Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Australian Roads & Shopping

Kangaroo Road Sign

You know those roadside warning signs? Low-flying aircraft. Slippery when wet. Old people – always bent double; I’m not going to be like that, surely? Wild animals. And in Australia, kangaroos. They get their own special sign. And you know how you ignore them because the hazards never happen?

A mistake for the first one I passed on my way to Armadale from Perth. Just minutes after it, a large ‘roo bounded across the road in front of the car. No worries yet. The animal was far enough ahead and gone quickly enough that it presented no danger but the nether regions of my mind were firing synapses. I was on the brake pedal and checking for tailgaters without a conscious thought. “They travel in pairs,” I had read.

Sure enough, a second, smaller creature appeared under my left bumper. I had time and space to swerve and the animal must have sensed me too, because when I looked behind, the road was clear. No squished carcass. No thud either. No damage to the car. That would have been a good start to the trip.

Aware of the inverse irony of the situation, I drove more slowly that day, that week and for the bulk of the holiday, all the way from Adelaide to Cairns. It was truly ironic, then, that not a single other kangaroo road-hopped in all that time.

I stopped at Armadale, which seemed basically to be a shopping centre, as unremarkable as Redditch. Except that Redditch folk don't shop in bare feet. Nor does everyone in Armadale and at first I thought I was seeing some grossly underprivileged section of Australian society. It was weird and a little unnerving. Didn't these people even worry about broken glass or dog shit? But that was me being particularly British. Australia is relatively litter-free. The roadsides, for instance, are pristine compared with our corpse- and McDonald’s-strewn motorways. Down under, you only have to watch for the wildlife.

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