Greetings all and firstly congratulations Vicar on an excellent effort in bringing to fruition a lifetime of memories in the form of the Sundowners Adventures website.
For those who knew me hello again, for those who knew me and were trying to forget me, sorry about that.
My Sundowners experience started in 1977 when I was a punter with Vicar, Kit and Darcy on Troika TK163 overland which included Bulgaria, Romania, Russia and Poland all in all around 90 days, plus breakdowns. It was eye opening and mind broadening experience and still now I can clearly remember many aspects of the places we visited as well as still hear from many fellow passengers who became friends. I did a European trip and my passport said I was in Munich for the Oktoberfest.
In 1978 I joined Sundowners in 8 Hogarth Place as a salesman, visa gatherer, booking accommodation at Hunters Hotel and general office wallah. Who remembers the thrill of collecting their mail from home downstairs at number 8? We also used to pickup Sundowners Club members from the airport and organise free club day trips into various interesting parts of the English countryside specializing in locating historical English pubs. Dean Watson, Rattles and I after intensive research and development of the Earls Courts pubs were instrumental in the move away from the congestion of the Kings Head into the more salubrious surrounds of the Albany hotel as the new meeting room for Sundowners crew and trip reunions. It also involved constant surveillance at the Albany to make sure it all ran smoothly. That is my recollection of the story anyway.
I also ran the Sundowners Hostel in Palace Street Victoria from 1978 to 1979 where for three pounds a night you always had clean bed and many willing drinking companions. The other Sundowners hostel in Finborough road was run by Cheryle and was known affectionately as “whorebag house “(not Cheryle, the building!). It was the scene of many a great party held because it was somebody’s aunts birthday.
Following a road trip to the States and then a stint with Capricorn travel in Ebury Bridge Road Pimlico with Mike Russel and the lovely Linda (Green), I headed home to Sydney in early 1980. I arrived home with little money and a return Aeroflot ticket intending to return the next year with a few more dollars.
My dilemma was I still had the travel gene but little money and I needed a career where I could do both. I was fortunate to secure an aviation position with Air NSW in 1981. In 1983 a chance remark in the office saw me offered a transfer to Maroochydore and here I have remained since. Now a lot busier today than 28 years ago the Sunny Coast is still one of the great places in the world to live. My career hit a speedbump when Ansett submerged in 2001 but managed to stay in the industry with a smaller carrier. Thirty years later I am with airline number five, working in the network operations section of Virgin Australia in Brisbane, in a role best described as looking after the “ virgins”.
Jenny followed me up and she turned out to be the right one. Vicar only got it 60% right when he said I have quintuplets but triplets were definitely enough to keep us busy for many years. Now 22, Patrick has just finished an engineering degree, Sarah is on the last year of a law and psychology degree while Adam is studying medical science. The plan now is to travel as much as possible, stay around long enough to be a burden on the kids and for them to put us in the best retirement village this side of Kathmandu.
I will post some photos soon and hope that will spark some memories and may even make you physically cringe. Look forward to hearing from fellow soul mates and seeing what life journeys you have taken you on since those heady days of London and beyond.
Not sure if you were running Palace Street, Victoria when we were staying there for a few weeks (most probably during March) prior to Easter 1978 while we sold the motorhome we had bought to travel for 9 months round Europe. We were eligible to stay at the Sundowners Hostel having done TK159 (Kathmandu to London via Moscow) in 1977. I remember the room we stayed in so very clearly. It was down the back of the building and the size of the double bed. The loo was across the courtyard and a freezing trip at that time of the year. The communal kitchen was down in the basement.
I remember that there were double yellow lines on Palace Street outside the building because we got booked for parking there while we unloaded the motor home - an unwelcome expense just prior to heading back to Oz. There was a pub we frequented somewhere between the hostel and Scotland Yard - from memory it was on the corner of Palace Street. Can you recall the name?
I wasn't managing the Palace street hostel at that time as I started there a few months later in around May 78. It was almost certainly John Wilson who also worked in the Sundowners office at that time. I do remember the room at the back, you were certainly fortunate to secure the Honeymoon Courtyard Suite as it was in high demand. There were a total of 17 rooms with 32 beds with 2 or 3 beds to a shared room with several residents who were there long term or returned regularly between trips. You may remember Judy Richardson who was my housekeeper then succeeded me as manager when I left. The dodgy kitchen and dining area were downstairs in the basement area and several communal dinners were taken there.
There was lots of pubs within staggering distance of the hostel. The Pheonix was across the road next to the Westminster Theatre but you may have been thinking about the Cask & Glass which was about the size of an average living room or The Colonies around the corner was a popular haunt.
I will post some photos which I have of the hostel and some of the pubs very soon and you may recognize some faces.
The parking was a problem later too for another of our "residents", Leo Daly (courier) and Mark Small were in "room 18" a beat up Kombi which used to park around the corner in the lane while using the hostel facilities but regularly got harrassed by the tenacious parking police.
There may be other previous Palace street residents who have stories or photos that would like to add or embellish recollections to add to this chapter in Sundowners history. While they were predominatly Aussies & Kiwis residents there were also sprinklings of Rhodesions, French, Italians, Thai and Irish but definately no Yanks.
I see you have posted more photo's of the old days. I remember going from 200 Earls Court Rd to Pimlico on the day that the IRA let their bombs off. I forget who was with me, we went to see if we could help at the Capricorn office. We couldn't get near the joint.
Yeah, that was a very messy IRA bombing and Mike Russell and his staff were very lucky to be not killed in it. He told me about it a few years later and I think he said the van loaded with explosives and nails were parked about two doors down from Capricorn.
I used to hear from Mike but lost track when he and Kershid split and he went off to South America. I actually tracked him down last year by email and you wouldn't believe it he is the Honorary Irish Consul to Peru. Not sure how a Canadian who lived mostly in UK got into that position and I questioned him also about when the Honourable part came into being. A very funny guy who was great fun to work with and he particulalry loved a practical joke.
I knew Mike Russell very well. Col, he was short, stout, bearded, bald and a friendly, clever guy with a strong Canadian accent. He had done several South American overlands and got to know some locals; hence his moving to Peru. I used to stay at his place between trips when he was still with Kurshid. As well as being Canadian, he had gained Irish citizenship through grandpatriality. He was blasted several metres across the office with that terrorist bomb. It gave him nightmares for quite a while.
Sandra Ahrana aka Sandra Banana was also working at the Capricorn office at the time. She was interviewed on world TV about it. Last I saw of her, she had a wealthy English boyfriend, but that was over a quarter of a century ago now. I hope her life turned out well.
Many thanks for posting the photos, Johnno, especially those of the Palace Street Hostel. But it brought home how easily the memory fails at times. For the life of me I could not remember the street view of the hostel but the kitchen was just as I remember it. Maybe that's because I spent more time there than standing out on the street! However I do remember the street views of the pubs, especially the Cask & Glass. It was always a welcome sight after spending the day on shanks pony seeing all London had to offer the tourist. Have been back to London many times since but have never though to revisit either Hogarth Place or Palace Street. Speaking of Earls Court, I remember staying, in June 1977, in a B & B somewhere within walking distance of the Sundowners Office and also going to a pub in (?) Broughton Road for a TK159 reunion shortly after our arrival in London. Can't remember the address of the former but was the latter the Albany? The Sundowners Office was a home away from home - going regularly to collect mail & hearing the good old Aussie accent. Ahhh memories memories.....
Glad you liked the Palace Street photos.It was the home away from home for many travellers during my tenure and it had the real estate mantra of position, position, position. Pubs were plentiful and not far away. When I was last over there in 2008 the hostel had been demolished and taken over by the BA offices. It was part of the Queens estate in 1978. A group of residents did once invite the Queen for lunch in the charismatic kitchen but unfortunately due to a prior engagement... etc etc.
Number 8 Hogarth Place had become a real estate office. I believe I have some photos of them both in 2008 so watch this space. At that time Earls Court had somehow become trendy and most places seem to have been or were about to be renovated and very expensive.
I think the B & B place you refer to was Hunters Hotel in Trebovir Road in Earls Court, This was the end of journey for most overland trips in those days and most passengers spent the first few days at least in that abode until they headed off in many different directions. It was run in those days by Ken (South African) and Shiela and was around five pounds a night. They also had the Hunters Lodge down the road and they did pretty well out of Sundowners during the late 70's. There seemed to be a touch of Fawlty Towers about both places.
The POT was a popular Earls Court eating establishemnt in those days. There were a few different ones called the Golden Pot and the Hot Pot if my memory has any credibility left. They were not in line for any Michelin Stars but were of the cheap and cheerful variety and when you were broke and hungry thats what you were after.
My dad, Gabor Osvath, from Wellington, NZ, was on your Sundowners TK 163 overland trip (Kathmandu to London) in 1977. I've shown him this blog and he was amazed! He says you all haven't changed a bit! My dad was apparently known for his organizing and packing skills on the trip -- he says he got out of cooking duty (probably for the best) by rearranging and organizing the luggage in the bus! To this day, he's still the organizer extraordinaire.
Unfortunately, my dad doesn't have any of his own pictures from the trip, as his rolls of film melted from the heat in the bus I believe. He has a few pictures from other people on the trip, but I'd love to find him more pictures from that trip so I thought I'd write to you. Do you have any pictures specifically from that trip? Or even better, would you happen to have any of my dad? (If you don't remember him exactly, I'd be happy to send a picture of him!)
So after the trip was over, my dad lived and worked in London for about 6 years. When his visa expired, he moved to New York and never left! He eventually met my mum, an American, and they've been married 29 years. He's now a dual US-NZ citizen and so am I -- so proud to be a Kiwi too!
My whole life, I've grown up hearing about all of your adventures on the TK 163 Overland trip. It truly was a defining period of my dad's life and he now has read about every book published about the regions you traveled to. He's passed on his spirit of travel to me, and I've relished the opportunities to live in France twice... next stop Spain. I'm so grateful my dad taught me that travel is worth so much.
Yes I remember him well. I was the courier, Kit Carr was the driver and Darcy Waller was the trainee.
I just had a look and cannot find many pictures of your dad. If you look down the left-hand menu of this site and go to "Various" they are 2 of him in there. One is where the passengers are laying on a blue ground sheet in front of the broken down bus, you dad is standing up on the left-hand side of the bus. The second one, still in the same menu, is where you will see Darcy with his hat on which reads "Dur" handing out candy off of a dust pan. Your dad is the one partly hidden by his left arm.
I don't even seem to have a group photo in front of the Taj for that trip.
If you or your dad wish to contact me via the contact section at the bottom of the "Home" page I can forward some pictures which is part of the group, many years on. There was a reunion in Sydney some years ago.
I remember your dad always being well groomed, has he still got that thick head of black hair?
The guys such as Darcy or Johnno may have some more pictures than me of your dad. Say hi! from me.
Gabor (I think we called him Gabbie?) and I talked about him leaving hungary in 1956, walking through waist deep snow to get across the border with his father, your grandfather. We got on well, and I have oftern wondered where he went to after leaving the bus in London.
There was an Hungarian community in Wellington, and in NZ in those days it was quite rare to have immigrant groups. We had a few "Dalies" (dalmations) and a few Dutch people, a very chinese, and that was about it.
A name like Gabor Osvath certainly was different to John Smith or Murray Jones.
No photos from me I am afraid, as I only took two and I can't find them. They were both of flowers or something taken by sticking the camera ouit of the bus window at speed. The rest are in my head, where I like to think I can remember them.
Thank you so much for your replies!! Vicar, I can't believe you recognized my dad in those photos! He was delighted to see them, as was I. You'll be happy to know that he still is well groomed and has that thick head of black hair, too! You couldn't have described him more accurately.
Kit, my dad was amazed that you remembered so much about your conversations with him so long ago. It's been so much fun looking at all the pictures you've all posted on this blog.
I'll see if I can get my dad to be social media-savvy enough to send you some of his own pictures or write on the blog!
There are a few things about trips of that type that stick, but the comments you made have lead to a couple of useless random thoughts.
There are three types of people on trips like that, and how they rate depends on your point of view.
First and most insignificantly thare are those who are insignificant, and who are relegated to a level somewhere below the sub-conscious. Naturally I can't remember anything about any of them until something causs to make them rise back into the conscious, but they are still insignificant.
2nd, there are the arseholes. Not many fall into this category, but they will remain forever in that category because of the dumb shit they did or the mongrel people that they were. People complaining about a few paice on a dinner bill in India automatically fall into that category. Others simply because they are arseholes, and nothing will ever change that. Every trip had at least one, but generally they came in pairs.
3rd, Good buggers. These are the people who were just good to be around and get along with. Fortunately they outnumber the arseholes who were relatively rare.
Gabbie fitted into the "Good Bugger " category.
Another good point was raised. That of "Packing the boot". This is an art. From a drivers point of view someone who was good at packing the boot was automatically a "good bugger". And be assured that many who tried were not good at it. They tended then to fall into the 2nd category
The buses, sorry coaches, that we used were designed to carry aging poms from somewhere in middle England on a day trip to Brighton, where they would buy crappy souvenirs, and carry them and a few drinks home. They crammed 53 of them into a wooden framed bus, and drove them home. At the rear of the coach was a hole with a lid on it, called a "boot" which was only used occasionally, and it wasn't very large. In theory it was designed to carry 53 peoples luggage, but not all theories are good ones. The boot was never large enough, and from a design point of view it mwant that a large and variable weight was suspended off the rear of the coach, where it could bounce around and test the strength of the body builders art. Remembering that these things were made from lots of timber, and often the back would start to sag and droop. We often had to strengthen the rear of the coach st stop it falling off.
Sundowners, in their wisdom, recognised that luggage was going to be a struggle, and recommended a suitcase size to overland travellers, which was studiously ignored by them. When they arrived in Kathmandu with suitcases that small Nepalese families could live in, fitting all of that junk into the coach became a precision task.
Not only did we have around 45 people, we had camping equipment for 45, kitchen tents and cookers, gas bottles, food, spare parts and all of the accumulated stuff that 45 people bought to make their trip memorable. And the stuff that we needed to keep the coach going. They were never designed to be driven to Kathmandu, and the fact that they did, and did it well suggests that we should be grateful for engineering tolerances.
So packing all of this stuff became a vital task. It was a precision assembly function to make sure that everything did fit.
The driver normally did this, with the able assistance of one or two passengers. It took some time, and was like a complicated and evolving 3 dimensional jigsaw puzzle. Everything had to be done in a sequence, with the right piece of luggage just fitting. Wew learned to watch for signs of people buying big stuff, and either changing the shape of their bag, or adding another package to the packing mix. Invariably the process of closing the door become more difficult as the trip went on. We had to apply a fair bit of physical pressure to close the boot by the end of the trip, and it is a tribute to the makers that we never had a boot burst open.
So Alex, Gabbie came into this environment and immediately saw that the fine art of boot packing was an area that he could excel. By doing something that he liked doing he could avoid doing stuff that he didn't. The boot packers did not have to help with the cooking as the two tasks overlapped once we were camping. We would get people to bring their bags to the bus as soon as they could, and the packing would start while the boot packers grabbed some breakfast, and shovelled stuff into the boot. It was always the last task before we left, unless one of those passengers in the 2nd category had managed to be late.
Punctuality is another subject altogether.
During that process we talked, and that is how I remember stuff that Gabbie talked about. We saw refugees on our trips, and I could relate to his family struggle to leave Hungary all of those years before.
Thank you for your response I was excited to hear from a son of a Sundowner or in this case a daughter.
I remember your dad Gabbie, as we called him well and with much fondness. He was certainly far more dapper and suaver than us average Aussies and Kiwis. It was great to know where he has finally settled even though his journey has taken him far from here and that he still recounts to you his journey on TK163 in 1977 which like most of us had a big impact on our hearts and minds and no doubt changed our lives for the better. He definitely fitted in the “good bugger” category as did most of our fellow passengers.
His journey had an earlier start in Hungary in 1956 and wound its way to the USA long after most of us had returned back to near our origins. I hope he has recorded his life journey for you for it is indeed a fantastic story. I did hear mentioned that he was involved in the television industry in New York and am sure those boot packing skills must have been put to good use. May be he could put his own story into a telemovie. I would be thinking Hugh Jackman for the lead role.
I have a few photos that I would be happy to share with your dad. I have a few more than Kit but not as many as Vicar. It may have been a great Hindu blessing for you for the heat of India on that day has saved you from countless New York PowerPoint nights recounting the TK163 journey. I also have more recent photos from a 30 year TK163 anniversary held in Sydney in 2007 as well as a few contacts for some fellow passengers that I still keep in regular touch with.
My email address is email@example.com so if you or your Dad could send me your return email I will scan and send what I think photos may be relevant.
Enjoy your own personal travels and the life experiences to be gained from seeing new cultures and learning more about your own interesting heritage in that way you will have indeed inherited the travel spirit and hunger for knowledge that your father has. Keep in touch as many of us would be interested to hear where your travels take you. It will bring back many memories to us old Sundowners.
I would like to have had a hard copy of Kits' description of passenger categories back in 1978/79. I can see now why I had to go, I only had one arsehole on that trip and Kit was a believer in a pair of arseholes, clearly I was one arsehole short!
The Titanic as everone knows was a fantastic coach! But after saying that we did manage to loose quite a few sleeping bags on the Russian road from Herat to Kandahar when the boot burst open somewhere along that road and we arrived at the accommodation with a fair bit of space at the top which made packing next day that bit easier.
Most punters took my heartfelt apology for loosing their property but one arsehole didn't and we ended up in Court in London with this as part of his claim, he lost the case and had to pay costs. Now I come to think about it he was with his wife which makes a pair of arseholes - Kit I think you might be on to something!
Thanks so much for sharing your memories of my dad in '77. Sorry it's taken me a while to respond! It's been so much fun reading your replies. Unfortunately I'll have to admit that my dad didn't work in the movies, but in medical advertising.. not quite as glamourous, I'm afraid. However, I do agree that he's had quite an interesting life, but from reading your blog, I get the impression that you all have many stories to tell too! I've never been to Asia but I would love to - but I think it's a different era now. I'm so jealous of the incredible experiences you all had in such a unique period of time. I think you should all get together and write a book about your experiences!
Thanks again! I'd also really appreciate any photos you might have of my dad/his trip. My email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org. My dad's is email@example.com.
I've never met you, nor was I part of Sundowners but I had to laugh when I came across your notes about Hunters Hotel/Lodge.
I've stayed several times at Hunter's Lodge, and after a 2 month camping tour with NAT Tours in the summer of 1978, my girlfriend and I returned to Hunter's Lodge. There was a sign on the door for "help wanted" and of course we applied. I didn't remember the managers names, just that they were from South Africa. If you can believe it, they paid us 27 pounds a week from which they deducted 21 pounds for room and board! We would serve breakfast, clean rooms then stuff ourselves with breakfast at the Lodge. So you guessed it, our favourite restaurants were The Pot, The Golden Pot and The Hot Pot where we got a huge meal for 1 pound! At the end of the week being down a pound was not too bad!
Thanks for reminding me of a great year spent overseas!