Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The long and not very winding road

What a drive. From Streaky Bay in South Australia to the gloriously named Salmon Gums in Western Australia. 1420km in two days. I've been on long drives before, but this is one of the strangest. Across the Nullarbor there are no towns, just a handful of roadhouses with over priced fuel, toilets and pay showers and dodgy looking accomodation at the back. There are no houses or anything man made at all really to be seen anywhere along the journey. And the scenery stretches out the same for mile after mile. Our short game of I spy was pretty much limited to road, lines, signs, scrub, stones and sky, with perhaps a couple of  variations on those items thrown in. And the occasional road train thundering by in the other direction. One of the signs promised us a viewing of kangaroos, emus and camels, but we saw none of those. No animal sightings at all in fact. All that being said, the scenery was interesting enough in that it was different to anything I'd ever seen before. A treeless plain (hence the name from nulla arbor - no trees) with just scrubby bushes stretching as far as the eye could see in every direction for hundreds of kilometres. We had planned originally to play the Nullarbor links, which is the longest golf course in the world. But the fact that we (unsurprisingly) left late on the Sunday morning combined with the price being charged for "green" fees resulted in us bailing out on this activity. It just didn't seem worth it when in all likelihood I'd be spending less time playing golf and more time watching Jazzy taking 30 shots per hole and being concerned about the impact of a hot golf day on a pregnant Tori. So the clubs that we'd picked up for 20 bucks at St. Vincents op shop in Adelaide were just coming along as a passenger, clanking around in the back of the car.

The Landcruiser was sensational on the journey, just purring along at around 105kmph while hauling 3.2 tonne of van behind it. Such a strong engine. Amazingly it still had more power in reserve cruising at this speed on around 2,000 rpm. I'm very happy with our choice of vehicle for the trip. We stopped at pretty much every roadhouse (about every 150km or so) just to top up the tank and to stretch the legs, but also to check out the various establishments and wonder how the people running the businesses there could live in such a place so far from civilisation. Various of the counter staff were from overseas, probably travellers who took a job for a unique Australian experience, which I'm sure it would be. I don't know how anybody could stay for too long. While fueling up we met a few people also doing the journey. One couple from WA were on their way to Melbourne to see their daughters. One of whom, naturally enough, lived in Warrandyte about 100m down the street from where Tori and I used to live. Another guy I chatted with said that he had driven across the Nullarbor in 1970. In those days the road on the South Australian side was just a dirt track and you had to take fuel and water with you as neither was readily available along the route. It 's a pretty easy drive now. Just long.

After driving 600km on the first day, we stopped just short of the WA border at a rest stop that overlooked the Great Australian Bight. Partly this was due to nightfall but also to eat whatever fruit and vegetables we could before getting to the checkpoint at the WA border. No fruit, vegies or honey can be taken from one state to another and the border crossing at WA is particularly vigilant in checking. It was a great place to set up camp anyhow as the view out over the cliffs of the bight to the Southern Ocean below was spectacular.

Day two started much earlier thankfully and after having the car and van searched by an agricultural inspector, we crossed the border into WA around 8:30am. I'd been expecting the days of the Nullarbor to be unbearably hot, but it was actually cool and drizzly. The plan for the day was to try and get as far as we could, ideally making it to Esperance 900km away. The kids had travelled really well the day before until late in the afternoon when an altercation involving an empty water bottle and Jazzy's head put a bit of a dampener on the day. But everyone was renewed and up for the long journey. Jaz and Finn alternated between reading, playing on their iPods or DSs and just staring out the window. Tori had the occasional little snooze but mostly took in the passing scenery. The car's sound system, which had been seriously upgraded for the trip, played an assortment of albums from Dandy Warhols, Calexico, Nick Drake, and a trilogy of Church albums that mirrored their recent US tour - the Starfish, Priest=Aura and Untitled #23 albums in entirety. Then just a big random mix from the uptempo party playlist. ACDC to B52s to Eddie Current Suppression Ring to Tom Jones to Nirvana to Yo La Tengo to Elvis to Abba to James Brown to Ed Kuepper to Tame Impala to Blondie...... hours of assorted music. One of the recurring themes across the Nullarbor was the collection of tree sculptures that appeared every so often. The first of these that we passed was a tree with brightly coloured underwear hanging from the branches. Quite an incongruous but amusing sight. We then passed other such instalments as the sock tree, the hat tree and trees variously adorned with christmas decorations, cups, general clothing and the highly amusing shoe tree. We were inspired to build a tree sculpture of our own, but what could we use? We didn't have anything with us that was surplus to requirements did we? And in a moment of inspiration we realised that we had a golf bag containing 15 golf clubs that would be far more useful hanging from a tree in the Nullarbor as an objet d'art, for the amusement of passing vehicles, than they would be in the hands of any of us on a golf course. We all pretty much thought that golf sucked anyhow so what better use could there be for these pieces of finely crafted metal than to hang from a tree. So the quest began for the perfect tree in which to build our sculpture somewhere along the 90 mile straight. One that had wide low hanging branches, alive but with sparse foliage, viewable from the road in either direction and not too close to any rest stops so as not to be too tempting for those who may want to pick the tree and avail themselves of a set of clubs. That being said, if somebody playing the Nullarbor Links needed a new putter, then we were happy to provide the service. Indeed golf clubs really may grow on trees. Once the tree was found we set about building the sculpture. This involved using some fishing line and some of my recently acquired fisherman's knot tying skills with which to hang the clubs from the branches. The bag was added along with a tee, a ball and a scoring pencil and we felt that we had the whole thing covered. With the approving horns of some passing motorists we stood back to admire our creation, clubs glinting in the sun.

When we once more hit the road we were all buoyed with the feeling of self satisfaction that all artists have on completing a masterpiece. I was happy that our donation of 20 bucks to St. Vinnys for the clubs was money well spent after all. We didn't make it to Esperance before fatigue and night fall set in so we ended up 100km or so short, camped for the night in the rest stop at Salmon Gums. Exhausted yet fulfilled.

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