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A Short History of the Great Australian Road Trip

Ever since the first Holden rolled off the production line, Australians have been loading up and heading off on the Great Australian Road Trip. It’s a wide brown land out there and we Aussies seem intent on exploring every inch of it, even if it’s only one holiday at a time.

Early road trips

When the first road trips took place, there weren’t even any roads and those expeditions usually involved huge caravans of camels and horses and months of weary trudging towards endless horizons.

Burke and Wills took a road trip that ended badly. Typical males, they wouldn’t ask for directions from the locals and ended up dying under a tree.

After them came a wide range of explorers, who mapped the terrain and slowly roads, rail lines and telephone poles began to spring up across the landscape.

The family road trip

Most people over 50 can recall memorable road trips undertaken with their parents. Come holiday time, mum and dad would load up the car with kids, dogs and cooking, fishing and camping gear, hook up the boat or caravan, if they were lucky enough to own one, and head off on a great adventure.

The only air conditioning in those days was a rolled down window and the only in-car entertainment was I Spy, magnetic checkers or car counting, but many people still remember those road trips with fondness, perhaps because they were so simple and uncomplicated.

Most dads also knew how to work on their cars in those days, which was just as well, because there was no roadside assistance (or mobile phones to summon it).

Motor vehicles were much simpler then and most dads knew how to change a flat tyre, jump start a car battery, replace a broken fan belt or make a fuel pump gasket from a Cornflakes box.

And everyone helped everyone else. None of this driving past a stranded motorist because you didn’t know whether they were a serial killer or not. If you saw a hood up, you stopped and helped. That was the code of the road.

Road trip destinations

The beach has always been a favourite destination for Aussie families and in Australia we have thousands of miles of coastline to choose from.

Popular road trips included Victoria’s Great Ocean Road, with Lorne being a favourite family holiday spot, WA’s picturesque south west region, particularly from Albany to Esperance, Queensland’s stunning beaches from the Gold to the Sunshine Coasts, Tassie’s rugged west coast wilderness areas, South Australia’s Uluru (Ayers Rock) and the Northern Territory’s breath-taking Kakadu National Park.

Retirement road trips

Grey-haired nomads are now the most common species of road tripper. These carefree individuals travel with their homes on their backs, usually at a snail’s pace, and congregate in large groups around tea houses and caravan parks.

Beginning with childhood holidays and progressing through family getaways with their own kids, these nomads of the road are now on the final stage of life’s journey.

Having paid off the mortgage and married off the kids, they’ve done what every Australian ultimately aspires to do … packed up their belongings and hit the highway for the Great Australian Road Trip of their lives.

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