Wherein The Girl gives up her dream of an epic Australian road trip and stays at home to read Australian books instead.
Before I left London, I was awash with sentimentality, imagining myself swept home by a spirit of adventure; whereupon I would reacquaint myself with my native country by travelling out bush. I saw myself alone in a 4WD, windows down, one arm slung over the car door, zooming straight from the east coast to the mysterious interior. I was going to whip up spinifex in my wake, photograph shimmering mirages on the horizon, be led down hidden tracks to secluded Aboriginal rock art.
Two books were going to aid me in my quest: Explore Australia 2014 and Gourmet Touring Around Australia. Yes – some intrepid traveller I was shaping up to be. I arrived at the Gold Coast and choked on the exorbitant price of just about everything. Car hire – $200 a week? Excluding petrol? And hotels are … HOW MUCH? (Yes, I do camp, but I need a really, really long time to psych myself up for it and I imposed a six week window on myself to decide, pack up and leave London. Six weeks is barely enough time to contemplate the merits of the sleeping mat vs. the inflatable bed).
Thus, in my unemployed state, I’ve been no further than Gympie – clinging to the coastline like a colonist shipped from the mother country, and driving Louie’s borrowed Rav4 (“All wheel drive, Michelle, not 4 wheel” she shrieks as I gun it through amber lights, neither of us knowing if this increases or lessens my chance of getting through before it turns red).
I’m lucky I can base my daydreams on memories, not fantasies. In my early teens my parents packed me and my sister up not once, but twice for epic road trips to Mt Isa, Longreach and Cloncurry to visit their mate – a flying padre who let us ride in his plane over the desert. We drank tea stirred with sticks on the side of the road, wandered through the ruins of a deserted mining town, swam with freshwater crocodiles, and even met a young woman in a mansion in the middle of nowhere with only her husband and her pet kangaroo for company (and who later made headlines for smuggling her ‘baby’ onto a plane – a story for another time). Oh, Australia, how I’ve missed your quirks.
In the absence of funds to relive the heady days of childhood road trips, I’ve decided to get back in touch with this great nation in the time-worn tradition of the armchair traveller. I shall read. A lot. A lot for me anyway, who in London found ever more inventive ways to keep busy and go out, which precluded sitting still and taking things in.
I’ve set myself a target of reading one Australian book a month for a year. Twelve months; twelve books. I’ll share with you the most interesting bits of what I read and learn about Australia, in case you’re a busy person like I used to be, pre-Oz days.
Recommendations for reading material are most welcome. What book conjures ‘Australia’ for you?