Hitchhiking is an excellent way to get around the land way down under.
Australia is comprised of six states – Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania – as well as two territories: the Northern Territory and the Australia Capital Territory (ACT). Each state is a sovereign entity and has its own parliament, which rules over things such as state police, roads and public transit.
Each state has different laws regarding hitchhiking. In Victoria and Queensland, hitchhiking is illegal. According to the Queensland Police website:
“Hitchhiking from a road is an offense in Queensland… Hitchhiking from median strips, traffic islands, painted islands and the road shoulder has been banned. Hitchhiking from one of these areas attracts a fine of $30, consistent with the existing fine for hitchhiking from a road.”
In Victoria, the Road Safety (General) Regulations of 2009 states that a “Person on road to Solicit contributions or employment, hitchhike, sell, clean etc.” is illegal.
New South Wales, South Australia and the Northern Territory discourage hitchhiking but do not expressly forbid it. The Northern Territory Government website, under Australian Traffic Regulations, states that “it is an offense to obstruct traffic if soliciting a ride from within the roadway” – a law which can be interpreted to mean that hitchhiking from the side of a roadway IS legal, so long as you are not blocking traffic.
On this note, it is illegal throughout all of Australia to hitchhike on motorways. Hitching from on ramps is generally a safe bet, though if you are in Queensland it is quite possible that you will experience trouble with local police. Take public transportation or walk toward city limits before attempting to catch a ride from an on ramp to avoid dangerous traffic jams.
Hitchhiking between major population hubs is relatively easy, but as you move further into the interior of the country you will find fewer drivers. Of the cars that are on the road, a much smaller percentage of them are likely to be tourists (who tend to stick to the popular coastal destinations) who will be more amiable about giving you a lift. Be cautious about who you take a lift from, especially if you are a female hitchhiking alone. Remember that towns will be far apart out here, and bring plenty of water.
Australians are generally friendly toward hitchhikers. If hitchhiking in New South Wales, prepare to hear from at least on driver about the notorious serial killer from the early 90’s, Ivan Milat. Ivan killed a number of hitchhikers in NSW, but is now in jail serving a life sentence. Since his capture nearly two decades ago, the killings have stopped and there have been no copycat crimes.
Many truckers (known as “truckies” in Australia) have contracts which forbid them from picking up hitchhikers; nonetheless, trucks are still are a reliable way of catching rides for long distances. Traffic ‘speed’ cameras take photos of trucks license plates and scan them against a database of other cities and towns registries. In this way, police can enforce maximum allowable driving times for truckers in an attempt to discourage them from driving long distances without sleep. Though loopholes in this system certainly exist, one might hope that truckies in Austrialia are somewhat more rested than their counterparts in less regulated regions of the world.
For the traveler who is used to measuring distances using the imperial system, keep in mind that the countries roads are measured in kilometers – and a distance of 100 kilometers converts to only 60 miles and can be covered in roughly one hours drive.