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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 at 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 way. 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 you 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 (but not all) have rules against drivers carrying passengers 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. Truckies will often take you long distances, especially if you are willing to stay awake, and help the driver pass the time through conversation. Routes such as Adelaide or Perth to Darwin, Port Augusta to Perth, Darwin to Townsville, are frequented by trucks, but if you want to get off the main road, 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 won't 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 50 tonnes of rolling monster across the midnight plains. (Dave Hodgkin)
Police & Law
Searching in the Australian law database, hitchwiki contributors have been able to find two distinct law texts. The first one features in the Australian Road Rules and has come up in searches for Victoria, Queensland, New South Wales and Northern Territory, the second one concerns Western Australia only. In theory, the laws say that in most places you're not allowed to hitchhike from a shoulder, in practice however police rarely care.
Australian Road Rules
All the following has been taken from this website.
236 Pedestrians not to cause a traffic hazard or obstruction
- (4) A pedestrian must not stand on, or move onto, a road--
- (b) to hitchhike [...]
- (7) In this rule: road includes any shoulder of the road, and any median strip, painted island or traffic island, but does not include any other road-related area.
The definition of "road-related area" here is
13 What is a road-related area
- (1) A road-related area is any of the following
- (a) an area that divides a road;
- (b) a footpath or nature strip adjacent to a road;
- (c) an area that is not a road and that is open to the public and designated for use by cyclists or animals;
- (d) an area that is not a road and that is open to or used by the public for driving, riding or parking vehicles.
The definiton of "shoulder" here is: 12 What is a road
- (3) The shoulder of the road includes any part of the road that is not designed to be used by motor vehicles in travelling along the road, and includes:
- (a) for a kerbed road -- any part of the kerb; and
- (b) for a sealed road -- any unsealed part of the road, and any sealed part of the road outside an edge line on the road
As a conclusion: It is very clearly regulated where you can stand as a hitchhiker and where you cannot. You can't stand on a shoulder, but you can stand on most other kinds of surface next to the road.
259. Selling papers and cars, hitch‑hiking etc.
- (1) A person shall not, while on a carriageway or median strip
- (a) solicit contributions, employment or a ride from an occupant of a vehicle [...]
The carriageway is here defined as following: "carriageway" means a portion of a road that is improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular traffic, and includes the shoulders, and areas, including embayments, at the side or centre of the carriageway, used for the stopping or parking of vehicles [...]
In conclusion: in WA, it's illegal to stand on the shoulder of the highway; however you may hitchhike from a footpath or off the shoulder. A law enforcement officer might not be aware of this, though. The source is to be found in this website.
In practice, Australian police are fairly relaxed about hitchhikers. Zenit has hitchhiked some 13000 kilometers in all states except WA and Tasmania and has never been bothered; he has heard stories about police in WA being more touchy, however. Keep in mind that it is also 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. In any event choose your hitching site carefully so not to place yourself or others in danger; as always look for somewhere well lit, with plenty of room for approaching vehicles to see you well in advance and room for them to pull on to the shoulder without blocking traffic. It should be noted that most freeways and motorways (as opposed to highways) have limited-access rules barring pedestrians or bicycles from entering them.
- 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 trouble anywhere in the eastern states.
- Wait at petrol 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.
- Bernhard had a chat with a crime prevention officer from the Queensland police and the officer said the following: "The hitch hiking legislation in Queensland says that a person can not stand on the roadway to solicit a ride. Meaning that if they stand on the footpath or away from the roadway they are not comitting an offence. One of the main reasons we do stop people standing on the road hitching a ride is for their own safety and the safety of the motorists driving. So some roads are very busy and its an offence to stand on the roadway and solicit a ride and it is a 40 dollar fine if the policeman chooses to give you a infringement notice for that offence." He also said that it is possible to stand on the footpath and hitch a ride, when there is enough space for a car to pull over. Police may stop a hitchhiker and ask for an ID, mostly to check on his records and WHY he is hitching a ride (is he running away from a crime? Is he in trouble? Does he need help?). Police officers want to know who is going through their area, so if a hitchhiker is on the footpath and not soliciting a ride at a dangerous spot, they will question him about his story but then let him go.
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 near the sea, with the majority of those living in the state capital cities. Temperatures 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 upon 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 you're 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 the edge of Mt 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 Hexham 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 Parramatta, ride it through to Central Station, change to the Newcastle line, then switch to the Hexham 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 Prince's Highway.
- Many remote areas have shade structures as bus shelters, these can provide quite a comfortable night's sleep, as can late night train stations (spent my time on the floor of the girls' toilet at Nyngan 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 Women's Association ("The C.W.A.")- 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 lack thereof.
The best introduction you'll ever have to roadkill delights is a fresh kangaroo tail. Make sure the tail is still flexible and the smell is only of dirty fur, not the smell of old meat, Kangaroos are hit by trucks every day, so this is not as uncommon as it sounds. Hack off the tail 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 vertebrae, not 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) scrape the fire off to one side and dig a hole 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 20-30 mins. The amount of fat and gristle in the tail ensures that this is one of the few parts of the 'roo that it's 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 de-gut, sew the stomach back together with thin twigs and cook as per instructions for 'roo tail above. Be sure that the snake is completely dead before approaching - there's a reason Australians have the expression "Like a cut snake". The head of snakes can also display reflexes after being severed from the body - enough that you could still be bitten and have problems. 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 too far from the road's 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 even without, many people will slow down - look very innocent/unarmed/helpless/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 shortcut across a paddock or field, stick with the road. If bitten by a snake or even if you trip over and sprain an 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-dingo's-donger!
Yes, "Bear Grylls"-wannabe, you can drink your own piss to stay alive - no it's not pleasant, not very effective and 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.
Other than that, you can get away with drinking just about any water if you can boil it for a good 10-15 mins. This includes roadside puddles, brown sludge from underground, radiator liquid. As an old Aboriginal 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 hole... 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....
Australia has water legislation that makes it mandatory to share water if you have it, makes it legal to enter private property to access any permanent river or water source. (So long as you obey the usual rules of land - if you use a gate, leave it open/closed as you found it, don't mess with livestock/equipment/etc.)
All in all, you will probably never need the above tips, but if you're not on the edge of your comfort zone, you're not trying - 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 cold winter night wrapped in cardboard in an abandoned wheat silo sharing a humpy with aboriginals in a town camp on the edge of Tennant Creek, waking up only to bashing my head on the underside of a Dodge van I had crawled under to avoid the rain, only to be offered a cuppa tea by the occupants digging my car out of a salt lake 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 coastline of Australia, and although there are sometimes long waits 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 km/h zone, or similar. (author unknown)
- I hitched around 4,000km in the states of NSW, Victoria and South Australia. There are plenty of long lay-by stop areas along most highways (including Pacific Highway) where cars can easily and safely pull off the highway to pick you up. I found any highway (especially Pacific Highway) with a decent amount of traffic is very reliable with average waiting time of 15-20 minutes and never any longer than 30-40 minutes. In more rural areas and backroads I often encountered as little as 10 cars per hour and sometimes only 1-2 per hour, but people living in rural areas are much more likely to pick you up as they know they may be the only car for a while. The Australians are very welcoming and hospitable, on many occasions the driver would offer a place to stay for the night with a meal or insist on giving me 20 dollars for food. When hitching in cities, pedestrians have sometimes come to me and again insist upon giving me money for a train ticket further down the road. I felt very at home hitching here, the generosity of the people being overwhelming." (Jools 2011)
- 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