The Jour­ney

De­bra Oswald’s prob­lem­atic path to ro­man­tic bliss

Qantas - - Contents -

In 1980, se­cur­ing re­li­able trans­port out of Can­berra on a Fri­day af­ter­noon could be risky. Even more risky was declar­ing your love for a per­son who might not love you back.

I’d been nav­i­gat­ing an in­tense but illde­fined friend­ship with a guy, con­ducted long-dis­tance. I was in Can­berra do­ing my hon­ours year in English; he was at uni in Syd­ney. I made it clear I was in love but he wasn’t sure. He had an­other sort-of girl­friend. He needed time to think. (Yeah, it sounds fee­ble and naïve but, come on, I was 20, he was 21, we were all of us floun­der­ing then.) The young man sug­gested I come to Syd­ney af­ter I’d sub­mit­ted my the­sis and we’d see where things stood.

In my teens, I was never the girl that boys fell in love with. I was al­ways the con­fi­dante, the friend. I fig­ured my best strat­egy was to present an un­ques­tion­ably strong on-pa­per ap­pli­ca­tion for the po­si­tion of “girl­friend” so that I’d at least score the ro­mance equiv­a­lent of an in­ter­view. (Feel free to judge if that dis­played shrewd re­al­ism or fes­ter­ing low self-es­teem.)

I handed in my the­sis and left a mes­sage for the young man that I’d be there on Fri­day evening. In those days, Can­berra taxi driv­ers would amuse them­selves by play­ing chicken with the rail sched­ule and, of course, I missed the last train. “Take me to the bus sta­tion!” I bleated. But then more bad luck: ev­ery seat was sold.

At that point, I should have given up and re­treated to my stu­dent hovel but, for no log­i­cal rea­son, haul­ing my­self to Syd­ney to dis­cover the fate of my re­la­tion­ship hopes seemed an ur­gent, last-ditch, once-only chance. “Get me to the air­port!” I in­structed the in­creas­ingly wealthy taxi driver then I blew my pre­cious stu­dent dol­lars on a stand-by ticket with only a slim chance of a seat on the last flight out of Can­berra.

I fed my re­main­ing stack of 20-cent pieces into the air­port pay­phone and left a mes­sage on the young man’s an­swer­ing ma­chine: “I may not get on a plane. If I do, I’ll be at the air­port shut­tle ter­mi­nal in Ox­ford Street at nine.”

In rom-coms, the cli­max al­ways has the mud­dled lovers run­ning to each other in a crowded trans­port hub – the mo­ment punc­tu­ated by a bout of pash­ing – and liv­ing an un­com­pli­cated, happy life there­after. I’m never con­vinced by that. I don’t be­lieve in “the one”. But I do be­lieve it’s pos­si­ble to con­nect with a pretty-much-right­for-you per­son at the right mo­ment in your lives. That Fri­day, hav­ing spent all my money and squan­dered most of my dig­nity to grab that chance, my un­guarded heart was thump­ing as I scanned the bus ter­mi­nal.

And there he was, wait­ing for me. We fell back onto the black vinyl chairs for a breath­less pash.

It turns out the clunky, flus­tered trip to Syd­ney was the be­gin­ning of a great piece of luck. I’ve now had sev­eral pas­sion­ate and hi­lar­i­ous decades with that young man. And since that des­per­ate day, I’ve been a big fan of air travel.

De­bra Oswald and her part­ner – jour­nal­ist, au­thor and ra­dio pre­sen­ter Richard Glover – in the early ’80s journeTheThe jour­ney Can­berra to Syd­ney The year 1980 On the radar Her lat­est novel, The Whole Bright Year, is out now.

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