This morning I have an appointment at Avalon Airport to discuss the writer in residence project with Tess Cameron, Business Development Manager for the airport, the Victorian Premier, Ted Baillieu reckons international flights here will be a certainty.
Tiger Airways evidently is looking for a second home base when it recently announced it was adding more than 380,000 seats on existing routes from Melbourne to Sydney, Gold Coast, Brisbane and Perth.
However, when I enter the departure lounge it feels like Baillieu’s message has got lost in translation. The area is deserted. There are no scheduled flights until later this afternoon. The only sound is that of a baby crying uncontrollably and a family (possibly Indian), consisting of a man with a woman in a sari and two small children, is in the car rental section negotiating a transaction. The baby is inconsolable. I wonder if they’ve been travelling for hours. A young man sits in one of the plastic seats inside the front entrance to the terminal, eyes glued to a laptop screen. He doesn’t even look up as I pace the floor wondering how I’ll recognise Tess Cameron whom I’ve never met.
A woman walks past me but it’s not Tess; it’s the receptionist from the car rental, helping carry a baby seat to the rental car for the Indian family. Customer service must be over the top at quiet times like this.
The new commercial provider, Air Australia, last month said it had been in talks with Avalon management about offering a new service to Ho Chi Minh City from next winter but the cut-price carrier would require a federal clearance and is keen to see the State Government extend a rail link to the airport.
Later when Tess and I have identified each other and we’re sitting in the departure area discussing the writer-in-residence project, over flat white coffee, she says that her employer, transport magnate Lindsay Fox, has said his company, which owns Avalon Airport, would continue to lobby for an international terminal.
Shane Fowles from the Geelong Advertiser has said today that “Avalon has been hoping to expand its operations to the international market for a number of years but the process has foundered since the Federal Government rejected the airport’s initial proposal in 2008.” He believes that the vision received a kick-along recently with the State Government committing $1.5 million for the planning of a rail link between Lara and Avalon Airport and $4.7 million for a jet fuel pipeline link to Shell Geelong terminal.
This feels like an exciting opportunity to initiate the writer-in-residence project, at a time when perhaps the airport itself might just take off on its own flight path. Tess has been telling me about some of the interesting characters who work at the airport and some fascinating stories about rabbits too. We haven’t even started on the passengers yet. Obviously I’ll have no trouble finding stories to tell.
English writer Alain de Botton chronicled his own experiences at Heathrow airport in his book ‘A Week at the Airport’ in 2009 but I believe this will be a first for an Australian airport. I’m no de Botton, a fact cruelly brought home to me before I left home this morning. My publisher has just emailed me to say they will be pulping all the unsold copies of my 2005 novel, ‘Towards A Distant Sea’, which couldn’t be remaindered. Maybe ‘A Few Weeks at Avalon’ might yet be my elusive best seller.
As I leave the airport there’s that Andrew Bolt billboard leering down at me again. I wonder if my new writer-in-residence status will now give me the authority to have him whitewashed over forever.