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G’day this is Pat and I’m travelling down the New England Highway in New South Wales happily anticipating being reunited with my friend and wife Wendy. We’ve been separated for a month. If you’re not familiar with Australia it’s BIG, seriously big and you only get a sense of just how big it is if you do a road trip. And this one is not so big by Australian standards taking about 3 days and covering about 1000km. Starting in Lismore in northern NSW most of the trip is along the New England Highway on the inland side of the Great Dividing Range, then down the Hunter Valley, skirting Sydney and ending at Nowra in the beautiful Shoalhaven district that includes the lovely Jervis Bay.
Wendy has a short midwifery contract in Nowra but our car has been stored over the summer at a family members in Lismore. Hence our separation as she flew into Sydney and I flew into Brisbane. The need for flexibility is one of the practical consequences of our lifestyle choice to try and work only part of the year and do quite a bit of travelling in between.
When doing a trip like this there’s plenty of time for thinking and contemplation especially when you’re on your own. I received a message from Wendy quoting Thucydides on the nature of happiness. You might wonder what she was doing reading a Greek historian from circa 400BC but that is another story. Here’s the quote
“The secret of happiness is freedom; the secret of freedom is courage.”
Just as an aside whilst I’m talking about happiness did you know that Bhutan is the only country in the world that measures GDH Gross Domestic Happiness. How sensible to measure the state of your nation in terms of the happiness of your people rather than production. There’s another interesting thing about Bhutan and happiness, and maybe this is in part because they are a Buddhist nation. They reckon that one of the keys to happiness is to contemplate death 5 times a day! From a western point of view this may seem like a contradiction in terms but there may be some sense to it. In the West we probably have an unnatural relationship with something that is inevitable and a part of daily life, fearing and denying it rather than thinking about it daily and normalising it. On this trip I tried it, and strangely it worked, if you do think about death it certainly makes you focus on enjoying the present day.
Wendy’s quote obviously got me thinking as I travelled the long road, but enough of this digression. First town that you pass through is Tenterfield – branded Federation Birthplace of the Nation where Sir Henry Parkes delivered his famous Federation speech that ultimately led to the Federation of all Australian states in 1901.
One of the things you need in Australia if you stay here any length of time is a car. The capital cost is very soon offset when you count the cost of public transport, car hire and the inconvenience. And you just sell it before you leave. And what does a car give you – freedom. There’s a theme coming here. Rightly or wrongly we named our car – JOY, initially after the previous owner, but as these things do it soon became 'comfort and joy', and then it brings us 'joy and happiness', sad really as we’re not big car lovers but we do love the flexibility and freedom to explore an area that a car gives. The naming of the car also brought on a rendition of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony the Chorale. From memory the English translation of the chorus is “Sing in praise of joy and gladness daughters of Elysium”, strange how the brain works:
(to hear an extract of the Ninth listen to the audio postcard)
However in the context of my personal happiness one of the other lines from Schiller’s Ode to Joy maybe more relevant;
“May he who has the fortune
To gain a friend
And he who has a noble wife
Join in our jubilation.”
Sentimental as I travel the miles to meet up with Wendy. It reminds me of another time when I bicycled across the width of the UK to meet up with her before we were married 30+ years ago – but that also is another story!
The next town along the road is Glen Innes and very proud of their Celtic roots are they. In the hot midday sun in the town square stands a single woman bagpiper regaled in full kilt looking very hot
(listen to audio postcard to hear the bagpipes)
Very pleasant it was sitting in the sun listening to her.
Just a couple of practical tips about cars in Australia:
Remember if you’re storing your car for any length of time whilst you’re away, remember to put rat and mouse poison under the bonnet. They like nibbling the wires.
I try not to drive at dawn and dusk in Australia, especially if you’ve a small car like we have, that’s when the kangaroos are most active. Hitting a ‘roo at speed makes a hell of a dent to both car and animal and in places the side of the road can be littered with dead roos in all stages of desiccation.
Next along the route is Tamworth, home of country music. The road then cuts through the Great Dividing Range and passes through the Upper Hunter Valley with its wine and horses. Lower down the Hunter you go through Singleton with the largest sundial in the world - all of these places seem to be branded with something, although Singleton will be better remembered for the huge opencast coal mining. Coal mining in the Hunter is big business - the scale is both impressive and devastating and you can understand why some of the Hunter communities don’t want new mines opened.
The final leg of the journey takes you along the scenic Putty Road, skirting Sydney and passing through some extensive suburban satellite towns, then across the Southern Highlands to Nowra in Shoalhaven – the end destination. Some people say that the road travelled is more important than the destination – not in this case, it’s just the start of the next stage, reunited with Wendy, exploring the Shoalhaven district and planning the next adventure when we embark on another road trip to far north Queensland for the winter. And maybe that’s the lesson of this trip – happiness comes from having the courage to embark on an adventure, with the right destination, knowing that in any case there is always somewhere else to go.