This weekend, as part of researching my next book, I went to a literary festival in Sydney, about a three-to-four hour drive from Canberra, or about the same distance as London to Liverpool.
I had to be in Sydney by 10am, and would be leaving at just after 5pm, but the trip caused me no end of consternation because I found it hard to decide whether to go up and back in a day, or to include an overnight stop along the way.
This wasn’t really a question of ‘can I drive for six or seven hours in a single day?’ As a former season ticket holder at Liverpool FC, I used to make the trip up and back from my home in the south-east of England on a regular basis. Sometimes arriving home at 3am after a night game.
No, this was more about my nervousness at driving on Aussie roads after dark.
Ever since we arrived, visits by friends have been peppered with comments about not really wanting to be on the roads at dusk. Why? In a word, kangaroos.
It seems that almost every Aussie, whether town-dweller or country folk, has got a tale to tell about a run-in with a kangaroo.
The problem is that, as largely nocturnal animals, roos come out as the sun sets. Or to put it another way, during the evening rush hour. In summer especially, they are attracted to roads because of the heat retained by the tarmac after a day of being baked by the sun.
As a new migrant, it’s often difficult to separate caution from genuine danger. I mean, how often to cars really collide with roos? Is this a once in a lifetime thing, or a once a year thing?
According to the ACT government’s website: “In a 2008 telephone survey of 600 Canberra residents, 17 per cent of the respondents who had ever owned an ACT registered vehicle stated that the vehicle had hit a kangaroo on an ACT road.” Extrapolated to the total population, that means that nearly 60,000 Canberrans have been in an accident with a roo.
Before I knew this, and attempting to keep down the cost of my trip, I decided to make the trip up and back in a day. I did so without incident, but the hours of cruising along at 110 kph in the pitch black played on my mind. Had I been lucky, or had I worried about a ‘once in a blue moon’ occurrence?
Back at home, some friends had joined the CBRbounds for dinner and drinks so I decided to test their experience of the ACT government’s statistics. Had they ever been in a collision with a kangaroo?
“I’ve hit five since I’ve been driving,” said my friend. “And I’ve hit one,” said his wife.
“But don’t worry,” he added, “there’s nothing you can do about it. They move so fast that they are on you before you can react. It’s just bad luck.”
That made me think that my 600km round trip — out at dawn, back at night — had been a statistical miracle and that I was lucky to be in once piece. Next time I’ll give the train or coach much greater consideration, so I can leave the gamble to someone else, or book a cheap hotel, so I can do the journey in daylight.
Aussies love to spook new migrants with tales of ‘drop bears‘, spiders and snakes, but in this case, their warnings seem well-founded. Roos and cars really don’t mix, and the more you can do to stay away from them on a long drive, the better.