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I'm not the eager cabbie I used to be.

When I first had my taxi licence, I was working six twelve-hour night shifts a week. I was raking in the money.

Now, it's different. There are about twice as many cabs on Canberra's roads and it's rare to have the sort of peak hour frenzy or Sunday morning cab queue that I cut my taxi teeth on.

I'm also paying a lot more attention to my family.

They warned us about it in cabbie school, and I've seen too many cabbies run into marital difficulties. The long shifts, the fatigue, the stress.

As the old lament of the shearer's wife goes:
Friday night too tired,
Saturday night too drunk,
Sunday too far away.

Over the years of cabbing I've cut back a lot. Most recently, I've given up the lucrative Friday and Saturday night shifts. Nor do I stay out until four in the morning to hand over to the day driver. Sure, I'm missing out on money, but I'm better off for it.

I have a family.

It wasn't fair for my family that they should spend their weekends tip-toeing around the house so that I could get some sleep. And that when I woke up, I'd get into my taxidriver uniform and head out onto the streets, coming home at dawn and falling into bed exhausted.

It wasn't fair on me either. Taxidriving is unhealthy enough without adding constant exhaustion to the long idle hours, the junk food, the supernormal amounts of caffeine.

So now I have a life, and I have fun.

And, to be honest, with about a bazillion cabs on the road, there isn't the financial rewards of staying out after midnight. I often spent a couple of hours sitting on the main cab rank, slowly moving up and then getting a fare that was only a few dollars.

I could do better than that. I could spend that time tucked up in bed.

I've given up my Friday and Saturday night shifts in favour of doing family type things. Shopping, browsing through galleries, having a family dinner with a bottle of wine and candles on the table. My two kids live at home and now that they are grown up, they are a pleasure to be around. Not that they weren't as children, just that nowadays we can have grown-up discussions. Set the world to rights over a good bottle of Shiraz.

There are things in life more important than money, and nowadays I'm happy, my family is happy too, and that's really what it's all about, isn't it?
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Canberra is cold in winter. I know, I've got friends who chuckle at the thought. The rivers don't freeze, the snow melts when it hits the ground, snowploughs aren't parked in squadrons at the council workshop etc.

But for Australia, it's cold.

And that makes the annual trip up to Rockhampton a pleasure in its own right. Sooooo good to wear light clothing and to feel the heat of the sun. Mind you, in summer it's a different matter, and the humidity, let alone the heat, lays waste to we southerners.

Still, I regard Queensland as paradise in winter. Kerri's parents on the Gold Coast, and mine in Rocky, just north of the Tropic of Capricorn, and the living is easy.

Kerri came up with me for my high school reunion last month, and we staid with her father in Southport, so she declined to take three or four days off work for the Rockhampton trip. And when the kids discovered that I wouldn't pay for their airfares, they decided the money was better spent on their joint mortgage. Besides, they are also saving for the April trip, and I'm going to have to count my careful pennies too. So it was just me this time.

Darling Daughter took me to the airport and she hit a wrong turn and we had to go round and round before finding the carpark. Canberra Airport is about 110% temporary roadworks full of potholes and bollards and crash barriers in red and white and confusing signs. I know my way around, because I'm out there several times a day, but every day is a new adventure, and if you haven't been for a year or so you could think it was a different place entirely. We often see old Canberra hands, out to collect Aunt Judy from Perth late at night, and they are driving the wrong way, heads out the window trying to make sense of the confusion, parking where they shouldn't and getting parped at by rude taxidrivers.

The new terminal building - or at least the first stage - will be open next month, so it was probably our last time in the Business Lounge. The view is lousy and the food not much chop, and mid-morning the bar wasn't open, so it was just robot coffee and a bikkie.

I did this trip with carry on only, and the flight in a Boeing 737 up to Brisbane was fine, but the second leg to Rocky was in a Dash-8, and the overhead racks are too mean and small for even my tiny rollaboard, so it had to go under the seat and squeeze my toes. I had enough time in Brisbane for a couple of flutes of sparkling. Pinapple Noir with hints of Pinot, I called the fruity wine, but it hit the spot.

We flew out over Moreton Bay, crossing the coast again somewhere north of Redcliffe. The suburbs dropt away and then it was mouldering mountains covered in trees, farms and forestry. I caught a sight of Skyring Creek south of Gympie, the hills rising away from the highway and a long orange curve of new fourlane construction. I couldn't make out any details, but it looks awfully close to Federal State School, that small and oddly named rural establishment.

Middle Sister and her two kids - who had flown in a half-hour before - waiting for me, and then out to Kabra for a seafood feast. We stopt at a grog shop, where I collected a slab, another bubbly to add to the duty-free in my bag, and I was delighted to see that Rocky had progressed to the stage where pear cider may be had on the shelves. I scooped up an assorted half dozen. Jersey, Sweden and Magner's from Ireland. A grand comfort for the aches and pains and broken toes, to be sure.

Mum and Dad were there, as well as Older Sister and Younger Sister and her ranga lad, and we had a fine time, cracking open the champagne and testing out the cider and crunching up kettle chips. Brother joined us, along with two of his sons, and we got stuck into the tucker - glorious big prawns and sweet chunks of fish in foil on the barbie.

A cake and a song for Dad.

There's not too many times nowadays when the parents and we five children are together. Dad's looking well and we chatted a bit. He's spent decades going to Hong Kong three times a year and I never even knew he had a passport! He would have flown into the old airport, circling in hard against the mountain and then gliding down through the apartment towers, the jet blast flapping the washing drying on the balconies. My own travels began after it closed, and the new place is not nearly as exciting, though it's a very dramatic setting to be sure.

And, O the warmth of the tropic air! Cold old Canberra was a million miles away.

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Skyring

September 2010

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