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Australia’s car-loving culture is a breath of fresh air

Our Australian cousins aren’t about to give up their four-by-fours to appease the green fear-mongers.

George Hopewell

Topics Politics Science & Tech World

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On a recent trip to Queensland, Australia, I was struck by how different Aussies’ attitude to the car is compared with ours in the UK.

Brisbane, Queensland’s capital and ‘Brissie’ to the locals, is painted with square mile after square mile of affluent suburbs. Roads of architect-designed houses feature open-plan spaces the size of tennis courts. Inside, the air-conditioning is on 24/7 and the fridges crunch out ice cubes. Outside, the temperature is 30-plus degrees, swimming pools are ubiquitous (but unused) and lawns are trimmed to sub-tropical perfection. Birds scorch the air with guttural Australian accents and lizards dodge the ‘whipper snippers’ (strimmers). To top it all off, no one bothers to walk anywhere. You drive to the café, to the mall or to Bunnings (B&Q on steroids). Wherever you go, you never leave the air-conditioning.

I can’t say definitively that all of Brissie is affluent, but it does seem that way. Queensland certainly makes a helluva lot of Aussie dollars exporting vast quantities of coal and minerals. Where I stayed, most of the houses had been built in the past 20 years on a wide grid of immaculately smooth roads. The garages are doubles, triples or quadruples. In most driveways, you’ll see a boat, a pair of jet skis and you will also almost always see two or more cars. These are usually large or extra-large four-by-fours. Typically, hers would be the Ford Ranger for a family trip to the mall and his would be the Toyota Landcruiser for a fishing weekend. The old cliché is doled out to taunt the Pommies: ‘If you want to go into the outback, take a Land Rover. If you want to come back from the outback, take a Landcruiser.’

If you want to go anywhere, though, you want a car with a bit of grunt. And the extras for muscling up your four-by-four are infinite. Here, the ‘tradies’ eschew white vans for ‘utes’ – the Aussie version of the American pick-up truck – sporting theft-proof tool boxes, roof bars and fishing rods ready for the long weekend. Fuel is relatively cheap, the weather is great and the shopping malls are exceptional. It is the long, smooth highways, however, that most tempt you to adventure.

After all, these four-by-fours may use the asphalt for shopping and the school run, but (in their owners’ minds, at least) they have to be butch enough to explore the outback’s dirt roads and Queensland’s endless beaches. Rainbow Beach and Moreton Island are begging you to come and swim, fish, party and – most of all – drive. For there you are in untamed nature, slewing sideways through deep, soft sand, revving over huge tree roots and precipitous rocks. When the tide has retreated, leaving wide, hard-packed sand, you can accelerate to outrageous speeds along the endless beach – braking only to negotiate the drop curbs of rivers plunging from the forest. This is some of the best fun you can have on wheels.

The world of emission-based congestion charges, clean-air zones and low-traffic neighbourhoods exacted on us in the UK is barely a fart in the wind in Queensland. You can buy a vehicle with guts, big tyres and plenty of room for all your outdoorsy stuff. Better yet, you can drive your thirsty beast wherever you feel like going.

More than anything else, it was a relief to get away from the self-righteous, self-flagellating eco-hypocrisy of the UK. You know, the neighbours who boast that they don’t use plastic and that their new Audi is saving the planet. In Queensland, no authority is guilt-tripping people or trying to stop them enjoying their hefty, off-road beasts. There is no whiff of the angst-ridden, Guardian-esque distaste of the motorcar. Over there, hands are for grasping the steering wheel, not for wringing together in a show of self-reproach for daring to use one.

Driving in Brissie has shown me that, in the UK, we are piddling around with our half-cocked attempts to crush the fossil-fuel car. Sure, Australia and the UK are very different. But we have something to learn from our cousins Down Under. The Queenslanders I met care for their local environment but don’t give a box jellyfish about ‘saving the planet’. They certainly wouldn’t dream of giving up their gutsy four-by-fours. Their love of big, petrol-hungry cars makes the UK’s eco-tokenism seem utterly pathetic and pointless.

Gasp with anger and astonishment if you must. Scream like Greta Thunberg that ‘someone’s got to do something’ to save the planet. But the reality is that there wasn’t a single Tesla on Queensland’s sandy beaches. There were just big, dirty four-by-fours and people having fun.

George Hopewell used to teach philosophy and lives and writes in the West Country.

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics Science & Tech World

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