I don’t know whether to be inspired or worried when my 67-year-old mother sets out to drive the 3,425 or so kilometres from one side of Australia to the other. Perhaps a bit of both?
She flatly refuses to fly. If she were meant to fly, she would have been born with wings – or something like that.
She wasn’t born with wheels either, not that you would know it.
As long as I can remember, my Mum has been very happy heading here or there behind the wheel of a car or van, or even on occasion, a horse truck. We worked out this week that this was her sixth trip across the Nullarbor Plain, from Perth to Melbourne and back, in the past few years.
We’re talking serious driving. Multiple days and nights on the road, jerry cans of fuel in the back and so forth.
She loves it. Loves the open road, the little country towns, the junk shops and streets stalls, and chatting to people along the way.
There’s something about people like Mum, who hail from rural and regional areas, that means they think nothing of covering huge distances by road in a day. Maybe it’s simply that in many cases, they have no choice.
I remember when I worked as a journalist covering the Pilbara and Kimberley regions of Western Australia (WA) in the mid-1990s, we had the whole North-West mapped according to the hours required on the road.
From memory, it was about 21 hours from our home base in Karratha to Kununurra, 15 hours to Halls Creek, eight hours to Broome and seven hours to Exmouth.
These days, I can tell how much of a city dweller I’ve become by the odometer in my car. It just ticked over 14,000km on a day trip to the regional city of Bendigo (four hours return trip) with Mum and Aunty D, and it felt like a big milestone.
The car is more than five years old so I’ve averaged less than 3,000km driving a year. Most of the time in Melbourne, I’m on the tram.
Every visit to Melbourne, Mum promises me it will be the last time she drives and we’ve been looking into the train as an alternative.
Yet the pleasure she finds on the open road keeps enticing my free-spirited mother to drive back and forth across the country.
It’s not all easy driving though. Mum and 70-year-old Aunty D got totally lost the other day trying to get out of the city to visit the regional city of Sale, 214 kilometres east of Melbourne.
Mum has a satellite navigation unit, but she quite likes to set off and find out where the road might take her.
She’s never been a great one for taking the well-beaten path in life. That approach takes a certain kind of courage and self confidence that I admire in her.
When they finally made it out of the city and into the countryside looking for Sale, Aunty D went into a petrol station to get some directions. We laughed a lot as they retold this story again and again this week.
“Do you know where you’re going?” the man behind the counter asked. “Where I’m going?” Aunty D laughed. “I don’t even know where I am!”
In a way, that feels like an analogy for how you think about life and work when you step back and reflect, after years of building a career and fulfilling demanding roles. Is this where I want to be? Where do I want to go from here? How do I want to get there?
Luckily for my Mum and Aunt, the Nullarbor itself consists of one fairly long straight highway and by all accounts it’s well sign-posted.
Still, as they set off on the journey home to WA laughing and quibbling (in that way that sisters have), you can’t help but worry about them heading out there on their own.
I wouldn’t be surprised if they take a few roads less travelled than the major highways, but knowing these two courageous, resourceful women, they will enjoy finding their way.