According to the most recent census data, the average Australian household owns one or more vehicles with close to 65% of the workforce traveling to work each day by car, compared to less than 4% who walk. Furthermore, according to the 2014 Report Card on Physical Activity for Children and Young People only 33% of children and young people walk or cycle to school, with this average dropping when they reach high school. Public health experts are continually urging us stop sitting at our desks and move more through the promotion of ‘walk to school’ days, but many are cynical of the retention and upkeep of these one-off practices. So what does this mean for our health, the sustainability of our transport systems and the relationships we have with our neighbourhoods? What does this mean for walking?
As a child I vividly remember the bedtime stories my dad used to tell me about growing up in northern England in the 1960s. I was amazed that his family didn’t have a car, or if they did his father would take it to work, meaning Dad and his brothers and sister used to have to walk to school… in the snow… by themselves! AND they would walk back home for lunch (or as he called it ‘dinner time’) at midday only to turn around again and walk all the way back for afternoon classes. To be honest the school was probably just down the road but as a child of 7 who wasn’t allowed to leave our street by myself this sounded like an amazing and harrowing adventure.
This is not to say that I never walked as a child. My parents really like bushwalking, like, really really like bushwalking. I’d spent so much time being carried in a backpack that at 4 years old I thought I was born in the Warrumbungle National Park in Western NSW (and not Sutherland Base Hospital).
As you can tell I position myself and my parents as a family of walkers. But I wonder if my experience is something that is normal or out-of-the-ordinary?
The short answer is, no, I don’t think walking is dying out. Evidently many kids still walk to school, go for walks with family members along the beach or to the local park, if not on bush hikes. However with the time-squeeze of modern life and convenience of the car as transport, how do families fit in walking?
My PhD project aims to answer this question and I’m currently looking for families to share their walking stories with me. If you are a parent, grandparent, adult sibling or carer for a child/children between the ages of 3 and 12 years old, I would like to speak with you and your family.
Participation in the project will involve a series of interviews and a video and sound recording activity. The project invites all family members to be involved. For more information please contact Susannah via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call: 0421 223 166.
This project has been approved by the UOW Human Research Ethics Committee (HE15/031).
Susannah Clement is a PhD Candidate with the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research, at the University of Wollongong. You can follow her on twitter @SusannahClement.