One 12-Year-Old’s 800-Mile Drive Across Australia

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Lightning Ridge, on the edge of the outback in Australia. The conditions of the roads in the area can be grueling, with long, empty stretches for miles. Credit Conor Ashleigh for The New York Times

SYDNEY, Australia — Some of you probably think your adolescence was filled with adventure because you drove your parents’ car to the local pizza place when you were, what, 15 years old?

Well, just try to compete with this: Police officers near the Australian mining town of Broken Hill stopped a sport utility vehicle Saturday that was being driven by a 12-year-old boy who had been on the road in the middle of nowhere, driving alone, for 800 miles.

And he was only a third of the way to his chosen destination on the other side of this vast country.

Let’s step back for a minute and consider the scale of this endeavor.

Distance Covered

The police said the boy, who has not been identified, took the family car and started driving on Friday from his home in Kendall, a small town about 220 miles northeast of Sydney.

The distance between there and Perth, on the far western end of the country, is around 4,300 kilometers, or 2,700 miles.

How far is that? It’s similar to the drive from New York to Los Angeles, which is a little more than 2,800 miles, or from Ottawa to Edmonton.

A quick reminder: The boy is 12. And while it’s common for young people in Australia and all over the world to drive tractors or other vehicles at young ages, this boy managed to drive on major roads for an entire day without being found out or being harmed. The police said he was stopped at 11 a.m. Saturday, which means he spent a night alone on the road.

So how far did he really go?

The distance traveled doesn’t look like much on a map, particularly given Australia’s size, but the 800 miles that he drove — again, alone, as a 12-year-old — is about the equivalent of making the long and annoying drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles, back and forth, with a few dozen more miles thrown in for rest stops and food.

Or, for our non-American readers, it’s like driving from Paris to Prague, deciding that’s not far enough, then deciding to head for Vienna.

Averting Danger

Road trips in Australia are a little different than road trips in many other places. The police said the boy had clear and specific plans, but to complete his intended journey, he would have had to drive through the Nullarbor Plain, a flat, desolate, hot and largely empty stretch in the south that is about four times the size of Belgium.

Those who have made the drive warn people to pack extra gasoline and car parts — in addition to ample food and water — because gas stations are so far apart from each other.

The tourism board advises that people take six days just to get across the Nullarbor. Driving at night is not advised because of the risk of hitting stray emus, kangaroos, wombats or camels. Yes, camels: About 100,000 wild ones are there, the descendants of animals imported to help build inland railroads.

Online, just a mere mention of the drive across Australia often elicits references to something even more frightening: “Wolf Creek,” a well-known Australian horror film about murders in the outback.

Lingering Questions

It should be noted that the boy is safe. He was released into the care of his parents on Sunday, and the police said they hoped to speak with the boy and his parents on Monday. An investigation into the incident is continuing, and the police have not said much beyond that.

“It’s pretty unusual,” a spokeswoman for the police said in an interview Monday. “It’s not something that occurs every day.”

Online, Australians reacted with awe and inquiries. Several people seemed impressed that the boy managed to avoid getting a speeding ticket and that he would even take on such an expedition. Others raised a series of questions, some of which various reporters are also sharing, including:

• How did he pay for gas?

• Who taught him how to drive?

• What compels a 12-year-old to do something that drastic?

• Did his parents report him missing, and if so, when?

• What kind of punishment does the boy face from the police or his parents?

• Is anything deeper or darker going on with this story that we’re unaware of?

Check back for updates.

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