Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Life is a Highway

Thanks to my four grandchildren, Cars is one of my favourite movies. And thanks to family links and family history research, the Hume Highway is my own personal version of Route 66. Over the 25 years since I moved from Sydney to Melbourne, I've probably made 100 or more return trips along that road.

A little frisson of expectation always grips me as I leave the Metropolitan Ring Road in Melbourne and join the road heading north to Sydney. It's quite a while along that road before I see the first distance sign for Sydney - 820 km. It's a sobering thought for a solo driver. If my car had a GPS system I would hear what my niece's GPS voice says to her: 'stay on this road for a long, long time'. About eight more hours, in fact, allowing for speed restrictions and comfort stops. It's essential to watch your speed - along the way there is always at least one 'Highway Patrol' police car lurking behind a bush, waiting to nab a speeding driver.

My aim is always to make the journey in one day, preferably during daylight hours. Yesterday, on my latest trip northwards, it was a perfect spring day, one of those 'good to feel alive' days. I made record time - only 9 1/4 hours, door-to-door.

Over the years, I've developed a few favourite stopping places. Violet Town is a real country town only a kilometre off the highway, has clean public toilets in a park in the centre of town, and has a country-style cafe serving basic refreshments. If I can wait just a little bit longer, Macdonalds at Glenrowan provides some trees to shade a parked car. Here I order my coffee as I head for the Ladies, pick it up on the way back, and sit outside on a bench in the fresh air as a welcome break from driving.  Yesterday I wondered to myself why I never seem to divert via Glenrowan township itself (famous for the last stand of Ned Kelly), or Chiltern (famous for Lakeview House, where Henry Handel Richardson lived as a child). I've visited both places years ago, and both involve very minor diversions from the main drag, just like Violet Town. Must try them as alternative coffee and toilet stops another time.

My next stop is usually Gundagai, for petrol. Large trees near the rather tacky Dog on the Tucker Box tourist attraction offer a solid wall of shade in the heat of summer, a rare find along most of the route. Here I often park to eat a late lunch, a sandwich from my cooler bag and a mug of tea from my thermos. Most of the commercial food offerings along the way are very unattractive and very unhealthy, by my reckoning.

It couldn't be an easier drive - from my home at South Melbourne to my destination in Sydney, only two sets of traffic lights interrupt the journey - one at Kingsway in Melbourne and the other at Willoughby Road, Naremburn, north of the Harbour Bridge. The pedestrian crossing in Holbrook doesn't count and, in any case, the highway will soon bypass that town.

On the return journey from Sydney, I divert to Mittagong for a coffee and comfort stop and usually make it as far as Holbrook before petrol is needed. The side-street alongside the submarine attraction offers shade for a parked car, covered picnic tables and public toilets. Otherwise, if petrol is running low, I stop at South Gundagai, where the Shell service station offers a tiny bit of shade for your car and a shaded picnic bench where you can eat your lunch.

Some see the road as very boring now, but mostly the scenery is very pleasant and reminiscent of that old radio serial 'Blue Hills'. There are several truly spectacular vistas - for example the view from the hill above Jugiong and the view across to Mt Buffalo on the Sydney-side of the Glenrowan hill. Yesterday the mountains were snow-capped. As a solo driver, I keep myself awake by ensuring the fresh air intake is open and blowing cool air on my face, and by singing along with my collection of CDs. The long day in the car is my 'Time Out' from writing and simply flies by.