On Saturday 21st January we set off to fulfil Deirdre’s dream trip to Oz. She had wished for a long time to visit Australia—ever since she started following Neighbours, the Australian TV soap. Many parents will identify with how our children love the soaps; indeed most of the time TV is the only social entertainment they have. The characters in the programmes become their friends. Sometimes it can even start to take over their lives. I know that Deirdre sets her daily timetable around all the soaps—Hollyoaks, Eastenders, Home & Away and, of course, Neighbours. This can cause problems as the rest of the family’s plans are disrupted.
Well anyway, Deirdre reached the age of 30 in November 2005 and unlike many of her friends she didn’t want a big birthday party—she wanted to go to Australia! After a lot of saving and planning, the three Spain women (Deirdre, Tara and I) set off to Oz. We first landed in Singapore, where we visited our friend Gráinne.
Deirdre loves swanky places so we had to visit Raffles Hotel and Morgan’s Hotel, both very luxurious, with beautifully dressed people. There were individual fans to keep you cool, car doors were opened for you as you arrive, and the car was parked for you. Deirdre was disappointed when she came back home— she thought these services should be available at Dublin hotels too!
Our first port of call in Oz was Melbourne, where we arrived on Australia Day which is just like Paddy’s Day here. Everybody was enjoying themselves at Independence Square. The first thing on Deirdre’s list was a Neighbours Bus Tour. We visited Ramsay Street, Erinsborough High School and the TV studio where the series is filmed. Deirdre was thrilled to be standing at last on the street she sees every day. She pointed out where each of the characters in the series lives. She knew more than the tour guide! Later on the same day we nearly thought we were back in Ireland, when we got caught in a thunder storm in St. Kilda’s, the beautiful beach area of Melbourne. It was very funny. Tara and I got soaked, but Deirdre, ever-prepared, had her raincoat!
The next day we went to a sheep ranch and also saw emus and kangaroos there. After all the times Deirdre had said she wanted to pet a kangaroo, she got frightened and wouldn’t feed them. We next went to see the koalas in their natural habitat—that was more successful and Deirdre was in her element when one of the cuddly chaps, usually nocturnal, woke up to put on an act for us.
The next animals on our list were the penguins on Phillip Island. The famous little pygmy penguins come back from the sea to their beach-burrows every evening at dusk. Tourists wait sitting on concrete steps until the show starts. At first, two or three penguins can be seen coming in on a wave, and then run back waiting for others. Then, we could spot other little groups of penguins coming in along the beach. Deirdre thought they looked like nervous stars of a stage show and after a while they start to show off. When the penguins were back in their burrows, they chattered like neighbours gossiping about how their day went. It was wonderful to see Deirdre’s face as the penguins started to come out of the sea. She just could not believe what she was seeing—she actually cried, and that made Tara and me weepy as well! Even though Deirdre is 30, sometimes she is still a child at heart.
After Melbourne, we flew to Alice Springs, where the heat was unbearable. When we got to the resort and saw the swimming pool, Deirdre was in heaven. She thought this was ‘a bit of alright!’ The next morning our guide Tim picked us up at 6am to go camp near Ayres Rock. Deirdre doesn’t usually like an early start, but Tim got round that problem—Deirdre still talks about him and wonders what he’s doing now. It took 4 hours to reach the camp. We saw the sunset, camped under the stars, and then saw the sun rise over Ayres Rock.
The only worrying thing for Deirdre was the flies. We had to invest in flynet hats, although we stopped short of getting those hats with the corks (but we now know why those hats were invented!). The flies covered us all like a blanket.
The next day, after the spectacular sunrise at Ayres Rock, we went on to Kings Canyon—for the camel rides! Deirdre wanted to have a go, so I went up to a handler to get Deirdre on one. He said that I would have to get up on the camel as well! Tara had disappeared, and I had no excuse. There is a great photo of us— with me looking frightened and Dee enjoying herself!
That night we were not looking forward to sleeping in a tent in the intense heat. We cooked a meal under the stars and everything went well until we had to go to the washing hut. While Dee was in the shower I had to clear the sink of insects. Of course, she didn’t listen to me when I said ‘go to the first sink’. You could hear her screaming for miles. She never knew insects could be so big. In the middle of the night I heard Tara calling me—she had seen a dingo at the bins and was afraid to go to the washroom, so I had to accompany her. I had just settled down and next it was Deirdre wanting to go the same place. So off I went with the torch, and got rid of the insects once again. As we were going back to the tent I saw a snake wheeling it way along the path, so I made a detour and we got a little lost on the way back. I didn’t tell Deirdre about that until we were back in Dublin!
Next we set off for Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef. The plan was that Dee, who is a great swimmer, would swim among the coral and the beautiful fish. But she just wouldn’t, so it was up to me and Tara to snorkel among the fish. It was a wonderful experience. Deirdre sat and watched and laughed at us in our blue protective suits (to protect us from dangerous stingers). She said we looked like the teletubbies.
In Sydney we were lucky as it was Chinese New Year and there was lots of fireworks. Deirdre wanted to get to Bondi Beach to see the hunks surfing, and yes, we did see lots of hunks—but most of them were Irish men who were working their way around Australia. We also managed some shopping with Deirdre, of course, getting an Oz track suit, bag, hat etc.
Deirdre talks a lot about the trip. She still loves anything Australian and wants to go again, maybe for her next big birthday. It was certainly a great experience for all of us, and worth every moment to see Dee’s face light up with every new experience down under.