As my father reminded me this morning, it was exactly 28 years ago today, that the Chrenkoff family touched down in Brisbane, on a Qantas flight from Rome, via Singapore, where I was almost arrested when an X-ray scan of my carry-on backpack revealed a cast-iron replica revolver I bought at an Italian toy store for $15. Being young and even more unworldly (this was my first time flying) it didn’t occur to me that this might be a problem, even in those innocent pre-9/11 days. The gun was confiscated and we just made it our flight to Brisbane. I still miss it, it was a very cool gun.
The Brisbane IÂ arrived into that morning was a very different city to what it is today. Even the old international airport looked like a big shed you would now associate with some ramshackle busted-ass developing country, though coming from communist Poland (albeit via 16 months in Italy) I couldn’t really tell and even if I could, I wouldn’t have complained anyway.
Arriving on the 30th of November 1988, I just missed all the excitement of Expo’88, which put Brisbane on an international map. But once the exhibition halls emptied and tourists went home, Brisbane remained for many years still a big little country town, sleepy and languid, with one nightclub, or what went for a nightclub in those days, restrictive trading hours, and “Sizzlers” as the epitome of restaurant experience.
It has been a joy to watch my new home town grow over those 28 years, as it slowly and progressively acquired the critical mass of population and wealth to aspire to its recent marketing status of a “new World City”. We might not be quite there yet, and there as some steps back, like Labor’s ridiculous lock-out laws that are strangling the night life, but we’ll get there. For as long as I can remember I had this vision of the south-east Queensland becoming a sub-tropical coastal megalopolis of several million people, a sort of the southern California, but hopefully without most of the problems beguiling the LA monster. I think this will be the story of Brisbane, the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast, and the surrounds over the next 28 years.
The fact that Brisbane has grown so much in all respects has of course been in large part the function of the fact that Australia as a whole has grown too. When I arrived in 1988, the country was in the process of opening up its economy to the world, thanks to the Hawke/Keating reforms. They laid the foundations, after the speed bump of the 1991 recession, for the quarter of a century of uninterrupted economic growth and expansion we’ve experienced ever since. Australia today is more confident, more open, more prosperous – a better – country than it was those 28 years ago. That too has been a joy to watch.
I grew together with my new city and my new country, though arguably not as spectacularly as they did (“Chrenkoff is now in his 100th quarter of continuing GDP growth”; I think not). We all come to forks in the road many times in our lives – “the sliding doors” situations to use the movie analogy – I don’t know what my life would have been like had I and my family stayed in Poland (“After weeks of mounting pressure, Prime Minister Chrenkoff resigned today over what the media has dubbed the ‘Goat-gate’ scandal”) but I never regretted coming to Australia. It has been a great adventure on a piece of Earth that has been uniquely blessed by the Creator.
I’m thankful to my adopted country for taking a chance on me and my family. Having worked in politics for years, I’m afraid I have been a drain on the country’s resources, rather than a net contributor like so many entrepreneurial migrants. I will always be grateful for the kindness and opportunities that Australia as a collective and its institutions as well as countless Australians as individuals have given me over the years, and I’m nowhere close to repaying them. You have all been wonderful, even if from time you threaten to put me back on the boat and turn it around. Good luck taking my citizenship from me first.
Here’s to another 28 years, at least. And here’s to Australia, and to all of you whom I’ve met already and whom I haven’t yet but will in the future.
(Photo: my first Christmas in Brisbane, in front of the City Hall)