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The Australian Outback Tradition Every Grey Nomad Needs To Know

01/01/2016 7:00 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Close up of hand on steering wheel

"I can't believe that trucker didn't finger me," my husband says, seven hours into a 13-hour drive. "I gave him two fingers, clear as day, and he just ignored me."

My husband is incredulous for good reason. On Australia's outback highways, it's customary to raise a finger from the steering wheel by way of 'hello' to oncoming traffic.

We call it fingering.

The issue with fingering is that sometimes it's all there is to break up the days upon days of bitumen, desert and sky.

Between the red sands and spearmint scrub of Mt Isa and the tropical growth of Darwin, we only passed a handful of cars. And when fingering is your only social interaction in the day, you can get a little pedantic about it.

We'd spend hours coming up with novelty fingers. The peace sign. Jazz hands. The pinkie salute... You get my point. (We don't point.)

Our repertoire of salutes was three hours in the making for a split-second performance, followed by a flash of delight across a grey nomad's face.

Totally worth it.

In these moments, fingering is more than a friendly gesture. It's an ephemeral interaction at 130kmph. A high-speed nexus between kindred spirits, encapsulating the human experience in the lift of a finger.

So when a trucker doesn't reciprocate, well, he deserves a different finger raised in his direction. But when you get a good return salute -- that's just magic.

In a dusty roadhouse somewhere, that inexplicably had peacocks sauntering around the petrol bowsers, I spotted a greying husband and wife clambering out of their van.

"Hey, isn't that the couple who got the jazz hands back in Mataranka?" I said.

They bounded over to say a big hello and share tips about where to camp and what to see -- I think I'm still their Facebook friends.

As you may have gathered, fingering becomes instinctive and, by the time you roll into a capital city, it can be hard to switch off the impulse to salute everyone.

After a year of roadtripping we settled in to Sydney's suburbs. Beautiful beaches, great opportunities... But the traffic! My finger was cramping by the end of each day. I had to cut back.

These days my hands stay firmly on the wheel. Until just last week, while driving through a particularly lonely stretch of suburbia, a dust-covered truck headed towards me.

As if on instinct, my finger raised just in time to see an old guy, face beaming, giving me the pinkie salute. Nice to share a moment of friendship with a stranger.

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