Are we there yet?

RACV RoyalAuto magazine

Hannie Rayson with her family as a child

Several well-known Victorians recalls the great car adventures of childhood.

Hannie Rayson
Robert Murphy
Emma Kearney
Peter Handscomb
Liz Watson

Hannie Rayson

Melbourne playwright

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.

Western Bulldogs captain Robert Murphy

Robert Murphy

Western Bulldogs captain

Two family car trips stick in my mind, both for unfortunate reasons that could have been worse. The first was when we were returning from Ballarat on the old Western Highway, at Anthony’s Cutting on the other side of Melton. I was about 10, in the back of the Ford wagon with my older siblings Ben and Bridget.

We must have needed to get something out of the back of the car, so Dad pulled over to the side of the road – right up onto the grass embankment so we’d be well clear of the traffic. No sooner had he stopped than “Bang!”, this bloke who’d been driving behind us in a one-tonne truck ran straight up our backside. He’d had a heart attack at the wheel.

I’d taken my seatbelt off so I went flying and ended up on the floor at my sister’s feet. There was blood everywhere but somehow no-one was badly hurt. The driver came through, too.

The other time, we were driving home from another family outing and Dad had the first three legs of the quaddie. It was a stinking hot day, we’re driving down the highway and Dad’s let us know which horse he was on in the last leg. It’s come flying down the outside and won. The car was heaving. “We’re home! We’re home!” We were all singing and celebrating.

At some point Dad must have got out the ticket, and he’d ticked the box for Sydney instead of Melbourne. The last 40 kilometres was just silence.

The races on the radio was usually the soundtrack in the car, or classical music. Mum’s family are all up past Rochester, and I remember Mum and Bridget talking about the galahs on trips up there. It’s funny the little things that stay with you. We were pretty good travellers, with the odd blowout. I have memories of Dad reaching back trying to hit our legs. I think he only pulled the car over once or twice to give my brother a bit of a whack.

Before our youngest Delilah was born, Justine and I drove to Byron Bay and back with our two oldest kids, Jarvis and Frankie. The car trip was better than the holiday – just the four of us, travelling through a part of Australia I’d never really seen, through Wagga, Forbes and Parkes. There was a proper soundtrack to it, playing our own tunes the whole way. I love a road trip.

Emma Kearney

Emma Kearney

VicSpirit and Melbourne Stars cricketer, Western Bulldogs footballer, secondary school teacher

I grew up in a small town called Cavendish, just outside Hamilton. I was constantly travelling to and from Melbourne for cricket training, about 3½ hours away.

When me and my twin Rebecca were in grade six, we drove up to Queensland, all six of us – my older brother Chris, younger brother Josh and Mum and Dad. All of us in the Ford Falcon wagon with the old bucket seat in between Mum and Dad up front. Rebecca got a bit car-sick so she took that spot.

It was pretty squishy. We’d fight a lot – I was probably more physical than verbal. I wouldn’t start it but I’d end it for sure.

We stopped off at Sydney and Dubbo Zoo along the way and finished up on the Gold Coast. It took a few days to get there, quite a long trip. We gave all the “worlds” a good crack, all the theme parks. Mum and Dad were too terrified to go on the rollercoasters, but they gave the waterslides a go.

I get bored really easily – I was definitely an “Are we there yet?” kid, wanting to stop for food or to stretch the legs. I’m not very good at playing video games or reading books. Josh was just as bad as me. The other two were better, they either read books or did some drawing. We did the classic I-Spy, and there was a fair bit of car cricket. Any car you drove past was a single, a white car was four, a truck was six, and any red car was out.

Back in those days we had the old mix tapes – we’d compile a list of our favourite songs, put them on the tape. I reckon there was a bit of Hanson on mine, or 5ive.

As an adult I’m much more settled in the car. I’d love to travel around Australia one day.

Peter Handscomb

Peter Handscomb

Victorian Bushrangers and Melbourne Stars cricketer

Peter is due to make his Australian test debut on Thursday 24 November 2016.

For three or four summers from when I was about 12, we’d drive the Nissan Pintara wagon from Mount Waverley to Warrnambool so I could play in an annual grass court tennis tournament. We’d head off on Boxing Day; it was a beautiful time of year to be there, the beach was lovely and the day we arrived always seemed to be sunny. My brother Thomas is 8½ years older than me, so it would just be me and Mum and Dad.

It was about a four-hour trip down the Princes Highway and I’d spend a bit of time on the Game Boy. I wasn’t a big reader, but my parents would try to give me a book to shut me up. There’d be music, maybe I-Spy. If the music was Dad’s choice it was ABC radio, which was always good for putting me to sleep, so that passed the time. Mum had eclectic tastes – a bit of opera, a bit of classical, a bit of jazz. I think I managed to get myself a CD Walkman at one stage, chucked on some Metallica or Nirvana.

I’ll always remember the entrance to Warrnambool – one, for the fact that the drive was finally over but also knowing the holiday was beginning. We stayed at a caravan park just as you’re coming into Warrnambool, which makes the memory stronger.

We had a Bushrangers pre-season camp at Dargo this year, five hours there and five back. I drove there on my own and loved it. I just pump out some music, have a little singalong.

Liz Watson

Liz Watson

Australian Diamonds and Melbourne Vixens netballer

Every summer we’d drive from Pascoe Vale to Cobram-Barooga with the Holden station-wagon fully loaded up. I’ve got two brothers – Matthew is 24, two years older than me, and Damo (Damien) is 16. They’ve both got me covered in height and size so it was very squishy, and by the end of the three-hour drive at least one of them would be asleep on my shoulder, which would have gone numb.

I love the summer, and a lot of that comes from those holidays when it felt like it was always hot and you didn’t have a care in the world. The drive was something I didn’t look forward to, but once we were in the car Dad would play his music – Gold 104, middle-of-the road all the way. Occasionally we’d sneak in one of our CDs, that would probably last 20 minutes before Dad would say it had no beat, that it was just noise.

We’d play I-Spy, and my little brother would always say something that we’d passed five minutes earlier, so no-one would ever get the answer. I was very much an “Are we there yet?” traveller. I reckon I’d ask every 20 minutes or so.

Crossing the bridge over the river when you really were almost there sticks out. As soon as you got into the little town where there are just a few shops, the country Target, that’s when I realised we were finally there.