As a family, we often travelled in Australia: Gulgong and rural NSW, the Snowy Mountains, Canberra, the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. My first memory of overseas travel is a trip to Lord Howe Island. We flew out of Sydney Harbour on a sea plane to Lord Howe. I loved the flight, everyone else was sick on the flight. We had a great time, there was nothing to do on the island, but as a young family we had a ball exploring. Like all our trips, we had fun, we saw a lot, we did a lot, and we bonded as a family. We’d stop on the side of the road and explore the bush. I remember a bush walk with David once where we came across a number of marijuana plants. We knew marijuana was illegal, so we walked past the plants and kept exploring. We saw wildlife, ghost towns, and farms, and really got to understand aboriginal heritage. You were a strong supporter of indigenous Australians and you instilled that in each of your boys. We all share a healthy respect for, and understanding of, the first Australians.
As a teenager, and in my twenties, cricket gave me some great opportunities to see Australia and the world: Adelaide, Victoria, Brisbane, New Zealand, South Africa, London and India.
In those days, travel was a necessary evil to get to an event. I’d spend three weeks in Adelaide and see little more than a cricket oval, a hotel room and a few pubs and clubs for dinner. However, as I grew, I appreciated seeing different places and experiencing different ways of life. Instead of just flying in and flying out, on a number of trips we chose to drive. In New Zealand, a group of us hired a van and after cricket we drove around for a week. It was a great way to see additional parts of the country we were visiting.
In New Zealand, we experienced black-water rafting in caves, high-speed boat racing, glow worms, hot springs coupled with the sickly smell of sulphur, and my favourite, one-on-one time with a lion cub.
In London, apart from my Pink Floyd odyssey, experiencing Stonehenge was a real treat. When I say experience, I mean experience. A lot of people visit Stonehenge and simply walk around, take a few happy snaps, and off they go. Me, I stood there, in front of the massive rocks and felt the history. I tried to take myself back the five thousand years to the time it was erected. Standing there, listening to the wind dance around the stones, rustle the grass and howl through the openings between rocks was amazing.
A mate who I toured India with would walk around, take a photo and walk off.
We were at the Taj Mahal, just an awe-inspiring experience. He walked into the viewing deck. Pulled out his camera, took a photo and said, “That’s it, let’s go.”
“No. No. No. No!” I said, as I walked off the platform and ventured up to the massive structure. I ran my hands along its outside, feeling the cold marble, sat on the steps, walked around the structure, went inside and peered up at the massive four spires. I walked around the reflecting pond and the grounds.
I did the same in South Africa, as I was locked in Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island. I experienced it. Now it would be trite of me to suggest I experienced anything like Mandela did, he was incarcerated for 27 years: I spent less than two minutes in the cell. But to stand there and imagine what it was like gives you so much more than a simple happy snap.
Sport also took me to Orlando in Florida. Not cricket though, tenpin bowling. I adopted the same strategy, after the sport was finished we spent a few days sightseeing. Kennedy Space Centre, The Wetlands and a few theme parks all proved a lot of fun.
The highlight was getting to sit in the cockpit of a Space Shuttle, not many people can say they’ve done that! Who said this being blind was a drag? Much of what I got to see and do while travelling for sport was tied to also not having good eyesight. At Kennedy, we made arrangements for a special tour for four of us to see the Space Shuttle. It was amazing. From the cargo hold, to the toilets, we got to see it all.
In recent years, I’ve had the good fortune to visit New York and Washington DC in the USA, as well as Hong Kong and Japan.
If I had a favourite place in the world, outside my home, it would be Bosie Tea Parlour in New York. This quaint tea parlour is nestled in the winding, narrow old streets of Greenwich Village and, as yet, is not on the tourist map. Each of our visits to New York generally starts with an afternoon tea at Bosie. From the old wooden door, large counter and countless copper tins of tea, to the rickety furniture and Victorian style lounge in the rear, everything screams New York to us. It’s a little hideaway, away from the hustle and bustle of the city we love so much, and before our trip really starts, we love to relax with a cup of tea, scone and piece of tea-cake.
To me, New York is an orchestra, which is why I love it so much. The city is more than a visual experience. It is tactile, auditory and sensory space. From the madness of Times Square to the serenity of Central Park. From the scream and speed of the subway trains, to the meandering tranquil walk along the High Line. Every corner, every street, every building and every subway station presents a different experience that dances on my senses in new and tantalising ways.
We revisit New York for two main reasons. One is we love it. The second though is it is comfortable. With my eyes the way they, especially following the drama of 2013 and now the relentless deterioration that will eventually rob me of any sight, a comfortable place to visit is critical. I can navigate my way around on my own and the city offers a different sensory experience every day.
Navigation is critical to me and my independence. I am fiercely independent and enjoy wandering around on my own and taking photos. Yes, I love photography. You may find that a bit weird, given I can’t see. In actuality, taking photos allows me to see so much more. I will often be out and about in New York, take a snap of a street scene or a building, let’s take the Chrysler building, for instance. I look at the photo on my iPad. The detail is all there. I can look at the masterful architecture in this beautiful building. The car-like ornaments on its façade, the intricate details around each window, and the tiered upper reaches resembling a car bonnet. I get to see so much more when I take a photo. I add the photo to my experience, and to me that’s a complete experience.
New York also dished up one of the worst days of my life. It was Mum’s birthday actually, in 2013. Mardi and I were walking along Ninth Avenue to go to lunch. I felt like I had something in my eye, I thought nothing of it. It looked greasy and oily and so I thought it was a bit of New York grime and it would wash out in the next few minutes. We had some lunch and then popped in B and H Photo, a massive electronics store. As I walked around, I noticed I couldn’t see anything, the displays, price tags, products. I said to Mardi, “Let’s go back to the hotel, maybe I have a visual migraine.”
After a while back in the room, we decided to see an optometrist. My sight was getting worse, and my field of vision was reducing. Plus it was my left eye, my good eye.
Mardi tracked down an optometrist close by, in fact a block away. We make an appointment and walked up to see her urgently.
“What seems to be the issue, Michael?” Connie asks.
I describe my visual disturbance and we discuss our predicament—we are on holiday, we have insurance if needed, but hopefully the check-up resolves the issues.
Connie begins her exam. My panic increases as she does more and more tests. Eventually she sits down in front of me.
“Michael, Mardi, I have good news and I have bad news.”
“Ok, what’s the good news?”
“I know the best retinal surgeon in New York, if not the world.”
“And the bad news?”
“You need him, and you need him now.”
Connie calls his office and we are scheduled to see him first thing in the morning.
We have a restless night, not knowing what was going to happen, but knowing that the 12-hour delay didn’t cause any more damage, because as Connie indicated the night before – I couldn’t do any more damage, my eye was pretty rooted by that stage.
We venture to 77th Street, 33 blocks uptown, and 3rd Avenue with a sense of hope. We’ve managed to see a well-renowned doctor within 12 hours. Hopefully, he has good news or can do something.
We sit and wait in this unfamiliar environment until I am called.
Eventually my turn comes and a gregarious doctor sits me down and starts chatting away. His name is Michael, like mine. He wants to visit Australia, he loves surfing and he asks me how the surfing is in Australia. We tell him we live in Canberra, three hours from the nearest beach!
Small talk done, he gets down to work.
The new isn’t good. A massive retinal tear, requiring immediate surgery.
Mardi cautiously says, “So that will cost how much?”
“Oh, it’s not cheap. You are international visitors, depends on your insurance.”
“OK, can you give me an idea, three thousand or five thousand?”
“No, no. Not that much. Maybe $30,000 if not more.”
My dear wife, where would I be without her? For the next 12 hours, she is on the phone, the internet, filling in forms, finding out if our insurance will cover me, booking appointments, talking to the hospital concerning my procedure. She then gets on the phone and talks to our bank concerning transferring cash and mortgage savings around, to ensure we have the money to pay if our insurance doesn’t come through.
The next day I’m in the hospital waiting for my surgery. There’s a hold up with our insurance, and no corrective surgery is being done until that is resolved. Mardi marches up to the administration area and hands over a credit card, “Charge that”. How do people in America survive with a system that is cash first, surgery later?
The eye surgery was horrible. It was done while I am awake and the doctor talks to me the whole time.
I ask him what he is doing.
“Well, Michael,” his New York twang really evident, “imagine sewing together a torn postage stamp-sized piece of wet tissue paper.”
“OK, but you’ve done this before?”
“Yes, hundreds of times, but I have to say, this is the worst I’ve seen. It will be a miracle if you don’t have any deterioration. I don’t know how successful it will be, the tear is right down the middle of the retina.”
Ninety minutes later, I’m in recovery.
The next 24 hours are a waiting game. I’m instructed to go home, sit on a lounge and look down for 24 hours.
The next day we trek back up to his surgery to see how his handiwork has gone.
As he removes the bandage, he asks me to open my eye.
Slowly, I open my eye. The first thing I see is the gorgeous face of my dear wife. She’s blurry, but she’s there. No oily residue, no field distortion. It’s an amazing sight, to come back from where I was just 24 hours earlier, the genius of this surgeon is just out of this world. To do what he did at the back of my eye is something I’ll never forget.
Each year we’ve revisited New York, we’ve made a point of seeing the surgeon, sure for a check-up, but also just to pay homage to someone I owe a huge debt of gratitude to. Regarding the cost, the total was around $24,000. And yes, our insurance covered every penny. Whatever you do, don’t travel without insurance.
When I visited Japan in 2016, I did so with a lot of trepidation. It took me a number of days to familiarise myself with our local area before I confidently went out on my own. It is that confidence that allows me to fully exercise my independence, and when I can achieve that, the trip becomes gratifying and I have a feeling of accomplishment.
I now have that confidence in New York. Couple this with the nice simple grid pattern, the slender nature of Manhattan, and you have a city a blind guy can have a lot of fun in and not get lost. Greenwich Village is still a bit of a problem for me though!
Travel has played an important part in my life and I have had a blessed life being able to experience so much of the world through the lens of my camera.