September 16, 2010 by jessperriam
Silvery grey Toyota Camry station wagon circa 1992.
My brain stores some fairly obtuse factoids of information, but there’s a good reason why I should remember the make and registration of the family car of my childhood.
That car was packed to the gunwales with sleeping bags, suitcases and other random things.
Dad had a system worked out to get all the bags packed in the boot and still have space to look out the rear view mirror.
And so he should have – he’d also planned the next four and half months of family life down on paper. We were spending those weeks and weeks on the road, driving clockwise around Australia.
That first taste of long term travel was in 1994, I was nine years old and I wholeheartedly blame my dad for having the deep-seated love of roaming around an entire continent.
So life insurance was cashed in, long service leave was taken and children were pulled out of school and we left Perth in July.
I remember pulling down the street, Game Boy at the ready, a plastic bag full of Babysitters Club books by my feet. And I also remember being slightly anxious, resentful and sad. There was that part of me that really didn’t want to spend months on end away from my friends and within (literally) striking distance of my brother.
In Western Australia parents could take their kids out of school for an extended period of time provided they take a maths book and keep a diary. You’ll be pleased to know, both books were hardly cracked open past the North West coast of WA (mid-July for those playing by calendars, not maps of Australia).
When you’re nine years old you don’t care about the finer nuances of travel. Instead of thinking, “Where are we going and how are we getting there?” you think something along the lines of, “Where are we going and is there a swimming pool where we’re staying?”
Ok… I lie the “Where are we going, is there a swimming pool” thing came up a few times in Egypt. Except switch ‘swimming pool’ with ‘oasis’… or perhaps ‘toilet’.
The soundtrack was simple: a cassette of The Dubliners. Instead of “Highway to Hell” on the Great Northern Highway, we had the cockles and mussels of “Molly Malone” and for the Nullabor we had the warbling tones of the “Rare Auld Times”. It’s confusing remembering a big childhood round-Australia road trip with an Irish folk backing track, but that’s what you get.
I now have a strange fondness for the smell of roadhouses. Not petrol stations, not service centres (your choice of McDonalds or KFC?! As if!) but roadhouses. Dusty, hot, tumbleweedy roadhouses. The whiff of diesel and scent of sausage rolls keeping warm in a bain marie will immediately take me back 16 years in time.
I spent far too much time inside country Australian pubs than I care to remember, chowing down on the kid’s counter meal of chicken nuggets. It was always, always chicken nuggets.
I’ve been to enough Australian landmarks to make a German backpacker incredibly jealous. Uluru, Port Douglas, the Big Banana, Sydney, Melbourne, Gold Coast, the Kimberley. I’ve been to all of them. I’ve also been to some incredibly underwhelming places. Stockman’s Hall of Fame in Western Queensland, anyone? I wracked my brains to find somewhere else to use as an example of bad places we visited. I’m happy to say I blocked them out of my memory. Water under the traveller’s bridge and all that.
I have a strange fascination for cyclones because on the mind-numbing eight-hour drives through the red dust of the aforementioned Western Queensland, all the Babysitters Club and Tetris in the world could not keep me occupied. So I read the disaster preparation and awareness section of the RAC Accommodation Guide instead. I’ve almost wanted to sit through a cyclone ever since then… that and later when I heard about the North West’s (mildly irresponsible yet hilarious) inclination for cyclone parties.
I’m in two minds about the value of taking children on travel.
One part of me says it broadens horizons and encourages travel and relocation in adult life, even from a very young age. One of my closest friends, recycledrose has a very similar childhood story. Her family (she had two brothers along for the ride instead of just one…eep!) travelled around Australia in the mid 90s. We both ended up moving away in our early 20s to country New South Wales. We were exploring the region and getting every last bit out of our time away. And we both have a penchant and a passion for adding bizarre stamps and stickers to our passports. I don’t want to speak for her, but our childhoods are probably to blame for our wanderlust.
But on the flipside, my brother doesn’t share that wanderlust. He’s quite happy to stay in Perth, and that’s ok. A man of few words, when asked to describe the trip he said, “Long… and unairconditioned.” (which prompted a debate as to whether that car did have airconditioning). And besides, what do children really remember of it? My parents are constantly saying things in the vein of, “Remember when such and such happened in Cessnock?” In return they get my finest blank stare. And as a result of neglecting my maths books for the better part of Year Four, I can’t understand fractions for shit. But sometimes that works well… especially when mixing drinks.
Given the fact that I was a captive audience at the time, there’s no place to ask, “if I could turn back time would I do it all again?”. But as an adult , I would absolutely do it again, just with friends… and a better soundtrack.
This post is (hopefully) the first (of many) in “Travel Tale Thursdays”. Let me know in the comments box below whether you think it’s worth continuing…