Next, Vinnies, the first of several during the day. The theory is that country charity shops are better than those in the city, because the people don't know the value of their old castoffs. They don't sell their unwanted coats on Ebay or Etsy or pass them on to the relatives, the country towns are full of declining old people clinging to their 60s disposable consumerist mindsets, fearful of computers and afraid of being judged for buying second hand for themselves. In reality, the prices are slightly cheaper but the range is about the same as in any good city store. I happen to work right near one of the best in Sydney, the Vinnies at North Sydney, so I'm spoiled. There might be a few more warm shirts, corduroy garments and and old recipe books in the country, less kitchen utensils maybe. The store at Young was very small and crowded with locals slowly picking over the rags. They were fusty old men and women dressed in very worn old pilled polyester tracksuits and sprung joggers, looking for bargains with the patience of unemployment and need.
We left town and decided it was time for me to take the wheel. Two weeks before I had acquired my Learner licence, for the second time, so I could drive while Michelle enjoyed the scenery. Driving country roads is much easier and an ideal way to get confident behind the wheel. I was confident enough because this is the second time I've driven for long distances in the country, and the week before we left we went up to Bilpin and I did some test driving on a side road to get familiar with the qualities of this car. Everything went well until a passing truck blew the magnetic L plates off the bonnet and into the weeds. I retrieved them, but it happened again, the wash from a passing truck seems to have some quality to suck the plates right off the car. Michelle offered to drive onwards to Cootamundra and we would look for some other method of attaching the plates.
In Coota we visited another Vinnies. Michelle scored a stack of old 60s hardcover childrens annuals with brave names like Lion, Valiant and Charger. I bought a plate holder at the auto supply store, and then we located the RTA to acquire the plastic plates. While waiting in line I listened while a battered looking lady presented a letter at the window and asked what it meant. It slowly became apparent that she was illiterate, had been in an accident 4 months prior, knew that she was due a fine, and basically wanted to confirm if it was and if she could pay it at the RTA. They pointed her towards the local cop shop.
Everything went much better once I attached the plate holder and plate. Without worrying about the plate I could concentrate on not crashing. The miles rolled by easily. I turned down some side roads, lined with old trees covered in dust from the unsealed surface. Back on the main road I easily coped with the usual hazards of the L plate, such as tailgaters who were impatient to get to the passing lanes, and cop cars who lurked behind me while obviously timing my speed. The country cops were actually very good, maintaining a sufficient distance and only overtaking in the right places and generally adhering to the rules of the road, which city cops seem to be a bit hazy about. Other drivers were mich worse, such as green P platers who overtook on double yellow lines. It was strangely frustrating to cross the nearby rail line on the typical S bridges, with their 25kph speed limit, after cruising for hours at 80. My learner speed limit also meant I tended to find myself in small convoys with other L drivers and the occasional hippy bus and camper van.
We approached Junee, a historic town. Site of the famous liquorice factory, and the most haunted house in Australia. Once this town was a giant grain and produce terminal, now its a bunch of echoing old pubs the size of barns, clustered around the huge train station, inhabited mostly by disenfranchised and old people unable to escape. I saw this phenomena in the UK as well, towns like Wallingford near Oxford that lose their young best and brightest to the universities and the jobs in London, leaving only the old people and angry losers, thugs in patriotic colours, chavs and neds.
I managed to drive around Junee well enough until some old bastard in a ute psyched me out at a roundabout, refusing to enter even though he had right of way. Michelle took over. She had spotted a promising op shop and we returned to check it out. On the way we passed two young women with double strollers and at least 5 walking children in a swarm around them. One of the kids expertly mimed throwing something at the car as we passed. Of course they were heading for the same shop, and invaded it like a small army soon after we entered. The kids spread out through the store, pulling things off the racks and demanding this or that. The women had many tattoos, bitter faces, they mimed discipline by rushing forward and loudly shouting at this or that child from time to time, in a practiced display of frustration that felt totally rehearsed and false.
We escaped, and searched for the famous liquorice factory. It was a tall old building made from corrugated iron on the outskirts of town, a former flour mill. Lots of rusted massive factory machinery set up as sculpture around the grounds, giant gears and drive wheels and shafts. Inside the building was divided roughly in half, with a functioning factory making liquorice sharing space with a shop and cafe where we had lunch, bacon chowder, so fatty it congealed on the spoon. We bought some liquorice and ginger products for friends back home, but resisted the urge to go on a tour of the factory. We could see enough through the hygiene curtains next to the shop. People in hospital whites and hair bonnets were pushing big carts around loaded with boxes and tubs, and there were no Oompa Loompas.
I ended up driving out of town and all the way to Wagga Wagga. back when I worked for XchangeIT on of the most troublesome customers had a shop in this town, but it's closed now and replaced by a new age healing centre, nice touch. We did several bog laps through the newly developed shopping precinct. Wagga seems to be a regional support centre for the mining and resources boom in this area, there's been a lot of development but they have lost all the character other country towns retain. You can't have both I suppose. We checked into a motel on the outskirts of town. The next room was full of workmen, we could see them through the curtain, in their fluorescent utility vests, with their muddy boots up on the bed watching TV.
Despite all the development and new buildings everything closes very early. We had dinner in a late opening italian diner on the main street. I had a Caesar salad to try and get some greens.