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The joy of country roads


The joy of country roads

There’s a lot to be said for getting out of busy traffic and on to the country roads. STAN CAJDLER lists the great, the good, the bad, and the ugly of travelling beyond the Great Dividing Range.

During a recent trip through the Queensland countryside, I was listening to the local ABC radio station when the announcer requested listeners call in and finish this sentence: “You know you are travelling in the country when…”

There were some brilliant answers from locals, truckers, and tourists. I didn’t call in, but it got me thinking and recalling my own experiences.

When travelling from the Big Smoke and heading into the Never Never, I would cross through several distinct zones, each with its own character and conditions.

To start with, we have the most precarious of all – “city driving”. This is followed by a leisurely “country drive,” then the beautiful “bush drive”.

Now starts the adventure with the mighty “Outback”. But that’s not the end of it. Keep driving another thousand kilometres and you will enter the Outer Limits, the survival zone, better known as bone-bleaching desert.

While listening to the responses, I began to compile my own list, which, not surprisingly, matched that of most callers.

My thoughts commenced with city driving, but given the depressing memories of learner drivers, stop-start progress, school zones, congestion, uncoordinated traffic lights, road rage … every city driver will have a list of annoyances – I soon gave up for sanity’s sake.

So, these are my recollections of past and current drives outside the city limits:

  • Kangaroos eyeball me then bound in front of my moving car a second before I have time to react. One dead roo – one bloodied roo-bar.
  • Cattle stare me down and, at a country pace, amble into my path, stopping mid-lane, and with a defiant attitude declare that the road belongs to them.
  • Semi-trailers constantly tailgate me, also declaring aggressively that the road belongs to them.
  • Insects need to be periodically scraped off the windscreen.
  • The mobile struggles to stay in range then cuts out completely.
  • ABC country radio, the only accessible channel, plays rural focused programs.
  • The comment “just up the road” can mean anything from just around the corner to several hundred kilometres away.
  • I play a never-ending game of Dodge the Potholes.
  • Oncoming drivers greet each other with a raised index finger.
  • There are more interstate tourist vehicles than local traffic.
  • Gridlocks come with wide tractors and harvesters that occupy both lanes of already narrow roads.
  • After a comfort stop in the bush you return with a cattle tick that you only discover when relaxing in bed that night.
  • You jump the farm fence for another comfort stop only to get zapped by a million volts from an innocuous looking white tape. On scrambling to your feet, you may look down and discover that a comfort stop is no longer required.
  • You wake up in the morning to the soothing sound of bird calls.
  • Every locality has a Sandy Creek, and it means what it says.
  • The towns’ water tastes like turpentine.
  • On a clear evening (once every month) you can see a setting sun in the west and a turn of the head will reveal a rising full moon, while the next day you experience the reverse, a setting full moon and a rising morning sun.
  • The clear night skies display an unfamiliar starscape. The Milky Way almost resembles a dense white veil of a zillion light specks while the Southern Cross almost blinds you.
  • You drive through a plague of locusts.

Every day is a new adventure or experience. Though you may die of thirst or dehydration driving through remote arid wastelands, food is never a problem – the carrion on the roads will provide excellent protein – quite tasty if killed in the last 24 hours.

And this is but a snippet.

If you venture into the desert moonscapes, well off the sissy sealed roads, you will be greeted by a museum of bleached bones and the graveyard of vehicles – cars, trucks, trailers, caravans, that have shaken themselves to pieces on the legendary corrugations.

I suspect, and correct me if I’m wrong, that our pioneers and explorers traversed the country not in Toyotas and Fords, but on camels and horseback because you can’t eat a metal vehicle.

Yes, travelling the land is like travelling a foreign country – everything is unrecognisable. So, to answer his question: “I know I am travelling in the country when … it doesn’t resemble the city.”

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