Meet Gail Ford – The Incurable ‘Travel-holic’


Gail is one of our much-loved residents at The Henry Canberra. Gail is an inspiration to all, as she has not let ageing or any of her health issues take away from the things she enjoys most in life.

Not only was Gail a traveller and teacher for 32 years but she’s also the author of ‘The Lure of Russia’Gail also runs a U3A movie group in the Clubhouse media room on Wednesdays, as well as running the village movie matinee on Fridays in a collaboration with one of our other residents. Here is a little bit about Gail’s life journey in her own words.

I have always been an avid traveller and, after teaching for a few years in Melbourne, where I grew up and went to university, I was keen to go not to Europe, but too far less frequently visited South America. However, not being able to get there directly in the 1960s (and the embassies I visited thinking I must be crazy!) I went via North America, driving across Canada and the USA with friends, and then teaching for a year in Montreal. Dodging various ‘upheavals’, at last, I got to all the main countries of Central and South America.  I loved Peru, Mexico, and Guatemala, it was all fascinating. Travelling independently a bit of Spanish helped and my ‘pig-french’ was very useful.

Returning to Australia via Europe I married and moved to Canberra in 1968, teaching for a year at the Canberra Girls Grammar School (CGGS before taking a decade off with two young children. That saw me launch into the first of my ‘community projects’, which were purportedly to fill a perceived gap – but were more likely a way to avoid housework! Weston, where we lived, was devoid of any sort of kids’ playground – surrounding the school was a ‘great green desert’: lots of grass, but that was it!  So I set up a group involving the entire community to plan, fund, and build a large playground, and then plant hundreds of trees. We also ran music, film, and cracker nights, when children would share their fireworks around a communal bonfire – all friendly fun!

My second major project covered all of Canberra. My two boys sang in a children’s choir, though numbers were similar in the younger groups, by the time they were 8 or 9 the boys wanted to leave because the girls, who by then outnumbered them 15-20 to one, teased them endlessly as ‘sissies’. And so, I set up the ‘Canberra Boys Choir’ in which boys could enjoy singing without getting ridiculed, and when ‘on the song’ sounded fantastic!

The largest project I took on was international – and travel-based! – setting up a student exchange with Russia.  

In 1989, I took a goodwill tour from CGGS to the soviet union, after which I arranged for schools in Moscow and  Leningrad/st. Petersburg to billet our groups,  who would attend classes as well as take in Russia’s extraordinary culture and long history. We were actually there in 1991 when communism and the USSR fell, so we saw the people’s response first-hand. A very moving time. Going back over 20 times in the next two decades, I watched the country’s very difficult transition to capitalist democracy, an experience I covered in ‘The Lure of Russia’. I was teaching year 11/12 media and film studies all this time, and running the exchange was a ‘voluntary extra’ which, though wonderfully stimulating was very demanding.  And yet, though it was the only such exchange between our two countries when I received an order of the Australia medal for community service in 2019, it got barely a mention!

In 1995, I extended the programme to adults, taking art tours to Russia every year.  We spent our days in galleries and our evenings at concerts – and still couldn’t cover the lot!   I ran similar tours to Spain and Portugal, attracted not only by their Moorish influence but also, as was the case in Russia with its mix of Slavic and Tatar, by the collision of two opposing cultures resulting in a dynamic explosion of vibrant life, as epitomised by flamenco.

I also travelled a lot independently, some places drawing me back many times. I saw the rapid changes not only in Russia but in China, but unlike Russia, I only made two trips to China and they were 26 years apart. The change was extraordinary: a huge achievement – but at what cost?  Of particular interest was visiting ‘evil’ countries like Iran, about which we hear such nonsense, and the saddest was Syria, whose beauty, history, and welcoming dignified people, have been decimated by the stupidity of man. My greatest dangers, however, were in PNG, plying the sepik late at night in a dug-out canoe and being targeted by rascals, and crash-landing in a balloon in Turkey!

My gallivanting around was curtailed after getting parkinson’s disease, which was diagnosed in 2010.  I had my own townhouse – and two dogs – in Kambah, but by 2018 realised that down the track I would need more back-up.  And so, on 1st Nov 2019, I was one of the first people to move – with one dog, Lexi – into ‘The Henry’

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