The only reason Doug and I know about Bundaberg is the chance meeting of John and Avon on a river cruise. The cruise was with Scenic Tours and started in Amsterdam and ended in Budapest. Scenic Cruise Lines is an Australian-based company so the majority of the passengers were from Australia. Also, as those of you who travel know, many Aussies travel the world. Wherever we go, we meet them. I know this is a stereotype, but we often meet them in pubs. (Of course, since that’s where we meet them, that means Doug and I must be in pubs too!)
Anyway, back to the story. Doug and I noticed this couple who was always laughing and appearing to have a very good time. When we introduced ourselves, the man said his name was John and her name was Avon. They were from Bundaberg. Of course, we didn’t have a clue where Bundaberg was so they explained the area with great pride. We also found out that Avon was originally ‘a Kiwi’ [from New Zealand] as John explained.
They owned a farm and ranch supply store and a gardening store in season. Avon also ran a pet store. We began to realize that they were wealthy in an understated way. They told us they were on a three-month extended holiday and had recently been in Africa. After the cruise, they were going to spend time in France. John said he’d been to the Calgary Stampede three times and bought a pair of cowboy boots each time. We also found out that they had been to most countries in the world and flew first class.
Doug and I didn’t understand everything John said as he had what we found out was a regional accent. In other words, many of the other Australians didn’t understand him either.
As we proceeded on the cruise, we often ended up going with John and Avon to pubs after our tours in the various ports. John could drink copious amounts of beer. He explained: “In Bundaberg we drink beer to stay hydrated.”
John was in amazing shape, and Avon told us that he had won a national level bicycle road racing competition. There was a younger fellow on Board who wore sleek fitness clothes and was rumored to also be a champion bicycle road racer. John and this younger fellow were among the people scheduled to ride from one port to the other on bicycles while the rest of us cruised along on the ship. When Doug found out about this, he went around trying to get wagers on who was going to win the race: John or ‘Mr. Dress-Up.’ Our money was on John. Unfortunately, the race didn’t happen because of inclement weather.
Most of the Aussies found the weather quite cool. It was November after all, and they were often decked out in warm coats, scarves, toques and mitts. Some of them marvelled at Doug and me wearing t-shirts while they had on their jumpers [sweaters].
John wore jeans, a shirt and a well-worn brown leather jacket regardless of the weather and whether on the ship or on land in one of the ports. Avon was a free spirit with her flowing clothes and long, curly red hair. On the evening that it was their turn to have dinner in the ‘fancy’ section of the restaurant, John was in his usual place at the ship’s bar waiting for Avon. She joined him in a stunning gown with her hair beautifully tamed. John was in his regular uniform.
John’s response to cooler temperatures was to add a scarf to his ensemble. One day and another port, we were with John and Avon in a couple of pubs. After we got ready to leave the second pub in order to get back before the ship sailed, John told us that he had lost his scarf. So, we hurried back to the first pub. No one had seen it. Then he found the scarf bundled in one sleeve. We realized that the ship was sailing in a few minutes so we ran to the dock, just making it in the nick of time. But, John had his scarf.
Toward the end of the cruise, I asked Avon about the origin of her name. Was she named after the River Avon in England? “No,” she replied. “My name is Yvonne, but John can’t say it right.”
As I read the article in the newspaper this morning, I was suddenly right back with Doug, John and Avon enjoying their laughter and goodwill. I will never see them again; but, I’ll never forget them. I hope their lives aren’t too affected by the terrible fire presently raging in Bundaberg, Queensland.