Throughout her life, Irene Voysey’s love of a good story has taken her to dozens of different countries.
It started when she was “a bright-eyed, optimistic 18-year-old”, embarking on the P&O Himalaya with her parents from Bombay to Sydney in search of better work opportunities. The family didn’t take long to adjust to their new environment.
“We loved Australia. Going out boating on the rivers on weekends, going to the milk bar,” she said.
“On Saturday nights we teenage girls went to Rockdale Town Hall or the Tivoli and stood around the walls, chatting nervously and waiting for equally nervous boys to ask us to dance.”
Not long after settling in Sydney, she was off again. This time, she moved to Darwin as a ground hostess with Qantas.
Her career took her to Papua New Guinea, England, and eventually Hong Kong, where Irene, her flight engineer husband and their three children ended up living for 13 years.
“My first book was written in Hong Kong – a book on house plants for Asian homes, because the only books you could get over there were from England where the climate is very different.
“It was on the bestseller list for weeks because it was so simple. There was huge demand and it was later translated into Chinese!”
This gardening guide sparked a prolific writing career as an author and journalist.
Upon returning to Australia, Irene took a role as a journalist for the Christian press. She rapidly filled out her list of countries, visiting Russia, Myanmar, Thailand, Pakistan, Poland, Jordan, Turkey, Mongolia and Uzbekistan, among others.
The travel bug has lasted too. Just last year, she visited Lebanon to research her latest book.
All this travel has brought its fair share of unique stories.
In Hong Kong, an armed robbery led to Irene driving the thief to the bank at gunpoint.
“I didn’t drive, but we’d just bought a new Mercedes and I wasn’t about to let him behind the wheel!” she said. The thief was thankfully apprehended by police in the bank.
And in Lebanon, she came face-to-face with a member of IS, having miscalculated the distance between a terror cell and her accommodation as 98 kilometres instead of nine.
She was also in the Ukraine just after the Soviet Union collapsed, in Iraq while Sadaam Hussein was in power and in Cuba under Fidel Castro, when food was so scarce people queued for hours for a small bun.
As a result, Irene says she has strong nerves and a willingness to talk to anyone, always eager to unearth a new story.
“The other day I was on the bus to the Westfield and struck up a conversation with the lady sitting next to me and discovered she was from Lebanon – the next village over to where I had stayed last year!”
Connections like these are what has driven Irene to keep travelling and writing over the years.
“What I love most about travel is meeting new people and hearing their stories – their personal journey, if you like.”
“You make friends with people and you hear the most amazing stories.”
Now settled at Bramblewood Retirement Village in Normanhurst, Irene says she feels all the richer for these diverse experiences.
“It’s certainly been an interesting journey,” she said.
“I thought the journey was done when I moved into a retirement village, but then I finished up in Lebanon!”