause, or bud­get, for me to take to the air again for many years. Then, when I was 18, my fa­ther got a job in Eng­land and I found my­self wrenched from uni­ver­sity and on my first long-haul flight. As a freshly fledged adult, I could sit with my dad and or­der a beer. Imag­ine! I re­call gaz­ing out my win­dow in won­der at the glit­ter­ing lights of cities and vil­lages be­low. All those lives, way down there.

And the food. I was so im­pressed with the in-flight culi­nary of­fer­ings of Bri­tish Air­ways that I kept those menu cards for years as sou­venirs. Un­doubt­edly that meal was noth­ing to write home about but I prob­a­bly wrote home about it any­way, on flimsy blue air­mail pa­per.

Fast for­ward a decade or two, and my hus­band and I are feel­ing the death stares of fel­low pas­sen­gers as we board a flight to Italy. The ob­ject of their dis­taste? I have a six-month-old baby in my arms. They are ex­pect­ing the worst but my daugh­ter de­fies them. She sleeps, sur­pris­ingly, like a baby, wak­ing oc­ca­sion­ally to feed and coo and gur­gle diplo­mat­i­cally at her neigh­bours be­fore du­ti­fully slum­ber­ing again. As we queue to dis­em­bark, pas­sen­gers com­pli­ment us on her ex­em­plary be­hav­iour — as if we had any­thing to do with it.

A cou­ple of years later, on a flight from Ja­pan, those death stares come our way again but this time for good rea­son. My over­tired two-year-old son has a three-hour hissy fit that in­volves him wail­ing at top vol­ume and run­ning up and down the aisles. When he fi­nally col­lapses, ex­hausted, into the bassinette he can only just squeeze into, I crum­ple ex­hausted into my seat. My hus­band or­ders me a glass of wine and I sip it, silently wip­ing away tears of frus­tra­tion and shame.

These days my teen and tween chil­dren board planes with the in­sou­ciance of some­one go­ing to the su­per­mar­ket. My daugh­ter re­fuses to eat plane food but she does sleep, like a baby. My son’s bound­less en­ergy is hap­pily con­tained by the plethora of digital dis­trac­tions on hand. But when they land at their des­ti­na­tion, their faces show the joy of travel is em­bed­ded deeply in their genes.

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