She was in Canberra. He was in Sydney. The author and Offspring creator’s path to eternal happiness was almost stymied by public transport inefficiencies.
Canberra to Sydney
In 1980, securing reliable transport out of Canberra on a Friday afternoon could be risky. Even more risky was declaring your love for a person who might not love you back.
I’d been navigating an intense but ill-defined friendship with a guy, conducted long-distance. I was in Canberra doing my honours year in English; he was at uni in Sydney.
I made it clear I was in love but he wasn’t sure. He had another sort-of girlfriend. He needed time to think. (Yeah, it sounds feeble and naïve but, come on, I was 20, he was 21, we were all of us floundering then.) The young man suggested I come to Sydney after I’d submitted my thesis and we’d see where things stood.
In my teens, I was never the girl that boys fell in love with. I was always the confidante, the friend. I figured my best strategy was to present an unquestionably strong on-paper application for the position of “girlfriend” so that I’d at least score the romance equivalent of an interview. (Feel free to judge if that displayed shrewd realism or festering low self-esteem.)
I handed in my thesis and left a message for the young man that I’d be there on Friday evening. In those days, Canberra taxi drivers would amuse themselves by playing chicken with the rail schedule and, of course, I missed the last train. “Take me to the bus station!”
I bleated. But then more bad luck: every seat was sold. At that point, I should have given up and retreated to my student hovel but, for no logical reason, hauling myself to Sydney to discover the fate of my relationship hopes seemed an urgent, last-ditch, once-only chance. “Get me to the airport!” I instructed the increasingly wealthy taxi driver then I blew my precious student dollars on a stand-by ticket with only a slim chance of a seat on the last flight out of Canberra.
I fed my remaining stack of 20-cent pieces into the airport payphone and left a message on the young man’s answering machine: “I may not get on a plane. If I do, I’ll be at the airport shuttle terminal in Oxford Street at nine.”
In rom-coms, the climax always has the muddled lovers running to each other in a crowded transport hub – the moment punctuated by a bout of pashing – and living an uncomplicated, happy life thereafter. I’m never convinced by that. I don’t believe in “the one”. But I do believe it’s possible to connect with a pretty-much-right-for-you person at the right moment in your lives. That Friday, having spent all my money and squandered most of my dignity to grab that chance, my unguarded heart was thumping as I scanned the bus terminal.
And there he was, waiting for me. We fell back onto the black vinyl chairs for a breathless pash.
It turns out the clunky, flustered trip to Sydney was the beginning of a great piece of luck. I’ve now had several passionate and hilarious decades with that young man. And since that desperate day, I’ve been a big fan of air travel. ￼