Before moving to Newstead, the furthest I’d lived from the city was East Brunswick.* I walked everywhere, or I took the tram. I rarely ventured beyond the tram line, because that was the suburbs, and why would you go to the suburbs?
Then I started seeing someone who grew up on a farm and he tricked me into going camping. And even though I had to pee behind a bush, I quite enjoyed being At One with Nature. I overcame my fear of public urination and spent most of my free time in a swag under the stars talking rubbish.
Eventually this someone and I decided to buy a house together. He is into cars, so he needed a shed. Houses with sheds in Melbourne cost six kidneys and we only had four between us so we started looking at property in the country. Which is beyond the tram line. We saw a few practical houses in Castlemaine and then we made an offer on a 60s transportable in Newstead. Which is not only beyond the tram line, it is 15km from the nearest train station. So when our offer was accepted it became obvious that I would need to learn to drive, something I had managed to avoid for almost twenty years. Did you know that the longer you leave it, the more terrifying it becomes? During my last few months in East Brunswick I would wake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat.
I took some lessons with a lovely instructor who would say, “Don’t do that during the exam.” I mastered the hook turn and the parallel park.
I passed my test the day before we moved. I should have failed but the examiner said it was obvious that I nearly took out two other cars because I was nervous.
We had purchased a car for me earlier that week: a bright orange KE20 Corolla. I chose it because
A) It was orange and
B) Corollas never die.
For the first twelve months, I only felt comfortable driving on the Pyrenees Highway between Newstead and Castlemaine. Any diversions would require days of preparation. I was too afraid to overtake anyone so when I got stuck behind another vintage Corolla, driven by its original owner on her way to a CWA meeting, I took it as an opportunity to take in the scenery. I would only park in Campbell St. in Castlemaine; a huge residential street with angle parking.
I reversed into a Subaru Forester at the service station. This is easier than it sounds, because Foresters blend into the scenery when they are in their natural habitat, which is anywhere within a ten kilometre radius of the local Steiner school. The driver was not happy, but she stopped abusing me when I started to cry, and she told me not to worry about it. I exited the service station thinking country people are So Damn Nice.
It turns out that Corollas do die eventually. Mine died when my husband was working interstate. So if it wasn’t for the awesome community that is Newstead I would have been stranded. The neighbours devised a roster to take me to and from Castlemaine. I paid them with spinach pie.
We decided I needed a Sensible Car. We did some research and settled on a Hyundai i30. I wanted a red one but my husband said white is easier to panel when I crash it. So we effectively bought a fridge. I put a CHOPPED sticker on the rear window to give it some cred but someone removed it. Probably the organisers of CHOPPED. And I’ve only hit two cars in it. Actually I only owned up to one so the other one doesn’t count. I was trying to park outside Bendigo Health. I did some serious damage to the driver’s door on a silver SUV. I considered driving away but I remembered the lady at the service station and decided to do the Right Thing. Also, I hit the car in front of at least twenty men working on a construction site and I thought they might report me. I left a note on the window:
Sorry I hit your car. I am heavily pregnant and very emotional. Please call my husband.
I actually made my husband deal with it. But a month later I gave birth so we’re even.
My driving has improved and I haven’t hit anything since. Just the water metre out the front of our house but it was hidden under a tonne of weeds (see blog post about gardens).
Last week I drove half way to Daylesford without scrutinising Google maps for a day and a half. Next week I’m driving to Clunes.
*If someone who has moved here in the last ten years tells you they are not from Brunswick/Coburg/Northcote, they are lying. These people also say things like “I was wearing flannos before they were cool” and “I’ve had this beard since I was born".