Remembering 1997: The Sweetest Year in My Life (Part 5)

By late July, I was all set to go to Australia. All of my clothing have been packed, all cassettes have been prepared, and I have also prepared my camera and several roll of films. In addition, my mother even gave some snacks for my provisioning in Australia, such as cashew or fish crackers.

I had even bought a new tele-lens for my Canon AT-1 camera. It was initially equipped with fixed 50mm lens. But since I was keen to photograph airplane, I wanted to buy tele-lens so I can photograph objects in the distance, namely airplane. I initially wanted something the size up to 250mm or even 300mm! But due to budget constraint, I ended up with Vivitar 18-135 lens.

For entertainment, I also bought a brand new Aiwa Walkman. This device allowed me to enjoy music and getting entertained while being mobile at the same time. Just like what modern day iPod or smartphone do. It would add color to my activities.

Aiwa TA363 walkman was the type of walkman that I used during my stay in Australia in 1997.

Back then the likes of Smartphone, IPod, or even Mp3 files was unheard of. The most common form of mobile entertainment was listening to your Walkman, or Discman CD if you have extra money. Although the portable CD player never gained big popularity due to its expensive price as well as fragile nature (a small jolt would interrupt your song, and often restart the whole disc from the beginning).

So, it was on Friday 1st August 1997 where we depart to Australia where I will begin my study there. My father and my sister will also travel all the way to Perth to accompany me as well as to meet up with my landlord, and also seeing the college where I will study. My feeling was a mix between worries and excitement. I was just a young boy at that time, so it made sense that I could have such mixed feeling like that.

We departed the house at around 05.30 in the morning to catch our flight. Since direct non-stop flights to Australia are non-existent, we had to catch a flight to Bali before boarding the plane to Perth. If I’m not mistaken, the flight departed at 7am from Surabaya Juanda airport to Bali Ngurah Rai airport.

Our plane was Merpati Nusantara Airlines’ Fokker F-28. Merpati was a subsidiary of Garuda Indonesia at that time. This airline had an on and off relationship with Garuda throughout its existence. At that time, it acted as a feeder for Garuda Indonesia on certain routes. Although by following year it had become a completely independent airline, before financial problem forced its closure in 2014.

When I was kid, I frequently flown onboard Fokker 28, especially when I lived with my family in Makassar. It was the backbone of regional routes in Indonesia. And on that day, the plane felt as marvelous as during its heyday in 1980s.

We flown with Merpati’s Fokker 28 during our Surabaya-Denpasar leg.

The flight went smoothly. During the flight I could see the sight of the mountain on the eastern tip of Java Island, including mount Ijen, Wurung crater, and mount Raung. The sky was clear, so we could enjoy the scenery clearly. The scenic flight lasted less than an hour, and after around 45 minutes of flying, our plane landed safely at Ngurah Rai airport in Bali.

Inside the Merpati’s Fokker 28.

Once we disembarked from the plane we collected all of our baggage before being picked up by a driver from the branch office of the bank where my father worked as its General Manager. This saves us from the hassle of dealing with greedy taxi touts in Bali airport.

The driver drove us to the easterly direction where we passed through the apron, which was just protected with steel fences. I can see there are some unusual airplanes that I wouldn’t see in Surabaya, such as Aeroflot Illyushin Il-62, or small Jetstream plane in British Airways livery!

The view of Bali airport on 1st August 1997. A Jetstream 31 in British Airways can be seen, as well as Aeroflot’s Illyushin Il 62 and a private Boeing 727. The photo was blurry as it was taken from a moving vehicle.

There was quite a lengthy gap between the time of our arrival from Surabaya and departure to Perth. We arrived at around 9am Bali time, while our flight to Perth depart at around 6pm. So we spent the time by traveling around Denpasar.

I remember we first visited my father’s branch office and chatting with the branch manager of the bank. And since it was Friday, we also visited a Mosque in Denpasar for Friday congregation (except for my sister, since female are not obliged to attend Friday congregation). We also had a lunch at the famed Jimbaran beach, where we enjoyed the grilled seafood right on the beach, while enjoying the view of the sea and the airport.

The view of Jimbaran beach with Garuda’s DC-10 taxiing on Denpasar airport in the distance.

We also paid visit to my father’s college friend, who worked as a head of Department of Transportation division office in Bali. We are so close that we’re like family. They took us around to pass our time while waiting for our connecting flight. We even took some wash in their house before we embark our journey to Australia.

After repacking our belongings, we returned back to the airport to catch our Perth-bound flight and bid farewell to our relatives in Bali. This time we went into the international terminal, which at that time located on the western corner of the airport. This terminal is now a domestic terminal, while the old domestic terminal have since been demolished and replaced by grandeur new international terminal building.

The aerial view of Bali airport’s old domestic terminal. You can see roofed pathway that connect it with the international terminal.

We checked in our bags and get the boarding passes before proceeding into our gate. While waiting for our flight, my anxiety grew bigger. Would it be a good, or perhaps nightmarish? My sister, who have had similar trip back in 1994 to UK assured me that it’s going to be fun. But, considering on how often I failed when I was in the English language college in Surabaya, I had strong reason to be nervous.

It was already late on the day,  the sun had begun to set and the sky gets darker. Garuda flight departs just after sunset, and would arrive in Perth about 3 hours later, almost at midnight. It was quite an unpleasant flight schedule to visit a brand new place that I had never been before, especially since my purpose of visit was to study instead of vacationing. Morning or daylight flight would have been perfect to reduce my anxiety.

Although the number of flights was just a fraction of what it is now, Garuda was not the only airline who served Denpasar-Perth at that time. There were other airlines, such as Qantas and the now-defunct airlines such Ansett Airlines and Sempati.  Interestingly, all seem to have similar schedule: they depart from Denpasar in the late afternoon or evening, while Perth-Denpasar flight were done in the morning.

However, my nervousness was partly alleviated when I learned that the plane that will took me to Perth in that evening was a DC-10! I love the DC-10 since I was a small kid, and still do although the type is largely a history now. I’ve been dreaming of flying with this plane since I was kid, and tonight that dream become reality.

Garuda Indonesia’s DC-10 at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport.

When the boarding call was made, I was very excited to hop onboard the plane. It wasn’t the first time I’ve been onboard wide body airplane. Prior to that, I’ve frequently traveled with Garuda’s Airbus A300. Like when I lived in Makassar in 1980s.  Back then I frequently saw DC-10 parked next to my A300 and dreamed on when I would fly with them. Tonight, the dream becomes true, and I truly savor the moment.

We were greeted by the cabin crew upon entering the airplane, and for me its interior felt quite similar to the A300, although it was larger. I could feel how spacious the cabin was. Right in the partition wall in front of the cabin, there was a projector screen which played movies. When we enter, they played Australia tourism commercial, but once all passengers are seated and door closed, they began playing safety instruction video. Each passengers were provided with earphone set which was placed inside plastic packaging and put on the seat.

I was seated on the left side, right on the wing. I remember at that time there was another DC-10 parked next to our plane. It belonged to Japan Air Lines, and it was the DC-10-40 version (ours was DC-10-30).

The view from my seat.

When the door closed and the plane cleared to depart, the plane taxiing at a very slow pace. Probably the slowest taxiing I’ve ever had onboard a plane. It gave impression that the plane was heavy. But as soon as the plane entered the runway, and cleared for takeoff, it accelerates quickly into its takeoff speed.

It was when the plane rotated I saw a spectacular sight that I will never forget: the wing’s leading edge and the top of the engine were covered in thick vapor! That includes vapor trail that looped above the engine. I’ve seen similar vapor when I flown on other airplanes, but this was the most spectacular display of wing vapor I’ve ever seen. Even when the airplane becomes fully airborne, those vapors could still be seen although their intensity gradually reduced as the plane gained speed. They only disappear completely when the flaps were fully retracted.

A Northwest DC-10 departed with thick vapor over its wing. I saw similar view, from inside the plane, when my plane took off.

Once the flight reached its cruising altitude, we relaxed and enjoying the entertainment. My sister tries to play her CD player. I occasionally played my Walkman, as the flight was rather monotonous.

During the flight, they played “Jerry Maguire” movie for inflight entertainment, which was amazingly an uncensored version.

My father watched the movie, while occasionally chatting with Australian female passenger who sat next to him. Sometime he asked about the school and housing address to them. Judging by what I see, it seemed that my college is not a very familiar to the Australian, but she knows where the address of my lodging is.

Midway through the flight, we were served with the dinner. I can’t recall what the menu was. Back then Garuda was not well known for its excellent inflight menu. It tasted okay, but not really excellent. My sister curiously requesting wine from flight attendant, which was surprisingly granted! Wine is normally served for business class passengers only, but on that flight we get to taste some. I drank a little bit and found the taste rather overwhelmingly bitter. A small sip was already excessive for me.

As the flight approaching Perth, we were issued card which we must fill.

The detail of the card that must be filled prior to landing in Australia.

This card will be handed to the immigration and custom authority at Perth airport. While passengers busy filling up the custom declaration card, the cabin crew played instructional video made by Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS). One point made me nervous: they mandating the passenger to declare food items that they carry. I’ve been told by my agent prior to my departure that Australia, along with United States, has the most stringent quarantine law.

While most countries normally prohibit the carriage of illicit drugs, and restricting exotic items, the Australian custom goes even further by restricting the carriage of many food items into their country. They ban fresh food ingredients from overseas countries, dairy product or food product that contain dairy ingredient except those that originating from Australia and New Zealand, seafood item is heavily restricted (we carry some fish crackers which was a major cause of concern), and in addition they even barred muddy footwear that contain soil from overseas countries from entering the country (you must clean them up first before boarding the plane). The reasoning is “to protect fragile Australia environment from foreign disease”. This message was also played on the inflight entertainment a few minutes before landing. This made me rather scared and anxious.

The Australian passenger who sat nearby assured us to not to worry about the restriction. She said that as long we can reason with them, we can actually bring our fish crackers into Australia without any problem. If we couldn’t communicate well, we might be at risk of having had to dump them at the custom’s trash bin.

There was an anecdote about this,  which I learned during my study where I heard funny story (which was probably an urban legend) of an Indonesian student who carried a big box Indomie instant noodle for his provision. Although it contains no restricted ingredients, since he couldn’t speak English well, the custom and quarantine office misinterpret and labeled the item as “biohazard material”!

And after we finished filling up the card, the cabin crew announced that they will spray disinfectant into the cabin. This rule is, again, mandated by AQIS to “prevent foreign pest or insect from intruding Australian environment”. I’ve never seen such thing before, and it truly freaked me to see the cabin crew walking back and forth and spraying the disinfectant from the can while the plane was still in flight!

Prior to landing, cabin crew sprayed disinfectant into the cabin. This photo is just for illustration.

Once the “onboard drama” ended, the pilot announced that we are approaching Perth airport. The fasten seat belt and no smoking sign were illuminated, and the cabin light is turned off.

I looked on the outside, and I could gradually see the city of Perth’s light appearing below our plane. These lights once caught John Glenn’s attention during America’s first manned space flight in 1962 where he called Perth as “City of Light”. I’ve seen city lights at night from airplane before, but this one seem to be neatly arranged when compared to what I see in Indonesia.

(Note the video below is not mine, and used for illustration only as I didn’t have handycam at that time. My plane landed on the same flight pattern as this one).

A few minutes later, our plane got closer to the ground and we touched down at Perth airport. It was a smooth and safe flight, and would have been a memorable flight for me had it took place in daytime and I was not overtly concerned about quarantine or adjusting to live alone in western country.

As the plane taxied on the airport, I notice unusual sight which was clearly visible despite of the darkness: trees in the middle of the airside! In Indonesian airport, the only vegetation allowed to grow in airside is just grasses. And they too should not exceed half meter in height. Well, this one is a fully grown shrub which is almost 2 meters high, and located right between the runway and the taxiway!

Unlike in Bali, this times our plane taxiing at higher speed. And moments later, it eventually docked into one of the gates at Perth airport international terminal. Once the plane came to full stop, the warning lights were switched off, and passengers began to disembark from the plane. As we exited the plane, the cabin crew bade us farewell, and we walked up through the jetway and into the terminal.

We entered Perth airport’s airy interior, through a spacious corridor which is flanked by some duty free shops. For me it was the first time I came to real western country. My nervousness partly subsides as I walk along the corridor. But still, there was a feeling of curiosity of what would lie ahead.

Settling bureaucracy after international flight is the mandatory hurdle that all passengers must overcome. The first one to go is passport checking. No problem encountered, because the passport is valid, and I also have proper student visa. Our passports were stamped and we were allowed to officially enter Australia. But the custom and quarantine section that we will deal after immigration is the biggest challenge that we had to overcome that night.

Custom and Border Protection counter at Perth airport. Back then, it had different design than this.

Upon approaching the custom section, we see 2 different lanes: the green lane for anyone who have nothing to declare, and the red lane for anyone who must declare their luggage. We obviously had to enter the red one. Don’t try to enter the green lane if you indeed carry some items that need to be declared, because it is full of sniffing dogs. And the passenger luggage must also be scanned before they’re cleared to leave the airport.

If I’m not mistaken, if you get caught carrying suspicion items (I’m referring to fresh food or exotic items, instead of illicit drugs) you will be taken to their office for additional questioning, which would take much longer time than if you had actually declare them. Not to mention the punishment like fine that the offenders will get for disobeying law. It’s not surprising that the green lane looked much quieter than the crowded red lane.

I do feel nervous upon entering the declaration section, but since I was accompanied by my father and sister it truly helps to alleviate the burden. In this section, there are many lanes with long table in it. Each lane can be occupied by 2 or 3 passengers group. It wasn’t long before our turn come to declare our goods.

The officer asked us to open our bags, and describe the item that we wants to declare. My father explains in broken English about the item, such as the fish crackers. I think, due to the fact that the amount of item in question is very small, and the fact that it is only used for personal consumption, the officer is satisfied and decided to allow us to keep our belongings, without any need for us to dump the snack. I felt very relieved!

We finally made it into Perth and Australia! I was relieved and excited that we finally passed through this major hurdle and can now legally enter the country. We left the custom area and entering the pick-up area in the main hall.

In here we were greeted by my sister’s classmate who did internship in a hotel in Perth. His name is Doddy and he is an Indonesian from Yogyakarta who, just like my sister, undertook hotelier study in Switzerland. He is accompanied by his Australian friend, who will also help us to go to our lodging.

Despite of their presence and assistance, actually it wasn’t them who will take us to our lodging. But instead, it was an elderly German-Australian man (whom his wife worked in my college) who will chauffeur us to our destination.



About bagus70

I'm an adventurous railfans who love to seek out the world of railway, beyond the border of my office.
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