Almanac Life: Longing for the open road

The road trip.



An innocuous phrase to encompass the immense freedom I felt escaping the daily grind of work, responsibilities and, yes, motherhood — if only for the weekend. Just before Christmas, I found myself hitting the road for a four-and-a-half-hour drive to North East Victoria. Kelly country, ironically. A literary pilgrimage for my book, Lament.



I’ve always had a traveller’s heart. It’s genetic. I blame my father. The longing for the open road, change and adventure, is something that has always rippled through me. Some people call it itchy feet, but the feeling doesn’t emanate from the feet but the heart. I yearn to explore places, meet people, see the wondrous things that the world has to offer.



The recent years of marriage and motherhood have made me less flippant in my decisions to throw in a job or splurge on a plane ticket. Where once I was driven by the need to move or to escape, I have found myself tempered by others and their need for stability and steadiness. I started to doubt whether that hidden wanderer was even in there anymore. Morphed instead into the it’s-too-hard-to-bother-going-anywhere mutant mother of the past few years.



What is it that makes us travellers or stayers? My husband likes the comforts of home. His house. His town. His home-bound tendencies have seeped into me over the years living together and I’ve found it easier to ‘blame the baby’ rather than acknowledge the fact that I might be playing it safe and putting my desires on hold.



Not long after finishing secondary school, I secured a job as a governess on a sheep station west of Broken Hill.  I would be teaching two children in the remote Australian outback. That year, I drove a number of times from my central Victorian hometown to the Station, stopping only for fuel and a quick pit stop. It would be nine hours of windows-down, singing until my throat was hoarse and watching the red expanse of earth open up the further north I drove. I loved it. The more remote the surrounds, the more my lungs expanded and my heart lightened. I had assumed this was the same for everyone, this feeling of escape and release. I was shocked when a friend had told me how much she hated driving country roads. I was incredulous at her statement, ‘What if you get lost out there?’ Lost? How could you get lost? There was only one main road!



For my pre-Christmas road trip I hit the highway early, headed for Beechworth. Now spoilt with air-conditioning, the need for windows-down driving was gone, but I celebrated my rekindled love of the road with a burst of wind-blown exhilaration for old-times’ sake. An audio book was on stand-by, one that I’d been longing to read and would fill my hours with beautiful words. It didn’t disappoint.



I stopped at the places I wanted. The car radio was in my control. No desperate pleas of needing to find a bathroom 20 minutes into the drive. When I wanted to sight-see, there was no call of ‘we’ll stop on the way home’ (which we never do!). I stopped where I wanted. I spent time walking on the old stone bridge at Avenel, where Ned Kelly rescued Dick Shelton from the river as a kid. The day had that early morning heat of an Australian summer and the cicadas were out, chirping their chorus in the otherwise silent day. The trees were still and the quiet engulfed me as I stood there. The 1860s seemed close.



Arriving in Beechworth, I took the time to walk her historic streets. The town is geared for tourism, but the beauty of the heritage stone buildings and the surrounding hills and gullies are the real splendour of the town. I revelled in the company of a fellow writer, listened to her insights into the world of words and work, which I am just beginning to get a feeling for. I played tourist. Sipped coffee. Bought books.



When I looked back on the weekend, which was chaotic but so enjoyable, I realised it was not just the road trip that brought me a feeling of happiness but the autonomy. I had complete freedom in my choices. I pleased only myself. It’s one of the things they don’t tell you about parenthood. The loss of self. The loss of selfishness. Regaining it over the weekend felt liberating, which I know comes from my children growing older, and a husband who was able to have the weekend off in order to care for the kids. The rediscovery of it allowed me to put a piece of the puzzle back into myself.  The open road was intoxicating, and is calling again. Louder than ever.




A tribute to Kelly pops up on the side of the road.





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About Nicole Kelly

Is a teacher, mother, writer and all-round lover of words!


  1. Kevin Densley says

    I enjoyed reading this, Nicole. My favourite sentence was/is: “The 1860s seemed close.” That’s how it is in certain places – the span of historical time seems to disappear.

  2. Wonderful stuff Nicole. I’m firmly in your camp – how does getting lost even cross one’s mind?

    Those cicadas on otherwise still, sun-drenched days – they’re always loud, but take centre stage when every other source of backing beat has been brow-beaten by the rays (or wisely taken shelter beforehand); like the usually unnoticed by daylight clang of keys in the door at 2am after a long night out at the pub.

  3. Colin Ritchie says

    Terrific read Nicole, know the feeling well!

  4. Daryl Schramm says

    A lovely read. Can relate well to the ‘pleasing yourself’ on road trips when on your own. Can’t relate to the stress and busyness of motherhood obviously. Disappointingly, I no longer look forward to road trips with others who dislike stopping unnecessarily (in their eyes), a small detour here and there, and, my music!

  5. Familiar sentiments Nicole.

    Love driving and I love a bus trip.

    Years ago we did a 16000km trip with 4 x kids.They survived.

  6. Good stuff Nicole. Welcome to 2021.

    We popped into Beechworth last Tuesday, 29/12, after being at Corowa races the day before. We hadn’t been there for about 3-4 years. It was certainly buzzing, no longer looking like the sleepy, historical town that I spent a bit of time in working on my studies.

    I was surprised at the amount of people there, also some of the changes in the streetscape. It felt like a bit like Castlemaine, with the activities and vibrancy. No it was nice to get back there, appreciating the changes. Paraphrasing Bertolt Brecht ; the longer things stay the way they are the more likely they will change.

    Being on the road is always a nice experience. Even with the current challenges the pandemic’s imposed on us, border closures the obvious one, there’s lots of Victoria you can happily drive to, visit, and enjoy.


  7. A most enjoyable article Nicole. Incidentally, have you red the graphic novel by the late, great Australian artist Monty Wedd about the life of Ned Kelly. It’s quite superb, as close to the truth as is humanly possible and brilliantly drawn. I was fortunate enough to get one of the limited hardback editions. There’s nothing quite like being on the road and breathing in the country air, I really miss it these days.

  8. Yes love a good road trip, so long as I have the destination. Though that wasn’t always the case. As a young bloke the destination was out there somewhere when I was on the road.

    My experience of parenthood has not been a loss of self, but the gaining of a new self (I hope). I’m still there but I have a bit more to ponder and think about thanks to the wonderful things my children have taught me. The loss of self can be a monumental positive. Having said that it is good to get away and look at things from the outside. To breathe alone occasionally. I assume that’s where you’re coming from?

    Lovely piece.

  9. Nicole Kelly says

    Thanks for the comments, everyone. Seems there are a few roaming hearts amongst us.
    Dips, I definitely agree that the kiddos are wonderful teachers and my life is all the richer for having them in it. But you’re right, the odd moment of individual tranquility is also great!
    Glen , I thought the comparison of Beechworth and Castlemaine was a great one! Love both of those towns!

  10. A nice yarn, thanks Nicole.

    I greatly enjoy road trips. And have done many over the years.
    Sometimes I wish I had kept a log of all the road trips I have done.

  11. I was in North East Vic too just recently. A surprise packet for me was Yackandandah, about 24km north of Beechworth. There is an art gallery with a resident artist and it is not as touristy as Beechworth although i did note the ubiqitous Beechworth Bakery in the main Street.

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