Through August 2004, I gathered the wherewithal to apply for an Australian visa, including a letter of invitation from my brother, Richard Earle, now long an Australian resident.
In the UK, my son Ryan Earle and his wife Elaine produced my first grandson. Thomas Earle was born 13 September 2004 weighing 7.14 lbs, of course a very exciting event. By this time my visa was through and my ticket to Melbourne booked and paid for, thanks to healthy donations from both Richard and my mum.
Sheila’s son Tim Simkin & his girlfriend Juanita Ainslie gave me a lift to Cape Town as they were on their way to visit his father. We met up with Tom Maling, Sheila’s brother, near Somerset West, who took me to their home in Fish Hoek. I spent the weekend there, then Tom took me to the airport at dawn on Monday 20 September. My flight was already international, so I bought some duty free ciggy tobacco for Richard’s roll-your-owns; a two hour link to Johannesburg, then Air Malaysia MH0202 to Kuala Lumpur, a six hour time difference away. And there it was sun-rise, already. I’d had only one hour sleep.
Not all Air Malaysia flights go missing.
KL International is like a giant tent with four arms with a round garden in the intersection, supported by huge steel struts. Confined there for 5 hours I saw nothing of Malaysia except the flat land surrounding it and some distant hills which seemed to be wooded. KL city was half an hour away by rail. Hungry work, exploring an airport for that length of time, dragging your luggage around. I changed R100-00 for RM56-15 (Ringgit Malaysia) and had a soup and sandwich for RM16-00. The few clocks I could find, mostly in the toilets, all seemed to show different times, so when my next flight MH 0129 was called, I figured it must be 09h15, the time on the boarding pass.
KL to Melbourne: Most of the flight was in clear daylight, so, with a window seat I had a good view of what lay below, although being six-four in Economy is always cramped. Our route took us over Jakarta, then some Indian Ocean before crossing the Australian coast near Port Headland. Just after that I could make out a dirt landing strip near Marble Bar. You can see a hellova lot of nothing as you approach the Great Sandy and Gibson Deserts at 39000 feet. Brown wrinkles the odd streak of salt pan. The largest of these was Lake Disappointment. Good name.
Taking a line from there to pass just south of Maralinga, we headed for the Eyre Peninsula. I should have been able to see the sea on the starboard side of the Boeing 747 but there was enough cloud there to thwart that. On the port side it was still clear enough to see the desert morph into farmland with several lakes. Visibility improved a bit over the Spencer Gulf at around 18h00 local time, quickly crossed the York Peninsula, a sort of almost Italian boot, before crossing the Gulf of St. Vincent and Adelaide, we lost sight of the earth due to thick cloud until we circled the beautiful lights of Melbourne and touched down at 19h30.
Customs welcomed me by taking away half of Richard’s tobacco as I thought R400-00 duty was really heavy. I was more than I had paid for the whole amount. They should communicate with the bloody Duty Free shop back in SA about the actual allowance, I told them. They searched me for drugs then let me go with a friendly “Mate” here and there.
I had arrived Down Under, Mate.
As I walked out of the airport, my nephew, Mark Earle, was coincidentally just dropping off his father Richard to look for me, so we scrambled into his Beamer and went back to his beautiful home where I met his wife, Katrina and her mum, Cheryl.