I somehow did not include the photos the 1st time – sorry about that!
Hi Everyone – The following is a travelogue of a spectacular road trip from my boyhood friend, Aldo Manganaro. Aldo & I were mates in Australia while I was living there during my teen years. We worked together, played together and (mostly) stayed out of trouble together. We formed a lifelong bond. We lost touch with each other for a while & reconnected several years ago (without the help of facebook which we both avoid).
About the same time as our reconnection, we each developed an interest in photography & one of my hopes is we can do a photography trip together sometime.
Aldo (or Fangio – for reasons to become apparent as you read), first sent me some photos from this epic trip & when I asked for a narrative, he sent that. I then requested him to throw the photos into the story & allow me to put it all on my blog. He obviously agreed so here it is. This is a rather looooooong story but I enjoyed the whole thing. It MAY not be as interesting to you as it is to me since you do not know Aldo like I do but if you read this, you will have a better understanding of my Brother from another Mother.
Nancy & I went to Uluru about 17 years ago & while I lived in Oz and later visited, I drove some parts of his trip, so this adds to the meaning to me.
Please read & enjoy driving along with my friend. (All grammatical errors, silly English spelling & occasional profanity is ALL his!) I would love to read comments & will send them on to him.
A Short Quick Trip.
I woke up on Wednesday morning on the 1st August with a singular thought in my head.
Today I was going to go to Uluru, which is also known as Ayers Rock. There was no conscious planning on my part, just a decision made on my behalf by my brain working during its off time in order to gain some space. Another episode in a multiyear mid life crisis? God knows, because I was just a couple of months away from turning sixty. I really should have been long past the mid life point unless I was going to live past one hundred and that is very, very unlikely. Not the healthiest of lifestyles; meat, smokes, beer, scratchy sleep, deep hatred of cardio workouts, too much coffee, a lot of weight, blood pressure. I could go on and on, but why labour the matter. Let’s just say I was starting to feel like I was getting older. No not old perhaps, but feeling like my youth was long past me and I was starting to join a demographic I didn’t deserve to have inflicted on me or that I wanted to become part of. After all, in my headspace I was still young but all this other stuff was arguing against my personal reality. I needed time to get away and have a long look at what was happening in my life. Space required and time to do a little global thinking. Don’t know, don’t care; I had to get away.
I must say the decision to go was not well received by my long suffering wife.
“What do you mean you are going away? Where are you going? What about Michael and me?” she said in a tone that fully implied I was crazy, impulsive, uncaring and a whole lot selfish.
“You will be all right. I just need some space for a while. I will just be away for a few days.” It was too hard to explain my mood or sentiment especially when I had only just been informed of the decision so recently. Thanks subconscious brain for putting me in this position.
Kim, my beloved wife of thirty eight years was very unhappy with me. This would probably be one of the bigger understatements I have ever made. We had been for a holiday to Adelaide in June to celebrate her sixtieth birthday and had a family cruise to Noumea in July I know I was pushing the envelope but this was something I just had to do
On the subject of kids, I was lucky that Alana, our daughter was at our place at the time. She did not support me and my stupid trip but interceded with her mother on my behalf.
“Let him go mum. He wants to go so just let him.” she said with some force. If you don’t know Alana she is strong and capable. I like to think of her as one of the elemental forces of nature and I am very proud to have helped create such a wonderful person. I am also extremely proud of our other son, Sam; but he wasn’t there to back me up at the time. With approval and support from Alana, Kim gave up.
You beauty. I was given a leave pass and went on my impromptu little adventure. I grabbed a bag and threw in some clothes, blood pressure tablets, a toothbrush and toothpaste. I threw in a couple of pillows and a blanket. I thought if push comes to shove I can kip in the car.
Not ideal but cheap. Of course I took my camera bag and tripod. As an enthusiastic photographer this was one of the main drivers of my trip. That and my American mate Kim Hix. We had met Kim last year in Hawaii and had stayed in touch. He was such a top bloke and I had badgered him into coming over for a visit where he had stayed at our place for a few days. He was on another level in terms of being creative, intelligent and also a bit of a spiritual soul. The fact that he won an Emmy award for set design was testament to the kind of insight he had. He had gone to Uluru after staying at our place and his reports of it were glowing. I want to thank you Mr. Hix for the inspiration. Really looking forward to seeing you again soon .
“Are you going to sleep in the car?” said Kim with a tone that let me know she thought I was crazy.
“Maybe.” I said.
“Whatever. Just don’t kill yourself.” she said with a wistful sigh.
I was on my way.
Totally prepared(not). I grabbed a bit of cash that I had stashed away and basically jumped in the car. I didn’t check oil, water other fluids or tyre pressure and set off on what would end up to be the drive of a lifetime. This would be a bit of a test for my Subaru Imprezza.
I live in the Sutherland Shire in Sydney and I must say with all honesty as I drove off I felt very much like Bilbo Baggins as he left The Shire to set off for an unexpected adventure. Like Bilbo I never took a handkerchief either.
After what seemed to be only a short drive, I made it all the way to the shops around the corner about four hundred metres away.
I realised it would be prudent to buy some supplies as I would be driving some long distances through drought stricken areas and many distant country roads. I went to see Tran at the Vietnamese bakery and bought a coconut slice. I went to see Eddy at the grocery store and bought some cigars and a bottle of water. That was good and I was now fully prepared for whatever might arise. And thus, richly provisioned, off I drove.
A coconut slice . Created for the discerning traveller.
I suppose it would have been a good idea to have a look at a map to know how to get to Uluru. I couldn’t be that hard because after all it was somewhere close to the centre of Australia. All I had to do was basically head west and then make a few corrections and I would probably be somewhere near the right area. I knew it was in the Northern Territory and only a few hours from Alice Springs, so what could go wrong? I guessed that Broken Hill would be the best staging point, as it was located at the extreme western end of New South Wales mid way along the state and then I could just zip across to get to Uluru.
My daughter Alana had done a four week placement at Broken Hill hospital as part of her nursing degree and she drove there in two stages, Sydney to Dubbo and then Dubbo to Broken Hill.
I knew how to get to Dubbo as I had visited it before and headed out of Sydney towards the Blue Mountains where I would go to the central tablelands and then head north via Bathurst and Orange. Because this was to be a bit of a photographic trip I stopped at the Blue Mountains National Park where the Wentworth Falls are located to get some pics. I took my trusty camera or as I call it “the weapon” and took a few desultory images over the Jamison Valley but my heart just wasn’t in it. Tourists from all over the world come to Sydney and make where I stood part of their destination and thing to do; but today I just couldn’t appreciate the view. All I wanted to do was get to the red centre and see the big rock. I left the park and headed back towards the highway which would take me over the mountains and towards Bathurst which is the first major town on the other side of the mountains.
The Jamison valley view from Wentworth Falls.
Bathurst is home to Australia’s most famous racing circuit, Mount Panorama. In non race times it is just a normal road and the public are allowed to drive on it. I suspect the local police know people go up there to have a bit of a quick drive around and pretend they are a famous racing driver but generally the police give it a bit of a wide berth. If they catch you they will book you but they know the tourist value of the place so they tend to leave it alone. I love driving quickly where appropriate and have had Kim and Michael screaming at me to slow down as I drove around that same track pretending I was Fangio Linguini; my favourite fictional race car driver. However on that particular day I drove right past the road which leads to those hallowed grounds. I wasn’t interested. The rock was calling. I drove right past Bathurst without stopping.
I continued my drive towards Orange. Now Orange is a lovely country town and worth visiting. It offers some touristy things to do but just seems to be a nice area. I suspect it would probably be a good place to live in as it has most of the amenities of big city with a hell of a lot less crowding and hassle. As I drove into town I saw a big produce and fruit market and thought I might find a little bit extra to buffer my already well supplied food provisions. I found the prices were fair so I bought a box of passionfruit and five pink lady apples to add to my coconut slice and bottle of water. I absolutely love passionfruit so I was very happy with my purchase. Nothing could stop me now.
I continued driving through town and realised I was hungry. I hadn’t eaten all day and as it was about three in the afternoon I stopped at a take away and bought an Aussie hamburger and a bag of chips. I say Aussie, because it was made the way God intended burgers to be made with bacon, egg, lettuce, tomato, beetroot and fried onion nestled on a lovely thick handmade beef patty on a toasted bun. Pineapple and cheese being optional. Lightly drizzled with BBQ sauce you had a perfect meal right there. The girl at the shop was chatty in a country girl sort of way and we talked about the cold winter weather and the lack of rain as she made my food. The chips were not fries, they were big thickly cut chunks of potatoes and wonderfully crispy. I paid her a reasonable thirteen dollars for my food; thanked her and continued my drive. Like I said the rock was calling so I did not want to waste time eating when I could be moving. I ate as I drove. It is at this point dear reader that I hope you can appreciate the manual dexterity I displayed by multitasking in such a way. Driving a manual car while eating a two handed burger without covering yourself in sauce and juice is a feat only the fully experienced should attempt. I am proud to say that I managed to do it while only dropping the minimum number of sesame seeds on my shirt and not covering the steering wheel with a thick layer of oil and sauce.
Try driving a manual car while eating this.
The chips while excellent, were a little bit too salty and as I headed to the next town, Wellington, on my way to Dubbo I found myself getting thirsty. I was loathe to break into my emergency supply of water as I might need that bottle to live in the desert if I broke down. I think it must be a genetic thing because there is definitely a mix of Arabic in my southern Italian heritage and I generally do not suffer from thirst. I am comfortably able to go for long periods of not drinking without a problem. However in this instance the salt was winning and my mouth was feeling too dry. I ate an excellent apple and several passionfruit and was happy again. Man, those passionfruit were good. In Sydney they were selling for a dollar each. I had just bought a box containing about fifty of them for eight bucks. I just love a bargain and continued with my benevolent thoughts about the town of Orange as I continued my journey.
One of the things that must be addressed whilst on a long drive is the toileting situation. Generally the highways offer a range of stops at various intervals and most of them in N.S.W. provide toilet facilities. However, not all, so if one feels the call of nature then you have to plan your break. Of course being a male the act of doing a number one isn’t too complicated. Find a little space on the side of the highway, some appropriate covering trees and water the dry plants. I guarantee with the big dry the plants were most appreciative for my beneficial contribution. However , in this case, I used a roadside rest stop. I would also have the opportunity to use a bin and discard my rubbish from the car. It would annoy me to fill up the car with garbage. On a trip like this tidiness was important.
I returned from the toilet and went to dispose of my trash, but rather than just throw my leftover chips in the bin I figured I would leave them for some local animal to eat. I took what amounted to a big double hand full and threw them on the ground to the side of the toilet entrance. I then proceeded to do a few leg stretches and squats before getting back into the car to continue the drive. Within a minute or so a black and white feral cat was onto the chips. It was a reasonable size, a little bigger than a regular house cat and approached me and the chips without any fear whatsoever. It grabbed a chip and took it to a nearby bush where it sat underneath the branches and demolished it as fast as I could have. It then came back for another and then another until the chips were gone. I was very surprised because I have never seen cats eating vegetables and also by the fact it was not scared of me in the slightest. I strongly suspect that if I had been a lot smaller I may have been considered as second course. Feral cats have that kind of intensity. Anyway it would not come when I tried to call it and there was nothing cutesy about it; it was just a wild animal having a feed. I said goodbye to the cat but it just looked at me like I was annoying it. As I drove off, feeling somewhat magnanimous, I hoped the cat had an easy water source available because if the chips did to the cat what they did to me then it would soon be very thirsty indeed.
I drove through Wellington and got into cruise mode. Rather than travelling at my normal fast pace (where appropriate) I stayed behind some slowish trucks and travelled at a rather sedate one hundred kilometres per hour. I was going to make it to Dubbo at a reasonable time and there was no need to rush. I intended to stay there overnight and plan the next leg of my adventure. At about six o’clock and after a fairly cruisy five hundred kilometres I arrived at Dubbo. I found a motel and checked in for the night.
I wasn’t hungry after my magnificent burger so stayed in my very ordinary motel room and had a lovely long hot shower. I then broke out my antique i-phone three. It is super old and very limited but still functional for my main requirements which is talk and text. I was able to access Google maps though and this was good because I figured it was time to work out how to get to Uluru. Much to my dismay I soon learned that I couldn’t just zap across from Broken Hill but would have to go to Port Augusta in South Australia first and then head up the Stuart Highway. Apparently they weren’t too keen on building highways through deserts just to make my life easier. That and the fact that absolutely no one lived in that area were the reasons. Most inconsiderate I say. I plotted the roads and wrote then down in a little note book I was carrying. I knew there would be lots of times when I would receive no phone coverage. My phone carrier, Optus, suggests it reaches about ninety five percent of the entire Australian population. I am willing to bet that it only covers fifty percent of the total land area and that included big chunks of where I was intending to travel to and through. Best to write it down, old school style.
Google maps advised me that the driving distance to Broken Hill was a mere seven hundred and fifty eight kilometres. Just a stroll in the park. At this stage it was about ten at night and I was feeling a tired as I had slept very poorly the night before and had just had a bit of a drive to get to Dubbo. There was not much on the T.V. and I soon fell asleep.
It might be an appropriate time to advise that I have never really enjoyed a sleep in a roadside motel because the beds are usually very hard and uncomfortable and the pillows generally have the softness rating of a piece of hardwood cut off a gumtree. I did sleep though for a few hours and woke up at about four in the morning feeling only mildly refreshed.
I treated myself to a couple of cups of magnificent coffee which was provided in the form of International Roast coffee sachets which were enhanced by wonderful little containers of UHT milk. I strongly suspect that you could drink a container of ten year old UHT which you might find in the boot of your car and it would taste exactly the same. Suffice to say that motel owners provide nothing but the best to their patrons. I went outside to enjoy my wonderful coffee with a small cigar which is what I usually have for breakfast and then went in to complete my morning ablutions. I had another quick shower to help wake me up and also because I didn’t want to waste that one centimetre cube of soap the motel owner had so thoughtfully provided me when I checked in. I believe the bath towels were provided in order to give me an exfoliation treatment at no extra expense; because no one could make towels that scratchy by mistake. All told it was a very typical motel experience
It was about five a.m. and I left the key in little box at reception which was there for early birds and continued on my way. I filled up my car at a rather large petrol station and bought another, semi decent coffee. As I expected the price of petrol was a lot more than in Sydney because naturally they claim there is a lot more expense in transport. No point in whining I guess, but they sure as hell know how to gouge out the extra dollars. Anyway, I started off at a leisurely pace because I wanted to wake up a little bit more and also because I wanted to get a feel for the road. This is very important for big drives . You have to get yourself into the groove as it were and attune yourself to the road conditions so that you drive without endangering yourself or other people. As I said I don’t mind driving quickly but I don’t want to kill myself in the process. You can be fast and safe but it is not possible to be fast and safe and stupid.
The Big Dry
Another thing about driving on Australian country roads in the dark is the possibility of hitting wildlife like kangaroos and wombats. It really isn’t a good idea to hit a roo at any time but at highway speeds it can be positively disastrous. So I carried on with my high beams giving me maximum notice as to what was on the side of the roads. After about an hour or so it was daybreak and as the road became better lit I was gradually able to increase my speed.
The media had been talking about how bad the drought was getting and how the farmers were doing it tough. I didn’t think the countryside I was travelling through looked that bad. I mean it wasn’t a dustbowl, the plants I saw all looked pretty brown and crispy but still there was some cover there at least. I soon however realised how bad things actually were and this was rammed into me in a most unpleasant way.
The number of dead animals I saw on the sides of the roads was ridiculous. For some reason it seems as if roads and the verges thereof are always able to produce some sort of plant growth. I think that there must be a condensation factor created which always allows weeds and the like to grow even in the toughest times. This in turn attracts animals to the roads where they forage for food. Not being big city dwellers they are not used to cars or even to getting out of the way for them and they get hit and killed. This is more of a night time phenomenon than daytime because they get blinded by the headlights and either don’t move or jump in the wrong direction. Usually the dispatcher is a road train or other big truck with their very bright headlights travelling at a high speed. This is one of the reasons why you always see big trucks with huge bull bars on the front. As a matter of fact cattle stray from paddocks and wander onto roads too. If a normal sedan hit one of these at speed then the results would be catastrophic for all parties involved.
That being said and getting back to subject, the big dry was having devastating consequences. I have never seen so many dead things in my life and started to feel quite sad for how many animals had lost their life . I seriously think it would be in the thousands. You could tell the difference between animals which were freshly killed because they were always surrounded by a lot of blood whilst the older road kill looked worse, no blood’ but either dry and desiccated or big and bloated.
Life, in its contrarian and pernicious way, always creates some sort of balance. In this case the big winners were the scavengers. The crows were having the time of their life. They didn’t have to hunt. They didn’t have to search. All they had to do was be near the road and there was a huge supply of food for them. There were a crazy amount of crows and they all looked sleek glossy and well fed. As I drove further west I saw my first Wedge Tail eagle and it was feasting on a dead roo. I have never seen these magnificent birds outside of a zoo before and must say that I was rather disappointed that he was not hunting but just being a lazy bastard and scavenging. I actually stopped the car on the side of the road to have a closer look at him. and he was so well fed that he didn’t fly away but sort of jumped to the side away from me in a sluggish food coma state. I suspect he was too heavy to fly because of all the food he had eaten. I was feeling so saddened by the loss of life that I didn’t even pull out the camera to try and get a photo. The context was just too horrible for a picture. Over the course of the drive I saw dead roos, wombats, foxes, emus, a wild pig, a couple of sheep and some rabbits or hares. On the Stuart Highway there were several dead cattle as well.
On a side note though, one type of animal that seemed to be having a good time that wasn’t a scavenger were the goats. They were in abundance and were obviously feral but also seemed to be able to avoid traffic entanglements. While everything else was dying, they were flourishing. They were eating the saltbush, Spinifex and young acacia and loving it. Seeing this; I started thinking (you get plenty of time to think on long drives) about the benefits of keeping goats rather than sheep. I personally like goat meat better than lamb/mutton and it is obvious they are much more suited to the natural Australian environment in terms of being able to survive without improved pastures or copious amounts of water. I know they can overgraze in closed areas but given a big enough range they are very productive and not bad for the environment. Anyway that is my two cent’s worth.
I remember one of the radio hosts talking about a grazier in the Narrabri area who refused to do “pasture improvement” and who insisted on keeping his paddocks in a natural state. The main vegetation type being saltbush and Spinifex. It was said that his carrying capacity was three times that of other local graziers and also that his land had proved to drought proof over a long time period. In my opinion he was very smart because it is usually much more productive and easier to work with nature rather than against it. Nature shapes us more than we shape nature. I couldn’t understand why other people didn’t follow his lead as it was the obvious and smart thing to do. More money and less expense. Seems like the right thing.
Enough of these dark and sad observations it is time to get back to the drive.
The road which one takes to drive to Broken Hill and then Adelaide is the Mitchell Highway, also known as known as the A32. This means it is a major arterial road of some significance as it serves regional areas. Generally it was pretty good and well sign posted so the driving was not very difficult. As soon as you pass a town there is a sign board which gives the distance to the next few towns. In this way you can mark your progress and figure an approximate time to your destination. One thing you can’t be sure about though is what the next town is going to be like.
As I reached each little sign posted town I would have a sense of anticipation only to be pretty disappointed. A petrol station and a pub if you were lucky. If you weren’t lucky then four houses and a bad attitude and also nothing to buy. I adopted the position that it was better to be oversupplied rather than running out and so I generally filled up the car at every available opportunity. God knows how far it was between refills and I certainly didn’t want to take the risk of being stranded. In retrospect I could have halved my stops and still have been Ok but it was much better to be prudent.
I was enjoying the drive. Despite the continuing devastation of a road littered with defunct wildlife I was appreciative of the rolling vistas. Slight hills gave excellent views over the generally flat topography and it was plain to see that under the right weather conditions; that is, with a little rain; this countryside would be wonderful.
For me it was quite noticeable that the drought was not having as much effect on the native flora as it was on improved pastures and introduced plants. There was saltbush, Spinifex and acacia in abundance and they all seemed to be doing well. The further I proceeded towards the red heart of the country the more and more feral goats I began to see. Groups of five and ten were quite common and they appeared to be thriving. They seemed to have the sense to stay off the road and barely registered a glance as I drove past. They were not starving and I think they were able to derive much of their moisture needs from the plants they ate.
In order to keep myself alert I started doing a loose census of the various animals. It wasn’t long before I had passed a hundred goats. I saw a group of three emus and they appeared to be a little different than the ones I had seen before. Generally I have seen emus with grey feathers but this group had black plumage and I wondered if they were perhaps a different sub species or possible still juveniles. I was also up to three Wedgetail eagles and I must say that I do love these birds. They are big and very majestic. I saw one riding the thermals as I approached and all he had to do was keep his wings out to get a free ride. The rising air currents did the rest. There were many hawks and raptors which were easily distinguished from the Wedgetails simply by the size difference; but for all these birds the one common point they had was that they were very well fed.
The road continued and so did I. I just kept on driving and thinking deep thoughts about life, the universe and everything else. Occasionally I would turn on the radio and look for some music to listen to. The offerings on the F.M. band were very sparse and often non existent while the A.M. band was reasonably active but mainly consisted of talkback and Radio National broadcast at several points on the dial by repeater stations. It was hard to find any music and then what I did find catered more to the country music lovers. While I appreciate that country music is OK I find that it can be a downer at times; especially when the singer is fighting through oppression, recession, depression, obsession, aggravation and dancing on a Saturday night. Naturally the main subject on the A.M radio was the drought and the plight of the poor farmers. Every different station was on the same subject and every talker had his or her ideas of how to help the farmers and what we could do to assist.
I actually found it very heart warming because the one takeaway I had from listening to all the drought talk was that Australia still retains its sense of mateship and willingness to help out during hard times. So many people acknowledged the difficulties the farmers and graziers were facing, but more than that they were physically doing their bit to assist. They were organising hay purchases from Victoria, helping with farm chores, taking over a farm for a week so the farmer could have a much needed holiday, advocating against the banks etc etc etc. There was so much spirit and a desire to help each other through this tough time that I really felt that the true intrinsic core of the old Australia was alive and well here in the bush. The cities have lost much of their soul but here in the country you could still find the mateship which created the identity which defines us as Aussies. I left a few dollars at several service stations where money was being collected to assist in charitable works. I had absolutely no fears that the money would not be used for the purpose for which it was collected. It made me feel better to contribute because I couldn’t help these people, I had to get to Uluru.
The countryside started to get a little bit more undulating and there started to be signs of mining activity. I was not too far away from Broken Hill. I started to see big trucks and people wearing hi-vis clothing. The pace change and volume of people and vehicles indicated I was entering an area with a much bigger population. The sign said “Welcome to Broken Hill.” I went around a corner a and saw a hill which looked like it had been broken. I am going to take a fairly big guess but I believe this might have been how Broken Hill received its name.
The city appeared to be thriving. There were plenty of cars and lots of activity in the CBD. The shops had patrons and all appeared as if Broken Hill was doing well. It was founded on lead, zinc and silver and the parent company B.H.P. was one of the world’s largest mining conglomerates. All things considered though, I couldn’t wait not to see it. No time and not really interested. I wasn’t here to take in the sights; I was here because I was going into see a big red rock. I would suggest that Broken Hill was probably a decent place to work in and even for a brief desert holiday but I wasn’t going to spend the time. When I have a objective in mind I tend to get a little bit fixated with that and all else tends to become peripheral noise.
I was pretty happy with my progress at this point because it was a bit before two on the afternoon and I was already here. Including side stops and leg stretching, I had done this section in a reasonable time. I needed to get something to eat though because I hadn’t had anything more than a few passionfruit and an apple since the morning. Although I was hungry there was no way I was going to break out my emergency coconut slice. It had to be saved for emergencies only. Imagine rolling the car and having a broken leg and not being able to move. Days on the roadside in a crumpled heap before anyone noticed. That is when I would break out the emergency coconut slice and not before. I can imagine the ambulance report. The patient would have died but he was sustained through his consumption of an emergency coconut slice which provided him with energy and also proved its capacity to repair broken bones and stop bleeding. The patient’s one comment was that it tasted great.
I drove on a bit and found a shop much to my liking. I am a big fan of bakeries and I saw a shop with a few people eating outside and some going in. This was the place for me because crappy places tend to be deficient in customers. I walked in and was greeted with what can only be described as a malevolent stare by the two less than friendly women standing behind the counter. I get it. I wasn’t a local and I also look a bit of a city slicker but for God’s sake it takes nothing to make a customer feel like he is welcome. I looked at the array of food they offered and elected to purchase a couple of meat pies and yet another bottle of water. She dumped the food in front of me and demanded the princely sum of fifteen dollars. I was somewhat peeved but I couldn’t be bothered with taking issue with the service or the exorbitant cost and just paid my money and walked out. In many ways our view of things is coloured by the experiences and interactions we have and in this case that discourteous service and lack of niceness was enough to give me a less than glowing feeling towards the fair city of Broken Hill. Life is like that.
I went back to my car and stood up while I ate the pies. It was good to stretch my legs and take my time. To be fair though I would have to say that the pies were pretty good. Just the right amount of gravy, pepper and a generous serve of meat which was enhanced by a nice pastry and crispy top. The pies redeemed some of my ill feeling but I was still a bit irritated. I let it go because It was decision time. I could stay in Broken Hill overnight or could elect to push on and go to Port Augusta. After all it was only another four hundred and fifty kilometres away. Not too far. I could do that in about four hours or so.
I finished my pies and hopped in the car and continued my drive. I found where the highway was and filled up the car at a petrol station. I was able to see the evidence was supporting my great theory that everything became more expensive the further you got into the centre of Australia. Off I drove into the wild blue yonder.
Naturally I took a couple of wrong turns before I was on the correct road but there wasn’t too much lost time and I had an enjoyable fast tour around the periphery of the city. I said hello to the hospital where my daughter Alana had done a stint as part of her nursing degree. I liked that place simply because she had been there. I hope they know how lucky they were to have her there because she is very good at her job.
After Broken Hill the A32 changes its name and is known as the Barrier Highway. It leads down to Adelaide which is the closest major city and the capital of South Australia. Before too long I crossed the state border and was in the land of the Crows. The town on the border which services the crossing is the poorly named Cockburn. I know it is infantile and I know it is inappropriate but there is no way I could be happy living in a place which describes burning genitalia in its name.
I drove past Burning Dick and continued on my way. Big open spaces with sparse vegetation and low bushes. Still lots of dead animals on the verge but in less quantities than N.S.W. The road wasn’t bad and I had it in my mind that I would be able to make it to Port Augusta without having to stop. I had at least a five hundred and fifty kilometre range so I should be have been right. Sometimes you have to live on the edge and this would be interesting to see if I could make it or not. I strongly suspected I would have no issues.
As I drove further into South Australia there were signs advising that South Australia had a very strong quarantine policy and they did not want to have fruit and plants brought in. As a major wine growing region, amongst other things, they were paranoid about fruit flies and other infestations. The signs said plants, fruit and vegetables need to be deposited in to the quarantine bins when one arrived at the inspection stations or a fine would apply.
I basically try to do the right thing and obey all the requirements so when I did eventually arrive at the quarantine point it was night time and the inspection station was closed. I know I could have just driven on and the likelihood of me being detected with fruit was quite small however this would be against my nature. They wanted people not to bring in fruit for a reason and so I was happy to comply with their request. There was a bin provided for the purpose of placing in the items which you weren’t allowed to bring and I sadly walked there with my passion fruit and two remaining apples. It is at this point that I can make a statement which I would previously never have believed it is possible to say. One can eat too much passionfruit. I was loathe to simply throw them away and started eating them as quickly as I could.. A bite of the top, open and split; slurp slurp : repeat. All that yummy sweet ,tart, flavoursome goodness. I must have had about a dozen before I stopped. My body had been placed very close to passionfruit overdose and with a sad heart I threw the remaining few in the bin. I took some half hearted bites on an apple and threw them away as well. I wiped down my mouth and then noticed my fingers were a red from ripping the passionfruit shells apart. If I ever became a hippy I could use passionfruit skins to create a pleasing coloured dye. I licked my lips a lot because I didn’t like the lipstick effect it had given me. Onwards I drove into the darkening South Australian desert.
I continued past a range of little towns. Often the anticipation of finally reaching a place which could act as a worthwhile stopping point was savaged of the reality of its existence. For a few hundred kilometres I would be counting down to the next town on the map. For example Shitsville- two hundred and twenty kilometres; Shitsville- one hundred and fifty kilometres; Shitsville- fifty Kilometres and then there would be about ten kilometres to go and I would start to look forward to finally reaching Shitsville only to find Shitsville consisted of four houses and a closed shop with no petrol station. The allocation of the name on the map was often bigger than the actual town, but in a perverse way this sort of added to the adventure and made the little gems I came across that much more worthwhile. A couple of towns with just a few hundred residents actually exuded an air of community which would never be possible in any large gathering of people. They had a few facilities like pub, post office, petrol station and sometimes a school. So small, so provincial. While I could appreciate the potential for closed knit camaraderie I silently thanked whoever I had not been born or lived in such a place. I have zero tolerance for boredom and if you were going to torture me, just restrict me to solitary without anything for diversion and I would fold in mere minutes.
It was about six thirty p.m. and it looked like I had missed turn off at a very nice little town called Petersborough. Apparently I zigged when I should of zagged and because it was dark and I was tired I missed the turn off. There was no phone reception (naturally) and so I couldn’t even figure out where I might possibly be and I despaired of ever reaching Port Augusta. Bravely I continued on trusting to the mercurial Gods to provide me with assistance and there like a shining light I came upon the very small community of Yongala. It consisted of about twenty houses but it had the one necessity above all others ; it had a pub and it looked like it may have actually been open.
I walked into the pub and the ten people inside stopped talking and just gave me the “look”. I guess they probably weren’t used to strangers or somebody as good looking as me or perhaps ever having seen a Mediterranean person before. I toughed it out and walked up to the barmaid and asked for a light beer. There was an audible sigh of relief from the patrons and they went back to their own conversations. I made a point of leaving a small tip and stood at the bar and began to drink the light beer which actually tasted very good. I struck up conversation with two men who appeared to have just walked in from a roo shooting expedition but they were quite friendly and didn’t ask me to fight or arm wrestle. They were actually very nice and seemed impressed when I advised them that I had just driven from Dubbo. It was after all a reasonable distance. We talked about the big dry and road conditions briefly and then I thought it would be a good time to ask if they might be able to direct me to Port Augusta as I appeared to have made a wrong turn and wasn’t sure which way to go.
They consulted with the barmaid who in turn consulted with the other patrons of the pub and soon everyone was involved in the delicate operation of pointing me in the right direction. At the end there was a sixty fourty split as to the best way to go and I deferred to the majority decision. As it turned out I was only about fourty kilometres wrong so I would not lose too much time getting back on the right road but it was certainly going to get very interesting with regards to the fuel situation.
I thanked the fair people of Yongala for their friendly assistance and took my leave. I just knew they would talk about me for some time as the debate raged on as to the best way to get to Port Augusta. They seemed like very decent folk and I hope this enlivened their conversations for some time to come.
I travelled on a back road which could best be described as less travelled and sparse. In the fourty five minutes it took for me to return to the main road I did not see one car. Not one! I drove with a constant fear I would be abducted by aliens, as in the stories this is always the type of road they take you from before putting you into their spaceships and having their wicked sexual way with you. Not that couldn’t cope with a bit of poking and prodding but to be honest I just wanted to get a room, get some food and have a rest.
Now I had to deal with the real possibility I might not be able to get a room because many of the motels close early for late arrivals. I had no idea what Port Augusta had to offer. That being said, I did some quick calculations as to my fuel situation and distance left in the tank versus late arrival and no bed for the night. When all was said and done I took the position that I would probably not run out of fuel and so I put the pedal to the metal. The last hundred and twenty odd kilometres went through some nice winding roads over a bunch of hills without any vestige of street lighting and I did it in just over an hour. Not bad and the adrenaline kept me alert and responsive. Just my kind of driving especially when it had just started to drizzle a bit, slippery roads adding to the fun.
I made it over the hills in one piece and was on a well lit major road and fortunately going in the right direction. The sign said Port Augusta- seven kilometres. Hooray, almost ready for a stop. It was about eighty thirty p.m. and I had just driven one thousand two hundred and fifty kilometres. Not a bad effort when all was considered.
I travelled up the road a bit more and past some large petrol stations which also had associations with fast food stores. You know the kind buy petrol and get a Big Mac and a Krispy Kreme donut. A cholesterol combination made in heaven and definitely not for those wishing to persue a healthy lifestyle. I noted the location and came to a group of four or five motels. I selected one at random and drove in. I was much relieved to see there was still someone in attendance on the reception counter. I was greeted with a piercing gaze which didn’t make me feel all that welcome or that I was a potential valued customer. I enquired as to the availability of a room and was informed there was one available for the rather ambitious tariff of a hundred and thirty five dollars. Tired as I was, I was not prepared to part with such a princely sum without some further enquiry. The lady on the counter seemed to regard me as some sort of monster and appeared offended that I would quibble over the price. The room was magnificent and offered two double beds and two singles as well. I informed her that I would be the only occupant and did she have anything cheaper. She looked into her computer and it seemed as if she grudgingly had another room suddenly become available which only offered a double bed. The tariff for the said room was ninety nine dollars and I agreed that this was the room I wanted. After parting with my money and furnishing my details I was directed to the room in a rather terse manner by the less than friendly “mine host”.
What a crappy room it was. The bathroom had a lovely amount of mould and it was also accompanied by a smell of damp wetness. Oh well it was only for a few hours. At least it had a little sash across the toilet; much the same that beauty contestant winners display: informing me the toilet had been sanitised for my pleasure and comfort. I was willing to bet the cleaner had wiped the toilet down with the last occupants used bath towel and then bung on the sash for my psychological pleasure; but this is the risk one takes when looking for cost effective cheapness. At least they had sachets of international roast and UHT milk. I was set.
I brought in my bag and had a shower. The restorative value of washing off the day’s driving grime were not to be understated. I headed out, back up the road towards the petrol food place I had seen earlier. The first thing I did was give my car a lovely long drink. It was very thirsty indeed and had certainly become very dry after such a long leg. It had performed very well all day without complaint. Good little car!
I parked and then headed in to pay for my fuel and get something to eat. There was a Hungry Jacks, a Wok in a Box and a Krispy Kreme. I elected to have a vegetable and noodle stir fry. It was actually pretty good and I slowly ate as I consulted with Google maps as to the best direction and how to get to Uluru. It was good to be back in range of phone reception. I was a bit dismayed because the distance was thirteen hundred kilometres. It may take more than a day but we would see. All I had to do was find the start of the Stuart Highway and stay on it. A bit after I entered the Northern Territory I just had to hang a left and I would achieve my objective. Ok. I was sorted.
Back at the motel room I put my phone on the charger and by about ten o’clock I was lying in bed. I don’t remember falling asleep which was surprising considering the quality of the mattress and pillows.
I woke at about four a.m. feeling a little bit seedy but generally not too bad. I proceeded to make coffee utilising the sachets of International Roast and packed up. After completing my ablutions I was ready to go and do another big Willie Nelson; you know, “On the road again.” I dropped off the key and took some guilty pleasure in the fact I had opened up two of those little packets of biscuits and never eaten them. There was fifty cents they would never get back and serves the unfriendly proprietor right. Such a petty revenge.
I headed west for about five kilometres and found the turn off for the Stuart Highway. I saw nothing of the fair city of Port Augusta and surmised from the road way that it looked like a pretty nice place. Fishing and farming being the mainstay of the community. Maybe one day I would get to see it but then again maybe not.
It was dark and also the rain which amounted to a light drizzle was still going. I drove at a sedately pace actually and started to get a feel for the road. The road was the beginning of this section of the outback and was typically long and straight with hardly any turns. Untypically, I sat back and cruised while I let several cars and trucks pass me. What had spooked me a little bit was the signage announcing that I was travelling through large cattle grazing properties that were unfenced. It was dark and the last thing I wanted to do was meet a one tonne slab of beef at a quick pace.
On this point I must say I think the South Australian government was rather negligent, my point being this. I was going past several large cattle stations, many of which held the land size of small European countries and none of them were fenced to the roadway. This meant that there was always the possibility of encountering cattle while using the road at a generally fast speed and at the same time they advised the speed limit was one hundred and ten kilometres per hour. Incidentally, cattle had the right of way so I could see conflict there. You could drive quickly but if you hit a cow it was your fault. Of course one must always drive with caution but it seemed a little bit too lax for my liking and so I drove less quickly than I could have.
Gradually the sun came up and I had a much better range of vision so my speed increased in proportion to the visibility. I listened to the radio and all they could talk about was the drought. The local stations however were inordinately pleased with the rain which was accompanying me and I was happy for them. I kept flicking through the stations because I actually wanted to listen to some music but that was a difficult task. It was mainly all talkback and farmer this and drought that. I eventually settled on a station which played classical music. After about ten minutes I couldn’t take it anymore and turned the radio off. Silence was a preferable option and I concentrated on the drive.
About two hours in I came to an area of lightly undulating hills where fantastic views were provided over a very large area. The rain was finally behind me and I started to enjoy the drive again. I was a bit surprised because all of a sudden I was surrounded by an area with many inland lakes. They were either empty or only had a small amount of water but they were very large and must hold considerable capacity when the times were good. One of the dry lakes looked like an ideal spot to achieve a land speed record being totally flat and very big. I was intrigued by this amount of water being located in what was ostensibly a pretty harsh desert.
I drove past the turn off to Woomera which at one stage had been home to the Australian missile and rocket testing range. I believe it was available for tourists to look at but I wasn’t interested; not on this trip. Further up on the same road was Roxby Downs which is a mining location where the world’s biggest single mine for uranium is found. They actually derive more revenue from copper but I bet it would be interesting to watch the place glow in the dark amongst all the mutated two headed animals. Maybe another time.
I had completed about three hundred kilometres and reached a place called Glendambo where I would prudently refill my car and have a coffee. I pulled up at the pumps and was unable to find any ninety eight octane juice, the offering being ninety one. My little car doesn’t like low calorie petrol and I insist on feeding her nothing but the best so I went to the counter to make some further enquiries. No, they didn’t have any of that type of petrol and they said the only place I could probably get it was at Coober Pedy which another three hundred kilometres distant. I was faced between having my car’s motor muck up and running out of petrol on the way. I decided I didn’t want mechanical problems so I elected to drive on. I used the toilet, purchased a coffee and continued on my way.
As I drove I thought about many and varied things. I was taking in the broad sweeping vistas of desert and was quite surprised how many plants were growing. Mile after endless mile (sounds much better than kilometre) and so many plants. Not tall trees but low lying saltbush , Spinifex and acacia mixed in with a few random other plants. If you did the calculations there would be trillions of plants spread over the vast deserts and all of them contained or had some water. Naturally they were adapted to environment and able to survive when many other plants would just give up the ghost but there were was an underlying productivity within the land which is often overlooked. I figured that although I wasn’t driving through a jungle if you got all the plants and figured out what they were doing you would find an incredible amount of oxygen being produced and amazing amount of nutrients tied up in the biosphere. I was happy with reaching this conclusion because it showed me that it is a matter of how you view things in life which is important. Some people saw desert whereas I was beginning to see a vital ecosystem which was neatly adapted to the environment. Not bad musings at all.
As I drove I had the opportunity to see several more Wedgetails and was happy. It was great to observe them doing their thing with the thermal currents; not flapping their wings but just getting a free ride. At some point I had a bit of excitement because it appeared as if one particular Wedgetail took a dislike to my car and decided to teach it a lesson. It dive bombed me while I was travelling at about one hundred and twenty and I had a very brief glimpse of it as it missed my windscreen by centimetres. Wow! Awesome. And it appeared to be so big. I was so lucky not to have hit it and also for the fact that a bird of this size, travelling at that speed would have easily had the capacity to smash my windscreen. I drove on appreciative of the little adrenaline reaction I had just had.
The actual road itself was quite interesting because although it was asphalt there were very long sections which were colured red. It was as if they had grabbed lots of the road side red soil to add to the mix as they were pouring the road. The narrow centre part in most cases, was a grey colour and marked with stripped lines of road markings. To me it was very symbolic and appeared to look like a serpent in the middle of the road. This was very apt of course because Uluru , which forms a very strong part of the local Aboriginal lore was formed by the rainbow serpent. Here I was travelling to Uluru on a road which had its own snake. Again pretty cool. I was enjoying myself and the drive. I liked being able to think as the kilometres peeled away.
I kept doing calculations as to fuel consumption versus distance and figured I would be Ok. Before too long, I came up to the town of Coober Pedy.
Now Coober Pedy is a mining town which is the biggest producer of gem quality opal in the world and which also derives much of its income from tourism. To drive up to the place was to enter another world. So many mounds of dirt and rock which had been dug out of the ground and deposited in heaps near their respective mine. Thousands of them, all white and standing in the sun gave the place an immediate feel of being different and somewhat strange. I would have stopped to get a picture but the sun was not being cooperative and facing directly into my camera lens. I absolutely knew that any picture I took would be mediocre at best so I didn’t bother. I drove up towards the township and went in search of fuel. There were hotels and caravan parks, all of which catered to the passing tourist. Coober Pedy was also famous for its underground hotels and accommodation which allowed many of the locals to beat the blistering summer heat.
I found the servo and proceeded to fill my car with its preferred ninety eight octane fuel. The price was gobsmacking but I couldn’t give my baby anything but the best. The petrol station also served as a grocery store and supplied food and requirements to the local community. I certainly hoped that the miners were making some serious money because simple items like a six hundred ml Coke were almost five dollars. I think I saw a dozen eggs for ten bucks. Anyway I payed my money and then parked the car. I purchased a coffee and a big bottle of water and proceeded back outside where I spent a couple of minutes doing some leg stretching and squats to restore my circulation and get myself prepared for the next section.
As you may have guessed I try to be a bit frugal and absolutely hate spending money on stuff when I don’t need to but the decision to buy water came as a bit of a necessity. I hate paying for stuff which is generally free but there was no way I was going to use the local water and so against my nature though it was, I stumped up for the bottle of H2O. I won’t tell you how much it cost me but I must confess that to this day I still wake up at night screaming in horror before I manage to rock myself back to sleep. Funny thing is, I don’t care how much I pay for beer.
I said goodbye to Coober Pedy and continued on my merry way. The drive continued much as before and I was soon past the mounds of rubble from the opal mining and travelling along at reasonable pace as I headed towards the big red rock. This part of the journey was pretty boring and I didn’t even have any radio reception. Perversely I would have happy to listen to classical music if it had been afforded to me but the only sound I could pick up was static. So I just drove , following the rainbow serpent in the middle of the road and let my mind zone out. It wasn’t a bad thing as I always kept aware of the road and its requirements and also rather relaxing in its own way.
After a few more hours I came up to the Northern Territory border. It was as if one was turning over the page into a new chapter of a book. The land looked different, the soil was redder and there were outcrops of rocks whereas before there had been nothing. The plants looked a bit different and there was a alternate vibe given off by the land. I was impressed just by the appearance if nothing else.
As I passed over the point which delineated the border I was saddened by a sign which stated that the speed limit in the Northern Territory was limited to one hundred and ten kilometres per hour unless otherwise stated. Once upon a time there was no speed limit but now there was. I had missed the golden years. However I took heart soon after because a short way up the road was another speed sign which told me the speed limit was one hundred and thirty. This was a compromise I could live with and as soon as I was out to a reasonable distance I increased my pace to a lively one hundred and fourty kilometres per hour. I reasoned , in line with my driving policy, that it would be most unlikely to get booked for only travelling at ten k over the limit. I forgot to mention that at several points along the Stuart Highway were smashed and crumpled cars. They were left at safe points along the sides of the road but were highly visible and I believe they had been left there intentionally. Whether they were the result of animal collision, sleepy driving or arguments with a road train; they served as stark warnings to other drivers to have their shit together. I must have passed by at least a dozen wrecked cars and they always helped me to concentrate and reinforced the point that highway driving at speed was a serious business.
On the subject of road trains, I would say that in general the road train drivers were a very decent and responsible group of people. Now if you are not sure what a road train is, imagine this. Take the biggest semi trailer you can think of and add another two of them on the back and then you have a road train. If you don’t approach it right or take too long to get past them then the results can be very bad indeed. I was occasionally stunned by the stupidity or skill less gorm of several drivers. A triple road train can be up to fifty five metres length and so one can be next to them for too long whilst passing. I was amazed as I watched idiots try to overtake and take thirty plus second to complete the manoeuvre. Their cars were not powerful enough; in which case they shouldn’t have attempted to overtake, or they were just plain stupid. The inherent danger cannot be overstated.
I had no problems whatsoever and thanked my little turbo charged rocket every time. The way it generally works is this : you would be behind a road train and at some point the driver would put on his right indicator which meant it was OK to pass. I would cautiously have a little peek to confirm and then put down the pedal. I was usually able to get past in just three or four seconds and by the time I passed the big truck I was doing something like one hundred and sixty. Nice , fast and safe. I would toot my horn as a quick thank you and by engaging my hazard light for one flash and then slow down to a more reasonable pace well ahead of the road train. Only one time on the whole trip did I have any problems and that was in a high wind area when the truck drifted into my part of the lane and pushed me onto the soft shoulder. It was a bit iffy but I passed him in short order and was away before I even had time to realize how bloody dangerous a thing it had been. Anyway, no harm, no foul.
It was about four thirty in the afternoon and I was starting to feel a tad peckish. I had not eaten since the night before when I had the noodle stir fry, so I was keen for the next stop. About seventy kilometres after the border I came to the Kulgera Roadhouse. I stopped at the pumps and felt my legs wobble as I got out of the car. Sitting down for a few hours will do that to you and so I walked about like a freshly hatched chicken until some semblance of feeling returned. I filled up and then parked the car.
The roadhouse was a multipurpose kind of affair. It had petrol, a restaurant, accommodation, a take away food bar, grocery supplies, an aboriginal art gallery and a pub. Added to the police station which was next door and you had your own instant outback town. There was a group of aboriginal people who I could reasonable describe as desert dwellers. They had the appearance of being full blooded and it was a pleasure to hear them talking in their own language. They were all bilingual and when they spoke English it was with a strong accent. For some reason this pleased me very much because it became obvious that English was not their first tongue. One of the locals directed me towards the toilets I was looking for and I was able to finally able to walk again. I watched with some interest as a couple of the ladies painted some very traditional looking paintings on thick canvass whilst sitting on the ground. The only concession to modern ease was the fact they were using acrylic paints rather than traditional ochres and fats. It all looked very creative and I hoped they were able to earn a decent income from their endeavours.
Inside the roadhouse I looked at the take away menu and ordered a hamburger with the lot, chips and yet another bottle of water. The tight arse penny pinching bastard inside me cringed but I suffered in silence. I paid about twenty five dollars for my meal and went and had a look at the art being offered for sale which was in the room next to the food area. The art itself was pretty good and I found some very pleasing pieces which were offered at reasonable prices. I found one piece which I liked a lot and uncharacteristically purchased it. It was nice, it was pleasing to the eye, it was authentic and it was very much cheaper than a similar item in Sydney. They rolled it up for me and I enquired if the artist was available as I wanted to have a photograph with her and the painting. Unfortunately she wasn’t here but rather in Alice Springs and so I missed out on that one. All things considered though, I was happy with my acquisition and maybe could use it as a peace offering when I got home again.
The painting I purchased.
The girl at the counter informed me that the travel time to Uluru was about four to five hours. I had already been on the road for about eleven hours but decided to push on. I could always pull over and either sleep or just recharge and have a nap. Either way I was too close to my goal and just wanted to get there. With burger, chips and water in hand I continued on my merry way.
I resorted to my two handed burger and one handed driving technique and was soon sated and refuelled. The chips were really good and the water was wet. All told there was nothing to complain about and after about half an hour I came up to the turn off for Uluru and Kata Tjuta National park which was via the Lasseter Highway. The sign said two hundred and fourty six kilometres. No problems. Famous last words because this was one of the hardest bits of driving I have ever done. It wasn’t the road or conditions but the fact that I was being blinded by the setting sun. As I was heading due west it became more and more of a problem until I remembered I had a pair of sunglasses in the side pocket of the driver’s door. Generally I never wear sunnies but I was very grateful to have them available in this case and after a quick clean I could at least see a bit better. To be honest the only really safe way to deal with the problem of a super bright and blinding sun would have been to pull over and wait until it had dipped below the horizon but that would of delayed me from reaching my objective. Nope, no way. I had to get there and that was it. Not being able to see wasn’t going to delay me! I wish I could have found a pair of welder’s goggles somewhere in the car because that would have made the brightness tolerable. Anyway I battled on and the problem gradually became better.
After about three hours I eventually came up to a turn off which said, Yulara, Ayers Rock Resort. I had arrived. I actually felt like I had achieved something. What I had achieved? I am not sure, however I had just done another very big leg of driving and knocked off thirteen hundred kilometres for the day. My odometer showed a distance of two thousand nine hundred and eighty three kilometres since I had left my front door. Not bad.
As you are aware, dear reader, I had done zero research prior to my departure and so my expectations of hardy travellers stoically camping under adverse living conditions soon evaporated. This place was a very big development which offered many luxury and budget accommodation options and also included a plethora of supporting services such as police, medical centre, grocery store, tour facilities and much, much more. I also soon realised that it was not near the rock and some distance from the entrance to the national park. I was pretty tired and really wanted a room for the night but there was nothing to be had. Even the caravan and camping ground was unable to provide me with a cabin and so it appeared as if I would be sleeping in my car.
It was a Friday night and the place was crawling with tourists. Chinese, Japanese, various Europeans and so many others all walking around and doing it tough in the five star resort. I went to the petrol station and filled up my baby with fuel which cost sixty cents per litre more than back in Sydney. The tyranny of distance and price gouging being evident. I purchased a couple of snacks and yet another bottle of water. This water buying was killing me and I weighed up the options of dying of thirst or drinking the ridiculously overpriced water. In the end I decided to survive but it was a close thing. Five bucks for a bottle of water was a tad irritating, to put it mildly.
I must admit that by this stage I was actually fairly tired and in need of some rest. With no other option I drove until I found a suitable looking spot in a car parking area and proceeded to get into the passenger seat which I lay back and then using the pillows and blanket I had brought; tried to sleep. I dozed for about twenty minutes and then woke up with the realisation that this was not going to work. Too many doors banging open and shut, too many people talking loudly and me feeling quite embarrassed to be sleeping in the car. Perhaps I could do better outside of the resort. I got into the driver’s side again and drove out of the resort and turned left towards the actual National Park and entrance to Uluru.
The sign at the park entrance said no camping and no entry overnight. Its hours of operation during winter were six a.m. until seven thirty p.m. It also advised that the cost of entry was twenty five dollars per person for a three day pass. This at least was something which was a reasonable cost. I turned the car around and started to head back in the direction of the resort and it was at this point that I had my first look at the sky. About five hundred metres up the road I pulled over and turned off my lights. This was when I was smacked in the face by the most amazing and incredible view of the heavens that I have ever seen.
This was the first time in my life where I have been in an area which was totally devoid of any light pollution and to say that I saw millions of stars would be an understatement. The air was so clear and clean, there were no clouds and the moon was hiding away on the other side of the Earth. It was as good as it could possibly be and I was blown away. The nebulae and Magellenic Clouds were so easy to see and such big features. The swirling arm of the galaxy was obvious. Man, I was in my element; this was worth the trip just by itself. At home I always take an interest in the night sky and can identify the main constellations and planets but this was on a totally different level. It actually became a lot harder simply because of the number of stars which were jostling for attention. Whereas at home I might reasonable expect to see maybe two or three hundred stars here they were beyond count. I was very happy.
There was no other option, it was time to break out the camera. I set up the tripod and mounted my camera and proceeded to spend the next hour taking some very credible and pleasing astral photos. I played around with the time settings, focus, aperture and ISO and found the sweet zone. I was really having the time of my life and really appreciative for such an opportunity. Eventually though the spectre of tiredness returned to me and so I decided to find somewhere to park the car and get some much needed rest.
So many stars. The most I have ever seen and such clarity.
A Strange Incident
I found a little cut out from the road on the National Park side and was able to park the car safely. This was good because it was quiet and also away from other people. It was about eleven o’clock and time to recuperate. I again got back into the passenger seat and proceeded to make myself as comfortable as possible in the less than soft seat. No problems, tiredness would negate that issue. I soon drifted off and was comfortably sleeping when I was awoke with a start. Something wasn’t right and I didn’t feel alone.
When I say darkness, it was not totally black outside. The stars were so bright that there was a glow in the sky which at least gave the capacity to be able to see silhouettes and discern the outlines of bushes and the roadway. I looked out in the darkness but could not see anybody around my car. I turned on the headlights and interior lights but there was no one around and yet I had the feeling of presence. It just felt like someone was watching me. I thought to myself that being overly tired my imagination was just playing up and to stop being silly. I tried to go back to sleep but I just couldn’t drift off. Then came the urge to urinate (I hate you water) and I was forced to get out of the car in order to relieve myself.
I proceeded two steps away from the car. The sensation of being watched was very strong and I berated myself for imagining things. I thought that perhaps there was an animal of some sort nearby but it kind of didn’t feel like that. I stomped the ground a couple of times because if there was a snake around I didn’t want to get bitten on the willy. I could imagine the headlines “Man found dead in middle of the Outback with dick in hand.” The last thing I wanted was for my little snake to be bitten by a big snake and to go down cursing the need to drink water which made me have to wee in the middle of the night.
Anyway, I started to relieve myself and right there, right then, a salt bush which was about two foot high started trembling right in front of me. I could see it trembling in the feeble light. It was clear, it was visible and I wasn’t imagining it! There was something hiding in the bush and to the day I die I will have the belief there was something using the bush for cover while it watched me. I know that imagination and being tired can be compelling things which create false perceptions however I know what I felt and I know what I saw and that is all I can say about the matter. Despite thinking that I am brave and pretty tough guy, I was freaked out. What the fuck was that? I jumped back in the car as quickly as I could and locked the door. It was just too weird. I can take on an angry man but I just don’t know how to deal with a weirdness. I felt my heart beating and then realised it was time to put my willy back in my pants.
Ok, so I was relatively safe in the car but there was absolutely no way in the world that I was going to stay where I was and I did a rather contorted shimmy, shake and slide into the driver’s seat where I proceeded to get out of the place as fast as I could. Seriously, I couldn’t get away fast enough. I drove back to the resort. At least I wouldn’t be by myself there.
Back in the resort I found the same parking area and after recomposing myself I again moved pack into the passenger seat. It was getting quite cold and I ended up putting on two jumpers, a jacket and the blanket. I tried not to think about what had just happened up the road and told myself that I was just over reacting to some animal in the bush in the night. One part of my brain said imagination and the other part said no way, you just had a very odd experience. Either way it was time for a sleep. The last thing I remember was looking at the clock on my car and seeing it was one a.m.
I awoke with a start. I refused to think about the odd events of the previous night. I would save up that little episode for later.
It was really very strange because the clock told me it was five thirty in the morning and yet I felt really great. I was refreshed and reenergised. I couldn’t believe how restored I felt after only a few hours sleep but I wasn’t going to argue. Maybe the rock was sending some energy. I felt ready to start the day and take on the world.
I brushed my teeth and threw a some water on my face. I had a bit of a muesli slice from last night and washed it down with a mouthful of water. I was ready to go. It was however exceptionally cold and the thermostat on my car indicated the external air temperature was minus six degrees centigrade. My car was covered in a thick layer of frost and I was forced to use my fingernails to scrape off the ice which had accumulated on my windscreen. Eventually I had created sufficient space to give me a decent view and tried to use the wiper blades. They were stuck and the water sprayers were not working because the water was frozen in the bottle. Still, I had enough of a hole to see through and that was ok.
I wanted to get to the park entrance by six as I hoped to beat the cars which would inevitably queue up so that they could observe sunrise on the rock. When I arrived at the boom gates which gave entry to the park I quite surprised that I was the only person there. I would have expected more cars but I was not unhappy about it. First in and best dressed. The lights were on inside the ranger station and I waited for the attendant to come and take my money but no such thing eventuated. She ignored me. After a couple of minutes I got out of my car and gave her my most ingratiating smile in the hope it would prompt her to take my money and let me in. Eventually a most comely young lady came to the window and gave me a welcoming smile. She opened the window and advised me that the park didn’t open until six a.m. It was at this point that I remembered I had moved into a different time zone on my travels and I was now under central time which was a half an hour later than eastern time. It was just after five thirty. Oh well, better to be early than late.
We chatted for a few minutes and she gave me some good information about photographic vantage points and where to go and the best spots to see things. She was also a photographer and her advice proved to be excellent, so I was happy. She provided me with a map to peruse while she completed her opening procedures and I was able to familiarise myself with the general layout of the park and roads. After another few minutes at about five to six she took my money and wished me a good time. At last, finally, I was going to see Ayers Rock also known as Uluru. I slowly drove down through the darkness and looked for the sign which directed drivers to the sunrise viewing areas and platforms. It took about fifteen minutes to get to the viewing area and I parked the car and proceeded to prepare my photographic equipment while I waited for dawn to arrive.
My Love Affair with Uluru.
Slowly the soft tendrils of daybreak began to make holes in the horizon and by about six thirty there was a gentle glow of light coming from the east. It was freezingly cold and I broke into my camera bag where I keep an emergency beanie for my bald head. Isn’t it amazing that if your head feels warm then the rest of the cold becomes quite tolerable? Looking like the Michelin man with two jumpers, a jacket and my beanie I left the car and headed off for my first viewing of the object of all this effort.
I saw a likely spot to set up my camera and tripod and watched with some anticipation the spectacle of Uluru emerging from the darkness. It was not disappointing at all. It was wonderful and as the details of the rock became clearer with the increasing light I was very suitably impressed. Here I was seeing in person what I had seen on the T.V. and in books many, many times. Nothing could prepare you for the reality of seeing it for yourself and in person . No photo could ever do justice to the actuality of it or place it within the context of its desert setting. The redness of the soil, the interplay of changing colours as the sun came up, The blueness of the sky, the foreground and surrounds of desert plants all came together to make a wonderful and awe inspiring scene. I started capturing images. In the far distance I could see another large outcrop of rocks and I knew from my map that those were the Olgas also known as Kata Tjuta. The only problem with the whole thing was the cold. My fingers were numb and I had difficulty manipulating the dials and buttons on my camera, but it was such a small price to pay for the spectacle I was enjoying. I spoke briefly to some tourists who identified themselves as Polish and it was gratifying to hear them say that even they found it cold. If it was cold for Polish people then it was cold indeed. After about half an hour I moved and made my way to the elevated viewing platform to get some shots from a different angle. It was surprising how a small difference in height gave such a variation in viewpoint. The rock was gorgeous and I had a really good time trying to capture perfect images. When I looked back at the photos upon my return home I found that while this set were ok, they weren’t great. I think for some reason the cold weather had some influence on the outcome. I had stayed at this particular spot for about an hour and a half. I had taken enough shots from this viewpoint. It was time to move. I went in search of food and coffee and made my way to the visitor centre.
My first view and photo of Uluru, Love at first sight.
A sunrise view of Kata Tjuta, formerly known as The Olgas. In this shot they are sixty kilometres distant.
The temperature in the meantime had risen to a positively sultry three degree and it felt much warmer in comparison. I dispensed with the jacket but retained the beanie. After a few minutes I was at the visitor centre and ordered a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs, beans, mushrooms and toast with a big strong coffee. It wasn’t bad at all and I felt much refreshed and eager to go for a walk around the base of the rock. I made some enquiries from a ranger as to the best way to get to the base and he informed me I could drive right there or take a twenty minute walk and be in the same spot. Naturally I elected to drive.
I went around the roundabout, down the road, turned a corner and was hit in the face by Uluru. Nothing could prepare me for that first close view and I remember exclaiming Aloud. “Wow.”
Whereas before I had some sense of perspective as to how big Uluru was it had been from a viewing distance of around two or three kilometres. However up close and personal one could get a true feeling for the immense size the rock actually was. To walk around the base was a trek of ten and a half kilometres and estimated to take about four hours at a leisurely pace. It looked absolutely wonderful and was such a magnificent red colour which set off by the deep orange / red of the surrounding soil. I truly felt amazed and wondered why; when all it was, was a lump of hardened sandstone in the middle of the desert. Don’t know how but this huge piece of stone was calling to me. There was something about it which just grabbed me and wouldn’t let go.
I drove up the north western corner and found a pretty well packed out parking area adjacent to the rock. It was well sorted and offered chairs and a staging area of sorts which supported people as they began their walk around the base. I only took my camera with the twenty four to seventy ml lens as I didn’t want to be carrying around too much heavy stuff. My camera bag was way too heavy from containing two cameras, four lenses, extra batteries, cleaners, manuals and other stuff. The single camera body and one lens would suit my purposes just fine.
I got out of the car and was struck by two things. The first was the fact I was experiencing a feeling of awe which the rock seemed to convey and the second was a very irritated feeling created by the number of idiots who were walking up the sides of Uluru to the top. They were tacitly encouraged by a chain which was strung along the top of metal posts to give hand hold and some safety to those braving the difficult climb up the steep sides. It was not unknown for people to slip and roll down to a horrible end where they died and were then lamented by those who remained. According to quick Google search I just did, at least thirty seven people have died while climbing the rock and although all climbing is supposed to be stopped from sometime next year. I can’t understand why there is such procrastination and delay.
People climbing the rock. So disrespectful to the Aboriginal beliefs.
To the Aboriginal people, Uluru is a very sacred place and so much more than just a spot where they lived whilst on their nomadic wanderings. It is deeply part of their folklore and spirituality and the degree of violation they feel from having people walk up such a sacred location is huge. I felt sorry for the locals when they had to endure such insult and hoped they would forgive our trespass sometime in the future. One thing that never surprises me is depth and callousness of people and the lack of empathy they show for others’ beliefs. I hoped nobody would get hurt while I was there but I wouldn’t overly upset if they did. Serves them right.
The signage at the starting point advised to take lots of water, even in winter, as dehydration was a real issue. I laughed and scoffed. Water! I’ll give you water. I wasn’t carrying anything more than I had to. I hardly think dying of thirst represented a big enough motive for me to carry water. If they advised to carry beer then that would have been a different matter and I would of gladly complied. No way was I going to carry water!
I elected to start my walk in an anti clockwise direction, which seemed to be the way most other people were doing it as well and very happily began walking along a well marked and level walkway which was thoughtfully provided by the National Parks service. It also cordoned off the surrounding bushland from entry in order to prevent unnecessary damage to the fragile environment.
The pathway around the base.
It is hard to explain the feeling that the rock gave but it was as if it was a living being. It felt like it was aware of my presence and I was connected to it in some way. It was old, venerable and had much patience, resilience and power. It exuded a focus and gravity which just let you know it was the focal point for the whole Earth. It was, it is and will be. To say I was having a spiritual experience is less than what I was feeling. I could appreciate its existence and somehow knew that it drew from the power of the Earth. I have never experienced such a feeling . As I started on my walk I could smell a distant and underlying smell of campfires which had ingrained themselves into the land over the last fourty thousand years. Just imagine how many small fires have been used to cook food, to provide warmth and to provide light over those eons. It was pretty subtle but I could smell it. The host of campfires from the past were as much a part of Uluru as the sandstone which comprised it.
I was very happily snapping away and taking great pains to look at the little nooks and crannies which were dotted all around the base. I felt pleased with myself because I knew I was seeing more than the other people who were rushing around in a simple effort to circumnavigate the base in as quick a time as possible. The whole place was full of little caves and holes and I would frequently stop and look inside to and imagine the number of times people had sheltered in that very same spot. One little cave looked only big enough to shelter two people at the most and when I looked inside it I could see the black stains of fire at the entrance and upon closer inspection found a snake chiselled or scratched into the wall. Nobody else saw it but me. They were too busy rushing around. I was rapt. I was connected.
A little cave showing old fire marks. It is not very clear with the resolution in this image but there is a snake scratched into the wall.
To celebrate my discovery of the snake engraving or technically; the petroglyth, I grabbed a stick and when there was nobody around I would quickly draw a snake into the red earth. It was my offering to the rainbow serpent and also because I was wandering if any of the passing bodies would stop briefly to have a think about the relevance. I have always liked street art and in this case, red earth art was a suitable and non invasive form of expression. Along the way I must have drawn maybe ten of them, some in obvious locations and others a little off the beaten track. For some reason I had a feeling that the rock approved and liked the art and what it meant. So bloody weird and so religious. It is very hard to describe feelings and emotions on paper. All I can say is that you had to be there, you had to have your mind open and also not be cut off from your inner self.
I had been walking for a while and had soon taken off another jumper and wrapped it around my waist. When the sun hit you it was instantly warm and when the shadow was on you it was instantly cold. There was no middle ground.
I came up to an area which contained a rather large rock pool which contained a lot of water and a nearby very decently sized rock ledge and overhang. There was no disputing that this was the focal point for every Aboriginal family which had ever used Uluru. Water and shelter, the first two essential ingredients for survival. This was the spot. Uluru Central. I was very happy to find the rock overhang had been the subject of many ongoing paintings and murals over the years and I spent time taking photos and imagining the stories they represented and how they had been told. Dinner done, night setting and the family all gathered around. Time to break out the entertainment and have the old people tell the youngsters the tales of the Dreamtime and the legends of creation. I can just imagine it.
The rock overhang with an example of rock art.
A Problem Rears its Ugly Head.
As I walked along my left hip began to give out. I have been suffering from a sore hip for a while at home but after a continued walk with a fair bit of included bending and crouching I really began to suffer. The further I walked the more the pain intensified until I hit the point where I could not walk without great difficulty. I had to stop and rest and let the pain reduce until I could begin to walk again. I was really pissed off because I was suddenly in a situation where it was not viable for me to continue. I rested. I hobbled on. I rested . I hobbled on. I eventually came up to a little noticeboard which showed me my location on my walk around the base and I was somewhat dismayed to discover that I was not quite half way around. I was really hurting and the pain was entering very strong levels. It was decision time and I faced up to the reality versus the desire. There was no way I was going to be able to make it all the way around the base and so sadly, reluctantly, I turned back.
The walk back to my starting point was quite an ordeal but I battled on. I walked a bit then rested. The pain subsided slightly and then I would walk back a bit more and then have to stop and rest. It was very slow going but each stop brought an opportunity to look at the rock and appreciate the view. At least I was able to continue taking photos and had time to compose some nice shots. I slowly proceeded along dragging my left leg with me.
I came upon a group of people who were gathered together and went to have a look at what they were up to. They were looking at an Aboriginal lady who was showing them artefacts and paintings. It was evident she didn’t speak English and her words were being translated by a young lady who appeared to be part Aboriginal and obviously a tour guide. As I approached the group I moved towards a front and the Aboriginal lady just stopped mid sentence and fixed me with a piercing stare. Man, her eyes went straight through me and after about thirty seconds looking at me she went back to explaining about the objects she had with her and their relevance to the locals. The tour guide looked at me in a sort of funny way and then continued with her translations and explanations to the rest of the group.
When the little show had finished I took the opportunity to ask the tour guide if she would ask the Aboriginal lady a question for me. Did the local people have any stories or legends of little people in the bush? Were there any legends about little devils? I was still carrying the questions from last night and wanted to know if she could shed some light on my experience. The Aboriginal lady again gave me a very piercing stare and then simply walked away. It was as if she didn’t want to acknowledge anything or talk about it. She just walked off. The guide however provided a little bit more information. She said it was funny that I should mention it because only last week two young boys about six years old or so told her a story where they had been playing by themselves and had to wrestle off a little man who was quite nasty to them. He was a little Aboriginal man and had started to become pretty vicious and began to hurt them. They began to scream for help and he disappeared. I had never heard of or imagined such things so I found it very interesting that I would spontaneously imagine a piece of folklore that others had already experienced. No conclusions or wild imaginings, I let it go because it was too odd to think about.
Slowly, slowly, step by step I made my way back to the car. It was painful and slow. I was totally out of action and by the time I got back to the car and I was spent.
I sat on the seats while I recovered some use of my hip and watched the people walk up to the top of Uluru. After about twenty minutes I got back into my car and drove to the visitors’ centre. I needed a coffee and something to eat. I needed to chill to while I planned my next step. I had a sandwich and a coffee and looked at my photos. I was happy because there were some good pics amongst the ordinary ones.
I then got up to move off to my car and stopped on the way at the indigenous art gallery. The pictures were all pretty good and I was especially pleased to see that a painting that was very similar to the one I had purchased was priced at seven hundred dollars. Score! I had only paid eighty bucks for mine so I was happy. I love value shopping.
My hip was still very sore and the prospect of walking any distance was quite out of the question so I did the next best thing and got back in the car. At least I could drive around the perimeter and get to see other vantage points which I had missed through not completing the walk around. It didn’t really matter that much because no matter what angle you looked at it and from whatever distance it was; the view was still great. I took full advantage of being able to position myself in relation to the sun and took a set of photos which proved to be pretty good. I had placed a polarising filter over my lens which had the effect of cutting out all the ultra violet light and reducing the glare. The results were excellent and it really made the reds in the rocks and soil stand out while making the deep blue of the sky very apparent. When I did get home and eventually process my images I found a few which were as good as any of Uluru that I have ever seen. I was very content with the results and that was the main thing.
Now the question was what to do next. Would I go sixty kilometres to Kata Tjuta? Would I stay here and try to explore the rock further? What should I do?
The answer came to me with a blinding honesty. I knew what I should do and that was to go home. As ridiculous as it was and after all that driving I wanted to go home and see my family. I knew they were missing me and it was best to get back home and it became obvious that was all I wanted. And so; after driving all that distance and after having spent less than a day looking at that big beautiful thing, I turned around and headed off back towards the highway. For the moment I was content because I had come to know and understand Uluru in a very short time frame and also knew that I would return to explore her again in more depth and at my leisure. Today was merely a brief reconnaissance which would set the stage for future exploration. The sun was starting to go down as it approached late afternoon and I took the opportunity to take a few images of the western end and then departed.
Thanks Uluru, I love you. I will be back.
A view of the western end.
A view of the eastern end.
The Return Trip
The return trip was no less crazy than the journey to get to Uluru. There was a bit less hassle and a feeling of achievement for having gotten there in one piece but now all I wanted to do was get home.
At least I was heading east on the Lasseter Highway and I didn’t have to deal with having a blindingly bright sun in my eyes. This was good and made the drive that much safer and easier. I had figured that if I could make it back to the Kulgera Roadhouse then that would have been a very productive day indeed. The girl at the roadhouse had originally advised me that the trip to Uluru was about the four to five hour mark and I managed to achieve that in a little over two and a half hours. Not bad.
I filled up the car and parked it. The local Aborigines had lit a big fire in a cut out fourty four gallon drum and were hanging around it and having a few beers. It was obviously not a dry community but nobody looked or acted drunk. Good for them.
I went to the bar and ordered myself a light beer. I was kind of celebrating and allowed myself the one beer as a toast to that mighty rock in the middle of the desert. I chatted to the bartender who was an English backpacker and we swapped a few stories about different things. Imagine coming all the way to Australia for a backpacking holiday and ending up in the middle of nowhere in the outback to work in a pub. That would certainly produce some good conversations when he eventually made it back home and he would definitely have some tales to tell. I fought off the temptation to have another beer and went to the food counter to get a bite to eat. After some careful consideration I naturally settled on a burger with the lot. There was no better food for the traveller. If Burke and Wills had a burger with the lot they would never of perished of starvation in the middle of the Australian desert. The great Aussie hamburger with the lot, the stuff of legends and food of the Gods. My gratitude to the first people who ever put that magnificent combination together. You should have received the Nobel prize for service to cooking. Good Job!
I was now faced with another decision. I could elect to get an incredibly over priced room and get refreshed for the next day or I could drive on. I considered my position and weighed it up. Firstly it had already been a very long day and I was pretty tired. I really had not had very much sleep in the last few days and my hip was still giving me some grief. Opposed to this was the fact that I really wanted to get home but it would be with some night time driving, which as we know was inherently dangerous. Also there would be another uncomfortable sleep in the car. I thought about it and naturally I elected to drive on. I am like that. When I have a objective in mind I become rather focussed and everything else becomes noise which gets in the way of my reaching my goal. I wasn’t going to stop for the moment, not when I could save hours and get further towards my current target of getting home.
I returned to my loving car and again started driving. It had just turned to night and I adopted the slower is better approach. Rather than driving at the limit of one hundred and ten I actually set the cruise control to one hundred and concentrated on the roadway and the verges. No animal impacts for me. The other good thing was that because it was a Saturday night the road traffic was extremely light. To keep myself alert and for interest I counted the cars coming from the opposite direction over time. There was one stretch when I counted only two cars in a half hour period. You must remember that this was the main nation highway which accounted for the majority of all traffic heading to the red centre, Alice Springs and Darwin. This just went to reinforce the fact that our country is huge and our population is so small in relation to the size of the country.
One of the oddities in driving on very, very long straight and flat roads is the difficulty in judging distances. This was demonstrated to me many times by the use of high beam headlights. The usual thing is for people to drive on the country roads with their high beams on and when another car is approaching from the opposite direction they dip their lights. You don’t want to blind other drivers and you don’t want to be blinded. Simple, safe, easy. Generally as soon as you see the other car and as soon as your headlights are pointing at each other you dim your lights. On a couple of occasions I would dim my lights and it would be two minutes before the other car and myself would pass each other. If one were to assume a reasonable speed of each car doing one hundred then that would give a closing speed of two hundred kilometres per hour. If it took about two minutes to pass each other then the approximate distance when I first dipped my headlights would be about seven kilometres apart. It is hard to believe that we would be so far apart because the perceived distance would look so much closer. This just showed that distances in the night were very hard to judge and one could never afford to be complacent. I might have laboured the point but in the end highway driving, especially at night, is no joke.
Anyway I had battled on and it was now about ten thirty p.m. I was four hundred kilometres closer to home than if I had wimped out but in all honesty I was ready to sleep. To travel any further would be stupid and it was time to get some rest. I travelled down the road a bit and found a large rest stop on the side of the road. That was it. It would do for the night. I parked as far away from the other occupants as I could and made myself ready to get some sleep. I brushed my teeth, prepared the passenger seat and got the blanket and pillows ready. The final thing I had to do was urinate. It was dark but there was still enough light for me to be able to make out the surrounds and bushes. I artfully opened the car door to afford some privacy and turned on the interior lights of the car to give me a bit more view over my surroundings. After the strange incident with the trembling bush from the previous night I was not prepared to be spooked again. I surveyed the area, I unzipped, did my thing, rezipped and jumped back in the car and locked the doors. I was so tired I couldn’t even fully appreciate the beautiful spectacle of the intensely bright and clear starry night as it filled up the entire windscreen. I was asleep very quickly.
I woke at about five in the morning. It was pitch black and the stars were still shining in all their glory. Again, despite the discomfort of my sleeping position I awoke feeling incredibly refreshed. Yes I was still a little tired but I was feeling alert and ready to attack the road again. I guarantee I would not have felt this good if I had slept in a motel because as I said previously their beds and pillows are shit and also because you can never really relax in strange surroundings. I brushed my teeth again, tidied the car a little bit and recommenced my journey.
Again, I elected to go slower than allowed and wanted to wait for more light and to be better in tune with the driving environment. All was going very well when a hare (or rabbit) saved my life.
It happened when I had been on the road for about half an hour and suddenly a hare ran across the road right in front of me. At almost the same time but a further fifty metres up the road a big cow also crossed the road in the same direction. Why the hare saved my life was because it was a white colour and very visible against the road. This gave me time and warning to apply the brakes and let it pass. The cow on the other hand was coloured black and even in the headlights it was difficult to see. If I had not slowed down for the hare I am sure that I would never have seen the cow in time to avoid hitting it. Therefore the hare saved my life and I know that I had been very, very lucky. This was a good result and saved me from having to utilise my emergency coconut slice. Thanks spirit of Uluru.
I continued driving at a rather sedate pace and soon the sun was up and the road was much easier to see. I increased my speed and drove until I came back to the township of Coober Pedy. It was seven a.m. and I wanted to refuel and I wanted coffee.
I did my customary leg stretches and squats and got the blood flowing. I had coffee and also another bottle of water. I was ready to go on the next leg and with such elegant provisions I hit the road again. Next stop Port Augusta.
The distance from Coober Pedy to Port Augusta is five hundred and fifty kilometres which was again pushing the outer envelope for my car’s range. I concentrated on driving in a steady manner without too much in the way of rapid acceleration and was rewarded by getting really excellent fuel returns. My little rocket is only a four cylinder but it generally drinks fuel like a V8. On this particular leg I was seeing fuel use of less than seven litres per one hundred kilometres. I suspect I will probably never see such admirable efficiency again but it showed what was possible. The trip was the same as the journey to Uluru but only in reverse and so there was not too much difference and not much extra to talk about. The same rolling hills and the same wonderful views. The same realisation that this country is absolutely huge and absolutely worth seeing in all its magnificence.
I arrived At Port Augusta at about one o’clock and stopped at a large petrol station. I did my customary wobbly legs chicken dance as blood flowed to my lower limbs. I had been sitting for over five hours and it took a bit of time to get back some feeling in my legs. I filled up the car and parked on the side. I grabbed a coffee and went to consult my phone. At last I was back in reception and could consult with Google maps as to the best way to get home. I wanted to go via Mildura and southern N.S.W. but I didn’t have a clue as which way to go or what roads to take. The one thing I knew for sure was that I definitely didn’t want to go back via Broken Hill. Been there, done that. Not overly impressed.
After spending a bit of time and study I figured the best way was to head south from Port Augusta to Port Pirie and then hang a left and drive to Renmark and then towards Mildura in the north eastern corner of Victoria. After that I was looking for Wagga Wagga and then Goulburn and finally back home in Sydney. I had already been driving for almost eight hours and there was no point in delaying. My circulation was back, I had a coffee, my car was refuelled. It was time to push on.
I headed off towards Port Pirie and said goodbye to Port Augusta without really having seen anything of it. Another time maybe. The road to Port Pirie was pretty good and I maintained a reasonable speed while I headed south. I certainly hoped they had some decent sign posts because I only had a general sense of where I was going or what roads I was going to take. After about an half an hour I saw a sign which advised Sydney with a big left hand arrow. I duly turned left and was fortunate enough to meet and use the finest driving road I have ever been lucky enough to drive on in Australia. There are probably better roads in the world but this was simply wonderful. Ladies and Gentlemen it is my pleasure to introduce you to Horrocks Pass Road.
Crossing over the Flinders Ranges and through some absolutely beautiful countryside was this divine piece of driving road. Nice corners with great cambers, ups and downs with some great length straights and a very good road surface. It was driving perfection. There weren’t too many cars using it and I always had the opportunity to see what was coming. I cannot overly state what a wonderful piece of road this was and how much I enjoyed driving on it. It was a challenge but not overly dangerous. The road was perfect for my Imprezza and allowed it to use its all wheel drive and turbo based acceleration to its best potential. I have never, ever smiled more from a single driving experience than I did on that day. I have driven on racetracks, autostradas in Italy, my beloved Royal National Park and many other good places but this beat them all hands down. I must say to you that Fangio Linguini had never been happier.
My Subaru, WRX. Such a good little car. Go you good thing. XXX
Anyway, after about twenty five kilometres I came up to the little town of Wilmington where it presumably joined the road which would take me back to Sydney. That was all good except for one thing and that was when I came up to the intersection and the directing sign it said “Sydney via Broken Hill.” That was not good because I was not going to go that way again. I couldn’t face all that devastation and poor dead animals. Also I wanted to see new and different countryside. There was no other choice; I had to turn around. What a great predicament to be in. I was so happy because I got to drive that section of road again and this time I had a bit of a feeling for the road and the layout. I went for it and really attacked the road in an aggressive manner (without being stupid about it) and had a really quick challenging drive. When I finally returned to the highway where I had started from, it was with a huge smile on my face. I felt energised, awake and totally alert. Every vestige of tiredness was gone and I was ready to continue with my drive on roads more travelled. Fangio Linguini would be happy to return to South Australia one day just for the purpose of driving on that one piece of road.
Back on the highway and still smiling I travelled for a further fourty minutes or so until a sign advised that here was the turn off for Sydney and Renmark. Perfect, I was where I needed to be and going in the right direction. It was about was about three in the afternoon and the sign advised that Renmark was about three hundred kilometres from my position. Easy peasy. I was going to stay at a motel overnight and have a good rest. Then the next day I would drive all day if I had to because I wanted to be home by dinnertime. That was my goal and I wanted to see if I could do it.
The drive to Renmark was not overly taxing and I must say that the hinterland I was travelling through was absolutely beautiful. There were a number of rustic stone cottages that were decaying away and evidence of the Cornish settlers who had migrated to this area. It was very lovely. Lush and green with no vestige of any drought. I found myself warmly disposed towards the fair state of South Australia. I had enjoyed Adelaide and I found the people to be warm and welcoming when I went there in June. The countryside ranged from lush farmland to forbidding deserts and offered a great range of spectacular scenery. Let us not forget the bestest driving road ever. All up I think that South Oz is a really good place and worthy of a visit at any time.
I made it to the very lovely town of Renmark at about five thirty p.m. It is an important agricultural centre situated on the Murray River. If you have ever eaten a sultana or raisins in Australia, oranges or nuts grown locally then the odds are they came from this neck of the woods. From a quick drive through it was easy to see that this was an excellent, well managed and prosperous town. It was neat and there was an air of civic pride about it. From what I could see it was a great place to live in. It all looked very inviting.
I had decided to stop driving early and was going to stick to my plan. I had driven about twelve hundred klicks and felt that was enough for one day. I drove past three or four motels before turning into a place called “Citrus Grove.” There was no other reason for choosing this particular motel apart from the fact that I liked its name. I pulled up out front and walked to the reception counter where a lady was still in attendance. I asked if she had a room available and if so how much was it. She advised me the price was one hundred and five dollars. After a bit of to and froing I bargained her down to ninety five dollars and was content. I think the turning point was when I informed her that I would not be using any of the provided shampoo. She looked at my bald head and smiled. My tariff negotiating skills were definitely improving and I would therefore have money to spend on other purchases such as stupidly overpriced water for example. Such is the value of negotiation.
I asked her if there was anywhere I might be able to get a decent dinner which did not involve take away food and she gave me a couple of options including the local workers club which was just a short distance down the road. The food was very good and the prices reasonable. That was two ticks and good enough for me.
I went into the allocated room and found it to be very neat, clean and well appointed. I was even more surprised to find a little bottle of fresh milk in the fridge rather than the ubiquitous UHT containers. Things were definitely on the up. The very first thing I did was have wonderfully long and hot shower. I had accumulated two days of grime and dust and it was a pleasure to experience that wonderful feeling which comes from being clean again. I actually used up one of my two provided square centimetre cakes of soap. I had a shave which made me feel even better and with fresh clothes I was ready to eat. I hadn’t eaten anything all day and was ready to get something wholesome, hearty and not cooked on a hotplate.
I found the club, which was called the Renmark Club, quite easily. It was right on the banks of the Murray river and provided a nice view over the water. While the name was uninventive the menu was creative and I was offered a range of interesting and varied dishes. In the end I decided on the slow cooked beef ribs in reduced wine sauce. The meal price also included access to the salad bar and bread rolls with butter. I happily nibbled on the salad while I waited for my meal and when it eventually arrived at my table I was very impressed. The portion was generous and the taste was excellent, while the meat simply fell away from the bone and melted in my mouth. I couldn’t finish all the creamy mash potatoes which were on the plate and at the end I had that wonderful feeling of having enjoyed a terrific feed and of having eaten just a little bit too much. I decided against any dessert because I honestly didn’t think that I could fit it in. Renmark was proving itself to be a little gem.
I drove back to the motel room and was soon in bed. I was probably asleep sometime by about ten o’clock and didn’t wake up till five. I had slept deeply and unusually well. Seven hours in one go was approaching a record for me. I must have needed it.
I was back on the road by five thirty and stopped at a petrol station for fuel and coffee. I had a brief chat with the young man behind the counter and received directions for the location of the turnoff to Mildura. I received another warning about the number of kangaroos on the road and was cautioned to be careful. No problems. He wished me a good drive. After the hare and cow incident I was on extra vigilance. I departed after giving the windscreen a quick wash to remove a thick layer of dust and creamed insects. Country people can be so nice and it was very refreshing to be made to feel welcome and valued by such a simple transaction as a petrol purchase. Good man.
The turn off was easy to find and I was soon crossing over a bridge which spanned the mighty Murray River. Although it wasn’t the biggest river in the world it was one of the longest. The whole area in and around Renmark is known as Riverland because of its association with the Murray. The farming was made viable because of the irrigation made possible by its water flow. I knew from general talk that debate had raged for many years over the impasse between the farmers who drew water from the flow and the conservationists who wanted to see less useage and a bigger natural flow of water maintained. Australia is always so dry and water is of such value. No water no life. I said goodbye to South Australia as I crossed the border into Victoria.
The drive to Mildura was an easy one hundred and fourty kilometres and I took my time as day began to break making sure I didn’t have any animal entanglements. Mildura is located in the north western corner of the state and is another beneficiary of the mighty Murray as it continues its meandering journey to the sea. To all intents and purposes Renmark and Mildura were very similar in makeup with Mildura being a much larger affair and an important regional centre. I found though that I didn’t feel the same degree of attraction to Mildura that I felt for Renmark. While I am sure it was just a matter of getting to know the place I found I was very happy to just drive past and continue my journey.
My one concession was to stop at a bakery where I purchased another coffee and an apple scroll. I don’t know why I bought the scroll because I was still feeling over fed from the large meal I had enjoyed at Club Renmark. Anyway no problems, I might feel like it later at some point through the day. I carried on and was soon back in N.S.W. Home territory again. I had never been around this part of the world but at least it was my state and therefore I was on home ground. Always an advantage.
I continued on my merry way on was soon heading towards Wagga. The countryside was really flat and basically pretty boring. Vast open plains which were devoted to agriculture on a huge scale. I was making good time and put the turbo acceleration to use as I overtook huge trucks which were in abundance. It became apparent that one of the main crops in this area was cotton. The sides of the roads were littered with a never ending number of cotton balls which gave a snowlike appearance to the landscape Little white puffs of fluff caught on the fences and in the weeds . The cotton seemed to go on forever and while it was obvious that the crop had been harvested the residue lingered on.
Fighting the effects of too much coffee I was forced to find a roadside stop where I could do my thing. I pulled over at the first available spot and was surprised to find I had stumbled on a really pretty location right next to an unexpected body of water called Yanga Lake. Looking at Google maps I can see it is an area of about five square kilometres and a most attractive little oasis. If I hadn’t stopped for a quick break I would never have seen it. Sometimes you can be lucky.
I got out of the car and did my usual chicken dance as blood returned to my legs when a nice looking dog bounded up towards me. There is always the possibility that a dog you don’t know is coming to rip your throat out so I adopt the take control approach. As he ran towards me I called out “Good boy” and crouched down for him to come closer. He gave the back of my hand a quick sniff and within seconds we were best friends. I gave him a pat and some rubs near the hind quarters and he responded with an enthusiastic wagging of the tail. If only it were that easy to make friends with humans life would be a whole lot better.
I came out of the toilets and my new friend was back with his owner who looked like he was having an extended stay. The bloke was set up with a caravan, annexe out and fishing rods at the ready. He looked at me and waved a friendly hello, so I walked over and asked him about the lake. He informed me that it was pretty shallow and he had to walk out a long way. There were a few fish but nothing very big. He pointed to a couple of fish which appeared to be some type of carp.
This man was definitely made of tougher stuff than me because the temperature was just starting to edge over ten degrees, so I can only imagine how cold that water must have been. I patted the dog again and although the bloke looked like he was not very well off financially, his dog was well looked after and appeared to be in good shape. If people look after their animals then it would seem as if they are pretty decent. The man looked at me a bit sheepishly and then seemed to muster up some courage. He asked politely if I might be able to give him a smoke. I said they were back in the car and I would get one for him. I got back into the car and drove back over to him. His eyes lit up with happiness when I told him that I only little cigars and would he be ok with that. I passed him over one and then on impulse offered him the apple scroll I had bought in Mildura. He was very appreciative and it made me feel good to show him a little kindness. Sometimes it is nice to be nice.
I hit the road again and continued driving through the huge flat plains. I was listening to the radio and there was some happy talk that large parts of the drought stricken areas had received a good downpour of rain. Not drought breaking but enough to give a little bit of hope to the stricken farmer. If I knew the rain was going to follow me on my travels I would have made a point of driving slower and over more places. I didn’t realise I had the potential to be a rain god.
The drive was ok as far as drives go but there was nothing which was special or too exciting. At this point I was focussed on getting home and drove with a singular determination to make that happen. Drive, concentrate, drive, concentrate. that was the mantra and that was what I continued to do. I reached and passed the town of Hay and continued until I came to the major town of Wagga Wagga. Located alongside the Murrumbidgee river, Wagga was a thriving city with some seventy thousand inhabitants. It appeared to be a nice place and had a busy CBD. I took note as I drove past it and eventually made my way out to the main highway which led back to Sydney. Only four hundred and fifty kilometres to go.
Now we were talking and I was back on a perfect six lane highway that made the drive wonderfully easy and quick. I drove happily towards my goal and after a while stopped for petrol at a huge roadside petrol and fast food conglomerate. I did what I hoped was my last dead legs chicken dance and filled up and then went in search of coffee. It was best to keep myself alert.
The girl at the coffee counter was best described as being a shitty little bitch and what she lacked in friendliness she made up with very poor customer service skills. If this had been a business which relied on repeat trade then I can guarantee you that the business would have soon gone the way of the Dodo.
I politely asked for small flat white on light milk. She affixed me with a stare which let me know I was annoying her and that this was not something which she wanted to be doing in life. She asked me for my name in an extremely terse manner and I replied giving her my alter ego. “Fangio Linguini”. The frown said it all.
She then had the temerity to ask for five dollars and fourty five cents. I told her that I only wanted a small coffee and she replied that they only had medium. WTF? I didn’t bother to advise her that having a medium would necessitate them offering three sizes. I was incensed by the price and more so by the disgusting service. Then and there I decided to buy the place just so I could fire her. Using my best Italian accent and raising my voice I said “Fangio ,he no pay!” and walked out. Fuck her and her coffee!
The kilometres peeled off and after too long I was passing Goulburn and only two hundred klicks from home. I enjoyed the drive and had fun playing tag with various drivers as we all tried to get ahead of one another. Eventually I came to the outskirts of Sydney and the crazy amount of heavy traffic one has to deal with at peak hour. I was getting close to home and was very keen to see Kim and Michael. I actually missed them very much and was looking forward to being with them again. I had only been away for six days but it seemed so much longer.
Then after a day’s drive of over eleven hundred kilometres I found myself back Engadine. I passed the corner shops and turned the corner and there I was back at home. It was good and I was happy. Kim came out to meet me. We Hugged and kissed.
“Don’t ever do that to me again.” she said simply.
It had been an incredible trip which seemed so much longer than the actual six days it entailed. I had driven distances which would have made any interstate truck driver cry and absolutely loved it. By the time I returned home my trip meter showed five thousand and nine hundred kilometres. A very respectful distance in a very short time frame.
I had seen huge panoramas and fell in love with a rock. I had travelled through three different states and seen many things which had never seen before. And even now, almost two weeks after I returned from that big adventure I find myself thinking over different aspects of where I had been and what I had done. In many ways it was a journey of discovery but mainly it was journey which allowed me to discover more about myself.
I still haven’t washed my car because in some perverse way I look at the red dust on it and find it like some sort of badge of honour. I am reluctant to wash away all that effort. I may have liked my Subaru before but I love it now. What a wonderful and great vehicle it is. I can’t believe how well it stood up to that all that distance and how flawlessly it performed. Thank you car. You have my gratitude.
Michael and I made a picture frame and put up the Aboriginal painting I bought in Kulgera. It looks good and has a prominent place in the house.
I must admit that I feel good and I feel happy. I am more centred and confident of my abilities to be able to push myself to extremes and cope with big efforts. My hip will be addressed and fixed soon enough. More to the point I still have the mental toughness I want. I may be getting older but I am not old and that is enough for me.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my little adventure. The very last thing I want to say is that on behalf of myself and Fangio Linguini I would like to say ,”Thank you.”
Sydney, 17th August 2018.