Travels of a Blue-Arsed Fly – Part 1

Travelling with a disability presents a number of challenges.

After a long absence the Blue Arsed Fly (BAF) has been on the road again. Regale in his adventures.

Sadly, we cannot use the caravan anymore as the missus has great difficulty walking, even with the electric lift on the van.

I was sitting at home earlier this year wishing we were on the road again when I had an epiphany, or was it gas, no it was definitely an epiphany, I know the difference. Well we can’t fly, go on a train or bus, but I still wanted to go up country, so that left the car or a cruise.

Immediately that dull light bulb in my mind shone a little brighter and that little voice in my head said to me: “You idjut why not go on a cruise?”

I turned to she who must be obeyed and asked in a tremulous voice, “Would you like to go on a cruise love?”

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The missus thought a moment and said, “That would be fine?”

The first thing to consider is, we would have to go and come back to the same port, no flying see. I began to research cruises and from Melbourne there were only a few that were only a few days, so I expanded the search and up came one that stood out. A 26-day cruise to south-east Asia, starting and finishing in Perth. It seemed a good one as we could drive to Perth, so I started the ball rolling and booked the tour.

Being ex-Navy I try to be efficient and always do an itinerary, with the missus being disabled we’d take five days to get to Perth. I worked out the places to stop each night and rang up motels in these towns and asked the same question: “Do you have a room suitable for the disabled with a bathroom suitable for the disabled?” If they said yes I booked a room.

The time came we were off and everything went fine — for the first two days! Then the Hathaway Luck stepped in?

We arrived at Port Augusta, yes they had the disabled room ready so we went in, now the important thing is the disabled room must have hand rails next to the toilet and in the shower bay with a seat and portable shower head. Well the only thing that was disabled friendly was the small ramp that allowed entry into the room. The bathroom was small, no handrails anywhere and only just able get the wheelchair in and be able to help on or off the wheelchair, but we managed.

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Early next morning we’re away to Ceduna 500 clicks away.

Checking in at the motel at Ceduna I knew something was wrong when there was more than 300mm to step up to the verandah and a 120mm step into the room.

Having a look at the bathroom — no hand rails anywhere and the shower was useless. Went back to the office and said “I was told you had a room suitable for the disabled, that room certainly isn’t.”

“Sorry,” was their answer. “We’re just relieving managers we had no knowledge of the booking.”

We ended up at the Foreshore Hotel for $185 for the night.

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The room was on the first floor. We needed a cut lunch and a water bag to get there however, the wet room is great, there are handrails everywhere, a wide doorway and room to get the wheelchair in and out.

We lose power — there was a storm further south that blacked out Ceduna, 5 minutes later the power comes on and we head off to the bistro for something to eat. When we get to the lift the sign on the door says it is out of order and we are to use the stairs. I look at the missus and thought “Yeah right”.

It turned out the emergency generator isn’t big enough to run the hotel and the lift. It wasn’t expected to be fixed until 10pm that night. Fifteen minutes after ordering room service we were advised that they had run out of what we had ordered. We chose something else and when it comes the food is cold, but we eat it.

The next morning I gather everything to take to the car, go to the lift and the sign is still there, down to reception I go and ask what’s going on.

They haven’t been able to fix the problem. Naturally I ask how I am going to get my wife, who is in a wheelchair, down from the first floor.

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I speak with the manager.

We wait and two hotel people turn up, the maintenance man and the woman who runs the bistro.

They’re arrived to help get my wife down the stairs. I look at her and said, there’s no way you’ll be able to manhandle the wheelchair down the stairs.

Eventually the manager turns up and he and the maintenance man turn the wheelchair around and back the it down the stairs. Te two men have to take the weight and each step the wheelchair goes clunk as it suddenly drops to the next step and the foot paddles hit the step above and I think they’re going to break the paddles.

I look at mother and she is holding on for grim death, the look on her face was one of abject terror and humiliation.

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When we get to the bottom of the stairs the two people quickly disappear and I quietly tell the manger what I think of this episode. You can imagine I hope why I was angry. Then I tell him, I’m taking this further and will be sending emails to the hotels management, the tourist association, the human rights commission, the PM, Donald Trump and Barack Obama, (well maybe not the last three), I was that angry.

He takes my tirade and says we’ll not charge you for the room and food and I say that’s a good idea.

Next stop is Madura Roadhouse 200 clicks west of the Western Australia-South Australia border, the visas and passports were in order, and we don’t have any fruit or vege so the fruit and vege gestapo lets us proceed.

When we get to the motel it looks as though we’ll be going through a similar routine when the guy says he doesn’t have a room for the disabled.

I ask to see the room and look in the small bathroom, the door is narrow and I doubt the wheelchair will get through. The toilet is tucked in the corner next to the shower wall, no hand rails to be seen and the basin is directly in front of the toilet, great I think.

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I go back to the reception and say the situation is not good enough. They offer to ring ahead and see if the next place has a disabled room. They ring Cocklebiddy, Caiguna and Balladonia and their answer is the same — No!

Then one of the blokes said, we have a disabled shower and toilet but it’s for the use of the grey nomads and is separate from the motel. I go over and have a look there is crushed rock at the entrance with a steep ramp up as its about 6-foot off the ground.

It would mean every time the missus wanted to go to the toilet I’d have to get her into the car drive over and get her out again. We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, again we have to sleep somewhere so we take the room.

By this time the missus is busting to go so I drive around, put her into the wheelchair, nearly have a heart attack pushing it over the crushed rock and fair dinkum if I’d had a pace maker I’d have fused the bloody thing pushing the chair up the steep ramp. When we get to the room she agrees we won’t be going through that every time and demands we figure out how to use the bathroom.

As I said the doorway is narrow and the only way to get the wheelchair into the bathroom was to gouge grooves into the door and door jamb and that is what we did. Now we have a slight problem, there is just enough room for the wheelchair and if I want to help her out of it I had to stand in the shower cubicle, reach around and try and lift her out of the chair. The one saving grace is she could use the basin as leverage to stand up, not good but it was better than having to drive to the toilet each time.

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Next problem — the bed is close to the bathroom door and there’s no room the get the wheelchair to the side of the bed.

Next day we’re off to Coolgardie, we drive 500km to Norseman and I said we’ll stop at the motel there and see if they have a disabled room for on the way back.

At the motel I ask the question, and yes they have a room for the disabled. It has a wet room, but I can’t inspect the room because someone is using it. I take her word and will book the room when we get back from the cruise.

Next stop Coolgardie and, you’ve guessed it, their supposed disabled room was even worse than Madura. There were two doors, one into the bathroom and one into the toilet and this door was so narrow there was no hope of getting the wheelchair in.

I tell the manager we were lied to (again) and we’re not staying. I ask how far is it to the next town, that’s Southern Cross 200km away, so off we go. We get out of town and then it dawns on me why are we going west when Kalgoorlie is 40km to the east. We turn around and go to Kalgoorlie looking for a disabled room.

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The first place we come to is a caravan park, no they don’t have a cabin for the disabled, three motels later still nothing with a room for the disabled. By this time it’s 3:30pm Sunday nothing is open and we’re outside one of those old country pubs in the main street that have a balcony on the first floor, I ring the number provided because the pub is closed. No, no room for the disabled, the woman asked if we have tried the Rydges Hotel she thinks they have a suitable room, she gives me directions of how to get there and we do a cook’s tour of Kalgoorlie and we finally end up outside the hotel.

Good news! The wet room is the best I’ve seen, room to swing a cat in, open shower and hand rails all round. The bed is king sized and plenty of room to get the wheelchair to the side of the bed, we’ll take it and a great night’s sleep did we have.

Next stop Perth and Fremantle.

Do you or a loved one have a disability that makes travel challenging? What have been your travel experiences? Share your stories with us.

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