Last weekend I took the family chariot down to Brisbane, and this being Week Two of my Simple September, living in the 70’s experiment, I spent a lot of time reflecting on the changes I’ve seen over the years when it comes to long distance driving. Well, I had to do something while I waited for the lollipop folk to let me crawl forward to the next set of roadworks.In the 70’s our cars were insanely large. My fathers’ Valiant had seats so huge you could play tennis on them. We didn’t have GPS, air bags, DVD players, or air-conditioning, so during Summer you had to drive with the windows down; which left you with an interesting hairdo and a sunburnt shoulder. And when you unthinkingly rested your arm on a sunny window sill, the chrome metal strip would instantly sear your skin like a flame grilled steak, leaving you scarred for life.
Back then, if you maintained the posted speed limit, and didn’t stop at the Big Cow, Big Pineapple, or Big Anything, it used to take six to seven hours to get to Brissy. Today, with lowered speed limits, roadworks, and Big Trucks carrying Big Mining Parts, or Big Demountable Buildings, blocking the highway every ten kilometres, you can now do the same trip in, oh, seven to eight hours.
And I recalled how highway service stations weren’t just food serveries filled with tourist tat; they actually fixed cars and sold spare parts. If you wanted to eat, you’d picnic at a roadside park. My job was to fill our billy can from any nearby creek, taking care not to accidently on purpose push my little brother into the water.
1970’s highway dunnies were dank, dark, stench filled caverns, that were usually crawling with cane toads and other undesirable pests. It was actually more appealing, safer and hygienic, to park your bum over a roadside ants nest.
We used to pass the time listening to the radio, talking, playing board games, trying to guess what the squashed animal was, and squabbling over Phantom comics. You certainly couldn’t tune out your family for the duration of the trip with electronic music, games and movies like some earphone wearing zombie.
Todays’ highway expeditions are no longer the epic adventures they used to be. In fact, thanks to safer roads, better equipped cars, and hi-tech gadgets, they’re hardly any fun at all now…