On the eve of The Vision Splendid, an outback film festival in Queensland’s Winton, actress Miranda Otto recalls childhood trips that were sometimes very Aussie and sometimes a little dangerous. Otto, whose feature film Dance Academy screens at the festival on 25 June, speaks to Alison Boleyn.
What was a typical childhood holiday for you?
My mum [fashion retailer Lindsay Otto] was always working and never much for taking holidays; we did “work holidays” where we would go to Hong Kong a few times a year for her to buy fabric. I did do family holidays with my grandparents. Very old-school – we never spent anything that we didn’t need to spend, looked for the best petrol prices as we drove. They had thermoses, blankets and hats in the back. We’d travel down from Brisbane, stay in motels, maybe taking the New England Highway down through New South Wales, and then down on into Melbourne to see relatives. We’d stop at picnic places along the way, sit and eat on benches. I remember my grandfather having these curried sausages in Tupperware containers in the Esky.
Have you ever visited a place that’s been a cultural shock?
When I was about seven, my dad [actor Barry Otto] put me on the plane in Brisbane for Hong Kong. I took the flight on my own and when I got to the other end, waiting for Mum, I’d just never seen so many people. In Brisbane, in the 1970s, personal space was enormous. You didn’t deal with any human congestion. And people would touch me all the time. I wasn’t scared but I would say to Mum, “Can you get them to stop?” They were intrigued by how fair-skinned I was. I loved Hong Kong – it was so different to where I’d come from. Now whenever I’m in an Asian country I love that feeling and the intensity of so many people on the street. It’s very alive.
Have you ever been lost while you were travelling?
In Africa in the mid-90s, my ex and I were driving from Cape Town to Johannesburg and we [broke down] in the middle of nowhere on a dirt road. We ended up being picked up by a white guy who was incredibly racist. But we had to take what we could get because we didn’t have any other option. I just had to bite my tongue.
When you do go away what are you most likely to bring home?
My daughter [Darcey, 12] likes snow globes, so I’ll look for them. I’ve bought a lot of things in Africa. They all had to go through months of quarantine but I got them all back in the end, including an amazing cross.
Have you had any memorable eating experiences when you’ve travelled?
On a road trip through Italy years ago I stopped at this kind of truck-stop restaurant that you would think would be pretty average. It was the best truffle pasta I’ve ever had.
Is there a city that you could have given a miss?
There aren’t many places that don’t have something interesting about them and sometimes your experience is not so much about the place as what’s going on at the time. I went to work in Manchester once and I ended up in this horrible hotel in the middle of nowhere and I got really, really sick. I had the most horrible couple of days of my life in that hotel room. But that wasn’t a fair representation of Manchester itself, it was just my two days in Manchester.
Do you have a travel bugbear?
Packing. I just hate packing. Even though I do it all the time for my work, I leave it later and later because it is so boring.
Have you ever been fleeced overseas?
I remember my mum being robbed in Singapore when I was a kid. Someone managed to get their hands into her purse and steal her cash. I was mugged when we lived in Hong Kong. I was seven or eight, and my grandmother was visiting, and we went to use a public restroom in a park. These strange kids grabbed me – three boys were trying to get over the toilet door. I was going “ooh ooh” and she was saying “What? What do you want?” Then she came out and realised I’d been punched and had these handprints all over my face where they’d tried to stop me from talking.
Has that experience made you fearful while travelling?
No. But I am always sceptical if anybody tries to offer you things.
If you could be anywhere else in the world right now where would you choose?
I know if it was my daughter it would be Hawaii. She’s really on at me. I’d like to go to Darwin. Also Greenland and Iceland, for the white nights. And Turkey: I’ve always liked the music and the food and I love the whole fact of where it sits geographically, that it’s kind of east meets west.
The Vision Splendid runs 23 June 23 to 1 July.