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Driving in the Outback

You don't have a lot of options on outback roads.

You don’t have a lot of options on outback roads.

When I first came to live in England, one of the things that amazed me was all the conversation about roads – or more precisely routes.

I’d listen to people saying – ‘The M3 was jammed so I exited at the A30 and came via the B389…..’

This doesn’t happen in the outback of Australia.

We don’t give all our roads numbers in the same way. But more importantly, a lot of the time there is only one road that leads from A to B. In the towns, of course, there are options, but where I learned to drive there was only ever one road that went where I wanted to go, and it was flat and pretty much straight, owning to a lack of rivers and hills. And as often as not, it was a dirt road as well.

When I first saw an OS map, I was really surprised at the scale and detail. The owner of that map was equally shocked to learn that in Australia, we don’t have anything similar. The country is too big, and vast areas of it have no roads, no buildings… not even a creek. The only tracks are those left by cattle or sheep or camels. An OS map would have very little to show.

I learned to drive on dirt roads. But not when it had rained. Far too easy to get bogged.

I learned to drive on dirt roads. But not when it had rained. Far too easy to get bogged.

Driving a long straight outback road is so very different to driving on an English motorway. For a start, you can go for an hour or more without even seeing another car. The English motorways have lights. The only lights in the outback are the car’s headlights. It gets very dark out there.

There are warning signs like this in a lot of places, but the kangaroos don’t read the signs. You can find them anywhere.

There are warning signs like this in a lot of places, but the kangaroos don’t read the signs. You can find them anywhere.

There is always the risk of an animal – most often a kangaroo, on the road. And if a kangaroo seems to jump out on front of you in a vaguely suicidal fashion – that’s just what they do. You have to stay alert. And never forget that where there is one kangaroo, there’s bound to be more, and just because one has safely crossed the road ahead of you, you still need to be ready to slam the brakes on.

It’s easy to see where someone has taken some pretty fast evasive action.

It’s easy to see where someone has taken some pretty fast evasive action.

I was recently driving near Canberra with an English friend – who was very excited to see kangaroos on the side of the road. He didn’t seem to understand that they made me, as the driver, wary.

In Little Girl Lost, we spend a bit of time on outback roads – with Tia on her motorcycle, with Pete in his truck. And of course, Sergeant Max patrols the road.

This is the Harley Davidson motorcycle I gave to Tia. I found it in a car park in the Middle East – but it looked just right.

This is the Harley Davidson motorcycle I gave to Tia. I found it in a car park in the Middle East – but it looked just right.

There is a certain magic to driving an outback road late at night. The sky is just amazing – the stars seem very close. The night air smells like nothing I have found anywhere else in the world.

Sometimes it can seem as if you are the only person left in the world.

Now there’s a story idea in the making!

A truckie heading west into the outback.

A truckie heading west into the outback.

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One Response to Driving in the Outback

  • I loved this post, Janet! You are right – the difference between driving in the UK and in the Australian outback had never really occurred to me before. Now I can understand it. I loved the photo of the tyre-tracks where someone swerved to avoid a kangaroo.

    What I love about the Ordnance Survey maps in the UK is that they show all the roads, from Prehistoric tracks, such as the Ridgeway; through Roman roads, such as the Fosse, striding straight through the country; to drove roads in Scotland and Northern England which follow the cattle paths down from the hills to the markets, to modern motorways which took over from the old 18th century Turnpike roads and created high speed links between cities.

    All British history can be seen in our roads.

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Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence Finalist for The Wild OneColorado Romance Writers Award of Excellence Finalist for The Wild One
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