To Australia,with love – February 2012

It was foggy. It was wet. It was cold. It was a February afternoon in Cork Ireland, the starting point for my great excursion across the world. Soon, at a height of 31,000 feet above Wales, we broke free of the grey cloud and rain and cruised over a tapestry of snow-covered fields lit by the evening sun. From east of the Bristol Channel all the way over to London Heathrow, England, the countryside was iced in snow, making a beautiful ground pattern far below. This was  the first leg of what was to be a long journey.

Snow covered approach to London Heathrow on an Aer Lingus Flight from Cork, Ireland on a misty cold winter evening.

Departure on the second leg  was delayed  for about 10 minutes as the pilot asked us not to be alarmed to see the wings of the plane being sprayed for de-icing purposes! A further delay ensued as the plane ahead of us became ‘stuck’ and we were  re- routed to another runway. Finally, almost an hour behind schedule, the great Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 with capacity for 850 passengers, lifted effortlessly and smoothly into  the night  sky. Below, London’s countless millions of lights sparkled and stretched for miles as we climbed higher and higher. 7,067 miles to go to our destination, Singapore!

Out over Biggin Hill, best  known for its role in the Battle of Britain in the second World War, we head  south towards  Dover to cross the English Channel into Europe and onwards across  Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, and the Czech Republic. South of  Bielsko-Biała in Poland we turn southwards into Slovakia, across Hungary and into Romania. We then head over the Black  Sea – once a blue blob on my geography school atlas, now a vast expanse of water  – indeed a ‘sea’,  miles below. Here, some 1,500 miles into our flight, we met the salmon- pink light of dawn of the following day, as the sun relentlessly made its way to Cork, Ireland where I had come from, some eleven hours earlier.

On the far shore of the Black Sea we fly over Georgia, with its capital Tbilisi, and on south of  the Caucasus Mountains to Armenia. We are now 6 miles high  in the sky over the crossroads between Eastern Europe and Western Asia as we leave Azerbaijan and cross the south-western part of the Caspian  Sea. Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan – almost unknown to many when they were part of the USSR – now all too familiar as  they appear on our news bulletins from time to time. Iran, also so often on our TV screens, is below, and soon we are above Afghanistan, another of the world’s  troubled places. We fly on over neighbouring  Pakistan, and on into  India. I wonder if I might even catch a glimpse of the mighty Himalayas in the distant north!

Leaving India by the east coast, we reach the Bay of Bengal – the first major stretch of water we cross (a great relief to those of us who wondered about the usefulness of life vests in the event of falling out of the sky over dry land!) The next land we see is the Andaman Islands, of which I was vaguely aware prior to 2004, but since the devastating tsunami on December 26th the name is all too familiar.  Phucket in Thailand – familiar for the same reason- is now to our north as we head along the coast of Thailand  to Malaysia. With 600 odd miles to go I am conscious of clouds outside the windows –  clouds 6 miles high??!  Now in the tropics, we have a good ‘shaking’ as we meet  severe turbulence to remind us that nature rules!  Keeping west of Kuala Lumpur we head for Singapore on the southernmost tip of the peninsula. Dropping down, it is surprising to see so many cargo ships  – dozens and dozens  in rows – lying at anchor in the bay and it is easy to understand that Singapore is one of the top  three busiest seaports in the world! The passenger in the seat next to me wonders if Singapore, being ‘such a small place, will have steps of the proper height’  to allow us to disembark from our plane –  I smile knowing that a surprise awaits her! So, 13 hours after leaving London, we touch down safely at Singapore Changi, in exotic south-east Asia. The airport has a fabulous butterfly garden, flowing water features with exotic orchids everywhere and terrific  facilities for transit passengers.

Refreshed and soon on the way again, we climb into the sky out over the South China Sea  on the final 2,386 miles of the journey to Perth, Western Australia.  We cross the equator into the southern hemisphere as we  head towards Jakarta and across the Indian Ocean.  Some four hours  into the flight,to the  east high above  the west coast of Australia a misty reddish hue appears on the horizon, gradually spreading into turquoise , yellows, oranges and reddish golds. I have met my first  Australian dawn!

At about 4 30 am the sun begins to show on the horizon

Reflections from my aircraft seat as the sun rises over Western Australia

As we get closer to Perth WA, clouds sit above the golden new day.

In another hour, 33 hours after my journey began, I will step out into the Australian heat to meet my family – three generations of them – who have left Ireland for a new life in Australia. For generations, Australia has been a destination for the Irish diaspora-  many forcibly transported to penal colonies there, many emigrating by choice and many, as now , in the midst of an Irish economic depression emigrating through economic necessity in the hope of carving out a better future. Like many another parent, grandparent, brother or sister in Ireland today I have had to say goodbye to 3 of the 4 members of my direct family as they made that great migration across continents, across seas to far- away Australia. I am very fortunate that I have been able to make that long journey of 10,000 miles to visit them, and for  the next while their nearness will be thoroughly enjoyed and the vast distance that separates us will be forgotten!

Yet – in the still of the night, it is still hard to forget that  Australia is just too far away for those of us who have been left behind.

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14 Comments

Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Irish Australian, Irish Diaspora, Older Generation, Social Change

14 responses to “To Australia,with love – February 2012

  1. Oh, I do feel for you. This touched such a raw nerve with me because 157years ago on this very day (only 1 1/2 hrs ago) my Susan Kelleher (GGGrandmother) arrived here in South Australia from County Clare. Well, her ship was wrecked off the coast … but they all made it safely to land. Have often thought about the pain of separation for her and her family. Thankyou for sharing and I do hope you can manage many more visits to this wide brown land of ours.

    • Catherine. It is so comforting to know where loved ones have settled,to be able to visualize it,to know how they go about their daily business, as well as to share photographs, to Skype, to email. This of course was not a comfort afforded to those who were left behind when Susan went from Clare. Imagine to have been wrecked and survived! I wonder if the Clare family ever knew about that part of her adventure!
      Like many others my family will not be in a position to return to visit for some time as the children are too young, but I hope to go again – it is a beautiful country! Thank you for your very nice comments!

  2. Enjoyed this post very much! I like flying, that is when I’m not busy being airsick.

    • Thank you ! Sorry your flying is spoiled by air sickness…You should try Singapore Airlines – what a smooth, smooth flight! – apart from the turbulence in the tropics on the outward journey and a much more severe turbulence event on the way back as we crossed the mountains and valley that separate Pakistan and Afghanistan!

  3. Chris

    Beautifully told and very much a tale from the heart… I do hope you get to return to be with your family you miss so much. I often wonder how my grandparents felt, when they left their homelands to go to a brave new world..knowing that they may never see their loved ones again. None of the three ever returned home… We are fortunate that we live in a different age.

    • Thank you Chris. I think that that there is an empty space always in the hearts of those left behind,that perhaps is not quite as keenly felt by those who choose to make the brave decision to go to far away lands. What must it have been like though for those forced to go so far away? Unimaginable pain for all concerned!
      I do indeed hope to get back sometime in the next few years, perhaps.

  4. rose

    Wonderful story and I love the pics of the new dawn!

  5. I really enjoyed reading this Angela, what an adventure!. I figured you would have a great blog post about your trip and I was right…of course;).
    Im tempted to get my atlas out tomorrow now and trace out all the places you mentioned.

  6. Leith Landauer

    This is a timeless story, but you have written it powerfully, Angela. My Irish grandmother came to Perth in 1896, never to return. My mother would have been 100 today, so I am thinking about them both. In this isolated part of the world many families are separated for economic reasons and Fly-in Fly-out work is common. We had a term, “the tyranny of distance.” Nowadays at least there is the possibility of better contact. I do hope it will not be long til you see your family again. Thank you for coming and writing about your long journey.

    • Ah Leith – thank you so much – my visit to Australia was made all the more wonderful for having met you. I agree that the ‘tyranny of distance’ has been abated somewhat by modern communications, but virtual hugs somehow do not work!
      I have been thinking about you over the past few days as the Queen’s jubilee celebrations are underway in the UK and there has been much reference to Leith, where the Britannia is permanently moored. I just adore your name! I hope to have the pleasure of meeting you again, either here or there at some point in the not too distant future.

      • Leith Landauer

        Hello again, Angela! By coincidence today I was driving with a friend past the Dutch War Cemetery, Karrakatta and told her about your account of finding it on your recent visit here, and your To Australia, With Love, story. And now I’ve just read the good news of your award – fantastic! Well deserved!
        Another coincidence – I discovered recently that ancestors of mine were married in Leith Street, Edinburgh in1828 – not my parents’ reasons for choosing the name, tho’!
        Winter has set in here, with storms and some black-outs this week – perhaps you heard? Kings Park looked a mess littered with broken branches but was soon tidied up. You will see it at its best if you can come again around September/October….. hopefully!

      • Hello Leith. Thank you so much!How I loved that discovery on a scorching hot day in Karrakatta! I have had updates on your winter storms and hoped there was not too much damage.
        I met a lady the last weekend who lived in Leith and I was telling her about your name!
        Thanks for your kind words _ it is a great honour and I am looking forward to Brussels!

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