My late sister, Kerri-Anne was the pioneer overseas adventurer in our family, and I owe her a lot.
Her tales from Britain and Europe helped plant the seeds of travel in my mind.
More poignantly, her travels also resulted in a lifetime friendship with Maggie and Paul Dobson, from Dover in Kent.
Kerri-Anne went overseas in 1976, with her close friend from Murwillumbah, Caroline Collis. I had worked with Caroline at The Daily News, Murwillumbah, where her father, Pat, was in charge of the presses. Pat also was a top rugby league referee.
Kerri-Anne and Caroline, classmates at Mt St Patrick’s, Murwillumbah, embarked on a European coach trip, and it was during that time the Kerri-Anne met Maggie Heyburn, who would go on to marry Paul Dobson.
My wife and I first met Maggie and Paul in 1978, when we were working in London. One weekend we headed to Dover to catch up with this couple, who Kerri-Anne had described in such glowing terms.
Paul worked for P & O Ferries and Maggie in a bank. They were positively cashed up compared with Marie and I, who were struggling.
They showered us with hospitality, something that never changed over the years, even when the boot was on the other foot, and they were doing it a bit tough, and we were comparatively well off. (Dover was hit hard by the opening of the Channel Tunnel).
In 1986, for instance, my wife Marie and I stayed with the Dobsons, in Avenue Road, Dover for several nights, early in a south of England motoring trip.
We had afforded ourselves a holiday, before I started work, covering my second Kangaroo rugby league tour, for Brisbane’s ‘Telegraph’ newspaper.
The ‘Telegraph’ did not have the money to allow me to cover the entire tour, so I was to join the Australians at the match against Cumbria at Barrow, the last game before the First Test against Great Britain at Manchester’s Old Trafford Stadium.
That 1986 trip began with Marie and I exploring Royal Berkshire, including a lovely walk at Goring Gap, overlooking the River Thames.
It was there where we met a man who was the spitting image of famous actor, Sir John Gielgud, to the extent that I asked him if he was Sir John, something he didn’t deny. He played games with me.
On that first night we stayed at a hotel at Faringdon in Oxfordshire. The next day we explored the Cotswolds, including Bibury, Bourton-on-the-Water and The Slaughters. We also visited Warwick Castle, surely the best castle in the whole of the UK.
That night we stayed in Stratford-upon-Avon, dining at the Slug and Lettuce, which, we subsequently discovered was part of a chain of pubs.
Next stop was Whitchurch, in the beautiful Test Valley. From there we drove to Dover, via Tunbridge Wells and Benenden.
In Dover, Paul took me on a pub crawl, which included The White Horse, Eight Bells and Red Lion. He loved his real ale, and avoided lager like the plague.
I gave Paul, a former prop forward with Dover Rugby Union, a couple of league jerseys from Australia, one a Toowoomba Clydesdales jumper, featuring the head of Colonel Sanders (of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame) on the front. Not sure what Paul made of that, but he wore it, at least while I was in his company.
I managed to get tickets to the Second Test of the Kangaroo tour – at Elland Road, Leeds – for Paul, and he crashed in my room at the Dragonara Hotel.
The Test was the first game of league Paul had seen live. He was impressed with the Don Furner coached/Wally Lewis captained ‘Roos, but thought Britain had put up the white flag, as the Aussies crushed the home side 34-4.
Paul, (a big lad), and Australian prop, Steve ‘Blocker’ Roach had words in the lift at the Dragonara after the Test, but didn’t come to blows, thankfully, otherwise, all that diplomacy my sister, Kerri-Anne had expended, would have gone to waste.
Sadly, Paul passed away, nearly 20 years ago now. I have visited his burial place, and Marie and I have visited Maggie and her children, Jared and Hayley, a number of times since. Dover will always hold a special part in our hearts, thanks to the Dobsons and my sister, Kerri-Anne.
Photo 1: Brisbane Airport farewell, 1976. From left (backrow): Pat Collis and his daughter, Caroline; Kerri-Anne Ricketts and our father, Jon; Jeffrey Ricketts; our mother, Lola. Front row: Siblings, Andrew, Stewart and Gay Ricketts.
Photo 2: Paul and Maggie Dobson and their children, Hayley and Jared,