On the road heading north, any January, 2000 – 2010
There we all were. Have a look at the five us, packed into the station-wagon. Bursting at its seams, full to the brim with bags, suitcases, boogie-boards, games, balls, bells and whistles. The boys wiping sleep from their eyes, excitedly whispering to each other so as not to wake up the neighbours in the pre-dawn darkness. We were invariably headed for a sunnier, warmer clime; headed for a distant beach, somewhere at the end of a day or two or maybe three’s driving.
Before we started the car there was the pre-departure checklist. Appliances turned off? Windows and doors all locked securely? And what about the side gate? Did we remember to ask the neighbours if it would not be too much trouble to collect the mail? Was the spare key left with your mum? And of course, the music. Always the music. For a pile of compact discs was integral to any interstate driving holiday.
As the boys grew older, the CD list was a fluid beast, subject to constant change from month to month or even from day to day. For, in what seemed like the blink of an eye, our sons went from singing along to the Wiggles’ Big Red Car to being entranced by Kanye West’s Late Registration. Inadvertently, however, there was one constant on those summer holidays, and the day trips in between: Smoke, the bluegrass-style album by Paul Kelly and Uncle Bill. I had seen them perform in support of Weddings Parties Anything at the Weddos’ final shows in December 1998, and had really enjoyed the new interpretations of Kelly’s songs. When the album was released later the following year, it was played regularly at home, and the boys – although only very young at the time of the album’s release – got to know the songs well.
It was just by chance that Smoke was slotted into the car’s CD player on that very first summer holiday. But like many a fluke, the response was immediate, and resoundingly successful. As the banjo chords of the opening track Our Sunshine gave way to the vocals, three little back seat voices simultaneously kicked in. At that moment, unbeknownst to the five of us, this track had been installed as the family’s official road-trip departure anthem.
Despite it not always being in the best interests of our fiscal circumstances, my wife Margaret and I were determined to give the boys memorable holidays and, looking back, I’m reasonably confident we succeeded on that score. Merimbula, Bateman’s Bay, Canberra, Adelaide, Mildura, Echuca, Sydney. Our children were fortunate enough to experience a number of different states, cities and towns, and view much of Australia’s parched, dusty, rocky, but always glorious countryside through the