There are as many reasons for travelling as there are travellers—or maybe as
many reasons as there are trips, and the trip to Australia realized a few. We were going to
spend some time in the Land of Oz before boarding a repositioning cruise that would get
us to Vancouver in about 40 days. Since we had never been to the Land Down Under we
decided to spend a couple of weeks beforehand to see the country.
Then it got complicated. I had spent nearly two months travelling with an
Australian when I was doing my Nuffield Scholarship twenty years earlier. To say Tony
and I had become good friends would be an understatement akin to saying the pope is
Catholic. When I was completing my study, spending one more weekend in Scotland and
had my suitcase stolen, Tony changed his plans and accompanied me back to London. He
had his notes of our travels photocopied and gave them to me to replace mine. Tony was
a good friend and remains that, but when I tried to reach out to him via email I got no
response. So after a few attempts I gave up, “I guess he doesn’t want to reconnect,” was
“That is nonsense,” said Sandra, “You were so close and you are going to make
more of an effort. We are going to Australia and you will connect with him.” It was the
tone of voice that convinced me. I resorted to an old method, directory assistance and the
telephone. I did the calculations and called him at 6 a.m. His time.
“Hello . . . ”
“Tony, it is Les from Canada.”
“I have been waiting for you to call,” he said not missing a beat, “I have been
replying to your email and it bounces back. I knew you would call.” We talked for a
while like 20 years had not happened, “Look, just send me the dates when you get here,
and I will pick you up in Wagga Wagga. You don’t want to drive on the left side of the
road, and it will be too hard on you. It is decided, I will pick you up and bring you back
to the farm for a few days.”
“Look there are kangaroos!” exclaimed Sandra as we enjoyed a drink in Tony and
“Oh, yeah the damn things are everywhere,” said Tony. “We shoot them to feed
the dogs, but not now. It is about catching up, never mind them.” It was very difficult not
to mind them; we had never seen them in the wild before, much less on someone’s back
lawn while we were sitting on the patio. It just added to the Oz experience, it was the way
it should be, a beautiful sunny evening, cold refreshments, and a half dozen ‘roos happily
bouncing around in the yard.
In the mid 1990s, after I had been awarded a Canadian Nuffield Scholarship a pair
of scholars came to visit and explained some of what would happen during the time of
study. It was required that the recipients spend seven weeks on a study tour through
England, France, and Austria. That group would consist of Canadian, Australian, New
Zealand and French scholars. There would be eleven of us that travelled in a van to the
prescribed points and everywhere in between.
My visitors also gave me the Nuffield Directory and explained how to use it,
noting that it had the contact and area of study of all the previous scholars.
“When you plan your trip, find a scholar in the area, contact them saying you will
be in the locality and ask if they could spare some time with you,” explained Wally.
“They will say yes, and then ask if they can recommend a hotel in the area; they will say
that you will stay with them, and do it.”
I was not used to this type of travel, but upon trying it, I realized they were right
and I soon learned that when you stay in someone’s home for a few days, you learn much
more about the area and make a much closer contact. The practice was not as much about
saving the cost of a hotel as it was building a harmonious relationship and when I learned
that, I saw how the Nuffield organization had become such a strong network.
I was amazed by how these scholars would open their home and their books to
you; nothing was hidden. Where they had made mistakes and lost money they showed it
to you; when they hit the jackpot they showed that to you—and both scenarios with equal
Tony and I had become good friends on the tour with a group of scholars and had
spent some time together afterwards, so the rapport was already there but staying in his
home now took it to another level. These couple of days made our trip to Australia
worthwhile, the koala sanctuary and the Great Barrier Reef were just bonuses.
“You’ll be in Anna Belle’s room and the Guinea Fowl will wake you about five,
said Tony as he showed us to our room. Daughter Anna Belle had a successful marketing
career in Sydney and we would meet her later. Tony was a man of his word and the birds
outside our window made a racket that would wake the dead, and I tested it. I slept the
sleep of a dead one but was raised to life by the birds. Tony had coffee on and son Sam
was already out spraying.
Tony had set aside a couple days to spend with us, but the farm work continued.
He farmed 5,000 acres of wheat, canola and alfalfa plus had 2,000 Merino ewes and their
lambs, which made a total of about 4,500 sheep. He had two hired men but as Sam grew
into the operation Tony had plans to cut that back to a single employee. It was a going
concern and I could not be happier to get a first hand tour of the inside of an Aussie farm.
I understood wheat and canola production but doing it with the limited moisture
he had meant some different management strategies, and while I thought I knew crop
production, sheep handling and shearing facilities were a brand new part of the business.
We spent a day on the farm and in the area, and caught up on whom our kids had
turned into in the last 20 years. We just had a lot of fun. The following day Tony and
Vickie made the drive to Sydney where the next part of our journey would begin. Along
the way we stopped at the statue of the world’s largest sheep, which was three stories
high and contained a wool shop. Amanda was early in her knitting hobby and I thought it
would be a nice touch to bring back some wool and picked up a package of three skeins
priced at $13.99; when I got to the till the clerk informed me that was per skein and my
purchase would be in the $40 AUD range. Vickie then told me I would need about nine
skeins for Amanda to be able to knit something of consequence and the wool went back
to the shelf. The idea of buying wool in the world’s largest Merino sheep was cool but
this was just too much of a tourist trap, the purchase would wait for later.
We ended up in Sydney as the sun was setting and Tony had made reservations at
a restaurant on the dock. We had an outrageously over priced meal and loved it. We
argued over each wanting to pay the bill and genuinely meant it. Overpriced? Yes. Would
I do it again? In a heartbeat—the food was good and the experience with friends was
There are so many reasons to travel. Catching up with old friends is just one of
them but it is a pretty good one. Bring on the rest of the Land Down Under.