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Friday, October 8, 2010

"I’ve come for my licence"

Calliope. Population 321, to which someone had of course added the obligatory ½. There was always someone pregnant in Calliope, and as nearly everyone was related to nearly everyone else, would certainly have known about it well before the ½ stage.
May 1964.

‘I’ve come for my licence,’ I told Sugars, the local policeman. Not ‘I’d like you to test me for a driver’s license’; I was just stating a fact. 
   ‘Have you now,’ he said. ‘About bloody time too. You’ve been driving that ute since you were ten and you couldn’t see over the steering wheel. I saw you driving it to the milk depot the other day with your old man. Who’s pushing the pedals for you today?’ 
   I was a bit offended, not least because of another incident with a toy pedal car and the copper’s son ten years before, but that’s another story. I looked up at him and saw the twinkle in his eye and it was OK.
   ‘So, you’ve driven up here on your own and you want your license.’ I thought the comment was superfluous but it wasn’t the time for getting him offside. No-one got the local cop offside unless they were drunk or stupid or both. It was true. I had driven up to the copshop on my own – it never occurred to me that technically, I needed a licenced driver in the car at the time. In the practical sense, I didn’t. To be honest, I saw no reason to trouble either of my parents to come with me.
   ‘All right. Get in the car, drive down that track as far as you can go, turn around, and get back here while I have my tea.’ That seemed eminently reasonable to me, and I did as instructed, even going right to the end of the two-wheeled track with grass rustling up under the floor. Sugars, the cop, was not going to risk spilling his tea driving with me on that dirt track, so didn’t leave the police station.
   The police station was actually an office on the end of his house. There were no WANTED posters on the wall - I’d always hoped there would be, but no-one in Calliope was WANTED because everyone knew who had done what anyway. Nor, I might add, did I expect him to inconvenience himself by coming with me. He had, as he’d noted earlier, seen me drive stacks of times.
   'You’re back,' he said, 'and I’ve finished my tea' - which again I thought wholly superfluous observations, but as he was getting out a blank Driver's License and winding it into the old Olympia typewriter, diplomacy was a good idea. Shutting up, in other words, and just agreeing with him that I was indeed back, and that his teacup was empty. He laboriously typed in the details, using the tried and true hunt and peck typing method. One n in Denis…. I tried to stop him putting two but it was too late. He just typed an x over the extra n, so I became Denxis Wright on my first Driver’s License. Who cares? The rest of it was OK. If it was good enough for Her Majesty’s officer of the law, it was fine by me.
   He didn’t ask if I had read the rule book, possibly because he had run out of copies a year or so back and questions on the matter may have caused us both embarrassment. Not raising the issue seemed the sensible course of action. 
   In any case, the rules for driving in Calliope were blindingly obvious. You kept to the left unless the dust from a car in front of you was so thick that you moved to the right side, and kept a sharp lookout for anything coming the other way. (This proved to be a very bad strategy for Kelvin ‘Boofhead’ Thompson when he did it up and over the hill on the way to Taragoola and my cousin was driving his tractor in the other direction. It was not a happy meeting of minds, or vehicles. Boofhead’s mind, and his truck, fared worse in the encounter.) 
   Anyway, those were all the rules you needed to know for local excursions, and you picked up rules about driving in Gladstone [big city, pop 7500] as you went along.
What the hell is that?
It's alright. It's only young Denxis Wright taking the milk to the depot!
Illustration by Watto

   My mother seemed pleased that I had officially achieved the status of a driver. This was a time when there was no such thing as an L or P certification. You either were or you weren’t. But she did retain the memory of the Boofhead Thompson incident, in which having a proper Driver’s Licence was definitely A Good Thing.


  1. Ha! Lovely story Den. Truly one of the time & place. My mate (the "Bazza" on Facebook)had a similar experience in the (comparatively) larger Southport in the 60's. Bazza had, in reality, much more driving experience than most adults. He went for a drive by himself as his test while his father had a beer in the pub with the local Police Sargent. The licence was waiting for him when he returned. No such luck for a city slicker like me - quite rightly, my driving experience at that point was minimal.

  2. This story reminds me of getting my first licence in Oz. It was 1966 and I was 21, with a Kenya licence which the Australian police regarded with great suspicion. We were living on Lakefield Station (now nat. park) at the time and went to Laura for our licence. Three buildings - the store/PO, the pub and the cop shop, which was the province of the notorious Sgt Pocock (later infamous for the Cedar Bay raid). He asked me: "Think yer could drive as far as the pub, luv?" I looked at the dusty expanse between police station and pub and told him "yes". So we went to the pub where I bought him a beer (outside, no women in the bar in those days, not even in little Laura!) and he cheerfully game me a licence for car, motorbike, truck, articulated vehicle - the lot! I had them all until last year when my need for a semi-trailer licence was questioned by the counter clerk and rather than take the required test I declined to renew. Not something I use everyday anyway - or indeed ever...but I still hated losing it!

  3. I LOVE that story. All 3 of them! Another to file away in my 'how to write well' file...more please!! PS Things had changed by my licence time, but then I'm just so young :)It was 1970, I think. I had to do 3 point turns and hill starts and parallel parks in Tweed Heads -was nervous with the policeman and I think my leg shook so that I failed my park and had to go again. After that I had recurring dreams that I was driving on that stretch of road in Tweed while being chased by horses which (I thought) wanted to savage my hands through the window. But was it connected to the licence? I've never considered that before!

  4. And I love this one of yours, Julie M, though don't ask me to interpret your strange dream - apart from its obvious connection to your license experience! Julie L, yours is fascinating. Those surely were the days when women were not served in the bar, only in the lounge or in the car - even in Warwick in the early 70s service was refused to the women in our group when they walked into the bar and wanted a drink like the blokes. No deal. And I wonder if you did actually need to take that test to retain your semi license! What a pity not to have been able to keep it forever. Well, till the age when you need to have regular tests anyway! There are some aged people with licences who terrify me....[and some very young ones too...!]


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