Thirty-odd years ago, as a rookie traveller, I signed up for a bus tour of Europe. One of those 27-countries-in-21-days tours. As a solo traveller, I was to share a room with another girl.On the first day, as our bus rolled out of London, we were asked to introduce ourselves. A young woman wearing sunglasses and a bleary look took the microphone at the front of the bus. “I’m Julie from Sydney, and I’m hung-over,” she said. “I’m travelling with those four blokes town the back.” Then she sat down. “Oh great,” I thought. “That’s my room-mate for the next three weeks.”It turned out that Julie from Sydney had been celebrating her 20th birthday the night before. She was travelling with not four blokes, but three. That’s what a hangover will do for you. Julie, Trevor and Tim were workmates, and Tim’s mate had come along too. Once she’d recovered from her headache, I found that Julie was a librarian, great company, and had the best laugh I had ever heard, a deep, throaty and dirty-sounding chuckle that was very infectious.
As the bus rolled through what we then called “the continent”, we became fast friends. France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy…we swung through the highlights of countries that we’d only seen in books and on television. We laughed and cried and ate and drank, wore out our feet and our wallets, and looked with wonder on it all. I was most impressed when Julie broke away from the group – much to our tour guide’s distress – to go alone to the Rodin Museum in Paris, because she wanted to see it and it was not on our itinerary.
At the end of the trip – quickly dubbed the “Never Again Tour” – Julie returned to Sydney and I stayed on in London for my two-year working holiday. Over the years, we kept in touch. When Julie got married, my new husband and I flew to Sydney for her wedding. We cried together long-distance a year later when her husband was killed in a car accident, making her a 25-year-old widow. Five years later, we were on a plane to Sydney again, taking our three-week-old first-born to Julie’s second wedding. Through all the years, we never lost each other, and we never will.
Last week, Julie was my chauffeur and companion as I researched a long list of pubs for an update on my latest book, Great Australian Pubs. We talked and laughed our way through a dozen pubs, had lunch, and dinner, and a few drinks in between (hers mostly of the soft drink variety; despite that early promise, she’s really not much of a drinker). The years melted away. We asked the barmaid at The Friend in Hand to take our photo. By about pub #7, I was ready to leave the rest on my list for another time. Julie wouldn’t have it. “Come on,” she said, sternly. “Where’s your stamina?” On we went…
When I started writing this, I pulled out the somewhat tatty and discoloured snaps I’d taken on that Europe trip in 1978. There were precious few of them, compared to the hundreds I take when travelling with a digital camera today. And not a single one of Julie and me together. I call her with my request, and a day later she confirms what I had suspected. “Nope, I haven’t got any of us together either,” she says.
It doesn’t matter. The faded photographs mean little now. It’s the friendship that I carry with me that keeps my heart warm and my glass half full.