Forever in reverse


My mother learned to drive late in life. She was over forty years old when she first took us out in the pale green Farina my father had bought for her, through the leafy streets of Camberwell to visit relatives in Ivanhoe or Brighton, or to take us to the beach.

It was a hot day and the car was full of kids, me, my two younger sisters and my brother and we passed the Trafalgar Road intersection off Burke Road on our way through the Camberwell junction, a six way spilt across three roads, Camberwell, Riversdale and Bourke.

In those days there were no lights at the intersection and the give way to the right system applied. Nor was there a roundabout, which made it tricky to get through the intersection even at the best of times.

The car seats were wet against our hot bodies and we had the windows down to let in air.

‘My brakes aren’t working’ my mother said as we slipped past Our Lady of Victories, the church on one side of the hill. It boasted a huge ball of bronze at the top of its central dome above which rested a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary in gold with a crown, sceptre and baby in her arms.

I had no time to admire the church, no time to think as my mother pushed her foot onto the brake, which offered no resistance. It hit the floor, and the car rolled on.

Her foot went down again and again as she tried to get traction. There was no slowing down as the car gained momentum on its approach to the bottom of the hill and we braced ourselves.

It must not have been our time to die for by some miracle there were no cars at the intersection on our right and even on our left, nor on the diagonal along Camberwell Road.

All clear at four o’clock in the afternoon just before the evening rush – a miracle.

Somehow my mother managed then to slow the car down as we crawled back up the opposite hill, turned right onto Prospect Hill Road and then round the back to the car park where my mother managed to stop the car dragged back by the weight of the uphill crawl. She propped it in place against a gutter.  Wheels held firm.

‘We made it,’ I said and we sighed a collective sigh, climbed out of the car and walked to the bus stop to complete our journey home.

The mechanic came later to tow the car to his garage and fix the faulty brakes but not well enough such that a day or so later after repairs had been completed, my mother pulled up, this time in Canterbury on another intersection where Balwyn Road crossed Mont Albert.

There at the lights, first car in line on Prospect Hill Road we waited till the lights turned green and I felt my mother’s Farina slide backwards closer and closer to the car behind.

My mother wrenched on the hand brake, her foot on the main brake and her hand held firm to keep the car from rolling back. But ever so slowly it crept towards the bumper bar of the car behind, until those lights changed and within an inch of coliding we took off again.

I cannot stop on a hill without thoughts of my car rolling into the one behind; no matter how good my brakes.

A few months after she began to drive, my mother had an accident in the green Farina. She was alone on her way home from work when her car collided with another vehicle she had not seen and although no one was hurt, the Farina was a write-off and spent the next several months stationary in our back yard.

My parents had neither the insurance nor the money to fix it.


Thereafter my mother gave up driving but I now dream of travelling backwards in honour of those memories.

More than once I dream of putting my car into reverse in order to get out of a situation and then find I cannot get back into drive.

Once in reverse, I roll backwards for ages and panic that at any moment I’ll crash into the car behind, only to wake before the crash, or somehow, as if by some miracle, the car locks back into second gear and I’m saved.

9 thoughts on “Forever in reverse”

  1. I remember the Farina. It was a rubbish car. It does not surprise me about the brakes. By your description, I think your mother did not do too badly when the odds were against her in the car. Hehe, imagine being able to slide past Trafalgar Road now, let alone straight through the Junction.

    PS I am normally very tolerant of typos and speeling errors, I make plenty of my own, but a local should really get the spelling of Burke Road correct. Salve yourself with the knowledge that so many others do too.

    1. I thought I’d spelt Bourke Road wrong, Andrew. The extra ‘o’ applies to the city; the absent ‘o’ to Camberwell. I always mix them up. Appalling, as you say, for a local.
      I assumed the old Farina was not an upmarket car, simply because my parents could afford it, second hand. I found the picture via GOOGLE. They still exist in places it seems but you never see them on the streets. Thanks, Andrew.

  2. I haven’t owned a car in about twenty-five years, Lis. I used to get to borrow the work’s vans from time to time when one of the engineers was on holiday and Carrie and I once hired a car to go on a road trip to the Lake District but since I left work I haven’t driven and that’s ten years now. A part of me misses it. I miss the convenience of being able to pop down to the shops but in practical terms all a car would do is waste money once you add up the insurance and road tax just for it to sit outside the window in case it was needed. The simple fact is we can pretty much get everything we need or want delivered to our front door and I’m happy to pay the extra couple of quid not to have to humph boxes up the stairs. (Humph’s a great word. You might enjoy this wee article about it:

    I, like all drivers, have my fair share of tales to tell—I did drive for over twenty years after all—but the feeling what I associate most with driving is stress. Even if nothing went wrong and no one collided with us there was always the possibility something might go wrong. I’ve never owned a new car and every one of them had their… quirks, shall we say. Despite coming top of the year in Applied Mechanics at school I am no good at fixing things. I can change a plug, I can even change a tyre at a push but that’s about my lot. And, of course, for most of the years I drove no one had mobile phones. So if you broke down in the back of beyond—it is always the back of beyond, isn’t it?—you have to walk for miles to find a phone or a farmhouse (twice at least farmers have saved my bacon).

    Computers have a similar effect on me these days. I was just about to cut and paste this comment when the wee burly round thing appeared and I thought: Damn! I’m going to lose everything. I wonder when I last saved it. Have I saved it? (My ‘handbrake’ solution was to hit Print Screen and wait it out.)

    I really don’t miss driving. I do have some fond memories of cars and vans—sitting in the middle of Princes Street in Edinburgh with AC/DC full bung on the ghetto blaster (cars are great places to listen to loud music)—but mostly they enabled me to cram my life full and I was always rushing hither and thither. Unthinkable now and undesirable.

    1. Unless you live in inner city Melbourne, Jim, you almost need a car. Suburbs are too far spaced apart, and public transport here is pretty grim. To get to see two of my daughters on public transport would take me over an hour. In a car you halve the time depending on the traffic, so I’m used to driving. But I agree it can be stressful. And yes, indeed ‘humph’ is a great word. unfortunately your link didn’t get me there but I can imagine several meanings. Thanks, Jim.

  3. Yes, Lis, Melbourne public transport is certainly a challenge, however my sister-in-law has NEVER driven since passing her licence test, although she has kept her licence (she says people always ask her for her licence for ID but no-one ever asks her if she drives). She amazes me as she manages to do more in one day on this unreliable system than I can contemplate in the convenience of a car. And especially since she has also taken on full-time care of two women with mental health issues, in their own homes. She makes me feel lazy and shamed.
    Like I am always going in reverse.

    1. I think people who use public transport here get used to manoeuvring their way through the system, Karen, which can be mind boggling to the rest of us. I gather it’s cheaper to do it like that. The cost of owning and maintaining a car is vast, and yet we still tend to prefer the convenience even when it’s not. Do you dream in reverse, too? Amazing. The sensation stays with me. Thanks, Karen.

      1. I do have a recurring dream, Lis, but not about going in reverse. I can understand how your personal experience would weave its way into your subconscious, tho.

  4. Gosh, it’s those little moments that leave indelible marks on our memory. I’ve no doubt your dreams come from this one experience—you must have been very frightened.
    I’ve had a nightmare that my brakes failed, and I kept narrowly missing accidents at intersections, like your mother. It sounds like a movie!
    Thanks for sharing another memory. x

    1. I can get into my car and remember my dreams of reversing or smashing or other near-misses and then wonder that I have the courage to go out in it everyday. Still we do. Dreams are so symbolic but I can’t help but be taken by the realities of those symbols, too, especially when it comes to driving cars. Thanks Louise.

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