The roads are different up there I was told. “Up there”, meant New South Wales. I had this conversation with a friend before I left for a trip up the inland route to Byron Bay. ‘You’ll notice a difference after you cross the border. Their roads are better than down here,’ he said. Down here meant Victoria.Read more: How to avoid potholes
I beg to differ with my friend. The back roads in New South are a giant mess of potholes. My daughter had warned me too. The roads are crap she said. I dismissed this as the opinion of a 25-year-old city slicker. Well. She was right too. The main roads, others call them the M1 and the Newell, are smooth, sleek and acceptable. The unsealed roads – off the highway- can be a different story.
We began to become experts at identifying, avoiding and grading potholes. The passenger became the pothole spotter by default. A simple depression in the road was considered Grade 1. A hole the size of a small saucepan was Grade 4 and usually evoked expletives from the driver and passenger. Grade 6 holes were like enormous culverts in the road with jagged edges and imaginary pits of crocodiles below. These grade 6 potholes usually resulted in the driver screaming, and then coming to a dead stop to check if we still had intact tyres.
As we shuddered and clanked and swerved over those gaping holes in the road I started to think about roads and potholes and all things in between. City woman that I am I do not tend to think too much about the state of our roads. I take them for granted like I do our public health system, clean drinkable water and good coffee.
Out there, locals shake their heads. “It is water damage, all this bloody rain, that’s what done it to these roads.” These are the things we heard over and over again. That and a torrent of complaints about the three layers of government: council, state government, and the Federal Government. All of them bear some responsibility for maintaining the roads. From the locals, there is an inevitable shoulder shrug and an acceptance of that’s how it is.
As we drove north, I googled about the state of our highway and by-way systems. I learned that wheel and tyre damage account for over 15,000 call-outs to the local motoring organisation I the month of February. I learned that not all of this is caused by potholes but they play a large part. I fell down an internet rabbit hole about road funding works and learn that even if there is money, good weather is needed to make the essential repairs.
But should we accept it with a shrug? Do we need to look at our entire road network and come up with better answers? Is road maintenance enough? Building better roads was a slogan in the 80s. Perhaps roads are built simply with an eye for getting from A to B? There’s more to it than that. Changes in vehicle use, the type of vehicles, local federal and state politics and the elephant in the pot-holed room- climate change. Should we be pressuring our representatives to put more money, time and resources into our rural road networks? That’s a rhetorical question by the way! And I have no real answers or solutions. Other than that you can’t avoid potholes as hard as you might try.
In between dodging the road ditches, we fell in love with Tamworth, chilled out in Yamba, watched Midnight Oil at Bluesfest and blissed out for a week’s isolation in Smiths Lake when we were laid up with Covid. (Thanks Sonya for your generosity with the house!) I now know where the mid-north coast is, and that there really is a place called Boomerang Beach.
The happy end to our story was that we made it home with no mechanical incidents. We suspected a slow leak, but grew complacent. Several weeks after our return, a kilometre from my house, I bumped against a curb whilst parking and the front tyre blew. I limped home on the spare and when our mechanic looked at our shredded tyre he said, ‘I can’t believe you got back from Byron on that.’
Neither could we.