In a country where some properties have the extent of a medium-sized canton in Switzerland, many hours of driving are a necessity. For us Swiss, anything more than an hour away seems very long and the trip down to Ticino in my childhood was always seemed as if it was taking forever. This has changed…
It’s part of the Australian way of life to go somewhere on the weekend: To go camping for the whole weekend is popular, or a day trip to the beach which is for many Australians much further away than we like to believe. Just as we Swiss like to hike to a nice place or a restaurant, the Australians drive there. The drive is not seen as something annoying to get done with, but as part of the experience.
It should not be forgotten that driving long hours is not always for recreational purposes: In rural Australia the next shop can be many kilometres away! In a way the recreational driving is also a necessity: In rural towns, there is not much entertainment and driving long distances essential to breaking daily life and escaping the summer heat! I think by making the drive “fun” and part of the weekend escape, the Australians are just making the best out of the situation.
During my time here, I did some big trips that involved lots of driving as a necessity: On the road between Alice Springs in the centre of the continent and Adelaide on the Southern Coast there were pure driving days, as there is nothing but a roadhouse/gas station for hundreds of kilometres: Just a slowly changing landscape with the (very) occasional kangaroo, emu or one of the introduced horses, dromedaries or goats. For passengers this means killing time: Sleeping, eating, riddles, chatting, music.
Driving long hours has its risks: The death toll on the road is high and often road fatigue is involved.
It is very difficult not to get tired at some point: The roads are straight, the landscape often the same for a long time, other cars just pass by just occasionally: Summed up, distractions that make driving fun or interesting are sparse. As a consequene, driving long hours is a challenge and one develops little tricks to fight the unavoidable “driver fatigue” if you cannot exchange driver. For me eating something little, like Peanuts or a salty snack is enough to keep me going. Stopping frequently is not only nice, but life-saving. Lookouts or other stops are a welcome distraction and wake up. And when it’s really necessary, there is still caffeine…
Driver’s fatigue is probably favoured by the fact that driving at night is very dangerous: There are many animals on/near the road, and especially kangaroos become very confused when caught in the headlight: Therefore people try to avoid driving at night and there is a certain pressure to arrive in daylight, so you are more likely to continue instead of having the break you should.
What makes it further dangerous is that this fatigue progesses slowly and it is sometimes hard to realize that one is at a point when the necessary concentration is not given, and a break/driver switch is necessary.
As driving for a long time is normal, short distances are considered negligible. People are happy to drive 30 minutes to pick you up from somewhere, not even thinking twice about it. It’s just a reality!
For me, having driven close to 15’000 kilometres myself in this exchange, my attitude towards driving has changed: It is no longer the annoying thing to get done with before the fun starts, but part of the experience. One hour is barely worth thinking twice about it and distances comparable with crossing Switzerland are a prerequisite to travel and for some people live in Australia.
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