Whatever happened to The Sunday Drive?
Does this phenomenon exist anymore?
Would younger generations even know what this was and the role it played in the social fabric of the 1960s and 70s?
For the uninitiated, The Sunday Drive occurs when your father wakes up on a Sunday morning and says to the pyjama-clad family Let’s go for a drive. This statement is greeted by either sighs and slumped shoulders or general excitement.
More often than not in my family, it was not a universally popular way to spend a precious weekend. My brother and I had been at school all week, and had had more than our fair share of travelling – spending two hours on a bus every day. The opportunity to stay home for two whole days to play down the creek, ride the horse or motorbike, or simply potter about was always the preferred option. In contrast, my parents had been working hard on the farm all week with no social interaction other than each other, and reliant on the pathetic amount of news my brother and I would bring home after school. They simply HAD to get out.
A couple of phone calls later we would be bundled into the family sedan and trundled along the back roads of western NSW to towns and farms as remote as their occupants’ place on the furthest branches of our family tree.
Nine times out of ten, it was your typical stinking hot day. The vinyl on the back seat of the car would absorb every ultraviolet ray, making the surface go soft and pucker. Just perfect for peeling the top two layers of skin off the back of your legs and delivering third degree burns. But parents are oblivious of these things when they are having a day out!
This is the time before air conditioning and other such luxuries. Do you wind the window down and be burnt to a crisp by the hot, dry wind? Or leave the window up and suffocate quietly? Such an array of appealing options in those days. It was also before the time of portable DVD players or cassette machines. The sole choice was the local ABC radio, which grew ever more scratchy and faint as the kilometres (miles back then) clocked over.
Are we there yet? Are we there yet?
We would eventually arrive at my Mum’s third cousin’s husband’s home and the grown-ups would settle in at the kitchen table with bottomless cups of tea. We kids were banished to the backyard to play, explore or simply be quiet and stay out of the road.
Sometimes there was a bonus if other kids lived in the house but, more often than not, it was my brother and I kicking our feet in the dirt and looking for a cool spot under the tank stand. Exploring rambling gardens and immaculate vege patches can only hold a child’s interest for so long, and it was up to us to find something to do other than continually bang in and out of the gauze door, nag our parents and wish we were at our own home.
The upside was that, no matter the Sunday Drive destination, we were always well fed. There would be homemade sponge cakes with fresh cream, lamingtons, SAO biscuits with tomato and cheese and usually a roast lunch with five different vegetables all cooked to within an inch of their life. It’s hard to believe that we would willingly front up to a piping hot Sunday lunch on a mid-Summer day but that is tradition for you.
We would not go home empty-handed either. Before departing, the vege patch and orchard would be raided and we would be presented with tomatoes, pumpkins, oranges, lemons and more cucumbers and chokos than is decent. This was fair payback for the huge zucchinis we would have arrived with. (When the zucchinis were in season, my mother and I would resort to driving around the district under the cover of darkness, leaving gargantuan zucchinis in the roadside mail boxes of our unsuspecting neighbours. If not careful the zucchinis, triffid-like, would grow overnight into objects the size of watermelons – so a daily check of the vege patch was compulsory.)
As the heat of the day started to wane, my parents would finally give in to our nagging and the long goodbyes would start. This usually involved a very stop-start-stop process of the adults clearing the table, washing up, the collection of sundry fruit and vegetables and then a long, drawn-out stand around the car as the final goodbyes were said. In the meantime, my brother and I were already belted into the car with heads reclining on the seat and eyes fixed longingly on the road.
Within minutes of the engine starting and the car pointing homeward, my brother and I would be asleep and my parents would quietly review the day all the way home.
Is there the time and inclination for Sunday drives today? I doubt it.
Generally speaking, we are not as remote from our community these days and perhaps feel more connected through email, mobile phones, social media and the 24 hour news cycle. Unfortunately, these connections are not of the depth and quality enjoyed on those long Summer days – even if through our young eyes and minds, we would have preferred to be anywhere else but there.
All too often in the 1960s and 70s