Let the Countdown Begin – 1500 more sleeps!
When I left Coffs Harbour High School half way through year 11 in 1976, I joined the Commercial Banking Company of Sydney Limited (CBC Bank) as a 16 year old junior in the town of Dorrigo NSW, about an hours drive inland from Coffs Harbour. I was too young to get my drivers licence so had to board in Dorrigo during the week.
I was lucky that a friend of a friend who lived in Dorrigo had a girlfriend in Coffs Harbour. He used to spend the weekend with her so I was able to get a lift from Coffs to Dorrigo on a Sunday evening and return again straight after work on a Friday afternoon.
During the week I boarded with a 74 year old widow. I paid $20.00 per week for 5 days which included breakfast and evening meals. Whilst I absolutely loved my new job I hated living in Dorrigo and was so homesick. In those days banks opened at 10am and closed at 3pm. My work day began at 9am and we generally finished around 3.30pm (5.05pm on Fridays). I knew nobody in town and had a lot of idle time to be homesick. At 16 years of age I wouldn’t have even dreamed of going to the pub!
Dorrigo had two television stations in those days, NRN11 and the ABC. My landlady normally only watched the ABC and when there was a program she thought “inappropriate” she literally got up from her chair and switched the TV off (no remote controls in ’76 – in fact I think it was still Black and White TV). She would leave it off for 30 or 60 minutes until an “appropriate” program came on when she would rise from her chair and switch the TV back on. It used to drive me crazy so I would normally retire to my bedroom straight after tea time which was 5.30pm on the dot.
Luckily I was only in Dorrigo for 6 weeks before I was transferred to Urunga, about 20 minutes drive south of Coffs Harbour on the coast. Here I stayed in a boarding house until I was old enough (17) to get my drivers licence when I moved back home and I used to commute each day. After 6 months in Urunga where I trained to be a Teller, I was transferred to Bellingen, which is between Urunga and Dorrigo.
While I was working at the Bellingen branch of the bank the Accountant at that time, Wade Duncan, went on annual leave. The relief accountant was a young guy who fascinated me with stories of all the places he had been to as a relief officer. In those days a relief officer covered the whole state when someone went on holidays. After Wade came back from leave I spoke to the Branch Manager Les Saker about applying to be transferred to Relieving Staff. He was supportive and my application went in to Head Office. Subsequently I was transferred to Ballina where I worked for about 12 months before being appointed to NSW Relief Staff. I was allocated to country relief which was my preference and I spent over 5 years on relieving staff, working throughout New South Wales, before transferring to Victorian Relief Staff where I travelled extensively throughout Victoria and had two stints in Tasmania, including spending my first Christmas away from family.
I loved relieving staff. I got to see and experience some wonderful places and meet some fantastic people. It’s true what they say that travel really does broaden the mind. Country Relief usually meant at least 2 weeks in the same town and I always made a point of staying at least one weekend in town. This enabled me to taste what it was like to be a local. In addition to sometimes long hours in the local pub it also meant some exploring of the surrounding countryside and socialising with some of the bank staff.
Some of the towns I have worked in New South Wales include Aberdeen, Ballina, Batemans Bay, Belconnen (ACT), Bellingen, Bowraville, Cardiff, Dorrigo, Eugowra, Forster, Gosford, Grafton, Green Point, Inverell, Jesmond, Katoomba, Kingston (ACT), Maitland, Muswellbrook, Newcastle, Richmond, Scone, Tamworth, Taree, Tottenham, Toukley, Ulladulla, Umina Beach, Urunga, Wagga Wagga, Walcha, Wallsend, Warilla Grove, Wauchope, Windsor, Wollongong, Woy Woy as well as numerous suburbs throughout the Sydney Metropolitan Area.
During my 2 years working in the bank in Victoria I worked at Belmont (Geelong), Charlton, Kaniva, Maffra, Maryborough, Orbost, Seymour, Swifts Creek, Tangambalanga, Tongala, Toora, Warragul, Warrnambool and in Tasmania at Launceston and Moonah (Hobart). I also worked at a number of Melbourne suburban branches.
The longest I stayed in one town was the 10 weeks I spent at Orbost in Eastern Victoria. It was a great spot, great country football with “pleasant Sunday mornings” spent at the local Football Club. I stayed in a share house with two of the staff from the bank. At work I spent much of my time adding up accrued interest in manual savings bank ledgers in preparation for the start of computerization. All those years at primary school learning the times tables really paid off.
Probably since those Bank Relieving Staff days it has been my dream to one day travel around Australia, stopping where I want and when I want, and for as long or short as I want.
We all know that life gets in the way of our plans and dreams, but I have never lost the dream of one day retiring, hitching up the caravan, or climbing aboard a motorhome and heading into the sunset.
As a child we never went camping as such. We had the odd holiday but never camping. As a teenager, and early years of adulthood, I experienced camping really for the first time and thoroughly enjoyed it. Getting away with a group of friends for a long weekend was really fun times. Late teens and early twenties saw me camping somewhere most long weekends.
As a parent we took our children camping, especially when the kids were really young. Some of my happiest memories were camping with the kids. Two trips in particular spring to mind. The first one was when the kids were real young and we had 2 weeks away in Esperance and Albany (WA). To hold all our camping gear I borrowed a box trailer from my mate Kelvin Griffiths. The first week we stayed at a caravan park in Esperance, sleeping in two separate 3 man tents. Josh, Jacob and I in one and the Nathan and the boys mother in the other. We spent several days and evenings fishing off the jetty where I think it was Jacob that caught a sea snake. We then had a further week in Albany.
Another memorable trip was the time we went to Kalbarri and Coral Bay during the July School Holidays when the kids were a bit older. We took the family sedan and my Ford Econovan. which was packed to the hilt with all the camping gear, tents, cabanas, chairs, food and even our freezer. With 2 adults, our 6 kids and a school friend of our eldest daughter it must have been a sight to see us set up our two site camp with five tents circling our central kitchen area. We had a week in Kalbarri and a week in Coral Bay. Some of the kids still talk about that trip with great fondness and Coral Bay remains my favourite camping spot on the west coast of Australia.
So as the years have flown by the dream of unrestricted travel has remained in my heart. In recent years a number of my friends and people I know have commenced their Grey Nomad life. Some just venturing away for an extended weekend or may be a week. Others have ventured further afield whilst some have done “The Big Lap” over a period of 12 months or more. Some have completely sold up and hit the road indefinitely. Some have retired, bought the 4WD and caravan and sadly, passed away before they got out of the driveway. RIP Bill.
I have always said that I don’t want to do it when I am “too old” to enjoy it. It takes courage to sell up, pack up and hit the road indefinately.
So with all those things in mind and a belief in that it is now or never, I have decided to “hit the road” when I turn 60. To allow for contingencies, both financial, family and otherwise, 60 can be anywhere between actually turning 60 on 3rd September 2019 and 2nd September 2020, the day before I turn 61.
As I write this blog D Day (Departure Day) is scheduled for Saturday 4th July 2020. That is 1500 more sleeps!
If you are interested in following my adventures, from the motivation, planning and implementation phases through to the actual trip, then bookmark this site as I count down to D Day