HERE is my confession. I have never been to an ANZAC Day dawn service. I have been to numerous war sites around the world, I’ve played two-up with Diggers in my local RSL on ANZAC Day, and watched them march on the streets of Brisbane, but I have never risen before the sun to listen to the hauntingly beautiful Last Post, which honours our soldiers who have died in global conflicts.
As a young backpacker, I followed in the footsteps of my peers and made the trek to Gallipoli to see where so many Aussie lives were lost on that impossible stretch of beach. I have stood in the trenches where they bled out and died. I remember the undeserved awe in which the Turkish regarded my pilgrimage, so astounded were they that so many young Australians would cross the oceans to honour their dead. I’ve visited the Egyptian pyramids from where the Aussies did some of their training in preparation for Turkey.
I have knelt in the gas chambers of Dachau in Germany and Auschwitz in Poland and wept at the futility of war itself. I have scanned the piles of suitcases, teeth, hair combs, reading glasses and shoes, and tried to imagine how those captured by the Nazis endured their fate. Tried to fathom the stroke of dumb luck that makes one person survive a war and another perish. I have sauntered through Switzerland and marvelled at how a country so tiny, and in the midst of all the combating countries, could remain neutral.
In London, I have stayed in the Savoy which miraculously only sustained minor damage during the bombings of World War Two, retained its stiff upper lip and kept trading, and from where Winston Churchill regularly took his Cabinet to lunch. It is believed Churchill made some of his most important decisions regarding the war from the Savoy, whose air-raid shelters were considered some of London’s toughest. And like so many Aussies, I have stood in the London Underground and tried to imagine its role as an air-raid shelter.
I have sat on the shores of Pearl Harbour and imagined the Japanese fighter planes overhead. On the other side of Oahu, I have seen the beaches from where local Hawaiian kids fled when they saw the jets overhead, before racing inside and crowding with frightened family members around a simple transistor radio to try to understand what was happening to their peaceful paradise.
In south-east Asia, I have witnessed the effects of war and the cruel regime of Pol Pot in Cambodia in the torture chambers of Phnom Penh and on the streets littered with the limbless in Siem Reap. I have visited the many war museums of Saigon in Vietnam and crawled through part of the Cu Chi Tunnels before becoming overcome with claustrophobia. In Thailand, I have visited the River Kwai many times, and walked along the railway sleepers, the construction of which claimed the lives of so many Australian soldiers. I have paused on the site of Singapore’s Changi Prison and attempted to feel what it must have been like to survive the heartless humidity and the chaos of capture.
As recently as last month, I was up in Papua New Guinea where I learned that it was actually in Rabaul that the first Australian soldier lost their life in any global conflict back in 1914. There’s war history galore there and I walked into in one of the tunnels which the Japanese forced the Aussies, along with other Allied soldiers, to build so that the enemy could store their food, weapons and themselves during air raids. I visited the Bitapaka War Cemetery, funded by AusAID, which pays homage to thousands of soldiers, many of them Australians. There’s even a remaining tree there from which the Germans are said to have climbed to shoot at the Aussies during World War One.
Thanks to the ANZACS, I’ve been granted the freedom to travel the world and to experience their stories. Because of them, I live in a free and beautiful country. On this ANZAC Day, and not just because it’s the 100th anniversary since the ANZACS tried to steal Gallipoli but because it’s high time, I intend to set my clock, rise before the kookaburras, and tip my hat in their honour and of all of those who have perished in war. Lest We Forget.
I’M running late for a date with Passion. I arrive in Hawaii early morning after an overnight night flight from Brisbane, clutching all the usual clichés: a suitcase, welcome lei, and the remnants of the previous evening’s airline meal attached to my dress. My travelling companion dives straight into Oahu, literally, and is off for a learn-to-surf lesson. Me, I prefer to let Hawaii wash gently over my jetlagged self, and wander down to Waikiki for a cold beer, a meal of mahi mahi and a feast of people watching. Sated, I sleep like the dead in readiness for my full island tour the next day, and my much-anticipated date with Passion.
It’s been 22 years since I’ve been to Hawaii, and my only memory is of Waikiki and the fact my ex-husband punctured the li-lo on which I intended to laze in its warm waters on a tree before we even got to the beach. So I’m desperate to see what’s around the next corner. I join a tour which will spend all day weaving from Waikiki through a snapshot of suburbia, to sugar cane fields, past beaches, through valleys, onto ancient Hawaiian grounds and around waterfalls.
Incredibly, every tour on which I’ve ever been anywhere in the world serves up the same cluster of characters. The gregarious gay couple; the comfortably chubby married pair; the Russians in their Cold War swim wear range; the loud Americans and softly-spoken Canadians; the Bintang bogan with his attractive Asian wife in grossly inappropriate high heels; and the single Australian woman…who happens to be me.
While I self-indulgently imagine the rest of the tour tries to unravel my mystery – I do like to apply a Mona Lisa smile along with my sunscreen – I watch Oahu unfurl before me and secretly count down the hours until I can meet Passion. At this stage I should reveal I don’t know whether Passion is a man, a woman or a concept. In the meantime Maurice, our tour guide who grew up in Hawaii in the late 60s, shares Oahu’s secrets. We pass the Baskin Robbins ice-cream shop where Barack Obama worked his first job and learn that Elizabeth Taylor once lived over near the North Shore. There’s also a smorgasbord of film and television locations, including the house from the opening scene of Fantasy Island where the pint-sized Tattoo famously shouts “The plane, the plane!” as well as the giant green hills of the mythical Jurassic Park.
But what piques my interest most is the tale of a particular house, high on the hills, one that Elvis Presley wanted to buy. Despite repeated and insanely high offers, the owner refused to sell to the King of Rock, instead inviting Elvis to holiday there whenever he wanted. Elvis took him up on the offer and the pair became firm friends. I spend the rest of the tour fantasising about Elvis turning up on the doorstep of my quaint tin and timber Queenslander cottage back home in Brisbane, which is similar to a Hawaiian beach shack, and daydreaming about that hunka hunka burning love. And several other nice Hawaiian boys I find along the way. Yes, while the rest of the tour is on the beach collecting shells, I’m starting my own collection…
I’m snapped out of my lustful thoughts when I arrive back at the hotel, late for my date with Passion. I rapidly shower, and rush downstairs to the bar where I learn that Passion is yet to arrive, the irony of which is not lost on me as I drink a Longboard Lager. It’s not till dinner is almost finished that I finally meet Passion, a beautiful woman who rushes up to our table and enthusiastically orders dessert while chatting with gusto about her day. It turns out Passion is the Marketing and Communications Manager of The Modern Honolulu in which I am staying and says her grandmother picked her name from an old Troy Donahue movie. “It wasn’t the easiest name growing up, but I grew into it,” she laughs.
And it gets even better. Just before we depart, we also meet another staffer, Patience, who also carries all the characteristics of her lovely moniker. At this stage I ask Passion whether she will bestow on me a Hawaiian name, one which will carry me through the rest of my journey through this incredible land. She knows nothing about me, apart from the fact I’m an Australian journalist, but looks at me knowingly, and says: “My intuition tells me that you are Healani, which means heavenly haze.” I laugh out loud. Yes, The Global Goddess has well and truly arrived in Hawaii. And Elvis is definitely not dead.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Hawaii Tourism. To book your own escape go to http://www.gohawaii.com/au; stay at The Modern Honolulu http://www.themodernhonolulu; and to see more of Oahu take a Discover Hawaii Tour http://www.discoverhawaiitours.com