Friday, December 31, 2010

Highway called Pacific

In Australia, the major coastal route between Sydney and Brisbane has always been known as the Pacific Highway. As a youth, I used to ride my bicycle along this highway in the vicinity of Grafton. Maybe, these days, it should be nicknamed the RIP (Rest-in-Pacific) Highway, because the antiquated state of this old road has transformed it into a killing field.

Seated comfortably and safely in front of my computer screen in my bedroom at Gamone, I can call upon the amazing Google Maps tool to give me a realistic idea of what it must feel like to be driving along this so-called "highway" in the vicinity, say, of Tintenbar, near Ballina.

In Australia, people drive, of course (because our dominant forefathers were English), on the left-hand side of the road. The typical section of the road seen in the photo is pleasant enough, but it's a bit frightening to see that there's a single lane on that curved descent, and that the road is only visible for a couple of hundred meters.

Let's imagine that the vehicle you're driving looks like this:

That's what they refer to, in Australia, as a B-double tanker. There are lots of them on Australian roads, and a vehicle of this type can carry some 40,000 liters of fuel.

A few days ago, around noon, a tanker of this kind was hurtling along the highway, heading south, in the vicinity of Tintenbar. Imagine that you're sitting in the passenger's seat as the driver dives into that curved descent shown in the top photo. A witness says he heard the vehicle hitting the guard rail. Within a few seconds, the tanker crossed the road and burst into flames that shot 30 meters into the sky.

Hours later, after the intervention of a hundred fire fighters, fuel was still burning in the vicinity of the accident. Police suspected that the driver had disappeared in the holocaust.

Normally, there's more than enough mineral wealth in Australia to supply the nation with superb modern highways, which would surely reduce the likelihood of spectacular accidents of this kind. But the use of that mineral wealth to build decent roads for the people is a political eventuality that is not likely to arise for some time to come. Waiting for the revolution…

ADDENDUM: No sooner had I written that last word, revolution, than I found it highlighted in an amusing and perspicacious Bill Bleak cartoon [display]. Clearly, I'm not the only Australian observer who imagines that the nation needs to break out, politically, of a system of vicious circles. Recently, here in France, our celebrated minister of the Economy, Christine Lagarde, said that Sarkozy's new government was "totally revolutionary", because of its accent on "solidity and professionalism". She went on to explain, bizarrely, that the principle of a revolution consists of turning through a complete circle of 360°. In the great novel entitled The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi, 11th Prince of Lampedusa [1896-1957], the hero refers to the ongoing Italian "revolution" in the following terms: "If we want things to remain as they've always been, then everything will have to change." Maybe that's not a bad definition for the kind of revolution I have in mind in the context of my native land.

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