The Return to Rocky

First off, this post has nothing to do with Sylvester Stallone or boxing, though brain damaged states do come into it. Now that we are clear about that, let’s proceed.

Rockhampton. I hadn’t been back there in six years, ever since my father’s funeral. Though I had lived for seven years on a hectare of land about thirty kilometres outside of the city I had very little desire to return. The truth is that I felt that Queensland and I were at war and that I had only survived it by retreating south, licking my wounds.

I had made forays into Queensland since, often to traditional holiday destinations, usually for short periods of time, and never felt a desire to linger. I watched as exposure to Central Queensland rotted the brains of my siblings. It was amazing when we took holidays south and I felt my brain accelerate in the clear cool air then slow as we returned to a place where free thought and intelligent discourse are not valued.

If I was to encapsulate my experience of Queensland in a single day it would be this one: We were returning from a wonderful holiday in Adelaide and Melbourne by taking the inland route back to Rockhampton. After crossing the border into Queensland we setup camp by a roadhouse outside of the town of Quilpie. The night was scorching hot and we were in tents, mine a two person setup. The red earth was so hard that it refused the tent pegs and there were swarms of mosquitoes after our blood. I barely slept that night. It was the most unpleasant day of the trip. We were back in Queensland.

I had not always hated Rockhampton. For a few years after we moved there the city seemed to have potential. There were some fantastic waterslides, shops selling model railways and toys, even a small department store called Millroys that was full of knick knacks. There were passenger trains to Yeppoon on the coast, places to explore around town.

Then all those things seemed to disappear. Rockhampton became yet another bland rural city with little to distinguish it from anywhere else.

Yet here I was planning for a trip back to Rocky. What changed? Well, for starters, my sister had given birth to my nephew, my Mum hadn’t seen Alex in a while, Alex had never been to Rocky and in less than a month we would have to pay his airfares to do so. Also, we were only going to be up there for a night and a day, taking advantage of my Wednesday off days without using my almost non-existent leave. And after such a long gap between visits, I was curious to see what had changed.

I found some cheap flights during a Happy 4 Hours on the Virgin Blue website, but decided to fly back with Qantas due to better timings plus the opportunity to lift my frequent flyer points. I’d imagined booking a hotel room overlooking the river, but couldn’t go past the price for a room at the Leichardt hotel, especially with the addition of some website membership credits saved up over the year.

I really was packing these flights in. On Sunday we had returned from Singapore with Alex suffering from gastro and me with a cold. With non-refundable airfares and heavy commitments in upcoming weeks there was a lot of pressure to fly on the date. We kept Alex home on Monday and Tuesday. Thankfully the vomiting stopped from the hospital onwards, leaving us with plenty of nappy changes. He also slept a lot.

I had to wake Alex up in time for us to leave the house and make the flight. I didn’t realise it at the time, but the nappy I changed was to be the last of his runs. Perfect timing! This time I wasn’t taking any carriers with me, only a daypack filled with nappies and spare clothes (just in case) and a bag of gifts for the newborn.

As we departed B began her trip home from work, leaving early due to a bout of gastro.

We walked to the bus stop then caught the bus to Padstow, then the train to the domestic airport. We were back at Terminal 2, the scene of our departure last Wednesday. Thankfully, I had already checked in online and the queues were much shorter this time.

I realised that I had forgotten my toiletries, so we visited a pharmacy to pick up some essentials. Without a carrier I had to either hold Alex in my arms or let him down to walk, so I decided to keep clear of the shops and take him directly to the gates.

I watched aircraft operations through the windows, keeping an eye on Alex as he played around on the seats and floor. Better to let him use up some of his energy, I thought. Our flight was delayed by about 45 minutes, which became a concern as I was on a separate booking for the follow on flight to Rocky.

Eventually our aircraft, a Boeing 737-800 arrived at the gate and disgorged its passengers. I hoped that this flight would be better than our very first experiences with Virgin Blue. That was last time we flew up to Rocky. The Brisbane leg was next to a bloke stinking of alcohol who claimed that it was first flight, whilst the next leg onwards to Rockhampton involved the worst turbulence that I have experienced as we dodged storm cells.

Since then I had some more pleasant experiences with Virgin Blue on their E170’s down to Canberra. However, as we clambered onboard the 737 my first impressions were not good. Their red and blue leather seats looked old and ugly. The backs of the seats were equipped with natty little screens showing live Foxtel content. Due to our late departure we were told that viewing would be free rather than requiring the usual credit card swipe. I never saw the promised earphones being handed out however. Alex’s itchy fingers were disappointed that they weren’t touchscreens, as on the A380. Instead he played with the window shade and tray table.

We had to wait until refuelling was completed before we could use our seatbelts. I pointed out the seatbelt light to Alex and told him that he had to leave everything in place while it was on. The seat next to us was empty, always nice when you have an infant.

Finally, the doors were closed and we were free to depart. We taxied under grey cloudy skies to the furtherer of the two north-south runways, taking off to the south. Past Kurnell and out of Botany Bay, then we turned northwards up through the cloud layer.

Alex soon fell asleep as we flew into the evening skies above the clouds. I couldn’t reach my own earphones, so had to be content with the view out of the window and the hum of the jet engines. I was relaxed and enjoying the flight.

When the trolley came around I purchased some cheese and crackers and a bottle of water, all for Alex. As we flew over the long beaches of the far north NSW coast he woke up and requested food, consequently devouring my purchases.

Then we began our descent over the Gold Coast, over the islands and down over the Gateway Bridge into Brisbane Airport. By the time we touched down I was very concerned with the delay.

Both the front and rear doors were opened and Alex and I exited down the stairs of the rear and into the terminal as quickly as we could. I heard my name being called over the PA. By the time we reached the distant gate we were the last to board. When the gate attendant looked at me accusingly I said “It’s your fault, my Virgin Blue flight was late!” She replied that I shouldn’t have checked in. Where does it say that?

Had we missed the flight we would likely have been stranded in Brisbane as the final flight north, with Qantas, left only 40 minutes later.

Inside the aircraft we were ushered to an empty pair of seats a couple of rows behind our prebooked position. The aircraft was an Embraer E190 jet, a larger version of those I had flown to Canberra. No electronic entertainment options whatsoever, but the interior looked very clean and new.

We took off into the darkness. This time Alex stayed awake during the 50 minute flight. He kept requesting cheese, bikkies until the cart was pushed our way and I ordered him a wrap for his dinner. The food on Virgin Blue was expensive and lacking, I thought, in decent meal options. Alex ate half the wrap, leaving the other for me.

He was a bit restless as we began our shaky descent over the city lights of Rockhampton. After arcing around the city we landed from the north. There are no jetbridges in Rocky airport, so we had to walk down stairs and over the tarmac to reach the terminal.

Rocky’s terminal had changed a fair bit from last time I saw it. Fresh landscaping in the front, a couple of new eateries and the observation lounge was now at ground level. Quite nice, really. Once inside I let Alex down to burn some energy. With no luggage to retrieve from the belts we made our way straight out to the taxi rank.

Rockhampton taxis are not equipped with child seats, but apparently it is legal to travel with a child in them. It was only a short ride on dead streets to reach the Leichardt hotel.

Last time we had stayed there it was part of the Mercure chain and the reception, alone amongst the Accor hotels we had stayed with globally, seemed to have difficulty with the concept of website bookings. This time there were no such issues. I was pleased to see that the rooms had been refurbished, now a modern black and red, better than many I had stayed at before.

Wireless internet access was expensive and limited, so I decided not to bother.

But just in case we mistook this for a big city hotel the room service menu stopped at 8pm, the hotel restaurant closed at 8.30pm and there didn’t seem to be much else on the block.

Arriving late in the evening, then going straight to the hotel to eat and relax is a recurrent fantasy for me. I had imagined having a nice meal before bed, listening to music and typing up some trip reports while Alex slept beside me. Instead, Alex was tired and so was I – I felt a cold induced headache coming on. I decided that the shared wrap would have to suffice and after a bath and shower we went straight to sleep.

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