Written by Eirik Laugerud
Being on the road in Oz for some seven weeks, you learn a lot about many things; your self, colliding cultures, man vs nature and so on. For me, driving, one of the most interesting and heart-warming things I’ve gotten acquainted with is the wave. I was first introduced to the wave when we left the Barossa Valley, heading north on the Stuart Highway, by our fearless film-maker and native Oztralian Ben Hall.
I was excited. In the motherland, you never wave at someone, unless you’re trying to make a point about someone acting like an ass in traffic, or if you see someone you know. The wave had to be tried out, and fast. To my delight, I found that, indeed, the wave is an integral part of life on the road in outback Oz.
Now, after roughly 10,000 kms on the roads of Oz, mostly the Sturt highway and the roads down the west coast, I’ve had plenty of time to contemplate the significance of the wave. I’ve come to a few conclusions.
First, in this country there’s a group of professionals that truly deserves the wave. Without truckies, this weird and wonderful continent would have grinded to a halt pretty quick. That doesn’t take a lot of insight, and so I quickly realised that those brave men and women in their gigantic road trains deserved every wave I could hand out. If nothing else, just as a sign of appreciation of the dirty, lonely and hard work they perform day in and day out.
Second, and this is a bit more individual on my part I reckon, the roads through the desert and general outback areas of Oz are, if not dangerous and treacherous, at least they are roads where things can go wrong, horribly wrong. Therefore, I find that the wave signals something of a bond between travellers; a sign that those few others who frequent the same road as you are aware of your presence. And, that in case of need or emergency they will help you recover.
A lot has been written about the harshness of this country and its nature, and I’m not sure how much of it I actually agree with. However, I do see that the sometimes rugged, sometimes beautiful, always mesmerising interior of Oz can easily swallow you whole, never to see daylight again. You drive for hours on end, never seeing a single person other than the ones in your own car. The possibility of your car breaking down always lingers at the back of your head. That’s why the wave is such a reassuring feature of outback driving. No matter if the person you meet is a miner, prospector, road worker, truckie, fellow traveller or something entirely different, you make the tiny effort of raising a limb to show that: yes, we are both out here in the middle of the goddamned nowhere and we might both need assistance around the next bend. So, I greet you and you greet me and we both make a silent wish none of us will need that help.
Luckily, we have come a long way without any need for assistance, and we haven’t come across any one who have had the need either.
Lately, there’s been a steady decline of waves, as we’ve down south on the west coast through more and more densely populated areas; a decline that much resembles the rise in waves we saw when we headed north from Adelaide on the Stuart highway. There must be reasons, and here, too, I’ve had some time to contemplate possible answers.
A couple of unwritten rules have established themselves regarding the use of the wave.
First, there seems to be a perimeter around built up areas. Whenever the speed limit drops from the highest allowed, the wave is no longer part of the highway vernacular. Especially around towns, the wave ceases to be part of the common code of conduct.
Second, if the distances between built up areas, again towns especially, drops to, say, 250-300 kms, there is no use for the wave. I have come to think that the bond one forges on the road where nothing is around for hundreds upon hundreds of kms is seen as unnecessary if one is within reasonable proximity of some kind of civilization. Which is fair dinkum, I guess. I reckon it helps keep the wave special. Or, at least it helps keep the feeling that my presumption, about it being a silent recognition, just might be right. Out there, we’re all in the same boat – and we can all be caught in a storm.
Sadly, the time has come for me to return to Norway and it’s waveless traffic environment. But, I will always cherish the truly good memories I take home with me of Oz, the lonely highways and the wave I’ve shared with so many fellow travellers on those roads. Such is life. What tomorrow brings, no one knows. Maybe I will be back; waving again, in a shorter time than any one had dared dream possible.