Sunday, January 12, 2014


JAN 9 2014


‘RIGHT, are we ready at last? The water’s been turned off- remember the last disaster when we went away? You’ve checked the tyres, we’ve got fuel. The boot is full. We’re leaving an hour and a half later than I wanted to’ (we got up at 5:30 a.m.)

If you look at a map you will see the distance between the northern suburbs of Melbourne, Victoria, and Bateman’s Bay, NSW. It is a pretty good drive. I mean ‘pretty’ in the sense of long, really. Over two days it’s manageable, but with two kids in the back, around the ages of 5 and 8, it is a different proposition.

We meander our way up the Hume Highway. My heart is in my throat a little bit as far as the tyres are concerned. I did pump them up last night, but it might have been better to have just left them alone. The tyre pressure lever seemed a bit faulty- or maybe it was just me. I was a bit under confident in terms of how much pressure to put into the tyres in the first place. Then when I did have a guess, and stuck the steel gauge onto the rubber nozzle, the machine said that the air pressure was decreasing, for some unknown reason, and I didn’t want that to happen, obviously. Suddenly it was there again, shooting up, and it starting beeping when it got to an area that I thought was about right. So that gave me some comfort. However, for another tyre, before it reached the number I wanted it said ‘ERR’, which I took to mean as ‘error’, so that got the wind up me again, and I just cut my losses and went home.

So needless to say the thought of going up the Hume Highway or thereabouts for what could be the next 9 hours didn’t exactly thrill me. Not to mention the extra weight in the car. I mean, we had scooters, beach towels, food, a fold up tent, wine bottles, clothes, not to mention two or three extremely heavy suitcases. With girls of course you have to add dolls and things like the Barbie computer. We didn’t have to worry about beach balls, footballs or cricket bats. Not with these girls.

J insisted on driving first and I closed my eyes for a while. If you have ever driven up these parts of the Hume Highway towards Seymour and beyond, you would understand why. I must have drifted because we had already left Euroa, which is not a bad town, and the area past here for quite a way has become famous for its associations with Ned Kelly. On reaching Benalla, I realised that our journey really had begun, because I used to work in this town, and I knew it was a while from home. I had a quick look at the old location, and saw that it hadn’t changed much. Nostalgia’s a funny thing. I remember I was pretty much glad to leave. You either stay for a couple of years in these places or you never get out of there. But here was standing in this kind of quadrangle remembering some nice times. Chatting to Jane and Siobhan in the warm sunshine, looking over to see Karen Westbury desperately trying to get a tan on her sporty legs as she was getting married in a few months, seeing from the distance the first classroom I ever stepped into, solo, and remembering what an enormous plunge it was, and the way in which you are desperate to give off the impression that this was something you had done thousands of times before. And then, with a shiver, recalling memories not quite as pleasant as these- a girl with the name Nicole comes to mind- and you step back into the car and leave all the good and bad behind you once more. Well, not quite, because Wangaratta is up ahead (talking of good and bad), but you don’t sail through there, because it’s off the highway and your focus is now destination because you spent too long at the playground in Benalla, looking at the 22 and 23 year old mothers wheeling prams.

There’s lots of swapping drivers and stretching and the kids are really good. It’s around lunchtime now so the car stops at Wodonga, which is near the border of New South Wales. It’s fun strolling around the shopping centre. The girl at Baker’s Delight is really lovely and offers you a discount on the next loaf of bread you buy. I ask her if that discount will still be valid in ten years’ time. S tries on Katy Perry perfume because she really loves that catchy song ‘Roar’ and A wants a cuddle every ten seconds and wants to be picked up all the time. There are a few young mothers with prams again, but not many dads in sight. There are also enormous butcher shops.

We play music out of the CD player to pass the time and chew up kilometres. Johnny Cash singing ‘Delia’s Song’ and The Doors ‘When The Music’s Over’ and Nick Cave, but for some reason the music isn’t much of a distraction. I’ve heard it all too many times. We had this great idea, which was to borrow these little portable DVD players that you strap onto the front seat headrests. The kids in the back have headphones and can watch Disney and stuff like that, until the power runs out. It keeps things really quiet. I can’t read though. Looking at the crossword will probably make me feel sick.

Towns fly by. The power for the DVD’s run out. But still the kids are quietish. They’re real kids though. They keep asking if we’re nearly there, and the truth of it is that we might be half way, but maybe we’re not even really half way.

There’s a little town called Corryong I kind of remember from when I was a kid. It has the ‘Man From Snowy River’ glamour attached to it. The woman from the little supermarket is pretty nice, and the man from the tourism shop is helpful. We buy a big box of icy poles. They don’t let you buy three or four these days, you have to buy ten. So we eat some and give some away.


After Corryong you hit the mountains. The Snowy Mountains. Years ago they had this thing that migrants worked on called the ‘Snowy River Mountain Scheme.’ The landscape is spectacular. It’s probably the best part of our drive. All these ghost gums everywhere. They’re called ‘ghost gums’ because the trunks are all spookily white. They are everywhere, so you get this impression of white sticking out everywhere amidst this otherwise green and black landscape. We get out and take photos but maybe there’s a dead animal around somewhere, because there’s ants over every inch of ground, and this huge flies that might be called horseflies, or march flies, that tend to stick a bit on your leg or arm and if there’s many of them they can drive you mental.

I can never get over these ghost gums. They are really beautiful. It is all steep, winding roads, and no snow anywhere of course because it is summer, and in winter there would be snow everywhere. Perisher Valley and Thredbo, after all, are pretty close by. I worry at this point about car sickness. Not me so much, although I am normally susceptible to it as well, but the kids who are quiet. But they’re quiet because we have power now and we have those magical DVD’s on again. They’re not looking outside so much, and missing all of this wonder.

As a kid we had a family holiday at Cooma. It must have been winter because we went tobogganing, and our cousins came, and it was the best holiday of the lot of them. I must have been about ten. When we enter Cooma, in my mind I’m already saying to myself that I love this place. And of course, I find it really charming. There are Santa Claus faces sitting on the rooves of millions of shops, including pubs, hardware shops, butchers, Op Shops, service stations, even McDonald’s. Christmas is past, of course, but they’ve allowed this little Santa Claus faces to linger longer because they are so charming.

Now there’s some real drama in the trip. We have trouble finding the turn off we need to head north not far past Cooma. We contemplate getting petrol, but a place near Canberra called Queanbeyan is the target, and that’s within reach. It is now mid-afternoon, getting towards late afternoon. We miss the turn off we need, and have to go back, but it’s not too bad, as we waste only fifteen minutes. However we see a sign for Braidwood, a town we know is only about 40 minutes from Bateman’s Bay. To go to Queanbeyan, near Canberra, and then down along the coast to Bateman’s Bay, will surely take a lot longer. Just to feel safe we ask a lady somewhere her thoughts, and she encourages us to take this unknown, minor road to Braidwood, 162 kilometres away. The Melway tells us it is a broken road, but the Melway wouldn’t know, it is at least twenty years old!

This road to Braidwood we have embarked upon is sealed for some of the way, but soon enough we find it becomes gravel, and then there is rutted, corrugated bits, and it starts becoming difficult to drive, and we have to slow down. We are in a Mazda, not a 4 wheel drive. Should we turn back around and then go on the sealed road to Queanbeyan? Surely we have come too far already.

The kids are oblivious to all of this. My wife and I are exchanging glances. I am driving and she is forever telling me to slow down, on these gravelly roads that sound like gristle when you drive over them. She had a scare once, way before we met, where her old car actually flipped on gravel roads.

Now the trip seems interminable. I remember the query about the tyres as we drive over this maddeningly unmade road. Then it occurs to me that we were going to get petrol at Queanbeyan, a big town. What if little Braidwood doesn’t have a service station open? Then there is the problem of night arriving with its purple legions. Dusk is settling in. There is dust all over the windscreen and there is no water to use with the windscreen wipers left. Kangaroos are bounding along at times alongside the car, threatening to become confused and hop in front of our headlights. We seem the remnants of such occurrences on the side of the road. Kangaroo skeletal parts with bits of fur still attached to bone. Petrol diminishing. And worst of all, there are no signs anywhere telling us where we are. We assume we are still on the Braidwood road, but how far have we come?


Then at last there is a sign. ‘Braidwood 62 kilometres.’ We are halfway. At least we know. The direction conundrum is settled. It’s just the petrol, and to a lesser extent, tyre situation, still abrasive in our minds. On entering the historic town of Braidwood, we see one, no, two petrol stations somewhere along the main and only drag. It is, by this time, about 8:00 PM. The petrol stations are closed, the pub looks lifeless, we don’t even see any chickens in anyone’s backyard. There are two lights on the petrol meter on the dashboard, and we have 62 kilometres to go. Soon enough another light goes off, and with 30 kilometres to go the red light warning sign comes on. Suddenly the car becomes a friend, a human being. ‘Oh, come on car, you’re doing really well, you can make it. You’ve done such a great job all day.’

There is a new, discernible sweat these last thirty kilometres- whether to go fast or go slow and use the less accelerator less- does it make any difference? We eventually we make it, probably just, the welcoming sign a bright yellow shell on the Pacific Highway, and we eventually crawl into our newest driveway at around 9:30 PM. It’s dark now, but even in the gloom the accommodation for our next week or so doesn’t look very promising.


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