CAR FREE – CARE FREE: Roger Garwood

THE PLEASURE OF TURNING THE CLOCK BACK

Cars were rare in the small coastal town where I spent my early years. When we free range kids noticed one heading our way the cry “Car! Car! Car!” would go up and the gang would rush to the road to stare as it tonked past. We savoured a breath of exhaust fumes, a welcome change from our fresh sea air.

They were the immediate post war years as the nuclear and second Elizabethan ages blended with the Cold War and the end of food rationing. 

Bacon was back and that made my father happy.

Shopping was a social event, walking to the shops, mothers lighting up a Woodbine while they chatted and we kids lugging the veggies and meat home. It was often whale meat, a cube of bright red protein weighing two or three pounds.

Schooling reared its head and a policeman came along telling us not to accept sweets from strangers and to look both ways before crossing roads. Who cared? Most of us liked sweets, there were no strangers in town and we loved watching out for cars anyway.

We treated the two cops in town with a degree of reverence. If they caught us stepping out of line they’d say: “You wouldn’t want me to tell your dad would you?”  

This is not an uncommon situation, one we really try to avoid. Whichever way you look at these incidents you wind up car-less, a good time to practice a slower lifestyle.

CARS, TESTOSTERONE AND THROWING OUT THE BAIT

I had learnt to drive on the concrete runways of deserted airforce bases. Dad had acquired a Morris 8 convertible which couldn’t quite reach take off speed. 

Later it became obvious cars were essential bait to lure girls. I passed my test and bought a very second hand Morris Mini for forty quid, paid for with two post dated cheques.

Thus life fuelled by unlimited testosterone took a U turn with four on the floor and an unwavering hunting instinct. The bait was on the move but I lacked the charm needed to reel in the bites through there was a bit of adventuring in the back seat – no mean achievement in a Mini.

CAREER EMBEDDED, FOOT TO THE FLOOR, BUGGER THE BREATHALYSERS

At home we had two daily newspapers, The Daily Mirror and The Daily Express. I was spared Enid Blyton as my mother had taught me to read the newspapers before I went to school. My career was embedded – I was addicted to media and wanted to work in Fleet Street.

The foot was flat to the floor and I learnt the first lesson of journalism was to try and ‘outlive your liver’. Those were pre-breathalyser days when it was practically a crime to drive while sober.

I visited Australia at a time when Europe was dark, doomed. Global warming wasn’t a problem; the main issue was trying to keep a house heated during power cuts.

European and American magazines ran pages of pictures from Australia showing bronzed surfies performing mating rituals on surfboards. Bikini clad girls, sun-bleached hair blowing in gentle breezes, flashed perfect white teeth and other assets at the boys. Bait was being thrown around at random.

I found it impossible to spot the difference between glossy magazine stories and Australia’s actual lifestyle. They harmonised into a carefree existence which Hollywood couldn’t invent.

Driving in Australia was bliss. Distances were meaningless, like measuring the universe in light years. Ask any bloke how far a town was and the reply would fall into a number of categories: “Coupla’ six packs” or dauntingly, “Aw, three days or so, don’t drive after dark mate, there’s fuckin’ big black bulls out there, ya don’t see ‘em ’til it’s too late”.

ROADHOUSE SOUP AND COINTREAU

A long drive was an adventure, so was the food. Roadhouse coffee, hamburgers with beetroot and limp chips defied gourmet analysis.

Then there’s the Capricorn Roadhouse, twelve hours’ drive from Perth, known for its legendary soup. Arriving late one evening and wandering into the dining room with a photo buddy we ordered a couple of bowls.

“Sorry mate, soup’s off.”

“What else ya got?”

A long pause as the waitress scratched an eyebrow and a handful of hairy arsed truckies stared silently in our direction.

Finally she said, “Dunno really … we gotta bottle Cointreau in the bar…”

Thus a Cointreau ritual started. Every day, after a long drive, a slug of Cointreau was called for. It became known as the Sunset Ceremony.

Australia was a laid back place but changed, imperceptibly at first. The Commodores and rusting utes held together with bits of fencing wire, bald tires, cracked screens and exhausts swinging from their chassis gave way to tourists’  pristine four wheel drives stacked high with home comforts: Umpteen fuel cans; shiny black tyred spare wheels; water cans … they didn’t corner well on dirt tracks!

Society had increased speed, people were living on massive incomes, working under pressure, learning to cope with mobile phones, powerful cars and FIFO shift work. Road Rage became the order of the day.

Then one day, while driving to the local shops in Freo, I thought “I don’t need this” and made a vow to sell the car immediately.

So I did! In any case drive-in cinemas didn’t exist any more and I wanted to wind my body clock back.

An old pair of deck shoes, my favoured transport system. They’ve been working smoothly for about four years, worn almost daily, never been a serviced, never had a breakdown. It’s fair to say these have saved me in the region of $10,000-$12,000. I may buy a new model later this year.

THE MIRACLE OF THE DISAPPEARING BILL (and I don’t mean Shorten)

Selling the car produced an overnight miracle. I immediately felt a lack of stress. The constant attention required while driving vaporised, leaving my mind open to ponder all manner of things. I no longer pumped hundreds of bucks into a fuel tank, I didn’t think about insurance, new tyres, road taxes, servicing, flat batteries, parking, cleaning, drinking or running over mobs of school kids. I also became about $8000 a year better off without doing any extra work. 

A new lifestyle emerged. I now walk an average 5km a day (if you believe those phone Apps with little red hearts on them). I lost weight, my doctor told me my lung capacity had increased by 10% and cholesterol was down – we didn’t speak of liver function.

I walk to local shops and carry a couple of cotton bags full of groceries home. I revel in the fact that I am greener than the average Freo councillor – and I even grow veggies. I chat with strangers and neighbours, talk about the weather and solve the local issues. Chuck in a bit of coffee time and the world’s issues are dealt with, no worries mate! Life has turned a complete wheel, back to the days of walking to school without being interrupted for being mischievous.

I wonder why people drive to the gym, spend an hour grunting in front of a mirror, then drive home. A walk in soft sand, listening to the ocean, does wonders for body and soul. Even a walk to the gym and back without bothering to go in would be beneficial.

I sometimes ride a bike and park it within seconds, gratis, outside my destination. My single biggest travel overhead, in lieu of running a car, is shoes.

Of course there are good reasons for having cars, apart from convenience. They are cocoons, escape capsules, for many people who live stressed working lives. They have happy families but little time to themselves. Listening to favourite music, the news, or podcasts while driving to work is often the only time some people have to themselves. 

Many towns, including Fremantle, have excellent public transport. It may not be on call 24 hours a day but it’s cheap, clean and there when needed most. I enjoy mixing with people and public transport provides face to face public interaction.

I’ve had some hilarious conversations, in particular with a group of indigenous women while on one CAT bus trip. The group were heading to the beach. I asked what they’d be doing there.

“We’re going for a swim mate, come and join us.”

“Sorry ladies but I haven’t got my bathers with me, otherwise I would.”

“Hey man, that don’ matter, we’re goin’ skinny dippin’.”

It was a happy moment for a bus load of people who were laughing both at us and with us. I was tempted but made do with the entertaining thought of them rocking up on South Beach, stripping off and going for it.

For me, apart from the change in mindset and health, the principal benefit of being car free, care free, has been to accumulate a travel budget. Within that I have devised a lifestyle whereby I travel light for about five months a year and can follow two literary influences from my student days. Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and W.H. Davies’s, a poet, writer and remittance man who wrote The Autobiography of a Supertramp, published in 1908.

© Roger Garwood 2021

This article was first published on June 2019 by Fremantle Shipping News and is republished with minor edits. Check out their news on <fremantlesghippingnews.com.au>  

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