I was terrified! I was in a new country, in the country and I was sitting behind the steering wheel of a car for the very first time. I had no idea what I was doing or if I actually wanted to do it but I knew it was important. It was important to my brand spanking new husband and therefore to me.
Driving, was some place that no woman in my family had ever gone before. It hadn’t been necessary – Dad was a Taxi driver and my friends could drive and there were buses and walking from where I came from. But here I was, in the Outback of Queensland, Australia, having my very first driving lesson!
That first time, is etched in my mind with such clarity, that even though it took place 30 years ago, the fear is recalled easily. I was on a red dirt road with no lanes or lines and certainly no other traffic. It was flat. It was straight. It was sunny. The person I trusted most in the world was sitting beside me and I was still terrified!
I was certain I would crash … into a tree or another car or a person or a kangaroo. My husband assured me that none of the above was going to happen and so I placed my hands on the steering wheel, gripping it so tightly that my knuckles turned white, and whispered that I was ready. I listened intently to the instructions about relaxing my grip, checking my mirrors, putting in the clutch and finding the gear. As I eased my foot off the brake, I felt the car inch slowly forward. It was about this time that a large kangaroo decided to bound across the red dirt road in front of me and into the scrub on the other side of the track. What happened next is a blur but I know that the driving lesson ceased and there was a lot of “I told you so” and “I’m never driving again” and “Take me home, NOW!!”
It took a long time to get me back behind the wheel of a car again. I did resume lessons and I did eventually get my license but it took many hours of patient coaxing, a visit to a psychiatrist and a bag or three of chips! As well as anxiety, I am what I call directionally challenged. My left and right get confused and I have been known to indicate left and turn right ….. which I did during my driving test with the policeman in my car. It turned out okay, though, because my husband was also in the car when I took my test, as I refused to drive without him being there. This was lucky as he was able to explain to the cop that sometimes I got a little confused but mostly I was good and he promised him that I would only be driving in straight lines at the beginning! The country cop gave me a pass and suggested that my husband take me for driving practise as much as possible BUT to always inform the said cop when I would be on the road, so that he could take a coffee break at the precise time!
My driving improved with practise, a bag of chips to munch as I drove and the purchase of an automatic car! I still had trouble with overtaking for a long time, especially the trucks and road trains that used to frequent the country highways. I can remember, many times that Adrian and I would swap seats when we caught up to a large vehicle and he would do the overtake and then put enough distance between the truck and our car, for me to jump back in and drive the long straight road until we caught up with another one!
And today, 30 years later, I am a confident, competent driver, who can do her own overtaking. I am forever grateful to that policeman and my husband for keeping me driving. Driving has given me a freedom and independence that I would never have known. It meant that when my husband died, I was still able to maintain many of my activities and lifestyle. For the last 25 years I have lived in the city, which means driving in busy traffic conditions but not so many road trains and trucks. For that I am grateful. I do, however, live in close proximity to Pooh Corner, which is home to one of, if not the last population of Eastern Grey Kangaroos in Brisbane. Each time I come across a Roo or a Wallaby, my mind returns to my first ever driving lesson in Outback Queensland, Australia and think about how far I have come!