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Down UnderObservations: Distance & Size

On 2 May 2004 from Mandurah, WA , trackback

I do not need to tell anyone that Australia is a large country, but I also think that it is hard to understand long distances without actually experiencing them. And Western Australia is definitely the best state to experience distance. With 2,5 million square kilometres it is about the size of Western Europe, but only 2 million people share all this space, and 2/3 of those live in metropolitan Perth. So there is a lot of empty country out there.

The fact that distances are so large has quite an effect on the behaviour of people. Sandgropers (that is what people from W.A. are called in other states) have a love-hate relationship with their cars, loving them when they work, and hating them when they don’t. The reason for this is that a car is virtually a necessity to get around, unless you are living in metropolitan Perth. But it also causes the behaviour of going literally everywhere by car (same thing in the U.S.A.). A few examples of this: if a shop is 50 metres from another shop and has a carpark (almost all shops do), Australians will drive to that other shop, instead of walking there and back. Where I was staying in Mandurah, one of the neighbours (not direct neighbour, about 300 metres down the road) would always drive over when visiting. I also had to take these distances into account when shopping, because from the house in Mandurah where I lived to the nearest supermarket was about 10km, instead of 50m like I was used to.

Aside from behaviour of people, distance can also be noted on the goverment level. Each state is subdivided into different Shires (county in U.S.A., “gemeente” in Dutch, “Kreis” in German). When I first heard the word “Shire” my first association was with Lord of the Rings, but not only hobbits live in the Shire, a lot of Australians do as well. And like most things in Australia, Shires are quite a bit bigger than the European equivalent. The Shire of Plantagenet (around Mt Barker, north of Albany), where I drove on all the sealed roads, is a good example. It is about 100km from west to east, and with 5000 sq km about the size of a Dutch province, yet less than 5000 people live there. It gets much more extreme with the Shire of East Pilbara – the largest Shire in the world – which is 10 times the size of the Netherlands, with a population of less than 8000!



1. claessen.ca: Guido’s Website » Observations: 4WDs - 28 October 2006

[…] Australians love their cars, I think I have mentioned that before [Observations: Distance & Size], but I have not yet mentioned how many cars are 4 Wheel Drive. From a newspaper article I recollect that the percentage of 4WDs sold in Western Australia is about 20%. However, the majority of the population lives in metropolitan Perth and has less need for a 4WD, so that is why 2WD vehicles are still sold most. But as soon as I travelled north of Geraldton, it seemed that at least 50% of the cars was 4WD. […]