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In Australia, hitching is much the same as anywhere else in Western culture if you're between Adelaide and Brisbane. In the outback, though, you may get more empty beer cans thrown on you than rides; some hitchhikers, however, wouldn't agree with that, stating that even hitchhiking through the desert can be pretty good, especially with the many trucks and 'road trains' that are usually going long distances.
For some hitchhiking throughout the outback is easy. The people can be friendly, especially the aboriginal folks who would have six people already jammed in a little car and still squeeze you in.
- I managed from Broome through to Kununurra, Katherine up to Darwin and down to Alice. The only time I had to wait more than a half-hour was when I was dropped off on the turn off to Batchelor, which while on the main highway, is a real bad spot with nothing and no one for a long ways. Anyway, give it a go. If you're in the tropics, be careful where you swim (crocodiles) but don't worry too much about the other wildlife. Generally speaking, if you leave it alone, it will leave you alone. Definitely make sure to carry enough water AT ALL TIMES (3 litres per person/per day would be a minimum). It is very easy to get dehydrated. If you can get decent water, all the better, but don't bank on it. Most bores are quite brackish tasting and roadhouse taps are heavily chlorinated -- here's to a good litre of fresh rainwater on a sunny 45 degree day! (Amory Tarr)
When going to the outback go to truck stops and talk to the truckies there (make sure the town you're going to HAS a truck stop, or you may be in trouble: see Kununurra on the map!), a lot of truck companies don't allow anyone but the drivers in their trucks but if you talk to the truckies at stops they are much more likely to ignore that rule. The only time truckies truly cannot give you a lift is when they are operating under a dangerous goods license and then, by law they are not allowed to have another passenger in the vehicle. For example petrol tankers, transporting more than one trailer of gas, etc. Not all companies have rules against taking passengers. Truckies will often take you long distances, for example Adelaide or Perth to Darwin, Port Augusta to Perth or Darwin to Townsville, but if you want to get off the main road, then be prepared to wait awhile.
In the eastern states (QLD, NSW, VIC, SA) more than the west (WA & NT), recent changes to insurance costs throughout the western world, have meant that trucks face stricter and stricter insurance limitations, one of which is that they are commonly not allowed to have any unlisted passengers in their vehicles. These rules are normally enforced by larger companies, where all riders sign in at the depot prior to the trucks departure. If you personally know a driver it is often possible for them to sign you in and take you along to help keep them awake. These rules don't really apply to owner/operators, unless on long term contract to a particular company. Unfortunately it's hard for you to know which trucks it will or wont apply to, though you can be confident that the big name trucks like Australia Post, Woolworths etc this is absolutely the case. All of this does not mean you can't get a ride in a truck. What it does mean is that our global fear of strangers has gone up here as much as elsewhere, and the amount of trucks picking up 'strangers' is greatly diminished. I have had some great lifts with road trains, Australia Post trucks etc etc, though they seem less and less common. In fact my first go at driving a road train was on a hitch across the Nullabor Desert, a truly mad but memorable experience of driving 50tonnes of rolling monster across the midnight plains (Dave Hodgkin)
Laws regarding hitchhiking come under State not Federal jurisdiction, I have been arrested and charged with hitchhiking in Queensland, though chargers were later dropped (long story). Throughout Australia, it is however illegal to incite a vehicle to stop in a non stopping zone. Such zones include bridges (and 30 odd meters either side, road edges with an unbroken white or yellow line, spots within 30 meters of an intersection, etc. Compared to some countries, Australian Police are fairly relaxed, more so in the country than the city, but they will get toey if they believe your actions are placing yourself or others in danger. Choose your hitching site carefully, as always look for somewhere well lit, with plenty of room to for approaching vehicles to see you well in advance and room for them to pull on to the shoulder with out blocking traffic.
Most police officers won't harass you, but some cops might tell you that it's illegal to hitchhike in Australia. Don't show your thumb when you see a cop car, and if they stop, just tell them that you're waiting for a ride share that should have showed up a lot earlier.
- It is illegal but I've had police stop twice, once to tell me go back to town and catch a bus (but left me alone besides telling to do that) and the second time the cop gave me a lift about 40 or 50km to the border of Victoria/South Australia.
- It's illegal to hitch in no-pedestrian zones like freeways but other places it seems to vary state to state. I don't think it's against the law at all in most places and I've never had any troubles anywhere in the eastern states.
- Wait on gas stations or truck stops for a ride. This way you won't get into trouble with the police, can ask people for a lift and you're close to water, food and a toilet. Some service stations don't like hitchhikers hanging around, though so be careful they don't call the police on you.
Australia Particular Advice
Australia poses some interesting and unique challenges for hitchhikers, distances between populated areas can be vast, by far the majority of Australians live next to the sea, with the majority of those living in the state capital cities. Temperatures in inland Australia can exceed 45 degrees Celsius in summer and go well below freezing in winter. In many ways Australia is an extreme environment, with some pretty extreme pests, people and weather, when it rains it pours, when it blows up a gale, it howls. But in saying this when Australia or Australians smile on you, the heavens open up from above and you can find yourself, taken in, taken home and for all practical purposes adopted for life.
I have been stuck for up to 3 days in a number of places in Australia, (notably Coober Pedy and Ningin) whilst on the other hand I've been given the keys to the family holiday home and told to make myself at home when I get there (In Manjimup on the way from Perth to Albany), or taken home for a week, nurtured and spoiled rotten. Whatever the circumstance you find yourself in, more than in other countries be prepared. -Let someone know where you are heading and how long till they should next expect to hear from you -Carry more water than you think you need -Walking out of town, to look like your motivated, may leave you somewhere very isolated -Be very careful about not annoying your host, I've been thrown out of a truck by an irate driver, off his head on NoDoz, for some quite harmless comment, 200k from the nearest town...
When you're really stuck for a place to stay...
You know you're off the tourist track when you get to a town without a backpackers. Most small towns have a town pub that offers pretty cheap accommodation and many have a free campground on the edge of town or a picnic spot beside a river
- Schoolyards, normally there is somewhere discrete under cover, in most small towns there is green grass, and even toilets and drinking water, just set your alarm early and get out before 7:30ish when cleaning staff etc may start to arrive. (The primary school on thee edge of My Isa has rescued me on more than one occasion.
- Non Returned soldiers areas at Cemeteries, clearly not for the superstitious, but these sites, tend to have nice soft green grass, and often have free public toilets and fresh drinking water. The cemetery at the end of thee railway line in Hexam on your way north out of Sydney is a classic, if headed north through from Canberra or Melbourne, you can jump the train in Campbelltown or Paramatta, ride it through to Central, change to the Newcastle line, then switch to the Hexam line, and get off at the unnamed station for free, right next to the best cemetery I have ever slept in, right next to the princess highway.
- Many remote areas have shade structures as bus shelters, these can provide quite a comfortable nights sleep, as can late night train stations (spent my time on the floor of the girls toilet at Ningin railway station) Church Foyers (3 nights in the foyer of the underground church in Coober Pedy).
- Showgrounds on the edge of towns often have toilets water and a place undercover.
When you're really stuck for a ride
Jumping railway cars is also still possible in Australia, (although you did not hear it from me).
- The three day journey from Mt Isa to the coast on the coal trains (pick up a Beanbag, a tarp and a shade cloth from the Op-shop in town, few things beat making love on a pile of coal at 20km/h under the desert stars :)
- The cargo train across the Nullarbor, a trip of a lifetime, my mate Alex did it, certainly one of those life changing adventures
However, don't be stupid and jump off when the trains are moving too quickly. I have had the terrible experience of seeing a teenager jump off a train which came from Brisbane to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland and that did not end up well. That boy lost his life simply to save the cost of a short trip. What a waste.
If you do jump onto rail services just make sure you use some common sense.
When really stuck for food...
I have been helped out when stuck in a small town, by the Country Womens Association, best scones of my life, nothing beats hunger to increase the flavour of jam and cream I've eaten my share of roadside fruits from passing orchards, and cooked my share of roadkill, the smell quickly gives away the freshness or otherwise. The best introduction you'll ever have to roadkill delights is a fresh kangaroo tail. Make sure the tale is still flexible and the smell is only of dirty fur, not the smell of old meat, Kangaroos are hit by trucks everyday in Aus, so this is not as uncommon as it sounds. Hack off the tale as close the rump as possible, do this by cutting all the way around the tail, through the fur, then levering and breaking the tail between two vertebrate, nit as hard or messy as it sounds. I recommend dragging the roo off behind some bushes before you start this process as mad hitchhikers wielding knives under the full moon, does not do much for our reputation. To cook the tail, first build a large fire over some clean ground, preferably riverside sand, though well above the water table, when the fire is at full blaze, singe all the fur off the tail, scraping it clean with the back of a knife or a sharp rock, repeat this a few times as it takes a while to sear off all the fur, being careful not to over cook or burst the skin as this is the wrapping material for cooking. Let your fire burn down till it has strong hot coals and the ground below has started to really heat up (30-40mins depending how much of a fire you made) scrap the fire off to one side and dig a whole in the sand where the fire was using a stick, bury the tail about 15-20cm below the surface (check, but this area should already be nice and hot by now)and return the fire to above. Re-stoke the fire and cook for a further 40mins till the fire dies down. letting the fire die down slowly will allow the Tail to really cook through nicely. Scrap the fire out of the way and dig up the tail. You will know when it is done, if the fat is sizzling and the skin is starting to split in places, if still not done, roll over and cook for a further 20-30mins. The amount of fat and grissle in the tail ensures that this is one of the few parts of the roo that its hard to actually over cook Snake is also a great introduction to roadkill, choose a fresh wet smelling snake, chop off the head and squashed bits, cut open along the belly and degut, sew the stomach back together with thin twigs and cook as per instructions for roo tail above. the same goes for most lizards Nothing beats the total delight of fresh billy tea boiled in a discarded coke can, fresh damper and road kill under a full moon beside the road...
When really stuck for water
If really stuck in the middle of nowhere, and yes it does happen and has happened to me! Remember to go into casual energy conservation mode, wander down the road till you find a nice shady spot not to far from the road edge and chill out, get up when you can hear a car approaching from either direction, and stand beside the road, looking clean presentable forlorn and lost... a "help" sign helps, but many people will slow down, look very innocent, look very unarmed etc, remember the primary aim at this point is to get out of wherever you are, which direction simply does not matter, just get to the nearest town. You can live for a month without food, but you will die without water in a few days.
Never ever decide to take a short-cut across a paddock or field, stick with the road. If bitten by a snake or even if you trip over and sprain and ankle in the middle of a field, there is no guarantee that you will be found by anybody before you have dried out and desiccated like a dead-dingos-donga!
Yes you can drink your own piss to stay alive, no its not pleasant, no I don't recommend it. If you are stuck on one of Australia's mad dirt "highways" like the Tanami or the Gunbarrel, a solar still is your best bet. Choose a very sunny location and Dig a whole in the ground as big as you have a plastic bag or tarp or tent fly to cover it, (1mx1m up to 1.5mx1.5m, 30-50cm deep), place a container in the middle of the whole.. rides side coke can is fine, grind the top off on the road by rubbing around and around in circles, doesn't take that long when your bored. Place your piss, green branches, fresh road kill (or better just its blood) or anything wet in the whole around the can. You can include battery acid, Radiator water etc. Stretch your fly/tent/tarp/plastic over the top of the whole, sealing around the edges with sand or dirt. Place a small rock in the middle of the tarp/plastic/fly so the whole top slopes down to above the can, leave in the sun for 4-5hours. This also works for really muddy shitty water when u have no fire to cook it.
Other than that, you can get away with drinking just bout any water if you can boil it for a good 10-15mins. This includes, roadside puddles, brown sludge from underground, radiator liquid. As an old blackfella friend of mine once said, when looking for water in the outback, simply head down hill and when you get to the lowest point dig a whole... this works really well if there are any large hills or rock outcrops around, but for me, is a tad harder when the whole landscape appears flat and I'm bloody thirsty.... either way my advice still stands... stick to the road, the road is your friend. its actually pretty hard to get lost in the desert or outback, you really have to try hard. a cursory glance at a map should tell you which way the nearest roads are before you head out to wherever your heading, by walking only ion the early morning or late evening, you can easily know if your walking generally east west north or south simply by the sun angle, then rest during the day and the night and head for the nearest decent road. In the heat of the day, semi burying yourself in the sand under the shade of a tree helps, but gets boring. Sorting gravel into different colored piles loses its attraction after a few days as does plying god with the ants...
Australia has water legislation that makes it mandatory to share water if you have it, makes it legal for anyone to have access to any permanent river or water source
All in all, you will probably never need the above tips, but if your not on the edge of your comfort zone, your not trying, and for me being stuck in the middle of nowhere and learning to chill and enjoy, is the true zen of Hitchhiking
Some of my most amazing experiences have included a night wrapped in cardboard in abandoned wheat silo in the cold of winter, sharing a humpy with blackfellas in a town camp on the edge of Tennant Creek, waking up by bashing my head on the underside of a dodge van i had crawled under to avoid the rain to be offered a cuppa tea by the occupants, digging my car out of a saltlake when we took a wrong turn with two English backpackers as rain clouds loomed... This to me is the real Australia (dave hodgkin)
- I have hitched the entire coast line of Australia, and although there are sometimes a long wait between rides, I have met some of the most generous and welcoming people, make sure you get to the edge of the towns, just where the highways start or turn from a 70 into a 100, or similar. (author unknown)
- Bruce Highway
- Hume Highway, from Sydney to Melbourne
- New England Highway, from Sydney to Brisbane
- Pacific Motorway, from Sydney to Brisbane
- Princes Highway, from Sydney to Melbourne
- Stuart Highway, from Darwin to Adelaide
- Google Maps supports finding routes in Australia