The Sydney to Melbourne Road Trip

Unlike my first visit to Melbourne in 2021, this upcoming trip is one with contrasts. That visit was during the difficult backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, meant for a change in scenery of celebrating my birthday with people around instead of being alone. Away from my wife, who was undergoing dialysis, the trip provided both a break and a reminder of the strength found in connecting with friends.

Melbourne, with its bright energy and inviting atmosphere, became more than just a destination; it was another part of Australia where friends like Jeff and Lisa de Guzman, Tick Siriwatchayawong, Mary Zagari, Emma Nicolls, and Omi Alejo were there to provide a quick catch up.

Also, unlike that 2021 journey, which was by air, this time, it’s with a caravan of friends taking the vast expanse of Hume Highway and four strategic pit stops for the group to catch up and rest. This annual MFC conference is a long-awaited event that promises to unite Missionary Family of Christ communities from Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Victoria and New South Wales in a weekend gathering of fellowship, teachings, and spiritual renewal. Last year’s event in Sydney was my first in Australia, though it reminded me of World Singles Conferences in Subic and Batangas I attended with my wife and Hong Kong singles delegates.

It was a rainy week leading to that Friday long drive, so it was prudent to advise Tito Jing to take the necessary precautions; he’s the only driver onboard, and confessed to only having slept a couple of hours the night before.

The soft alarm woke us up at 4:00 a.m., and such a wake-up call reminded me of the nine-day Simbang Gabi novena. With our luggage modestly packed and the basics double-checked, we gather in the footpath, waiting for the white Mitsubushi Outlander to pick us up. Tito Jing takes his seat behind the wheel, a beacon of resolve in the pre-dawn darkness, while Julia, his daughter and fellow delegate, lay silent and fast asleep at the backseat.

As we navigated our neighbourhood’s tranquil streets, I began to take on the role of navigator while simultaneously making an effort to strike up talks to keep Tito Jing interested at the wheel. It was a highly educational conversation, since we primarily discussed the rich history of the Catholic Church.

I recall asking him about the numerous ecumenical councils, the existence of the Eastern Orthodox Church, which can be traced back to the early Christian communities of the Byzantine Empire, as well as the church’s chequered history, including the lives of infamous popes and the Spanish Inquisition. All of this occurred while our other friends were fast asleep, as the sway of the automobile felt like the gentle rocking of a cradle, transporting them to the land of dreams.

As the convoy continues its journey towards the Big Merino, the landscape transforms into a patchwork of verdant fields and winding country roads, under the cover of thick clouds and occasional drizzle. Tall trees line the roadside, their branches swaying gently in the breeze, while quaint towns and villages dot the horizon. With each passing mile, the anticipation builds, and the promise of the iconic landmark draws ever closer. And then, as if appearing out of nowhere, the colossal figure of the Big Merino landmark in Goulburn looms into view, its towering silhouette a beacon of welcome amidst the vast expanse of the countryside.

The group met for the first time for coffee and toilet breaks at a roadside cafe near the imposing figure of a ram, a tribute to the region’s rich history in sheep farming and wool production. Watering holes like this serve as a lifeline for weary travellers, allowing them to refuel their vehicles, grab a bite to eat, use restroom facilities, and stretch their legs before continuing their journey. But the group was also well-equipped with food for the journey, as evidenced by the Taguding family’s generous offering of plain and flavoured pan de sal.

Refreshed and ready to go, the group took a photo with the huge landmark in the background.

Back on the road, sweeping views of grassland dotted with grazing livestock and sheep under the sole control of lonesome farmhouses are a common sight. I can’t help but think how these rural communities — with their lack of easy access to almost everything — differ from our urban landscapes, which afford the conveniences of life but still manage to find so many imperfections.

The well maintained road conditions also reminded me of my own road trips from Cagayan de Oro to Davao via Bukidnon, and I couldn’t help but observe a paradox: On one hand, a well-maintained road surface, clear markings, and good visibility allow drivers to maneuver with greater ease and confidence. Smooth roads reduce the likelihood of encountering unexpected obstacles or hazards, making the driving experience more predictable and less stressful. This can encourage drivers to maintain higher speeds and feel more relaxed behind the wheel.

However, this very convenience and comfort can lead to a false sense of security. When roads are in excellent condition, drivers may become less vigilant and attentive to potential dangers. They may be tempted to exceed safe speed limits, underestimate braking distances, or engage in distracted driving behaviours. No wonder, signs reminding drivers of the deadly risks of microsleep and fatigue interrupt the routine views of grassland and forested areas along M31.

We made a necessary stop at Gundagai’s The Dog on the Tucker Box, a folklore monument depicting a dog sitting on a tuckerbox. The monument has come to represent rural Australia, and tourists and travellers passing through the area frequently visit it. It recognises the contributions of early settlers and their loyal canine companions who accompanied them on their journeys through the Australian outback. The legend of the Dog on the Tuckerbox has become part of Australian folklore, embodying the pioneers’ perseverance, inventiveness, and mateship in forging the country’s character.

The prevailing rains kept us from staying long, so we decided to try our luck at our next stop, Holbrook’s HMAS Otway, some 70 minutes further.

As we moved closer to the NSW-Victoria state border, the weather conditions improved dramatically. And by the time we arrived at the historic town of Holbrook, the group decided to do a final rehearsal of tomorrow night’s presentation featuring the 80s hits of Breakfast Club, Magic Fire, and Sheena Easton. Thankfully, Lucky Barcega was patient enough to teach the steps with literal monikers such as “laba-laba”, “sampay-sampay”, and other descriptive ways to execute their parts of the performance. The group hoped to be proud enough to present and not throw out a lame excuse, “this is our final practice” during the actual presentation.

Suddenly, the imposing sight of a submarine emerges from the surrounding landscape, a striking reminder of Australia’s naval history. HMAS Otway, a Oberon-class submarine, stands proudly on display, its sleek silhouette a testament to the bravery and sacrifice of the men and women who served aboard her.

As I curiously joined the kids born long after this submarine was decommissioned and climbed to explore its majestic structure of almost 300 feet in length, I was amazed at how these naval vessels provide strategic naval advantage. In reality, the submarine was only involved in patrols, surveillance, and training exercises; Otway did not engage in any significant combat actions.

A mini-feast was also held at that pit stop, featuring adobo dishes by Venus and Dionnie Taguding, and another version by Ruth and Art Alvizo. The talented cooks in the MFC community frequently serve such treats. It was also a good follow-up to the light-hearted dance rehearsals that everyone from the NSW delegation took seriously.

Amidst the surroundings of Holbrook, the presence of HMAS Otway also serves as a poignant reminder of the courage and resilience of the men and women who served the country. Okay, it piqued my attention too, but if you ask why a decommissioned submarine such as HMAS Otway is placed in a small town about 200 kilometres from the nearest coastline, you are not alone.

The town of Holbrook was chosen as the site for the memorial due to its historical connection to submarines and naval warfare. During World War I, the town was originally named Germanton but was later renamed Holbrook in honour of Lieutenant Norman Holbrook, a British submarine commander who earned the Victoria Cross for his bravery during the war. Holbrook’s submarine, HMS B11, successfully penetrated the Dardanelles Strait and sank a Turkish battleship, making it the first successful British submarine attack in history.

Continuing the journey from HMAS Otway, we venture further into the picturesque countryside, leaving behind the maritime history of Holbrook, now with the fresh rays of the sun warming this autumn afternoon. Maintaining the mandated speed of 110 kilometres per hour, we head towards Euroa, grab another bite of Maccas, and fried sweet potatoes. At this final stop, the group convenes and aligns timings before the group separates and heads towards the respective booked apartments or host families.

It was an eventful road trip that took longer than the usual Sydney to Melbourne trip. But as Tito Jing continues to beam with a smile, the multiple stops were not only moments of learning for passengers like me, more importantly, they helped recharge the road-weary travellers and gave them a chance to share tales of road experiences along the way.

Onward to MFC Melbourne, which deserves a separate article of its own.

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