We celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary a couple of years ago with a trip to Australia. At the time, I was teaching high school and my wife was working as a physical therapist in a nursing home. This gave me all summer free. My wife was indispensable enough she could pretty well get any vacation time she requested. Our son, Wes, was temporarily working in Sydney. What a better place to celebrate a special anniversary?
QANTAS offered a special rate for tourists staying up to 30 days so we booked flights 29 days apart. Wes’ house became a base camp. We made trips to the Blue Mountains, Cains, and Melbourne. Wes took a week of vacation so that the four of us could drive part of The Great Ocean Road. Unfortunately, we only saw a small faction of Australia, but wow, what a fantastic month.
Wes and his wife took us to a shopping center. In the parking garage, the signs said, “WAY OUT”. We laughed. In a North American parking garage the sign would have said, “EXIT”. What made us laugh is that in our day, “way out” was teen slang for fantastic. Soon we were collecting the unusual and colorful Australian dialect and the unusual spellings that go with it.
Every visitor to Sydney(who does not suffer from acrophobia) should go over the top. Going over the top means a person takes the bridge climb. Yes, for a fee, guides will escort people along the beams to the very top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge. It is a great view and well worth the cost. As we climbed, I wondered what a person would do if they went on the bridge climb in spite of being afraid of heights. Everyone is tied on with safety straps, but it is a long way down.
Cains is a small enough town that we felt we needed our own transportation. Thus I came prepared with an international driver’s license, but I had never before driven on the left side of the road. Wes took me out for a half hour lesson one afternoon. Then we flew to Cains where I rented a car. My wife navigated, and I concentrated on keeping the car where it belonged. Traffic in Queensland is sparse enough that we got around with little trouble except. . .
One afternoon we drove along the Captain Cook Highway to Port Douglas. En route, the road climbs along the sea-side cliffs in a snakelike fashion. We were not bothered by the inconvenience of having to stop for a road crew repaving a stretch of the road.
After an excellent dinner in Port Douglas, we headed south toward our bed and breakfast. When we reached the section of the road where the crew had been repaving, I found myself on a road with no center line and no markings on the edge. There was no moon. I had to drive on an unmarked black ribbon of asphalt that just faded ahead into the darkness of the night on that curving section of road. The headlights of approaching cars appeared to be coming from the wrong places. After all, I am used to driving on the right side of the road. It was more disorienting than flying in instrument conditions. I suffered vertigo, but managed to stay on the road at the posted speed limit of 50 or 60km/hr. (30 or 36 mph).
That got me wondering what would be going through the mind of an American who was driving the same road at high-speed with a car chasing him. What kind of vertigo would he be experiencing at 120 or 150 km/hr?
By the time we flew home, I had the idea for a story, Chased Across Austalia. The general plot is that terrorists intend to set of a dirty bomb in Sydney on an American couple’s anniversary when they plan to vacation in Sydney, Australia. The American caries a laptop identical to one being carried by a terrorist who is to be a courier. Critical files that are intended for the courier’s laptop, are accidentally loaded on to the American’s laptop. The courier must recover the files, which means chasing the Americans.
Of course these fictional Americans visited the same places we did, and the courier had to follow them. He followed them onto the harbor bridge in spite of his acrophobia. In the Blue Mountains, he followed them into gondola cars and incline railroads that further aggravated his acrophobia. Burglary is attempted twice, but fails both times. A woman is sent in to put the American in a compromising position, but he refuses to sleep with her. In Cains, the American finds himself involved in a high-speed car chase at night along the unmarked section of the Captain Cook Highway. The terrorists are shooting at the American. In spite of his vertigo, he must drive a lot faster than I drove.
Some divine protection helps keep the Americans safe while they are being chased across Australia. At the same time the courier of the terrorist group is being chased by the Holy Spirit. The people who the courier encounters talk to him about their Christian faith. Thus the courier is in grave spiritual danger when he accidentally follows the Americans into a church.
Part of the challenge of such a story is writing the dialogue in dialect. When a digger was speaking, I used those dialect phrases as I knew, and used the Australian spelling for the words. I hope I did not do too much of a disservice to the way Australians talk.
The story was great fun to write, but I was glad it was fiction and not a memoir. I am not sure I could have done as well as the hero of the story.
My book is total fiction. The geography may be real, but all of the people and all of the events are pure fiction inspired by a trip to a beautiful continent with a wonderful woman at my side.
Adendum: A commenter has gently reminded me that many people are not familiar with the geography of Australia. Sydney is the country’s largest city and on the east coast about the same distance south of the equator as Miami, Florida is north of the equator.
The Blue Mountains are a mountain range a short train ride west of Sydney. It is a resort area that features fantastic views of a 1000 foot deep canyon with sheer cliffs. There are cable cars and incline railroads into the canyon.
Cains is a port in Queensland, the northeast tip of the continent. We took a boat out of Cains to SCUBA dive on the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Ocean Road is a memorial highway that stretches west from Melbourne along Australia’s south coast on the Antarctic Ocean.