I wasn’t looking forward to the holiday ending, because it meant I had to go on a plane for up to 24 hours to fly home. 24 hours of sitting having the person in front recline their seat into my face the seond the seatbelt sign is turned off, 24 hours of bitchy single women of a certain age look disapproving at every child, including mine (whom may I add were angels), 24 hours of crappy food, and 24 hours of not being able to sleep properly next to twitching children.
I was lucky to have gotten about 2 hours during the flight and when that was combined with waking early the last day we were in London, with a night flight, delays in Dubai it meant I was nearing 48 hours with hardly any sleep when we finally arrived in Melbourne on Wednesday morning.
The coldness of the airport kept me awake (no more overheated indoors in Australia- Yes!) as we hit the duty-free. We grabbed our duty-free alcohol, and joined the queues in Customs. There had been a few international flights arrive at the same time as ours, it the hall was packed. I was stressing that we wouldn’t make our connecting bus back to Ballarat as we joined the lengthy queue for those who had children or who did not have an ePassport. The silver lining for the queueuing was that at least our bags would be on the carousel waiting for us.
We finally arrive at the desk and start getting processed. We are nearly finished when the lights flicker and go off. Groans of disbelief go up from behind us and all around us. As we wait, a more senior customs officer roaming behind the staff assure us, ‘Don’t worry, the emergency generator should kick in soon.’
We wait a couple of minutes, as we see more customs staff emerge to look at us and try and figure out what is happening. The situation has not been helped by a large sign informing us that Border Security will be at Tullamarine filming that day. Now I have to worry about a bad hair day on top of not having slept, and trying to get home .
The power did come on for about a minute, then went off dramatically, leaving us all in pitch darkness. Turning around, I noticed the doors to the duty free had been locked. We were pinned in between the Customs Desks and Duty Free, all several hundred of us. It is around this time Miss BG feels the need to go to the toilet. The staff are apologetic, but cannot let us through until we have been cleared.
More officers come up, standing around in groups discussing the situation. An automated message is periodically broadcast stating the obvious loss of power, which really doesn’t help anyone’s mood. Our Customs Officer suggests we may feel more comfortable sitting down, but we reassure her that after 24 hours of sitting down, we really don’t want to do that.
Periodically we get an announcement from a senior officer letting us know that they are trying to work out what the matter is. The crowd is somewhat restless,particularly the younger children, who sense the adults stress and begin to cry. I am feeling a touch light headed from lack of sleep, but the usual grumpiness which accompanies my lack of sleep has been replaced by an almost euphoric sense of calm. It could also have been the mouthful of Mars Bar which we shared between the four of us that restored my energy levels .
Regardless of lack of facilities, we are in the safest place. The baggage collection area is in total darkness and both Mr BG and I agree from a risk management perspective and an OHS perspective, we are better here. However, it is apparent that there is no real emergency procedure in place to process people manually through Customs, or the procedures haven’t been reviewed for a long time.
Finally, they get a handle on what needs to be done. Quarantine officers move through the crowd and begin to initial people’s quarantine cards. Our Customs Officer, having been briefed, does the same and once again checks our faces at against the passport photos. The lights begin to come on, but not all of the airport has been restored. But we are through Customs!
Heading down to the Baggage Collection, we see part of the hall is illuminated. There are people milling around, looking lost and trying to find their luggage. Carousel 1 has a few bags, not ours unfortunately. Then my last remaining functioning brain cells remember that our carousel was number 6. I take Miss BG with me and tell the boys to stay with the carry on luggage. With any luck, the plane’s cargo would have been unloaded before the power cut.
We troop off into the dark and come across a few people whom we recognise from the flight. I ask if this is the luggage from our flight, glumly they say yes; sadly they have to wait until the power comes on to get theirs.
I start hunting, checking all the red suitcases. One, two, three cases and Mr BG’s guitar have made it off the plane and are available! They are all loaded onto a trolley and we push them over to Mr BG. He is as estactic as one can be after 48 hours with minimal sleep. We push on through to Quarantine, who wave us through into the Arrivals Hall.
We are greeted with a sea of faces who look expectantly at us, then register their disappointment when we’re not their relative. Undeterred we push on and debate toilets or finding our shuttle bus? It is at this point Mum and Dad pop up and surprise us all. Truly they are a sight for sore eyes! We gladly pass the kids over to them to take back to Ballarat, while we take the luggage with us to the bus home.
I don’t mind sitting the last 90 minutes. We manage to while away the crisp sunny trip back nodding off back to Ballarat Railway Station. As luck has it, the taxi driver who collects us is the same driver who brought us to the station 11 weeks ago. ‘You’re back!’ She exclaims. ‘That went fast, how was it?’
Mr BG and I look at each other. ‘Really, really good,’ we say.