It was not until the early 60s that my family owned a car, and the meaning of the word road trip came into existence for us. By that time there were only two little fledglings left in the nest, my 6-year-old brother, Tony, and myself a somewhat temperamental 13-year-old. These road trips almost seemed like a rite of passage as I changed from a child to an adult wanting the security and support of my family but fighting for the need to be independent.
Our Vanguard and Mum with a couple of swim stars
Our two-tone Vanguard built like a tank and appropriately named after a British battleship, had a spacious interior, a heater (no air conditioning in those days) and no radio (although as anyone in my family will tell you I was not averse to singing whether appreciated by the rest of the family or not). The car would be loaded the day before all ready for an early start on the big day so that we could “beat the traffic”.
An NRMA strip road map. MAAS collection 2011/73/1.
My father was not a confident driver, and he took his job preparing for the trip and keeping his family safe extremely seriously. Apart from servicing and fastidiously cleaning the car including making sure the rubber strip was hanging from the bumper bar to prevent car sickness (did that really work?) he also made a trip to the NRMA to order strip maps for our specific journey. Not only did they tell you what route to take and distances between towns but also exciting places to visit. On every trip, I hoped that I would be allowed to hold the maps which were like the holy grail to me. How proud I was to be trusted with them making sure we would not get lost and telling Dad about every approaching curve in the road.
While it is almost traditional for siblings to fight when on a road trip, whether it was the roominess of the rear seat or the large difference in our ages it seemed that I grew closer to my little brother during these trips sharing the scenery as it zoomed past without having to fight for a window seat. Maybe it was because he put up with my singing and didn’t try to take possession of my road maps?
My mother’s role in all of this was to see bags were packed with appropriate clothing and most important of all the provision of refreshments for our journey. The cake tin, chock-a-block with homemade cake and biscuits, a thermos of tea, homemade sandwiches or a loaf of bread and “the makings” and cold drinks packed into the boot with instructions to make sure “it’s easy to get to”.
Mum and Dad with Tony at Coffs Harbour Caravan Park
Arriving at our destination was only half the fun. My Dad was a cautious driver making for a slow trip with pulling over for tea and a snack and stops at places of interest. My Dad was certainly an early adopter of what we today call “slow travel” where it is not just about the destination but the journey as well. As part of that philosophy, we would naturally turn off the road to a motel or a caravan park after four or five hours driving (including stops) with the standard comment from Dad “that’s enough driving for one day”. Instead of flying past the small towns that dotted the coast it always allowed time for us to see the “sights”, try our luck at a bit of fishing off the pier or have a dip at the local beach.
These trips created the most beautiful memories for me and are also part of our family’s story. When I think of my parents the memories of these road trips seem to bring them to life. Did they know they were creating cherished memories, that would last not only long after the end of the journey but all through my life?