OPINION: 4WD rant wasn't four wheel

WHERE can I buy a Leopard tank?

After the furious reaction I got to a column remarking on the recent rise in four-wheel-drive numbers on our roads, I think I might need one.

Among the hundreds of angry responses from all around Australia and New Zealand were quite a few warning me that I was now fair game for a bit of the old bull-bar – and see how I liked that.

It’s a new experience for me, having one of my columns go viral, and I don’t think I like it – any more than some of my off-road correspondents liked me suggesting that 4WDs look like outhouses on wheels. I can only hope that some of those correspondents’ threats and suggestions are as exaggerated as my column was.

You see, when I wrote about lying injured in a metre-deep wheel rut on Stockton Beach, I didn’t actually mean that could happen. Any more than a cartoonist who draws Julia Gillard with a giant nose really means that Julia Gillard has a giant nose. 

The wheel rut couldn’t possibly be a metre deep, and no 4WD driver would actually drive over an injured person, as I offensively suggested.

Even though one correspondent noted that it does get annoying for off-roaders having to queue up and wait for all sorts of pedestrian beach users to wander back and forth before you can continue your 4WD journey.

I don’t really want the CSIRO to develop a myxomatosis for mudflaps. So if any scientists read that bit and had started working on it, please stop now. Anyway, even my Common-dore has mudflaps, so that would have been a totally stupid idea, right?

But I’m not going to try to explain to these cranky readers all over Australasia who have never seen any of my work other than this piece that, hey, I’m sometimes a bit of an exaggerator who likes stretching a point to make a point.

All I’m going to do is wave the white flag and say sorry. 

Sorry, to all you correspondents, reasonable and rabid alike, who took the trouble to explain to me the real joys of 4WD ownership. The fantastic places your vehicles can take you, where you otherwise could never go. Yep, I get that.

Sorry if you think I was trying to suggest that 4WD drivers are the only people who leave litter behind them. We all know that’s not true and, hey, hats off to the off-road clubs who get involved in beach clean-ups. 

Sorry I didn’t make the point that, although my column was prompted by  recent experiences with on-road 4WD hoons, those characters are still outnumbered by two-wheel-drive hoons. You reminded me that there are bad apples in any group. Even  journos do crappy work sometimes, believe it or not (note: irony there).

Sorry for all that other  stuff I wrote, too. You know, the door dents, the dazzling lights, the bull-bars. 

And I’m even sorry to the bloke who accused me of being the sort of driver who would sit on 98km/h in a 100 zone because I haven’t got anywhere worthwhile to go, preventing him from getting to where he really does need to go as quickly as he needs to get there. 

Just in case I ever actually did that.

So, what the hell was I really trying to say, beneath my smartarseness that you hated so much? 

Just that, whoa, aren’t there heaps of 4WDs on the roads these days? You’ve got to grant me that. They are so flavour-of-the-month that even Peugeot is selling them, for goodness sake.  And because there’s lots more of them, the small proportion whose drivers are aggro becomes a bigger number. So you notice them more.

And an aggro 4WD driver is often more alarming than an aggro driver in a smaller car. 

 So there it is. Big deal. Pretty boring, really. 

And now that Yosemite Sam has jumped down off his vinyl spare wheel cover and is pointing his six-guns at me and telling me to ‘‘Back Off!’’, let me tell you, I’m backing off.

 You’ve got my gold-plated apology, so please, put the guns away.

As for the future, some of my 4WD correspondents suggested I should turn my keyboard to more useful pursuits, like ridding the roads of elderly drivers, Holden Barinas or Toyota Camrys. I’m on  to it. 

Next week: Should those irritating Audis be illegal?  (Just kidding. Honest.)

NB: For my sins, the Newcastle Herald’s editor, Chad Watson, ordered me to take a 4WD trip in Stockton dunes to find out where I went wrong. I’ll tell you about it, and preview Sunday’s big clean up Stockton Beach day, in tomorrow’s paper.

gray@theherald.com.au

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