Betty is the star of the show at this outback Queensland pit stop, but don’t expect an action-packed performance.
- An estimated 10 million animals are killed on Australian roads each year
- Driver Reviver sites have been operating in Australia since 1990
- Fatigue-related traffic accidents are still among the fatal five
Orphaned kangaroo joey sticks his nose out, sniffs a few times, then curls up for another nap in his adoptive mother’s pouch – a police officer’s jacket.
Betty is the talk of the driver revival in Hungerford, nearly 1,000km west of Brisbane, where just seven people live.
It is manned by police officer and animal keeper, officer in charge Lea Macken, and longtime roommate Sheree Parker.
“Hopefully we can put a smile on their faces, tell them about our wonderful little town and they can leave our special outback hospitality and travel safely,” said Ms. Parker.
Senior Constable Macken, Hungerford’s only police officer, has seen a slew of human and wildlife deaths in her 19 years of service.
“It’s such a long jump between cities and it really helps people to have a revival driver here and someone to talk to,” she said.
“Also, it’s an advantage to have a police officer to help teach drivers how to drive on these horrible roads out here.”
All roads leading to Hungerford are unpaved – sometimes bumpy, sometimes muddy and constantly changing.
The nearest town is Eulo, 120 km north.
Thargomindah is 100 miles northeast and Bourke, where locals hop across the border to shop, is 125 miles south.
According to the Australian Transport Council’s National Road Safety Strategy 2011-20, fatigue contributes to 20-30 per cent of all deaths and serious injuries on Australian roads, which is comparable to speeding and drunk driving.
Senior Constable Macken said fatigue, including physical exhaustion, is particularly common among motorcyclists.
“There’s something about the word trail — it just attracts you,” she said.
“We see so many bikes going through here, and these roads are physically taxing on their bodies.”
At the Driver Stop, weary drivers are not only offered a free cup of coffee and cookies, but also merchandise to purchase to raise money for wildlife injured by vehicles.
“Carers across Australia don’t get any government support or tax breaks and it’s currently costing me between $500 and $1,000 a fortnight,” Senior Constable Macken said.
“Then there are medicines, veterinary care. The nearest vet is in Charleville, a four hour drive from here, so the expenses are piling up.”
Reality of Roadkill
Kangaroos are believed to be responsible for most Australian roadkills.
Out here, Senior Constable Macken nursed a variety of animals back to health before releasing them into the wild.
A pelican named Percival, wedge-tailed eagles, turtles, lizards, a wood duck and echidnas were all taken care of.
Hungerford is bordered on one side by Currawinya National Park, one of Queensland’s largest land-based parks, and on the other by the Dog Fence – one of the longest man-made structures in the world and the New South Wales border.
The park has a large kangaroo population and is home to western reds, grays and wallabies.
“I don’t understand why people aren’t listening,” Senior Constable Macken said.
“The first [rule] Do not drive on rural roads after dark or before sunrise.
“The message here is in the animals, but also in the lack of lighting and proper signage that people are used to in cities, such as upcoming curves.
“Most roos are nocturnal, but reds hate the cold and love the heat, so in winter they are more active during the day and catch travelers walking across the street in the middle of the day.
“The second [rule] should be driven according to the road conditions.
“You’re not going to do 100 clicks on these roads, so slow down and take your time.”
National Driver Reviver’s websites have been in operation for 30 years, with an estimated 180 locations across Australia.
Program manager Kerrie Edwards said it has proven its success over the years.
“While statistics say that fatigue accounts for around 20 to 30 per cent of fatal road accidents across Australia, we know it is even higher in rural areas and that is why driver resuscitation venues like the one in Hungerford are so important,” he said you.
Ms Parker said she hopes drivers enjoyed the diversion of the rest area.
“While Lea offers advice on fatigue and the roads, hopefully I can give them some history and tips as I’ve been here a while,” she said.
“People really benefit from it and get to know our small town, there are only seven of us here.”