Danger at dusk

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.

 

9 thoughts on “Danger at dusk

  1. I’ve had a few jump out in front of the car but far enough in front that they were safely on the other side of the road by the time I got there. But I was in the passenger seat once, with Piers driving, when a really big kangaroo jumped right over the top of the car, that was pretty freaky. The trick is not to swerve but to just let the bugger hit you. The kangaroo won’t kill you but the tree you drive into might.

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    • I heard something similar about those big spiders — the huntsman? — that it’s not a killer per se, but causes plenty of deaths by dropping into drivers’ laps and causing panic in the cockpit. All the same, I’d prefer to avoid the roos altogether if I can, but it’s probably not entirely my decision.

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  2. I’m wondering if kangaroos on the Federal and Hume Highways aren’t as big a deal as on Canberra’s streets and the smaller country roads? Did you see any carcasses? That’s the big tip-off that the area you are travelling in has a high kangaroo population.

    My heart goes out to the wombats. The kangaroos at least have a bit of an advantage – sIze and speed. The wombats have neither.

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  3. One of my favourite Canberra moments was watching a kangaroo bound along Flinders Way near Manuka in the correct lane – i just gave way like it was a car! But my best friend’s car was hit when dropping someone to the first flight out at the airport – dawn is equally risky.

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    • You know, amongst all this discussion of high speed rail in Australia, there seems little mention of what frequent, fast, cross-country trains might mean for wildlife. I remember a similar scene when I took the ‘crawler’ train to Sydney, with a roo bounding alongside at dawn. Beautiful.

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  4. I’m one Canberran who has never – touch wood – hit a kangaroo. I’ve seen plenty on the roads, and in fact we drove behind one bounding down our road the other night. We were very cautious as we had no idea whether it would suddenly turn around or swerve. Fortunately it saw a pathway in our lovely green suburb and turned off into that. Cherrie Zell is right about seeing carcasses. I’ve seen lots of certain roads in Canberra but very few on the Hume Highway and I don’t really recollect many on the Federal Highway either. I see more dead animals – kangaroos, wombats, foxes – on the roads to the coast and the snow than I even have on the way to Sydney.

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    • Long may your run of roo avoidance continue. For a recent trip to Young, we decided to go the day before and stay overnight. Probably just as well. Those rural NSW roads are littered with carcasses. We even passed along Wombat Road to a whole village called Wombat. If that’s not warning enough then I don’t know what is.

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      • Just saying it can be done … Though I suspect it’s largely luck rather than good management. We’ve driven many NSW roads strewn with carcasses as you say.

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