12+ As I wrote in 32 Years of Diaries, I've kept daily diaries and travel journals since my backpacking mid-twenties. When the smoke from the New Year fireworks cleared on the TV this year, I put away my 2018 diary and opened a new one for 2019, my 33rd year of diaries. It got me wondering where and how I'd spent the New Year since 1987.
One of the benefits of keeping diaries over many years is looking back through them. However, as celebrities and politicians have learned, diaries can also be "revealing", hence stories of some burning theirs.
I'm not a public figure, so the worst that can happen by sharing my diary and travel journal entries is exposing myself to acute embarrassment. Because frankly, many of my entries read as if written by Adrian Mole, aged 13¾. But then there are others, that for me resurfaced fond New Year memories and mapped my journey through life:
1987-1988: Clynnog Fawr, Wales
Drove north to Conwy. Passed impressive Telford Suspension Bridge. Many tunnels en route reminded me of sports car scene from Cary Grant movie. Conwy Castle was fantastic. Enjoyed exploring ruins and walls surrounding Conwy. Spent New Year's Eve with locals at Clynnog Fawr pub. Most ignored us, until they learned we were Australian, not English. Wishing them Happy New Year in Welsh helped: "Blwyddyn newydd dda!"
1988-1999: Padstow, Cornwall
Day spent sightseeing in Mevagissey, Fowey and Polperro. Latter was our favourite, a classic Cornish fishing village, popular with tourists (like us). Had dinner in Padstow and saw in New Year at local pub, dancing to boppy guitar duo. Pub full of friendly locals with broad Cornish accents — unlike last year, even those who thought we were English were friendly!
1989-1990: Bristol, England
Drove to Bristol and met S&R at Clifton Suspension Bridge. Structure and views of Avon gorge are spectacular, but why charge two pence toll? Searched for pub without smashed glass all over floor for dinner, then counted down new decade at Bristol University fountain. Lots of happy, young revellers who made me feel a little old.
1990-1991: Luxor, Egypt
Long day exploring Valley of the Kings (and one Queen) on rental bikes. Riding back to Nile ferry when we bumped into D&O — they'd had a puncture. Helped them get their bike to repair shop, then we all caught ferry across to Luxor. It was packed with people, bikes, cars and even a horse-drawn carriage. Met D&O later for New Year's Eve dinner. Raining heavily when we finished, so all hopped on a horse-drawn carriage back to hotel. Much more relaxing and fun than walking — and drier!
1991-1992: Brighton, England
Met T&R at Hove end of Prom and went for stroll to Brighton and back. Escaped gathering cold and gloom at their flat and enjoyed nibbles, drinks and chat. Showed them our Xmas photos from Tunisia — hard to believe only a few days ago we were enjoying relative North African warmth. Saw in New Year with mulled wine and Mad Max. For some reason, it seemed a good combination.
1992-1993: Le Kef, Tunisia
Befriended by young twenty-something Tunisian guy who invited us to have coffee with him. In New Year Eve's spirit, we accepted. Bad move. Soon became obvious he was drunk — Le Kef's first place in Tunisia we've encountered drunk locals, all young guys! And our "friend" had a hidden agenda: he wanted us to help him emigrate to Australia. Declined invitation to join him at another bar with other young drunks and returned to booze-free sanctuary of our hotel well before midnight.
1993-1994: Den Haag, Netherlands
Bought bag of dope from coffee shop — in Netherlands feels as normal as buying a coffee. Had difficulty rolling joint and couldn't keep it alight, so I ate it instead. Afterwards wandered streets of Den Haag with a pleasant glow. Joined J&I for New Year's Eve party. Constant crack, bang of fireworks we'd heard throughout day increased to a crescendo at midnight. Joined in fun and let off our own. But then went for dangerous walk along rear canal, running gauntlet of neighbourhood fireworks. Easy to understand Dutch government ads on TV warning of dangers of fireworks, but not why they don't ban them.
1994-1995: Amsterdam, Netherlands
Felt restless in Den Haag, so caught train to Amsterdam and pounded footpaths on my own. Forgotten how enjoyable it is to wander aimlessly, taking in sights, sounds and smells. Hugged canals wherever possible. Browsed second-hand books and CDs, watched people winch belongings into a flat, stumbled on a street market, listened to a Blues busker, ate "patat frittes met pinda saus" and "apfel gebak", had a "bier" and smoke in coffee shop, and even got lost and blundered into Red Light District (Honest, Guv!). Boarded train back to Den Haag weary, but happy and ready for New Year's Eve party with J&I.
1995-1996: Diani Beach, Kenya
Reflections: Goodbye 1995. First half of year in England dragged on and on, as countdown to setting off on our overland travels approached. Second half backpacking and on truck safari has flown by. Hard to believe we've visited so many countries. Even now, memories of Eastern Europe, Middle East and Northeast Africa have a dreamlike quality. Will Diani Beach and Kenya soon feel the same? Woken at midnight by fireworks and car horns heralding 1996. Rolled over and dozed off, dreaming of another day in paradise.
1996-1997: Strahan, Tasmania
Wharfside Strahan reminded me of New Year's Eve 1988 in Padstow. But instead of Cornish ale, pub served "12-ounce Boag's". Sipped beer and watched seaplanes taking off and landing on picturesque harbour. After dinner walked rainforest track to Hogarth Falls. Track flanked by ferns and tall moss and fungi cloaked trees, some with orchids hanging from branches. Tea-coloured creek snaked lazily beside it. Falls not as powerful as some we've seen, but provided peaceful place to pause before turning back. At campground, set early alarm for tomorrow's boat trip up Gordon River. Odd to think on New Year's Day 1997 I'll be taking same trip I took shortly after Franklin Dam protests in 1983.
1997-1998: Maclean, NSW
Worked on overdue project in morning, then in heat of midday sun, went boogie boarding at Angourie. Lot of effort for only a few waves — and we got sunburnt! Typical quiet and early New Year's Eve in Maclean. On first day of 1998, made and kept rare New Year's resolution to write and post Xmas cards. Reconciled myself cards wouldn't have arrived on time if I'd posted them when I bought them ... on Xmas Eve!
1998-1999: Brighton, England
Determined to make most of last day of 1998. Took classic B-road back routes to Arundel where I finally found Sloan Wilson's The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit in my favourite second-hand bookshop beside Castle wall (princely price of one pound). Had pub lunch, then pushed on to Brighton to meet A&T for New Year's Eve party at their "very rich" friend's house. Great house, great company, and great evening! Kids crammed in front of huge TV to join countdown to midnight. Party carried on to 3 AM. Impressed by kids' stamina as we walked home — far better than mine.
1999-2000: Okarito, New Zealand
Planned to spend New Year's Eve at Franz Joseph Glacier, but instead to camped at Okarito, setting for Keri Hulme's The Bone People. Had dinner on veranda of campground's communal kitchen, enjoying sound of breakers on beach. And then two mini-buses arrived full of touring campers with crates of beer. Sipped my Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and chatted with tour group. Along beach, another group started a driftwood bonfire. Joined them to see in New Millennium by the bonfire. Confusion among revellers on countdown. According to my watch, chorus of Auld Lang Syne was two minutes late. Blame Y2K Bug?
2000-2001: Mount Victoria, Blue Mountains, NSW
Despite warning about our holiday house's mad neighbour, J&T and kids arrived for New Year's Eve. All wearing summer shorts and t-shirts but soon pulled on warmer windcheaters. Went on favourite Mount Victoria bushwalk to Pulpit Rock and along track to ledge overlooking Megalong Valley and Victoria Pass — Uncle Robert bravely joined kids crawling on our bellies to peek over edge. Saw in New Year with "Celebrity Heads" game — I lost because don't know any celebrities! Our mad neighbour started playing loud music and bellowing threats again. Ignored him and went to bed after watching fireworks on TV — thankfully seems kids can sleep through anything.
2001-2002: Sydney, Australia
Refused to stay up and watch Sydney fireworks, which given statewide fire ban and smog from encircling bushfires should have been cancelled. Instead, crashed out at 11 PM. But, there was no avoiding din of midnight fireworks nor of neighbourhood bagpiper who piped in New Year with numerous encores of Aud Lang Syne. So ended 2001, a year defined worldwide by September 11. And which was also tough personally with botched renovations, business uncertainty and baby-making — at least latter was successful.
2002-2003: Sydney, Australia
Having stayed up late to catch glimpses of midnight fireworks from upstairs windows (looked better on TV), mummy and daddy were very tired. However, J woke as usual at 6 AM (and a couple of times earlier according to mummy), and unfortunately, he wasn't his usual cheery self and stayed grumpy until after mid-morning sleep. Happy New Years were offered through gritted teeth this year.
2003-2004: Kangaroo Valley, NSW
Frogs croaking in ponds and whir of overhead fans drowned out any New Year's Eve celebrations from neighbouring cabins. All was peaceful and quiet in morning ... until J woke. Even then, we stretched out our sleep-in by coaxing him into our bed to doze off again between mummy and daddy. Perfect start to New Year in Kangaroo Valley.
2004-2005: Maclean, NSW
Drove to town on an errand and stopped for beer at pub. Charmless smokey, pokies and horse-racing-on-TVs atmosphere inside, but views of Clarence River from pub's veranda were peaceful and beer was cold and cheap. About to head off when spotted a pod of dolphins working their way up the river — took it as a sign to have one more beer! Back at house, there were sparklers and glow tubes for J. Daddy was heavy-handed with first tube and it leaked everywhere. J and everyone else off to bed well before midnight. Sat alone with a beer and reflected another year had passed without writing my novel.
2005-2006: Orient Point, NSW
New Year's Day heatwave — like an oven outside at 6 AM. Drove to Berry Markets, but too hot to enjoy browsing. Headed on to Shoalhaven Heads for a dip. Onshore dumpers, so we could only dunk along shoreline. But J enjoyed running away from waves and chasing retreating froth. Finally dragged J from waves (literally) and carried him across burning hot sand. Back at Orient Point, turned on air-conditioning and watched Monsters Inc DVD. Expected (hoped!) J would doze off, but he was enthralled by animated antics of Sully, Mike Wazowski and Boo and demanded to watch it a second time.
2006-2007: Culburra Beach, NSW
In charge of BBQ for extended family at Cuburra. After dinner, settled on sofas with J&T and kids to watch New Year's celebrations on TV. Little and big cousins had fun with sparklers and glow tubes in back garden after 9 PM children's fireworks. Younger cousins went to bed and older ones stayed up with adults for midnight fireworks. Yet again kids outlasted adults, as we dozed off on sofas and they had to wake us at midnight.
2007-2008: Perth, WA
WA brothers and their mates getting louder and more tanked (though still jolly), so walked J and cousins to Cottesloe Beach. Strong southerly had sand stinging our legs and blowing away J's soccer ball. Kids had fun chasing ball and playing in frothing waves. I stood lifeguard in my boxer shorts in case current carried kids too far up coast. Detoured to bottle shop on way back to brother's house to buy more drinks. Long queue of young girls in New Year's Eve party dresses outside hotel. I felt very old.
2008-2009: Culburra Beach, NSW
Loaded paddle and boogie boards onto bike trailer, and pushed it to Lake Wollumboola for New Year's morning dip. J showed cousins how to paddle to join rest of family on sandy beachhead side of lake. Kids had fun on paddleboards while adults looked on and took photos. Retreated home when sun got too hot. Relaxed with another huge lunch, then adults had afternoon doze while younger kids played in paddle pool in back garden, and older kids played on devices. Returned to main beach for twilight body surf. Conditions were brilliant. Commented how I wished moments like these would last forever.
2009-2010: Perth, WA
Seemed odd having flown to Perth to visit family and friends to be on our own on New Year's Eve. But we made most of it and had fun with J's glow tubes and poppers, for which DIY-dad made safety launchers from empty soft drink bottles. Watched Sydney fireworks on TV at 9 PM and texted east coast family, Happy New Year. Then realised what we'd watched was delayed telecast of children's fireworks, not midnight extravaganza. Couldn't be bothered staying up to watch replay at midnight Perth-time.
2010-2011: Culburra Beach, NSW
Reflections: 2010 started in Perth seeing in New Year on our own and it ended same way on other side of continent in Cuburra. So much has changed in 12 months. J's grown and is moving to a new school in 2011 and my involvement with his old school's P&C has ended. Kevin Rudd's no longer PM, minority government's become the norm, and world's lurched from one natural, financial and man-made disaster to another. Yet some things haven't changed. I'm still faffing about with Tall And True, I still drink too much wine, and we still spent New Year's Eve on our own.
2011-2012: Culburra Beach, NSW
New Year's Eve outing to Jervis Bay. J used Xmas gift money to buy new, bigger (cooler!) boogie board at Huskisson surf shop and then we had pleasant drive past gum trees to Sussex Inlet. Baulked at cost of boat hire, but still enjoyed walk along inlet waters. Back in Cuburra, J keen to try out new boogie board. Beach windy, choppy and seaweedy, but we had good dad-and-son fun. Watched kids' fireworks on TV at 9 PM, lit sparklers in back garden and had early night. Woken at midnight by local fireworks. Rolled over and went back to sleep.
2012-2013: Culburra Beach, NSW
Midnight fireworks, early morning lorikeets, and "dreams" of outstanding DIY chores made for bleary-eyed start to New Year. I got on with balcony repairs determined to break back of job and keep promise to J of twilight round of golf at Callala Bay — at least I kept my promise ... just! We were last to tee off and had no pressure from other golfers in front or behind us. I had few good early holes, but then my game fell apart and I lost several balls in "magnetic" dam. J far more relaxed and beat me 68 to 69 over nine holes — on way home he asked if we could play golf again tomorrow.
2013-2014: Sydney, Australia
After week of cleaning, painting and moving back in post-renovations, mum keen to do "something", so we set off to Tree Top Adventure Park at Abbotsbury. Lovely bush setting, with lots of tall trees. Worked up physical and nervous sweat on Tree Top ropes. Nearly bailed out when vertigo kicked in on first run, but the adrenaline rush of flying foxes kept me going. All well weary by final flying fox and not tempted to tackle extra Black run. Proved to be perfect "something" to do for New Year's Day.
2014-2015: Sydney, Australia
Three Sydney fireworks celebrations scheduled for our first New Year's Eve with Jet — 9 PM, 10:40 PM and midnight. Tough night for poor dog, as he hates thunderstorms and fireworks! Wrapping pheromone-soaked scarf around Jet's neck (as recommended by vet) didn't stop him panting and woofing — perhaps should have wrapped scarf around my neck? However, walking Jet in local park, and letting him sniff and snuffle scents seemed to help take his mind off fireworks, even midnight finale.
2015-2016: Sydney, Australia
Reflections: Another year gone. Frightening to think how many have passed and how quickly. J's almost as tall as me — what's happened to my "Bub"!? Apart from relationship with J, I seem to have grown more distant from family and friends. And I'm finding more comfort from Facebook and Twitter interactions than one-on-one contact. That can't be good — and not good role modelling! Must make resolution to change this in new year.
2016-2017: Maclean, NSW
J promised last night he'd swim laps with me today and surprised me in morning by keeping his promise. We rode bikes to pool and found it all but deserted — J had his own lane and I had mine beside him. J did 30 laps and lapped me several times. But I pipped him with 40 laps and made sure he knew it. "Yes, but you're so slow, Dad!" Another nice dad-and-son moment to mark last day of 2016.
2017-2018: Sydney, Australia
Mum and dad on their own on New Year's Eve for first time since 2001 with J out watching Harbour fireworks from vantage of friend's house in Dover Heights. I walked Jet around streets to help him cope with 9 PM and midnight fireworks. Pulsating skies and booms and bangs had him panting and woofing. Both glad when fireworks ended and it was time to collect J. He'd had a great night and hadn't missed mum or dad! Back home, done with dad-taxi duty, I opened bottle of wine and caught up on diary entries and social media. Didn't get to bed until 2:30 AM. Latest New Year since Brighton 1998-99.
2018-2019: Sydney, Australia
All bleary-eyed after staying up to watch fireworks. Glad we'd arranged relaxing day at North Bondi with M&O. Boys played with O's new PS4 while grown-ups sat on balcony, enjoying good chat and views of Bondi Beach. Later in afternoon, coaxed boys to join me for New Year swim. Seemed like half of Sydney had same idea — beach was packed. Had surprisingly chilly dip, then watched boys join other teens and young adults jumping in waves off north end reef. Another one of those moments when I wished time would stand still.
Life passes very quickly
Looking back at my 32 years of diaries, it strikes me how exotic my New Years seemed in my childless, backpacking days: Wales, Cornwall, England, Egypt, Tunisia, Netherlands, Kenya, and even closer to home in the wilderness of Tasmania and New Zealand. From 2001 onwards, New Years were spent at home in Sydney, or at holiday houses in the Blue Mountains, Kangaroo Valley, Orient Point and Culburra Beach, or with family in Maclean and Perth. In more than one sense, becoming a dad grounded me.
In a reflection I wrote in my diary at the end of 2005, I observed, "Writing my daily diary entries and setting and reviewing my resolutions for the year has taught me two things: life passes very quickly and you shouldn't set yourself unrealistic goals."
I'm glad I've kept my diaries. It's been fun to review where and how I spent significant days, like the New Year, and to read my thoughts from so many years ago, even if I do sound more than a little like Adrian Mole!
The New Years have passed swiftly. The young backpacker is now a middle-aged man and my "Bub" is a young man! I can't stop time, but I can say thank goodness for my diaries and for my New Year memories.
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COVID New Years
I revisited this memoir piece in January 2022 and thought I'd update it with entries from the COVID years, New Year's Eve 2019 to 2021. I sincerely hope COVID will not still be hanging over us on 31 December 2022!
2019-2020: Sydney, Australia
Year and decade end for me with deep disappointment in our political, economic and social processes. But I have great hope for the future. Not with old fogeys like me, but in the younger generation. So as much as I love J, it's fitting one of my happiest memories of 2019 is reading "Walter the Farting Dog" to my littlest niece in WA, and playing "We're going on a Bear Hunt" with her over Xmas. My hope is for a bright 2020 for J (and his HSC!), for all my nieces and nephews, and for family and friends. And hopefully, our politics and times will recalibrate to the "sensible centre".
2020-2021: Sydney, Australia
Rode to Bondi Junction for last-minute New Year's Eve supplies. Less than 50% of shoppers wearing masks. Will be very surprised if there isn't a COVID alert, with crowding in shops and bugger all social distancing. Watched the midnight fireworks on our new large screen TV. Much better than standing in the drizzle at the Harbour surrounded by potentially infectious New Year revellers. But hopefully, more people did the right thing in Sydney tonight. And 2021 will see the world finally get on top of COVID.
2021-2022: Sydney, Australia
Daily COVID cases broke 21,000 in NSW. But state government still pushing on with New Year celebrations and fireworks. Popped up to shops. Post office closed due to COVID. But thankfully, this year, most in the shopping centre wearing masks, even if no longer mandated by our "Let it Rip" government. J out for the evening, watching fireworks from friend's balcony (with Harbour views). C went to bed early and I ignored New Year's Eve entertainment on TV and watched an old "Cricket in the '70s - The Chappell Years" DVD. With back door closed, cricket DVD muffled the fireworks and helped Jet and me see in a happier (that is, less noisy and woofy) New Year.
© 2019, 2022 Robert Fairhead
A middle-aged dad and dog owner, Robert is a writer and editor at Tall And True and blogs on his eponymous website, RobertFairhead.com. He also writes and narrates episodes for the Tall And True Short Reads podcast, featuring his short stories, blog posts and other writing from Tall And True.
Robert's book reviews and other writing have appeared in print and online media. In 2020, he published his début collection of short stories, Both Sides of the Story, and in 2021 Twelve Furious Months, twelve short stories written for the Australian Writers' Centre's Furious Fiction writing competition.
Outside of writing, Robert's favourite pastimes include reading, watching Aussie Rules football with his son and walking his dog.
He has also enjoyed a one-night stand as a stand-up comic.