The Hume Highway, NSW, various Sunday nights, 1997 – 1998

It was always a finality to those weekends I’d spent in Sydney.  The long drive home alone in the dark, punctured only by the obligatory stop at Marulan for something to eat and to change the cassette tape.  Most of the music I would normally be listening to was on CD; but my 1988 Ford Laser sedan, the first car bought with my own money (and the debt to the credit union) only had a cassette player.

Of course I didn’t just tape a CD – that would be too easy.  I’d create mix-tapes of favourite artists; often gifting a side to one artist, loading it with favourites and checking against the running time for them to fit as close to 45 minutes as possible.  The tape was my time-marker as well as my driving companion.  Ninety minutes – the first tape was my signal to half-way; the second my signal to home.  Was I there yet?

I had been given Songs From The South, Kelly’s greatest hits album, and had my favourites, which would probably have been pretty typical of a young public service graduate who grew up in the southern suburbs of Sydney who had moved to Canberra for work and hadn’t really fully committed to it yet.  My short list was written quickly, but it was unfortunately too short.

I don’t know why I decided to cram in Winter Coat to fill the space on my Paul Kelly tape.   It is slow and not great for driving to.  On the album it was wedged between Careless and From Little Things Big Things Grow.  It wasn’t anything special and I had no kindred sentiment to the song.

I did have my own winter coat, a black woollen overcoat and it was the warmest thing I owned.  My purchase had been an ordinary transaction in Grace Bros in the Canberra Centre.  I’d been on my own; no romantic wandering through shops with a lover.  And I don’t think anyone even considered haggling in the womenswear department in Grace Bros.  My coat was too new to trigger memories, as were most of the clothes in my Canberra wardrobe.

But it did get chilly in those cold cold Brindabella hills.  It was only in the height of summer that my Marulan stop wouldn’t involve me putting on a jumper or turning the heater up higher.  My coat would lay on the back seat, just in case I needed it.  It had survived my first Canberra winter, where I’d walked to the bus stop in below zero temperatures and felt the icy concrete through my shoes.  Twenty years later I can still remember the ache in my feet.

Photo by Eric Algra