When we wake up at Cate’s house it is still dark. Cate’s mum and my mum kneel on the lounge-room carpet and push the final few clothes and toiletries into the odd collection of suitcases. They laugh quietly as the pink plastic wrappings of mum’s ‘special things’ refuse to compress. Finally the seven cases submit and the latches are shut. Click, Clack.
Cate’s Dad is in the airforce and he knows a lot about planes and airports. So he is in charge of getting us in the cars and to the airport on time. Pictures of planes even hang on the wall in the hallway.
‘F1-11’s,’ says Tony as we wait to brush our teeth.
‘I’m a jet fighter Chas,’ Matt shwooshes and squeals down the hall until Cate’s Dad steps out and tells him to be quiet.
My dad emerges from the bathroom, toothpaste on beard, hair sticking up and starts to unpack and repack his shiny Qantas airline bag. There is a special wallet inside and Dad checks over again for passports, the tickets, travellers cheques, camera.
Cate comes sleepily out of her room. She gives me a new Agatha Christie book with a nice gory picture of a smashed doll’s head on the cover and some notepaper. ‘I’ll write as soon as I get there,’ I promise. ‘Me too.’ says Cate and we have a hug and say good-bye.
‘I’m not too sure you should take that pig though,’ she smiles and wanders sleepily back to bed.
At last we are ‘right to go’.
The airport is a long way away and the light is milky pink as the cars draw up the long ramp of the longest building I ever saw. Tullamarine International Airport is spelt out in big letters across the roof.
‘Terminal,’ says Tony.
We say our goodbyes. There are smiles and waves – Cate’s mum looks a bit worried. ‘No going back now.’ she says to Mum. Now my mum looks worried too.
‘Up, up and away’ Dad sings and smiles as he grips his new airline bag, ‘First thing we have to do is all check in.’
‘No Matt, it’s not like checks at the Doctor’s,’ Mum says as she stands on high alert. ‘Now you must all stand still and stay next to me all the time.’
But Matt is off to the far end of the counter – ‘fossicking’ as Mum calls it – until the airline man lifts him off the bag scales and brings him back in line.
After more checks by a big man in a different uniform behind a high counter – who look at us all very carefully and then stamp the passports with a firm ‘thump’ – we finally get to walk to the end of a very long corridor.
‘Immigration’ Tony says as he looks proudly at his newly stamped passport.
We follow the air hostesses, with their hair in tight neat rolls just below their caps, down the steps and out into the chilly morning and then up the steps from tarmac. The plane is a long cylinder with floating wings that stretch out like a great silver dragon. It is very beautiful and gleams in the sun.
Matt jumps to get a seat by the window and I am next to him. The pig is on my knee.
The pilot talks over a speaker and tells us all about the plane. Matt writes it down in his new travel diary ‘Boeing 727’, ‘flying at 20,000ft’, ‘1 hour and 30 minutes to Sydney.’
‘Does it have rockets Dad?’ Matt calls across the aisle.
‘No Matt, they’re jet engines.’
Tony then starts to tell us about how jet engines work by mixing air with the fuel to make them very fast.
‘Torque,’ he says, ‘and Thrust.’
Then just after we have a nice glass of orange juice we get shown how to put on our seat-belts and how to use an oxygen mask and how to put on a life jacket.
‘This is grouse’ says Matt, ‘I hope we can have a go with the life jackets later.’
The air hostess brings books and pens and checks our seat belts for us. She kneels down and tells Matt how important it is to sit still and stay in his seat. He frowns seriously as if this is new information.
‘And you should hold on to your pig nice and tightly.’ she tells me. I nod in complete agreement. ‘Of course,’ I am not about to be negligent of my pig.
The airplane crawls slowly and then starts to jig and judder across the apron toward the runway. Matt has his face to the window – ‘It’s going fast’ he says.
‘Taxiing’ says Tony.
‘It’s going to go a lot faster in a …’ but the roar of the engines cuts off Dad.
My back presses against the seat. We are going up and up and the airplane creaks and shudders. We grip the seat arms and grin in a way we can’t help.
‘Look Chas – look down there – it’s all..’ Matt can’t speak his eyes are so wide.
‘It’s like Lego.’
It is the most exciting moment ever. I feel light and heavy all at once.
‘Lift off’ says Tony.
Soon we are so far up the whole world below is a blanket of pink and yellow clouds.
Aviation is such a nostalgic thing and even recent history brings fond memories. Of course Australian Aviation has had its ups and downs (excuse pun) and the 727 branded here as Australian Airways didn’t bear its colours for too long.
We flew to Sydney with TAA – ‘Up, up and away, with TAA the friendly, friendly way’ was their irrepressibly catchy theme tune.
Aviation Historical Society of Australia
http://www.ahsa.org.au/images/gallery/00038large.jpg by Geoff Goodall