Sunday, March 11, 2012

Identifying Australian Country; A Beginner's Guide

Graham and I went for a weekend trip in the country a couple of days ago. I was quite excited. I'd lived for most of my life in rural areas, and had friends who lived in the country, but it had been a long time since I had really ventured out into the country areas of Australia. 

We left on Friday afternoon, in our trusty stationwagon.  As Graham drove, and I cooed at the sight of cows and snakes and rednecks, I began to wonder - where does the city end and the country begin? While you might think it's just a case of wide-open spaces and grass indicating the country, that's not always true. There are parts of the city that are beautiful and rustic, and there are parts of the country that bustle. So I began compiling a list of signs which one should look out for when trying to determine whether one is in the country.

Traffic Lights

Have you been through a set of traffic lights recently? Do you know if there is another set within a 1,000 km distance? If the answer is no, you are entering country. Traffic lights are unneeded in the country, a place where if you are in a traffic jam, you have inadvertently stumbled into the yearly agricultural Show on the day the Slim Dusty tribute band is playing.


Check the roads. Are there dead animals? In posher, "rural" areas, most roadkill is quickly swept away. Not in the country. There are simply too many roads and not enough cars to make it worthwhile clearing away the unfortunate furry victims. The most work put into clearing these carcasses is hauling away particularly large kangaroos and rolling wombats off the tarmac before decomposition causes them to explode. Because that would be messy.

I was going to put up a picture of roadkill, but the photos made me sad. Here instead is a photo of a happy baby wombat.


Count the cars passing you (and in the country, they will pass you, as they consider speed limits to be merely guidelines). If 8 out of 10 vehicles are utes (pick-up trucks, as the Americans term them) or four-wheeled drive vehicles, you have made it to the country. Look out for R.M. Williams stickers, red dust or clay, and sheepdogs in the back. If the driver is trying to impress a girl, he may have washed it. But probably not, as that wastes water.


There are farms, and there are farms. Or to be more precise, there are hobby farms run by enthusiasts, and then there are real farms, inhabited by farmers. One is built, the other accumulates and grows. One thing that always seems to turn up on real country farms are discarded tyres. Watch for drifts and piles of tyres in various desolated paddocks - the higher the pile, the longer that family has been there. One would think that they would haul them away and dispose of them, but that would only be feasible if one could find a functioning vehicle. And that's not easy because...

Country Farms Double As Auto Wreck Yards

For every fully functional, well-running car on a country farm, there is likely to be 10 more, ranging from fully rusted, disembowelled wrecks, to clunky bombs kept "for the kids to learn to drive in". It seems to be a point of honour not to get rid of them, perhaps because of a fear that, should they dispose of a vehicle, the very next day they will find that they needed a part from it. Or that they have broken their children's hearts by hauling away their playground and cubbyhouses.

A Sign Isn't A Sign Without A Bullethole

Many country people own guns. Many country roads have signs. How a respectable farmer's rifle ends up putting rounds into the local speed limit sign seems to be a mystery though. However, the fact remains that a true country sign is battered, riddled with bullets, and probably singed from recent bushfires. Legibility is for city slickers.

The Pub

If the settlement has a pub, it is a town. If it does not, then it is only a tiny village undeserving of mention. It may have churches, cafes, a garage, a general store and a doctors - but it is only when it acquires a pub that it truly becomes a town. The bigger towns may have two or more pubs. While it may seem that there just isn't enough people to meet the supply, these pubs usually have a strict clientele that they cater for. There are the rough pubs, where all the farmers and workers go to drink; there are the posh pubs meant for families, where one can get a meal; and there are the tourist pubs. If it has a title such as "Ye Olde Tavern", it is for tourists. Go to the tourist pub if you get a choice. The drinks are more expensive, but there will be more choice, rather than the three beers on draft in the local pub.


Depending on when you recognise these signs of impending country, you may be quite a way into real country Australia. If you have any sense at all, you will make sure that you know where the next petrol station is, and how far you can drive without your petrol running out. The reason why?

Get out your mobile phone. Look, no reception bars! Check the roads. Look, no bus signs! Taxis? Even if you could call one, how far do you think they are prepared to travel to find you? So, when next you go to the country, be prepared. Watch the signs. And if you feel faint of heart, make sure you have enough fuel to get back to civilisation. 

The Australian country is a foreign land, and no one has yet tamed it.

1 comment:

  1. That pockmarked sign could have come straight from here. If you walk down the bush tracks here all the signs look worse than that.

    Another sign you're in the country: If you're driving and a car appears in the rear view and you start taking bets on what kid of car it is because it's the first in ages, you're in the country. Also, if you can count the amount of cars that pass you in an hour on the fingers of one hand, you're definitely in the country.

    I love this post. It's so funny, and true.