When I was in my early 30’s, we uprooted ourselves and our children from our cosy life in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney. From the rear windows of our 4-bedroom, double brick abode we had views to Bronte Beach. Our home for the next seven years was on a farm in Queensland’s Darling Downs near the little rural township of Maryvale. There we build our home and established greenhouses where we grew carnations; thousands of them.
One of my tasks was to deliver the flowers to several florists in Brisbane twice a week, a round trip of nearly 300 km each time. I would set out in our old Toyota Liteace van as the sun was rising over Cunningham’s Gap and usually returned in time to pick up our sons from the local two room school at 3 in the afternoon.
Along the road to Brisbane each morning I would pass a white delivery van travelling in the opposite direction, usually somewhere between Aratula and Mutdapilly, and each time the driver would wave to me. The first time this happened I wracked my brain all day as to who this person was and how did he know me. In Sydney, as I drove through across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to and from work each day, no stranger would wave to me, except perhaps to occasionally flip me the birdie as I blithely weaved in and out of the peak hour traffic, and consequently I presumed that if someone was waving to me I must be acquainted with them.
The next time it happened I told Hubby and asked if he knew of anyone with a white delivery van. It was certainly not anyone from our tiny village. Perhaps it was a shop owner in the nearby town of Warwick, where we did all our business transactions. It was such a small town that everyone knew us by name. It was not unusual to enter a shop/pharmacy/bank/post office and be greeted with: “Good morning Mrs Segal, how are the boys?” But, no, we couldn’t think of a soul who drove a white delivery truck.
It continued to occur twice a week for over a year until, one day, we bought a new vehicle, a shiny red Mazda Bravo 4×4 dual cab ute with flaming decals along each side; affectionately known as “Suzy’s Truck” by all who knew and loved it. On her maiden voyage into Brisbane, laden with fresh flowers, I was flabbergasted when low and behold, the delivery truck driver waved to me again. I was sure I would slip by unnoticed.
WTF! How did he know I’d bought a new vehicle? I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Hubby.
Fast forward 20 odd years to 2008 when, having long-ago sold the farm and moved to Brisbane, we retired and bought a Toyota Landcruiser and caravan and set out on our big adventure around Australia (for the first lap). Soon after we had taken our first turn off the main highway and were heading inland along a country road, a similar combination of old farts towing a caravan appeared on the horizon and as they drew close enough to see the whites of their eyes, the driver lifted his left hand from the steering wheel and waved to us.
Hubby and I turned to each other, our mouths simultaneously forming perfect O’s, two pairs of eye brows arched high towards our respective hairlines. Had the delivery truck driver from all those years ago also retired to become a Grey Nomad and was now stalking us?
It didn’t take us long to realise, after passing several other Grey Nomads, that it is common, country traveller courtesy to wave to fellow travellers, and the more remote the location the more enthusiastic the wave, from just a laconic raised finger from the driver, to all occupants, whole hands wildly gesticulating. It was somewhere about then that I realised that I had, in fact, never known the delivery truck driver personally; he was just being a courteous country traveller.
Since embarking upon our latest trip 14 months ago, we have noticed that there are many more travellers on the roads these days; caravan parks need to be booked in advance and it even pays to arrive at the National Park Campgrounds well before noon if you want to secure a suitable campsite for the night.
The departure date of our first trip had coincided with the catastrophic, 2008 GFC, and many self-funded retirees were forced to cancel their caravan orders and postpone their big trip as their retirement funds in the stock market dwindled overnight to almost half their value. Some caravan manufacturers were even forced to declare bankruptcy when so many sales evaporated.
Well, in the nine years since then, the stock market has made a remarkable rebound and the roads and caravan parks are clogged with Grey Nomads once again, and we wave to all of them as they pass us on the highways and byways of rural Australia. Though we sometimes get strange looks as they pass us, mouths hanging open and brows knit in consternation as they try to determine exactly what we are. If we don’t wave first, they sometimes fail to wave at all, simply because they think we are a truck or a bus or something else completely.
It seems that the courtesy only extends to like vehicles; truckies wave to other trucks, bus drivers’ wave to other buses, delivery van drivers wave to other delivery vans, and Grey Nomads wave to other Grey Nomads and seeing as how we somehow fall into all these categories, everyone waves to us.
While I was driving along one particular stretch of rather boring scenery between Katherine and Tennant Creek, I decided to count the number of travellers coming from the opposite direction. In a one hour period, mid-morning, 60 grey nomad type vehicles passed us and they constituted about 80% of the total traffic, sometimes in groups of three or four, sometimes singularly. That equates to one a minute, and that doesn’t take into account that of the other 20% of vehicles we encountered, 80% were either buses or trucks.
I’m beginning to think I need to invent an automatic hand that, at the touch of a button, will shoot out the driver’s side ¼ window, and wave in a regal fashion to the passing hoards, not unlike the hand that would indicate a stop or turn on the buses that were around when I was a child, back in the olden days.