I have always been pretty good with reading maps. As kid I loved going for drives in the car, always looking out the window, searching for landmarks, watching where we were going. The road network is fascinating, where roads were built and where old roads used to be, and Brisbane, where I grew up and still live is a great place for someone with this interest. In the early days the city (country town) was not planned. In a lot of the older areas the main roads would wind along ridges, side streets dive down into gullies. The houses on the ridge roads would be hanging on to the bitumen, their structure supported by tall posts at the rear. The only way to find your way through the maze of streets was to use the refidex (street directory for the non-Queenslanders). I loved this book; I would read it in my spare time. The refidex would take me on adventures. I would open up a random page and try to find my way home. Oh, my misspent youth.
Into my early teens, my parents decided that for annual holidays they wanted to travel. I’m not talking about trips to Europe, Asia or a Pacific Island cruise, they would take my younger sister and I on long driving trips to new and exciting places in Australia. So we would head off to Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra and many places in between and I would have ownership of the maps. I would look at the maps; calculate times of arrival to different places. Dad was so confident in my map reading skills that I was given the responsibility to navigate us through the towns and cities to wherever we were staying.
When I obtained my drivers licence I became both driver and navigator. No good trying to read while driving so I would memorise the directions to get anywhere new. Most times I would remember the directions, but if not I would generally be close, I have a good sense of direction. My friends would call me, Mr. Refidex. I would be driving somewhere, and friends or family would ask if I knew where we were. I would never say lost, just that I’d never been here before and that the road has got to end up somewhere, “People call me Mr.Refidex”, I would say confidently and I would find my way out. This was all before the days of GPS, in-car navigation and mobile phones.
Now, we have in-car satellite navigation, and phones with map applications. The world is going paperless, no need for a refidex or hardcopy map. And what I love most about in-car navigation are the ridiculous routes they want to take you. It’s often a battle between me and the machine to find the quickest route. I would never trust one of them and always have a good laugh when you see news reports of people bogged or stranded in places they should never have been driving. “The TomTom told me to keep following the road”. Really? Was it when the water was coming over the bonnet that you realised something was wrong? Maybe I’m too harsh, it’s easy to criticise when you are Mr. Refidex.
Recently I was driving from Brisbane to Gladstone. This is a straight forward drive, basically follow the highway and turn off when you get near Gladstone. About a 6 hour drive so I thought I’d put on the navigation, keep track of time taken and distance to travel. It had been a fair few years since I had travelled this road, a few changes, upgrades and some roadworks still in progress. After driving for about 2 hours driving, Sandy told to make a left turn. Sandy is the voice of the in-car navigation, and being at a weak moment I obeyed. As I turned I knew I was on the wrong road, but the adventure kicked in, I wonder where this goes?
This is great no traffic, good road, still on a highway, but not the one I should be on, so I kept following it. Sandy tells me to turn off this highway onto another road; it’s not as good but still safe to travel the speed limit. Nature called so made a stop and before I got on the road again I thought I would check the map. Tried to zoom out on the in-car sat nav to gain an overview of where I was, impossible, I can’t even make out where I am. Ok, I can use google maps on the phone, damn, no signal. So I set off again following the directions of Sandy. A few kilometres down the road Sandy says to turn left. My brain tells me this is wrong, going straight appears to be heading back to the highway I need. Instead I turn left trusting Sandy. What does she know, what am I missing? Have I totally lost that sense of direction I had?
It wasn’t long before the road began to narrow. A strip of bitumen only wide enough for one vehicle, having to put one wheel off for any on-coming traffic. Then the bitumen gave way to a corrugated dirt road. Signs advised to look out for cattle as the surrounding farmlands were unfenced. But it was the kangaroos I had to be alert to. Why do they insist on just standing there beside the road waiting for you to get really close and then hop across in front of you? Sandy, where are you taking me? Then a couple of creek crossings, thank goodness there hasn’t been rain recently. After about 20 minutes the road improved, things were looking up. Once again, I am asked to change direction. I’d had enough. Sandy was not getting her way, so this time I decided to keep going the way I thought was back to the highway. Sandy didn’t like this and repeated asked me to turn around. This won’t last long. She’ll recalculate the route soon. After about 15 minutes I had to turn Sandy off. I did find the highway, probably wasted around 45 minutes on my little adventure and while I didn’t end up bogged or stranded without petrol, why did I trust her? Is it her calm voice lulling me into a false sense of security? She never panics, even when there is water coming over the bonnet of your car.
I did make it to Gladstone. It’s a very interesting industrial port city with lots of photo opportunities. I have placed some of my better images in my Gladstone gallery.