10 minute read
What can a single photograph tell you? To me, this photo captures a beautiful moment in time. My friend and travelling buddy Melody was about to turn 25 and I was nearing 23. We shared a common gaol; to see as much of the world as possible before our knights in shining armour appeared, hence why we posed in front of the white knight at Knockrow Castle, laughing that we had finally found the perfect man.
The thought of settling down was there but we were determined to have our day first. It would be my last full year to myself. Melody would not settle for another 3 years or so. We were smart, educated young women with the world at our feet. We dreamt big and we won big. We both worked hard but travelled harder. We were both constantly looking at travel brochures and planning our next trip. So this photograph to me, epitomises everything our maternal forebears had fought so hard for; the right to live a life full of beautiful experiences and the chance to be truly independent. Melody and I were the first women of our families to have this incredible amount of freedom and we took the opportunity with both hands. Our mothers and grandmothers and those that came before them often had little choice but to conform to the traditional female roles relating to marriage and children from a young age. But by the time Melody and I left school in the late 1980s, times had changed. We could do whatever we wanted and so we did!
We met on the 24th March 1993 in cabin 149 of Fairstar the Funship. Now I state this precisely because numbers and dates were important to both of us, Melody being an accountant and me, a data entry operator. I had taken a leap of faith to go on my first overseas holiday, choosing a cruise instead of a flight, because quite frankly, I was scared of flying. I arrived onboard the Fairstair as a single traveller, booked into a four-berth cabin with three complete strangers. A mother and daughter from Melbourne took two berths and a young single lady from Queensland took the third berth. Her name was Melody and she was on a break from her accountancy studies. Her friend Greg was in another cabin so the three of us soon started to hang out and Melody and I just clicked. We had so many things in common, including a love of 80s music. We both grew up on farms but loved the city too. She had a natural curiosity about everything, as did I. We didn’t take life too seriously and we made the best of every situation. She laughed at me eye-ing up the cute waiters on board and I laughed my head off at her as she kept nodding off to sleep on our tour around Noumea, her head bouncing up and down to the beat of the bumps in the road. Our bond was sealed after spending a couple of rough days and nights confined to our cabin as a cyclone followed our ship home.
Once back in our respective cities, Sydney and Brisbane, we continued to keep in touch. In a land before the mobile phone call, letters were king and our correspondence was soon flying back and forth across the world. Melody was always planning her next trip and thinking ahead. Tongue-in-cheek she wrote, just a few months after our cruise: ‘And will you still be my friend in the year 2000 when I need somewhere to stay when I’m down for the Olympics?’ (December 10, 1993). It made me laugh again this week when I re-read this. We caught up again in Sydney the following year. Detailed oriented as always, Melody had her itinerary down-pat. ‘Thanks so much for taking 11th August 1994 off and showing me around your sights of Sydney and letting me stay on that weekend. We won’t be able to shut up! I’m boarding a plane at 7am for Sydney and meeting you at McDonalds at Circular Quay at around 10am. You are a gem my dear friend and I thank you again for being so nice about my pushy ‘Can I stay’ routine. I can’t wait to return the favour.’ (July 23, 1994). We skylarked around Sydney that weekend, constantly coming up with touristy photographic poses, like pretending to push Sydney Tower over.
By March 1995 we were planning to catch up again but Melody’s schedule was crazy. She was working full time, studying part time, had her big 25th birthday coming up, as well as a graduation ceremony and a wedding. Her Easter was fully booked and for May she had a full diary as well. She wrote, ‘I’m hanging for another holiday, but I’m stuck studying too. So whenever you come (if you can -don’t feel obliged to if you cant afford it or whatever) but I’d love to spend another holiday together. We’ll do as much or as little as you’d like.’ (March 5, 1995). We eventually settled on the first week of April and of course we did a lot, not just a little. There was no time to rest with Melody! I got a bus to Byron Bay where Melody and her friend Steven met me. We spent a great weekend sightseeing around Byron and Murwillumbah before heading back to Brisbane where Melody and I hung out for a few more days. We didn’t spare a single moment, visiting her parents, going back to her old university campus in Toowoomba, catapulting ourselves 60kms an hour head-first on thin boards down a sandhill on Moreton Island, getting up close and personal with oiled-up male strippers in a Brisbane nightclub and eating copious amounts of dessert everywhere we stopped. She even snuck me into the five-star room she was sharing with workmates at a conference in Noosa. I went back to work a week later, for a rest!
Over three years of travel from 1993-1995 we experienced Vanuatu and New Caledonia, Sydney, Byron Bay, Murwillumbah, Brisbane, Toowoomba, Noosa, Maroochydore together and many more. These were our special places. And our letters continued to cross oceans and continents, from New Zealand to Sydney, Sydney to Brisbane, Brisbane to London and back again as we travelled separately for a while. Just like many of our generation, we looked to the visa exchange programs Australia had with the UK and Canada, as a way of increasing our life experiences. I chose the UK and left in late 1995. We had always made each other laugh and cheered each other up no matter what we did and our letters were no different. Whilst I was in London, Melody wrote of her sadness about her uncle dying. ‘I am feeling a bit lousy at the moment so thanks very much for your letter. It came today and is just the pick-me-up I needed.’ (January 8, 1996). At the time we were planning to meet in London in April but I ended up coming home earlier than planned. Then I met my husband Marco and time was up for me and my favourite travel buddy. Melody didn’t skip a beat though and was soon winging her way to Canada where she lived and worked in Toronto. She had an amazing time and excitedly sent me photographs of herself in the snow. I sorely wish we would have been able to match up our schedules and share that experience together as well, but it was not to be. Upon reflection now though, after seeing some of the tributes to Melody after she passed, I’m glad it worked out this way because so many other people were able to spend some precious time with her.
Over the past few days, I’ve been able to build a timeline of Melody’s life through the documents I still have and treasure; the 13 precious handwritten letters from 1993-1996, a handful of emails from 2002-2011 and Facebook posts from 2011-2017. We exchanged numerous text messages too but sadly I didn’t capture these each time I changed mobile phones. Without these letters, emails and posts though, so much of what we shared would have been lost. As I re-read the letters in particular, I am amazed at the things we were planning that I had completely forgotten about. We caught up a handful of times after this; she came to stay with me in 1998 in Sydney. I visited her in Queensland in 2003 and then we swapped and she came to Sydney to visit me in 2009. The sum total of the time we spent physically in each other’s company was less than a month but into it we jam-packed a lifetime of memories. But best of all, we just had fun. Two crazy gals, living large, in our freedom years. It seems incredible to me that we built such a strong connection in so short a time. I’m sure I’m not the first one to feel this way when it came to spending time with Melody. She was most certainly on a mission to stuff as much as she could into her life, as if she had some sixth sense that her time on earth was limited. She constantly wrote about how tired she was, even when I first met her, but she refused to slow down. She continued studying, starting another degree whilst caring for her three adorable daughters. She had found her knight in shining armour not too long after me. It was another thing we shared in common, finding a partner who supported all of our dreams. She was a loving and devoted wife and mother, a supportive daughter and sister and a kind and extremely generous friend who always accommodated any request for a visit, even when she had precious little time for herself.
And then life got too busy for the both of us and we could no longer bridge the physical gap between us. In 2010, Melody was diagnosed with breast cancer. By the time the lump was found, it was already huge but thankfully it hadn’t spread. In an uncharacteristically short email, dated 13th September 2010, Melody wrote: ‘I’m home from hospital today. For those of you who haven’t heard, I was diagnosed with breast cancer one week today and I have since had surgery to remove my left breast. I feel very week physically, but strong in character today. Thank you for all your concern.’ But the cancer returned soon after and Melody fought a tough battle for quite a few years. In those years she continued to pack every second with meaningful moments, taking her family on holidays across Australia and overseas. She even re-created our Driving and Dessert tour with her girls, introducing them to some of her favourite memories of her single days, including re-visiting the giant knight in shining armour. And then, in October 2017, she was gone. She was 47.
Melody is never far from my thoughts and reminders of her are everywhere. Fittingly, there are the special dates we share; Melody’s first daughter was born on my 3rd wedding anniversary. My youngest step-granddaughter was born on Melody’s birthday, just a few months after she died. And every year now, as Breast Cancer Awareness Month comes around in October, I remember Melody the way she would have wanted me to; pouring over the letters and photographs that capture in full bloom those wonderful few years we had when we were young and carefree.