When your family lives on the other side of the state like mine do, many looooong hot summer days are spent on the road.
And when John Denver sang “country roads, take me home” he could have been talking about the Aussie highway. Vast. Scorching. And filled with quintessential childhood memories.
You know the sort. You’ve got probably got some stashed in a box of old photos from the trusty old Kodak disposable camera. Trips to the Big Banana. Desperately needing to pee even though the nearest loo was about 200km away. Stopping off overnight at caravan parks and thinking that was the height of coolness. (Just wait until the kids at school hear about the long drop!)
Road trips as an adult are great, but as a kid they’re bigger than the Big Pineapple. Join me as I relive the staples of every (mostly 90s) Aussie kid’s road trip:
1. Belting out the old-school “choons”.
There are truly no better road trip companions than Barnesy and Farnesy. Yes, the first non-negotiable for any good road trip is always the perfect soundtrack.
Wind down those windows and crank up the sound, because once you’re out of the city and hit the static-filled backroads, it’s all about blasting it loud.
As a kid, when iPhones weren’t around, it was all about the mix CD. Confession time: my absolute favourite was the World’s Best Beer Songs compilation. A little bit bogan, but utterly brilliant. Think AC/DC followed by The Angels, with a little bit of Slim Dusty thrown in for good measure. If you don’t arrive with no voice, did you even road trip?
2. Accidentally branding yourself on the car seat buckle.
You know it’s summer in Australia when the road literally starts to melt. And as soon as the mercury ticks over 30, you need a pair of oven mitts to handle that scalding hot iron that is the seat belt buckle. These days we call that square-shaped burn a 'Russell'. (Get it? Russell Brand? Badoom-tish.)
3. Slurping Sunnyboys in the back of the car.
Was there any better way to cool off than blasting the air-con and ripping into an icy pole? Whatever your poison - Sunnyboys (REST IN PEACE), Calippo, Frosty Fruit, the classic homebrand Lemonade - you had to be prepared to have those sticky juices run down your chin, over your hands, all over the seat and somehow in your hair too. Even with the inevitable brain freeze, it's all worth it for that sweet, frozen lump of ice to cool you right down.
4. Rest stops in tiny country towns for 'Big' things and pies. Oh, the pies.
Every family falls into one of two camps: The rushed ones who'd time their servo breaks (no time to stretch your legs, kids DO NOT get out of the car, we're fuelling up then we're back on the road!) OR the ones who would purposely drive an hour out of their way to stop at a tiny tourist spot they heard about from the lady at the fish and chip shop four towns back. Bonus points if you find a town with a 'Big' anything. And while a servo pie is good, pastries from the local bakery are true blue!
To this day, my family is the latter. On our latest road trip, it was a detour to check out Ned Kelly memorabilia. And yes. There was a 'big' gun-toting Ned Kelly.
"If we can't bring the dogs I am NOT going."
5. Divvying up the backseat with a pillow barrier.
As much as I romanticise it, yes, there were a few tiffs in that backseat. But my sister and I always found ways to break up potential fights - with the gool ol' classic'n'cosy pillow barrier. Or better yet, once of us would swap with Dad so we could have a turn in the front, while he snoozed in the back. His window-rattling snores were the trade-off for better views and control of the radio.
Those pillows were also incredibly useful for stifling our uncontrollable giggles over small town names like Burrumbuttock, Cockburn and Tittybong.
6. The survival essentials: Board games and Skittles.
For Mum and Dad, this meant your survival essentials: Maps, spare tyre, water. Kids have different priorities - if it wasn't an icy pole, it was bags upon bags of lollies that kept us quietly munching. Snakes, jubes, skittles, liquorice allsorts...we were easily pleased. My sister and I were bookworms, so multiple reading options were essential for when we exhausted all conversation. Plus travel boardgames to balance on the folded-down middle seat.
Note to self - NEVER attempt to play chess in a moving vehicle. Every piece will end up lodged under the seats.
7. Playing I Spy. For hours.
Everyone has their favourite car games. The worst game my dad ever came up with was lovingly dubbed "ughhh not the maths game again!" where we would have to answer increasingly difficult maths equations to win a single lolly. But oh yes, it was worth it. Then we would beg, coax and cajole him into a game of I Spy (beginning with E, outside the car!) the number plate game or 20 questions. When that got old, we'd try to count the Os in Woolloomooloo and Mooloolaba. Uh actually, I might be still working on that one...
8. Getting wonderfully lost and having to break out the Melways (Victorians, ya hear me?)
Remember the days when you couldn't just punch an address into to your GPS? When you had to decipher cryptic clues like map A5 connects to J98 on page 1,307,560? Yeah, I still don't understand those things. But the upside of this was the incredible adventures you would have that made the journey so much better than the destination. Especially when you decided to take a 'shortcut' and ended up adding three hours to your trip. The meandering back roads are always infinitely more exciting than the highway and your chances of spotting a wombat that isn't roadkill go up tenfold.
9. Asking "are we there yet?" on repeat
Ahh yes, the classic road trip staple. If it wasn't "are we there yet?" it was an irritating ditty like I know a song that'll get on your nerves or the song that never ends. Mum, dad...... I'm truly sorry.
Now that I'm a little bit older (and not much wiser, although I am in the possession of a drivers license!) I'm ready to hit the frog and toad this summer for a family road-trip, nineties style. Maybe with GPS this time, though.
Go on, take a road trip this summer. It's always worth it.
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