The Roads More Or Less Travelled

All roads lead to Canberra – at least that’s what most politicians think. This week we’re having a break from politics, the plight of refugees and why Australia’s asylum seeker policies are on the nose. Today guest writer Laurel Wilson (aka She Who Also Writes) looks at the hazards of the highway for travellers. This post contains 21 images. – Ed.

Definitely NOT our next road rig..

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, I’m feeling quite refreshed after our 6 week, 6,000 kilometre road trip around Queensland in our trusty 12ft caravan (despite the occasional mishap, chronicled elsewhere).

Not this one, either

One of the positives in travelling is that it can give you the opportunity and inclination to study the ever-changing surroundings. Unlike those who object to outback travel because “you can drive for ages and not see anything”, I’ve always found there’s something new to experience as you drive along. Some of these experiences, such as the pungent stink of Gidgee in humid weather, are perhaps not ‘must does’, but it was a relief to find the source of that odour, when I was beginning to think that we had a leak in the caravan’s gas cylinder or the car had developed some nameless fault.

Having a naturally curious nature (unlike the woman living in Dingo, who neither knew nor cared how that small town got its unique name), I was intrigued by the extent and variety of roads we travelled on during our latest trip.

I began to wonder just how many kilometres of designated roads there are in Queensland. According to a Department of Main Roads factsheet, as of 2013-14 there were over 33,000 kilometres of State controlled roads (which includes over 5,000 kilometres of the National network). In addition, Queensland Local Governments are responsible for almost 155,000 kilometres of roads in their respective areas.

In our latest trip around Queensland, we travelled on all but one of the designated ‘National Highways’, the only exception being the Barkly Highway, which runs westward from Cloncurry. In all of our trip around Queensland, we managed to stay off the highway called ‘Bruce’, except for the 400 or so kilometres from Cairns to Townsville, where we had tickets to watch a North Queensland Cowboys Rugby League game – one of Johnathan Thurston’s last games (I realise that the bulk of readers neither know or care, but I don’t get to write this blog very often, so thought I’d take the opportunity…).

This time, our most westerly destination was Winton, where we spent four fascinating days at ‘The Vision Splendid – Outback Film Festival’.

The Not So Mighty Bruce Highway, North Queensland

What constitutes a ‘National Highway’ seems to be open to some interpretation, but I’ve used a list supplied by Wikipedia (I know, I know, not necessarily the best source, but should be adequate for this purpose).

Two lanes and well-maintained –west of Charleville.

Whether the roads we travelled on were ‘National’, ‘State’ or ‘local’ wasn’t always possible to tell. (Apparently the various tiers of government have a similar problem when deciding which tier is responsible for building and maintaining them.) And we really didn’t care who was ‘responsible’; we were more interested in their state of repair (or disrepair). To be fair, of the 6,000 kilometres we travelled, the great majority of the roads were at least two lanes wide, bitumen and either in very good repair or quite adequate.roads-travel

Give the road-trains a wide berth – they ain’t stoppingOnly a couple were gravel or ‘dirt’ and gave us (and the poor old caravan) a rough ride for our money. And one of those we can blame on the GPS, which decided to take us on a trip from Glenmorgan to Surat via the most circuitous route it could find.

Hmm, wish we had a better map
Do you guys know where we are?

The other was the ‘shortcut’ from Hughenden to ‘The Lynd’, some 250km to the North. We chose this road (The Kennedy Developmental Road) because it went past Porcupine Gorge National Park, which we wanted to visit, and was much shorter than the alternative route to our next destination. And after all, most of the lines on the map were solid red (indicating bitumen) rather than the dotted line for ‘dirt road’.

Porcupine Gorge
The author and editor (after the 1600 steps down and back)
You can get to Porcupine Gorge on the bitument, a longer way around

As it turned out, the accent should have been on ‘developmental’, rather than ‘road’. There were frequent patches of the dreaded ‘corrugations’, in which the road surface consists of a series of ruts which run at right angles to the direction of travel. This is a phenomenon common to ‘dirt’ roads and apparently results mainly from the numerous vehicles travelling over the moveable surface of such roads. Regular grading of the road helps smooth out the corrugations, so it’s worthwhile trying to find out whether an unsurfaced road has been recently graded before you travel on it. Being of fairly ‘senior’ years, I’m quite used to travelling ‘off the bitumen’ and have met corrugations before. The general wisdom about negotiating corrugations is to drive at a reasonable speed (not necessarily too slowly, but not highway speeds either) and to drop the tyre pressures a bit if you usually run to higher pressures- though not really worth the hassle unless you’re stuck with a long stretch of ‘corro’.

The Kennedy Developmental Road was the site of one of our minor mishaps this trip. The continual bouncing of travelling across corrugations was eventually too much for the 30year old+ hinges on the wardrobe door, and we arrived at ‘The Lynd’ with the wardrobe door lying on the floor of the van. Interestingly enough, the clothes remained in the wardrobe! (Finding new hinges to fit, putting them on and getting the door to shut properly was a small triumph for ‘Handy Mandy’ and her trusty sidekick.)

Right- No-one’s looking- let’s drive on the smooth side…

This time next year the road will probably be a much more comfortable drive, as there was plenty of roadwork going on as we drove this stretch.

The dreaded corrugations on the way to The Lynd







We met these International travellers at ‘The Lynd’ – It’s a 1915 Model ‘T’ Ford. They prefer the dirt roads (see below) and avoid highways in their world travels. They have travelled to over 50 countries, raising money for the charity SOS Children’s Villages International.

original Queensland outback road

As you would expect, most sealed roads are black or grey, but we do come across some which, to my eye, are a rather fetching shade of pink. Some may see it as ‘tan’, but the idea of pink roads somehow appeals to me. I haven’t been able to find out why they are ‘pink’, but my theory is that it has something to do with the roadbase containing a fair proportion of the red dirt/sand common in many parts of Queensland.

The pink brick road
Pink’, don’t you think?

One of my pastimes while travelling is to take pictures while we are inside the car (and I promise I only do this when I’m the passenger). Most of the photos in this ‘blog’ are of that type. And a few shots of the roads more or less travelled:

The road not travelled – near Winton
On the straight and narrow to Georgetown
The road to Dingo




Sometimes the best road is the one leading home..





Press vote now

Combo Waterhole, source of inspiration for Banjo Paterson’s poem. Photo by Laurel Wilson.

Queenslanders who voted ‘Yes’ for four-year fixed parliamentary terms last weekend may live to rue the day. The people have spoken, although there is a vigorous debate about how well-informed they were at the time they voted. And while vote counting is not complete, critics are saying 53.1% for the affirmative is a poor result, considering it had bipartisan support.

The people certainly spoke back in 1967 when a referendum was held to count Aborigines as part of the human population − 90.77% of registered voters said ‘Yes’. (Voters were also asked to approve an increase in the number of members of the House of Representatives without increasing the number of Senators. That one got voted down.)

Sometimes politicians do that – sneak an extra question in which is arguably the real reason they are having a referendum in the first place. But the people aren’t stupid, are they?

There have been referendums held to consider questions less vital to human rights and equality than whether or not Aborigines should count as people. For example, in 1968 Tasmanians were asked if they wanted a casino in Hobart and (only) 53% said ‘yes’. In 1975 West Australians were asked to vote for or against daylight saving (No) and again in 1984 (also No). In 1992, after a three-year trial, Queenslanders were also asked to vote on this somewhat vexed question  and the ‘No’ vote got up then too.

Didn’t we get asked this question 25 years ago?

In 1991 voters were asked if they wanted the Queensland Parliament to have four-year terms. The proposal was narrowly defeated, with 51.1% voting against and 48.9% in favour.

University of Queensland Professor of Law Graeme Orr told FOMM one of the travesties of this year’s referendum was the ‘bundling’ of two separate issues, ie the question of whether to have ‘fixed terms’, but also whether to have four year terms instead of the current three. According to Professor Orr, the government of the day could have legislated for fixed (three year) terms, without the need for a referendum, as “the three-year term was entrenched in the old Constitution”.

Prof Orr said it was remarkable that this referendum could only attract a 53% ‘Yes’ vote, given both major parties backed it, there was paid advertising, high-profile support, and no organized ‘No’ case.

“It shows how less trusting people are today of the two big but dwindling parties.”

Prof Orr added that the last referenda which had bi-partisan support (in 1977 – to allow Territories to vote in referenda) attracted a 77.7% ‘Yes’ vote.

Saturday’s poll was the third ‘Yes’ result from eight Queensland referendums held since 1899. The result also defied a national trend, with only 18% of referendums passed since Federation. An astute local political observer remarked that the referendums which are won usually have bi-partisan support.

Federal referendums are much harder to win because not only do you need a majority, but at least four of the six states must also say ‘Yes’.

Only eight of the 44 referendum questions posed to the Federal electorate (38 of them were held prior to and including 1977), have been approved. Canberra has clearly lost its appetite for referendums as there have been only eight held since 1984, the last one being the failed bid (at a cost of $66.82 million) to turn Australia into a Republic in 1999.

A conscience vote would be cheaper

While a referendum in Australia is always a proposal to amend the Constitution, a plebiscite is a non-binding vote used to determine the electorate’s position regarding an important public question. So while Australia has not had a referendum since 1999, a plebiscite vote on same-sex marriage is very likely in the next year or two, unless the electorate cracks up about the mooted cost ($158.4 million), although accountants PwC distributed a press release which stated that lost productivity could push it out to $525 million.

While some political interests get mileage from playing up the unseemly cost of democracy, we calculated the per voter cost of Saturday’s exercise at just $3.73. The budget for Queensland’s 2016 referendum ($11.5 million) was relatively modest as it was held concurrently with local government elections. The State Government said this strategy saved Queensland taxpayers $5.1 million. FOMM asked Electoral Commission Queensland to identify the biggest single expense in holding a referendum. Forty percent of the budget ($4.60 million) went on postage, which tends to support the e-voting alternative discussed below.

Elections and referendums chew through serious money. Data drawn from the Australian Electoral Commission shows the five Federal elections held since 2000 cost $745+ million while another $8.26 million was spent on 10 by-elections and another $21 million on a half senate election in WA. So if PM Malcolm Turnbull makes good his threat and goes to a double dissolution in July, democracy in Australia will have cost us close to $1 billion in just 17 years.

E-voting – a good question for a referendum?

Surely in 2016 we could have our democratic say on things and spend less money? After all, hundreds of thousands of Centrelink, Medicare and ATO clients can log on to MyGov and carry out simple administrative tasks on their own behalf.

We’d only need to raise the bar a little to allow voters to vote from home, using dedicated WIFI gadgets, smart cards and ASIO-level backroom security.

Hackers, electoral fraud, I hear you say? How could it be more full of loopholes than the current system?

The long-term savings seem obvious. An online scheme would involve a large up-front cost manufacturing terminals and cards and setting up secure data management. They would also have to be installed in public libraries to ensure people who do not own a computer or a smart phone still get a vote. Special arrangements would also be needed for those who are too remote to have access to such technology.

But once the scheme was operating, it could be utilised not only for Federal elections, by-elections and referendums, but by all states and territories and local governments. The accumulated savings over, say a fixed, four-year term would be significant. This is not some random FOMM fantasy either – check out the e-voting experiences of the State of Victoria and countries like Switzerland and Estonia.

Girt by dire songs

An online system would need a trial run, preferably using a non-critical issue. May I suggest we revisit the 1977 plebiscite that asked Australians to choose one of four songs as the National Anthem? I say this on the basis that people tire of old songs that get played to death, particularly if they were sappy songs in the first place: I Go to Rio, Don’t Cry for Me Argentina and Living Next Door to Alice were all big hits in 1977.

First we’d need a national songwriting competition to come up with a short-list of songs, including one written by a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island descent. Historically, 90% of the people should agree with this. You might say we’ve got plenty of existing songs to choose from – From Little Things, This is Australia, Land Down Under, True Blue, Great Southern Land.

Dame Edna Everage’s duet with Loudon Wainwright III singing C. Carson Parks’ Somethin’ Stupid is not a contender for our national song circa 2017.

I just thought since it’s a public holiday and you have time to spare, and given that this is such a turgid subject and what’s another 100 words anyway, you should know such a thing exists. Happily no video of that performance could be found. But there is this.

Should we include the runner-up from the 1977 plebiscite? Can anyone remember the names of the three songs which were not Advance Australia Fair? See if you can remember without using your favourite search engine. I realise that anyone under 40 will struggle with this question, so I’ll give you another subtle clue – one song relates to a bloke camped by a billabong in the shade of a Coolabah tree; he’s sitting, watching, waiting till his billy boils.