We do a lot of driving. The odometer on my car has flicked through 10,000 kilometres in the six weeks since Christmas.
There’s a lot of fun to be had, going places you’ve never been before. We have a whole new state to explore.
But most of our driving is on the Hume Highway. The 776 kilometres between Melbourne and TinyTrainTown is a long, long drive. With nobody to share the driving, I can’t do it all in one day. So we stay overnight in one of the tiny towns between here and there. The kidlets have become seasoned travellers and motor-inn connoisseurs.
Tarcutta, Holbrook, Gundagai and Jugiong. Albury, Wodonga, Yass, and Goulburn. I’ve made a concerted effort to stop in a different place every time, booking rooms the night before to get them as cheap as possible. It seems pointless and boring to stay in the same place all the time, when there’s so much to be seen.
I love the tiny townships that do the edges of the highway between Sydney and Melbourne. There’s a funny vibe to them- a sadness that comes from the highway bypassing them. Small service stations seem to be run down and overpriced compared to the huge pit stops that don’t require driving off the main road. But they are quaint, their staff friendly and appreciative of our business. Every ice cream we buy is accompanied with a smile.
“This is an adventure”, I tell the kidlets, the same way my mum used to say it to me. “Let’s go see what we can find!”
We assess the various available playgrounds in each of the tiny towns. We find things that are beautiful and sad and different. The old, wooden rail bridge in Gundagai. The tiny sandstone church in Bookham. The truck drivers’ memorial in Tarcutta.
The kidlets love hotels, no matter how trashy they may be. It’s always exciting for them, checking in and receiving the key, finding the room number. Inspecting the one-room-and-a-bathroom in each of our accommodation. Some are lovely. Some are awful. It never matters, either way. We hang around, eating take away food for dinner and watching movies on the iPad until we finally all feel asleep. Some nights it’s as late as eleven o’clock. Not that it matters- they make up the sleep they’ve missed the next day in the car, giving me a few blessed hours of silence to listen to audio books. (Audio books are expensive. But the older they are, the less they cost, so I find myself, for the first time ever, ingesting the classics. 1984. Pride and Prejudice. Tears roll down my cheeks as I listen to the heartbreaking, surprising end of The Great Gatsby).
It must be sad, to live in one of these tiny, just-off-the-highway villages that have had their livelihood stripped away when the road bypassed them. Exploring is fun for all of us. And it keeps us adaptable. I like to think I’m teaching my kids that happiness is not dependant on location. We can be happy anywhere, no matter how small and deserted-feeling the town we are in is, no matter how crappy the motel room.
Happiness is us, exploring together. Tasting the world one town at a time.