If there’s a sign pointing down a dusty single-lane dirt road, heading off well away from the tar, then we’re on it! All the better if the dirt passes beneath the shady boughs of shimmering gums and heads over a hill to an unseen destination.
Maybe there’s a tumbled down cattle yard where the grass is slowly reclaiming the axe-hewn post-and-rail fence, or an old, abandoned tin roofed cottage nestled in a thicket of overgrown fruit trees, or even just an unusual outcrop of granite boulders that catches the sunset in a wash of crimson on green moss.
I think this love of exploring and the bush – and driving countless aimless miles – comes from being born on a two acre block surrounded by bush and only one neighbour within coo-ee, near the shores of Lake Macquarie, New South Wales.
My father was a Scout master and showed us everything from how to bake damper in the coals to how to arm-spin a billy of tea. He was something of a cross between the Bush Tucker Man and the Leyland Brothers.
Then when we left the lake area, the family moved to a large country town in central New South Wales. In the middle of fruit-growing country, it was landlocked and a three and a half hour trip to a McMuffin (which we did on occasion!). Local entertainment for teenagers was limited to ‘the pictures’ and cruising the main street (which we did with a vengeance).
Having older brothers with licences meant that I became a professional passenger from a young age.
While the Mazda 323 wagon has changed to a Rav4 and my partner is now behind the steering wheel, my camera is now digital, and stops for Sunny Boy ice blocks have become Cornettos, Fanta and Moove milk are now lattes and sauvignon blanc; my love of driving on dirt roads remains the same.
And old habits die hard. So for the last 20 years we have rumbled over rocks and kicked up enough dust into the tree line to choke an elephant.
We’ve been awestruck by many sunsets from craggy lookouts. We’ve sipped well brewed coffee and picnic-brunched by views of great beauty or wonder. Sometimes it’s even a quiet pool beneath a bridge where we’ve spotted a new bird or noted the painted bark of a tree. But the one common thread is that it is the road less travelled. ♦