A life-changing lesson I learnt in 1970 was that spur of the moment decisions make life interesting and rewarding.
It was Christmas Eve. I had been living in Canberra for three months, having migrated there from Brisbane at the age of 20, together with thousands of other people of similar age in response to a major recruitment drive to entice people from all over Australia to join the Commonwealth Public Service.
About lunch time my boss asked why I wasn’t going home for Christmas. The idea hadn’t crossed my mind as I had only arrived in October. He pointed out that by taking a couple of days leave I could have the week off from Christmas to New Year. His suggestion started me thinking, “I could hitch-hike to Hervey Bay today and then fly back on New Years Day.”
Without giving myself time to rationalise the wisdom of the idea any further, I got on the phone to ANSETT or TAA (the two domestic airlines at the time) and enquired about the cost of a flight from Maryborough to Canberra. It was $38.60, so I made the booking and by 4pm I was standing on Northbourne Avenue with my thumb out.
Hitch-hiking was a fairly acceptable practice in those days. My first lift came along within half an hour and I can’t recall having to wait much longer than that for any of the subsequent lifts. I think there were about six altogether. I can still remember some of the more colourful characters I met on this little adventure. Perhaps the most entertaining encounter happened at about 2am in Newcastle. An FC Holden station wagon (about 1958-60 model), with four young guys who looked like they had just come from the Woodstock music festival, pulled up beside me. One was wearing a Bob Dylan style hat.
They told me how they had just bought the car for fifty bucks and included in the deal was a four gallon drum of sump oil. We stopped every few hundred kms to top up the engine with a coke bottle full of this “black syrup”. This regular servicing kept the machine going and they got me all the way to the outskirts of Brisbane around mid morning the next day.
By about 10pm Christmas Day, I arrived at Hervey Bay where my family were having their annual holiday. The emotional impact of my unexpected arrival made the whole exercise worthwhile.
Four weeks later, I commenced National Service with recruit training in Wagga. The following Christmas Day I was in Vietnam, so I was pleased that I had made that particular spur of the moment decision on this occasion. Looking back I can see that it prepared me for some of the more adventurous chapters of life which were to follow.