Monday, February 21, 2011

The long drive to the flooded track

Finally intertia was overcome and we left Adelaide. We packed up our site alongside the hungover teens in dark sunnies who had returned to the scene of the previous night's drama to recover their tent and car and clean up the mound of empty beer cans. Our new jockey wheel seemed robust and barely raising a sweat in lifting our van on to the hitch and we hit the road around 11am. The destination in mind was Port Augusta at the top of the Eyre Peninsula, some 320km north. Everybody settled in for the long drive. The kids alternating between reading books and playing on their DSs. Tori having the occasional snooze. Me just driving and listening to the random selection of songs from my iPhone. A game of I Spy managed to provide half an hours amusement somewhere around Port Pirrie and all in all the drive was nice and relaxing. On reaching Port Augusta, we pulled in to the servo to fuel up and also to replace an empty gas cylinder. Seemingly a simple task but one that proved more of an effort than originally anticipated. When we bought the van from Curly, he was nice enough to organise a bike rack for the van and to weld it on to the draw bar. While this has been a sensational addition, as I found out yesterday, the bike rack is in a position that makes it impossible to remove the gas cylinders without first removing a spare wheel. It simply won't fit through where it otherwise would have. Having not removed a wheel from the van up until now, I was relieved that the lugs seem a standard size and that the wheel brace from the car was able to do the job in removing them. Good to discover this now rather than when we're on the side of the road having to change a flat at least. But a bit of a drag to change over the gas bottle.

With us all being in the zone, we decided to continue on driving. Port Augusta is the cross road for either heading north up through Coober Pedy and up to Alice Springs and the top end, or for heading west towards Ceduna and the long road stretching across the Nullarbor Plain.  We drove west and a few kms out of Port Augusta took the road south down the Eyre Peninsula through Whyalla and toward our new destination of Cowell.
Whyalla is a funny town. I went there around 20 years ago to visit BHP who were a Tandem customer, flying in from Adelaide in a little 12 seater propeller plane. The town and all its amenities had effectively been set up by BHP to support the local steelworks. People paid their rates and electricity bills to BHP rather than any local council. Some time in the 60s or 70s, the South Australian government realised that there was a large imbalance in the town, with the inhabitants being predominantly men who worked at the steelworks or in the shipyards. To try and address this, they created a scheme where single mothers were offered very favourable loans to purchase houses in the town to try and bring in some women for the men to meet and marry. The plan obviously worked as Whyalla is now a flourishing town, South Australia's third largest. My time in Whyalla back then was spent at the steelworks where BHP used their Tandem computer to run the scheduling for the blast furnace. After a day of work and a tour of the blast furnace, the evening was inevitably spent in the pub buying drinks for the hard drinking system manager Bill Liddle, who "just one more"d me from around 6pm until closing time. Bill was probably the biggest and best bullshit artist I ever met. His stories were so fantastical that you knew that they weren't true. But they always started in the realm of believability and you could never tell where they crossed over to fantasy. I met up again with Bill in Singapore on business trips over more recent years. He worked for HP and would turn up for meetings with conservative Singaporean banks sporting a khaki safari suit and a long pony tail. After work I'd have beers with him at Harry's Bar on Boat Quay where he'd tell me about the famous Australian sports stars (such as Dennis Lillee and Greg Chappell) who would always stop by to have a beer with him when they were in town. He still drank the same as ever until his body finally gave out a couple of years ago and he died of a heart attack. He was definitely a larger than life kind of a character and one I'll always associate with Whyalla. This time we just drove straight through Whyalla on our way further south to Cowell.

When we finally got to Cowell, we stopped for dinner at the pub. We'd driven over 500km in the day and everybody was pretty tired. I was happy to stop for the night at the town van site, which was just a big field where you could park for a nominal fee. Tori had visions of camping the night by the beach and so with some scant directions from the friendly Canadian barmaid at the pub, we headed down the red corrugated dirt road for 20km looking for the alleged free camping area by the beach. On finding a sign pointing left saying "Beach Track", Tori decided that this must be it. Tired, indecisive and wanting to comply I took the turn off only to be confronted a little way down by a flooded track. It was pitch black outside, so I couldn't see to reverse out of the track. And so we decided to stop and spend the night there. The wind was howling off the sea and when the moon came out from behind the clouds, it shed an eerie light on the wide open landscape. Jazzy decided it was a good time to wind Finn up and got him so frightened that he ended up in tears, in need of serious comforting from Tori to calm him down and assure him that everything was alright. I have to admit that a few visions from horror films came into my own mind but experience has told me that normally in this situation you don't end up being hacked to death by an axewielding madman. Tori and I have spent the night in some very different places over the years as a result of being lost or simply stopping at the end of a long drive. We parked our campervan in the carpark at Aleppo Airport in Syria with the aim of sleeping there, only to be disturbed by the local youth who were diverted from their carpark soccer game to start peering in the windows of the curious van and check out the inhabitants. Needless to say we moved on. We spent another night off the road at the top of Mt. Nebo in Jordan where apparently Moses had his first view of the land of Israel. Much to Tori's chagrin, I brought back a couple of local goat herders to the van for a cup of tea. On leaving, one of them asked Tori if he could have her Cosmo magazine. It seemed to be about to change from a high fashion magazine to a goat herder's wank mag. On other occasions we have spent nights in places such as the top of  a canyon in Turkey, in a supermarket carpark in France, angle parked in the middle of the city of Munich where we were woken by an irate woman in a wheel chair around 2am because we were blocking the footpath, a suburban street in Southend, on the side of the road in Brussells and in the car park of the Vegemite Bar at Gallipoli. Today we have woken up surrounded by scrubby bushes and the roar of the waves just 50m  past the water of the flooded track. Nothing ever seems as daunting in the light of day.

1 comment:

Meteor said...

...there's been reports of a strange tribe of high-fashion goatherders spotted in the Jordanian hinterland....