Passing a Landcruiser in the half-dark on Hobart’s waterfront recently, two skeletons grinned at me from its front seats. A double-take revealed these to be nifty headrest covers. ‘That’s what I needed on my big trip!’ I said to my partner, chuckling at the vision.
The cheery skulls reminded me of the abundant and gratuitous advice I’d received prior to setting out on said trip. Including, believe it or not, a blow-up doll in the passenger seat.
The source of this anxious fluster? My announcement that I, a single female, was going to drive alone, without bodyguards and a competently male maintenance crew, halfway round Australia. Worse, I would do this in a teeny fishcovered tincan barely worthy of being called a car.
What an uproar! Concerned family and friends erupted in a flurry of alarm at the thought of me dying of thirst in the empty outback, the fishmobile cute but useless at my side. ‘That car will never make it,’ they said, with much dire headshaking. ‘It’ll never get up the hills.’ ‘Better get a GPS and emergency flares.’ And ‘Are you completely crazy?’.
‘You must remove those stickers,’ they insisted. ‘You’ll be stalked, and topped – haven’t you watched Wolf Creek?’ No, and I had no intention of doing so. And having spent hours artistically adorning my car with handcut angelfish, I’d no intention of removing those either. Anyhow, I reckoned, stupid person who’d topme, driver of the one and only fishmobile. Surely they’d pick someone in a ubiquitous 4WD.
The fishmobile doesn’t seem particularly undersized in Tassie. It’s a Toyota Starlet with a perfectly adequate four-cylinder engine. But alongside a parade of caravans and roadtrains in the outback, it looks very small indeed.
But this little car got me round Australia. We zipped up the island and ferried across Bass Strait. We zoomed along to Adelaide, and bit by bit, through the Red Centre to Darwin. We scooted through fossil country to tropical north Queensland. We squeezed in fellow travellers and their luggage. We crossed the Sydney Harbour Bridge and lost ourselves on Melbourne’s freeways. It was an adventure.
I took precautions of course. I had maps, helpfully marked with available toilets and rest stops. I checked air pressure, water and oil daily. I could change a tyre and had the appropriate toolkit stashed in the boot. I carried plenty of water and chocolate. And at no point did I veer off the beaten track to lose myself in the desert.
I stopped at country towns and roadhouses, on the outskirts of metropolises and at Bondi beach. I spent days and weeks exploring, wondering, conversing, working small market stalls and painting tropical fish. I felt microscopic, a tiny ant making a tiny trail across the endless reaches of Australia.
My car attracted laughs and waves and much admiration, especially from those trundling along with house-sized caravans. Friendly grey nomads often commented on my solo journey, and I was confident that in the event of disaster, a pair of delightful runaway grandparents would come to my aid.
My nearest mishap was on approaching Townsville. After several days’ driving south then east from Darwin, I was thrilled at thoughts of the sea. And at Charters Towers the blossoming trees were so stunningly pretty they distracted me entirely from filling up. I realised too late, and drove for 60ks on empty, dreading the embarrassment of telling my imagined rescuer ‘Err… I forgot the petrol… (mumble mumble) …because I was looking at the flowers’.
But the fishmobile runs on the sniff of an oily rag, and we made it. All the way home.
I recommend it. Take one small car, be your own artist, and head off into the sunset before you reach retirement. It’s never too soon.