It is wintertime here in the north so our roads are clogged with hordes of southern tourists towing caravans.

Last week I drove south from Katherine to Alice Springs on the Stuart Highway and passed wave after wave of these brave souls venturing forth into the wilds in search of…well just what they seek escapes me. On one long, flat stretch of road south of Tennant Creek I counted 12 caravans stretching away in the distance – swarming from over their borders northward.

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I have an occasional mean thought that when the get to Darwin they will all run out of road, over a cliff and into the Arafura Sea.

And the rest of the morning was the same – here a posse of 10 or so together, then a few singletons, then another cluster – and oh, look – a truck, a car, a bus…

There are three major classes of caravanners – the young families dragging their kids around the country during the school holidays or on some extended wagging session; the off-roaders, dragging purpose-built off-road trailers and caravans that wander well off the bitumen and into the dusty back-blocks; and the largest group – mum and pop dragging a tin box the size of a small house, and costing just as much, behind a late model four-wheel drive.

It is this last group that interests me most – they set out from their cold southern homes sometime in May or June and head north like a horde of plague locusts – I don’t know why – but it seems to me that most of them spend much of their time up here either locked in the car driving from point to point or in the ‘van in the company of their spouse or others doing exactly the same as them.

You know them as well as I do – they are that generation just older than us – Dad with his polyester shorts, paunch and enlarged prostate – Mum with her knitting and her obsessions with cleanliness and that little notebook with fuel prices and calculations of fuel consumption tucked away in the glovebox and pulled out for analysis at every refuelling stop.

And what do they do? Well, they spend a lot of time crawling along the highway at 80 km/h – to the absolute frustration of anyone wanting to travel a little faster than that; they cluster at the overnight roadside rest stops and caravan parks with other caravanners where they inspect each others rigs and debate the price of fuel, the state of the road and the rudeness of any driver that objects to their snail-pace progress across the country; and, it seems to me, not much more.

And they whinge – a lot – about each other, the state of things – anything – here that is different from home, about blackfellas, the price of fuel, the price of any thing slightly more expensive than at “home”, anyone who objects to their god-given right to go anywhere and do just about anything, the chihuahua’s constipation…

But I can’t object to any of that – if they want to live substantially the same lives here as they do in the suburbs at home well good luck to them – what I cannot understand is why you would drag yourself, your purported loved one and all the junk you can cram into a tin box across the north for a few months every year but so fundamentally fail to connect with the country and the people that live in it.

I know that is most likely a gross generalisation but many caravanners seem to be just too timid to actually connect with the reality of people and place up here – in many ways it is like those package tour to Europe – 30 countries in 30 days in a bus – you can come home and say “I’ve been to Paris, London and Bruges” – but if all you’ve done is see it through the windows of a bus then you haven’t really been to those places at all.

And the same goes for too many of the caravanners – they can say “I’ve been to Katherine, Darwin and Kununurra” but if all they did was drive from roadside stop to caravan park to service station can they honestly say they’ve been here at all?

Your thoughts please.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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