Several well-known Victorians recalls the great car adventures of childhood.
Our family holidays usually began in the same way. My father would pack the car, have a yarn with Mac across the road and then lean on the front fence and holler at my mother.
“Carm on, Jude.” This gave us kids permission to echo his impatience from the back seat. “Car Mon, Mum.”
Eventually she would reel out of the house carrying several bags, a Thermos and a hot egg and bacon pie wrapped in a tea towel. My father would reprimand her. You need to get on the road at first light. How many times did he have to tell her? Clearly it never occurred to him (or us) that the departure might be expedited if we helped. In the 1960s, if you were taking the Hume to Sydney, you were looking at 14 hours – at least. We planned to break the journey and stay overnight in Wagga Wagga or Gundagai. Even so, it was a hard drive, with long stretches of single-lane road, often pot-holed and clogged with semi-trailers and trucks and selfish old people pulling caravans. You needed to tackle it when fresh.
But first, before you hit the open road and crossed the threshold into adventure, you had to brave the stretch of road which led past Pentridge Prison. This terrifying bluestone monolith sat brooding at the gateway to the Hume, like a giant Cyclops. A small girl could be snatched from the back seat of a Holden Special and imprisoned in a dungeon. My fingers gripped the vinyl seat. Even though I was wedged between big brothers on either side, I wasn’t confident they would put up a fight.
My father was a Holden man. This gave us the edge on other people who had made poor choices – buying Fords, for example. When we sailed past families on the side of the road with the bonnet up, my father underlined the point. Those people would not be suffering this indignity if they were driving a Holden. My brothers and I worked hard to catch him out. The Hume was always littered with overheated cars. We trained our eyes,
hoping for incriminating evidence. Once my brother spotted one, just south of Albury. “Look! An FJ!” he shouted gleefully. But as we neared we saw it had a flat tyre and my father insisted that a flat tyre didn’t count. That could happen to anyone.
We had breakfast in Seymour. My father was always reluctant to stop, but the smell of bacon and homemade pastry eventually wore him down. He was a destination man, my dad. He focussed on outcomes. He didn’t buy any of the ’60s talk of life being a journey. He wanted to get there.
We stood in the wind at a picnic table beside the highway and my mum carved slabs of warm pie for each of us and we washed it down with tea from the Thermos, in anodised tumblers. My brother Peter and I fought over the size of the slices and who got the blue cup. I couldn’t imagine ever being happier.
Then we were back on the road – with Mum and Dad making the odd attempt to be educational. Despite my father’s antipathy to stopping or even slowing down, an exception was made for the bridge over the Murray River and for the Dog on the Tuckerbox. That was the cue for my mum to explain about the wool industry and we children looked out the window.
Recently on a flight home from London, I woke up with the sense of the plane descending. Melbourne! At last! I checked my watch. There were still seven hours to go. This was what the old Hume Highway was like. To reach the Emerald City, a person had to drive herself deep into existential despair.
But I find myself hankering after it. To be propped up with pillows in the back seat of the Holden, with Mum passing back a tin of homemade sponge, my brothers on either side and my dad regaling us with his favourite topic: why Melbourne is superior to Sydney.
Hannie Rayson performs her one-woman show Hello, Beautiful! across Victoria in 2017. See Facebook.com/hannieraysonplaywright for details.