Toby Young Toby Young

My father’s greatest act of kindness

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I’ve been busy planning a trip to New Zealand and Australia. I’ll be gone for about five weeks from mid-June, which is by some distance the longest holiday I’ve ever had. Except it won’t be a holiday, since I’ll be spending quite a bit of time raising money for the Free Speech Union’s sister organisations in the Antipodes. There will be dinners to attend, events to speak at, hands to shake. But I’ve also built in some down time, which will be an opportunity to do some sightseeing.

I’ve used Trailfinders to book my flights and hotels, which has made the process much easier. I’m flying out on Emirates to Auckland via Dubai, which means the total flying time, including the layover, is 23-and-a-half hours. The return leg, also via Dubai, is slightly shorter because I’ll be departing from Perth – but even that is a whopping 21 hours and five minutes. Given the distance and the expense, I suspect this will be the last time I visit Australia and New Zealand for the rest of my life, so I’m determined to make the most of it.

I think the evening ended with a drunken rendition of ‘The Red Flag’ though it could have been ‘Balls to the Bourgeoisie’

After three days in Auckland, I’m going to rent a car and drive to Wellington, stopping off at Tauranga, Hamilton and Taupo along the way. Among the highlights of this leg will be a visit to Hobbiton, the movie set which stood in for the town of the same name in both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Not only am I a big fan of the books – a eulogy to the stout yeomen of England’s shires and the role they’ve played in saving western civilisation – but my children are fond of comparing me to a hobbit, so I look forward to sending them a photo of me posing in the doorway of Bag End.

After two nights in Wellington I’m taking an internal flight to Queenstown, then, after three nights there, I fly to Brisbane. The plan is to criss-cross the south-east coastal region, spending a night in Hobart and a night in Adelaide, then four nights in Melbourne followed by eight nights in Sydney. The final leg will take me to Perth, where I’ll spend my last night before returning to London. To a great extent, the itinerary is dictated by the locations of the people running the organisations I’m visiting, and where they think the best places are to hold fundraising dinners and events. But I hope to see the wine regions near Adelaide, the Blue Mountains west of Sydney and, if possible, track down some of my relatives in Melbourne.

I’ve done that once before. My only previous visit to Australia was with my father, Michael, when I was 11. He was invited to give a lecture at the University of Adelaide, which paid to fly him out business class, but he traded that in for two tickets in economy and took me with him. At the time I didn’t give this a second thought, imagining it was commonplace for fathers to take their sons on trips to the other side of the world. But when I look back on it, I realise it was incredibly nice of him – probably the greatest act of kindness he ever showed me. I’m loath to tell any of my own children about this lest they expect me to do the same. My excuse is that my daughter is at university, my eldest son in Brazil and my other two sons still at school.

We flew to Sydney and rented a car, then drove the 1,200 miles to Adelaide, stopping off at Canberra and Melbourne along the way, primarily so my father, who was half-Australian, could catch up with some of his cousins whom he hadn’t seen since he was a boy. I remember a dinner at a farmhouse outside Melbourne, where Michael was delighted to discover that this branch of the Young family were fellow travellers in the socialist cause. I may be mis-remembering, but I think the evening ended with a drunken rendition of ‘The Red Flag’, although it could have been ‘Balls to the Bourgeoisie’, another favourite. I hope to meet up with some of the children of these rebels – red-diaper babies, like me – and if any of them are reading this please get in touch at tobyyoung@mac.com. I’ll be in Melbourne from 1 to 5 July.

The high point of that trip was eating fish and chips with my father in the Sydney harbour, our legs dangling over the water, overlooking the Opera House, having spent the afternoon at Lunar Park, Australia’s largest amusement park. Again, looking back, I’m astonished by my father’s generosity – I spent a day with my three sons at Alton Towers last year and it was absolute purgatory. But at least they were able to keep each other company and I didn’t have to go on all the rides. No such respite for Michael. I hope my forthcoming trip proves just as enjoyable.

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