Drivers compete with each other for a few metres of advantage and swap insults with hand signals to assert their rights of domination
TUMBY BAY - Dervla Murphy, the Irish travel writer who died aged 90 last month, had two particular dislikes. The first was capitalism and the second was motorcars.
In the early 1960s she rode an old fashioned gearless pushbike from Waterford in Ireland to India. She subsequently undertook many more similar adventures on her trusty wiliwil.
Her irritation with motor cars was based on her observation that they were responsible for the frenetic pace of life they induced in people.
She also was critical of the ever increasing webs of concrete and bitumen motorways creeping over the landscape that were built to service these ubiquitous machines.
She had a point. I can recall my early life in a village in Suffolk in the 1950s when it was unusual for anyone except the landed gentry and the professional class to own a motorcar.
In those days, life proceeded at a leisurely pace. It was only when our family migrated to Australia that we encountered the increased prevalence of vehicle ownership and the concomitant obsession with speed.
Later, when I arrived in the backblocks of Papua New Guinea in 1967, I regained a more leisurely style of life based on the absence of motorcars.
These were places where there were no roads and hence no motorcars.
At the most, these places had only a kilometre of road along which we drove tractors, mostly between the station and the airstrip or the station and the wharf. Otherwise we walked.
Sometimes I long for those unhurried days. Even in remote Tumby Bay there are roads everywhere and it seems like zillions of cars race along them at crazy speeds.
In cities and the larger towns, stressed out drivers crouched behind steering wheels jockey for supremacy inside long queues of pollution.
They compete with each other for a few metres advantage and swap insults with hand signals designed to assert their rights to dominate roadways that can never be conquered.
Dervla Murphy advocated in her later years that many of the world’s problems could be solved if the number of motorcars and the aggression and psychosis they induced were diminished.
The celebrated and sometimes derided concept of Papuan time (or Pacific time or Melanesian time or….there are many more) can be put down to the lack of things like motorcars.
Except for the melee that passes for a road system in Port Moresby and stretches of what passes for highway leading from some major towns, it’s still not possible to roar around most of PNG in a motorcar for the simple reason that roads are invariably in such a poor state of repair as to make it impossible.
And even if that were not so, the concept of a more leisurely approach to life is so ingrained in the national psyche it’s doubtful whether most people would do it anyway.
In my case, I think advancing age has induced this nostalgia for more leisurely times. Now well into my seventies I find time to be travelling too quickly.
And this when my store of time is limited. It wants speed and I want to be careful how I eke it out.
When my wife and I, with infinite patience, puddle in our little car to Port Lincoln for groceries once a week, our leisurely progress annoys the hell out of the maniacs who, with gritted teeth and profanities we cannot hear, hurtle past us in flashes of shining metal.
As they disappear rapidly into the distance, I think, slow down mate, you’re going to reach the end of the road far quicker than you think.