Wednesday 12th January
The most wonderful sound woke me, the song of the bell bird. What a lovely alarm clock that is, just like a softly tinkling bell. The trees drip with moisture, the forest comes awake and the sun fights to be seen through grey cloud. I could stay here all day but there are more pressing matters, like where to have breakfast? Heeding advice about the police I took a detour west, towards the Monaro Highway, avoiding the main Victoria border crossing.
Imlay Creek 0845 hrs
I stopped here to admire a pretty rock pool fed by a mountain stream, and would eat here but there's no BBQ pit, and I can't brew tea without hot water....
White Rock 1110 hrs
Found the perfect spot after finding a turn-off for this secluded rest place, 7 km from the highway down an unsealed road, (road without tarmac). Other travellers spent the night here, a quartet of white water rafters on their way down from the Snowy River, farther north. Everything is at hand, toilets; water; open barbecue pit; (quickly fired up) and a big wooden table on which to spread your map. Chrissie kindly lent me her Touring Atlas of Australia which is proving indispensable. My fellow travellers thought so too, they pored over it for half an hour, deciding their route. Waiting for tea water to boil, I explore the area, following a small pathway to find aA crystal clear creek tumbled amongst big rocks into a pool before meandering onwards into the forest. Animal tracks covered the sand at the water's edge, obviously this is a busy watering hole through the night.
Last night I saw a wallaby on the roadside, it scooted away at my approach, but as yet have not seen any wildlife on the road. That situation changed pretty fast as I continued along the quiet mountain road, seeing a Lace Monitor Lizard dead on the kerbside. I shed bitter tears at the loss of such a lovely wild creature with its brains splattered around its head. The poor creature probably met up with a massive, uncaring, logging truck breaking the speed limit to get to the chipping mills before the deadline. Life is so cruel sometimes.
Cann River 1220 hrs
I took a break to sit beside the sparkling stream of this small river, as it rambles slowly down to the sea. I'm now in the state of Victoria, a beautiful place to behold. I hear the tinkling of the bell bird and the cries of the Minor Mynah. Sparrows twitter and occasional flashes of brilliant colour betray the whereabouts of Lorikeets, parakeets, and other exotic birds in the canopy of the gum trees high above me. What a perfect place.
Route 23 about 5 km from
Here we sit, in a long queue of vehicles, delayed by an accident further up the road. Everyone is very jovial, 4WD’s, camper vans, trucks, and cars, sit patiently in the hot sun, waiting for the police to clear the way. The passengers scatter along the opposite verge, cooling their heels and their heads in the shade. I begin to wish I’d taken the Princes Highway, but no matter, I've no schedule to keep and it's all part of the adventure. Soon we moved past the offending vehicle, a big truck dangling over the side of a little bridge, suspended like some huge metal insect placed there to lure a gigantic fish from the water. I be he wishes he'd taken Princes Highway too!
Cape Conran 1500 hrs
Blimey what a beach! You can see why this southern coastline is called ‘Ninety Mile Beach’, it must measure at least that, stretching off into a misty horizon east to west. The wind was strong enough to blow a child over, and the fine, bone white sand flew toward the dunes. My sandals were almost blown away as I dipped my feet for the first time in the Bass Strait, staring out to Tasmania. Four people shared the beach with me, virtually lost in the vast emptiness. Driven by the wind, the sea rushes to kiss the shore while I rush back to the car to avoid the stinging sand on my bare legs. Driving on, I stopped an hour later, at a deserted rest area next to a slowly flowing river. Climbing the overhanging branch of a tree, I watched what looked like a platypus snuffling under the riverbank, and sundry other wildlife buzzing about, totally oblivious to my presence. It felt really good.
Arrived just after midnight, called Janeen’s number and received directions to their house in Kew, a huge castle of a place with twelve residents (or was it fourteen?). It's an untidy house, full of students and their paraphernalia. I’d love to give it a good clean out! The huge garden is full of vegetables and fruit trees. The house has three bathrooms, and who knows how many rooms off rooms. Janeen came home from work and welcomed me, introducing me to all the rest - Tim, Bec (female), Gavin, Trent, Mick, Vic, Kim, Olav, Wade, Michael, Dennis, Graham, Simon 1, (Simon 2 is a bit of a recluse) and Caddie. Not all are residents, some, like me, are passing though this friendly oasis in the city. E-mail is available constantly, the kitchen has all the equipment you might ever need - I could stay forever!
Thursday 13th January
Southgate, Melbourne City, 1140 hrs
Oh what joy to leave behind the heavy humidity of Sydney and the north-east weather. Here it is more like Southern France, hot and drier, with a cooling breeze. I can cope much better with this climate. Being further south, it's cooler than Sydney, strange when I'm so used to the cooler regions being in the north, to think of the north as being so much hotter than the southern coast. It's an upside down world here. The night sky is different too, Orion is upside down and I can't see Cassiopeia at all, it must be below the northern horizon. I do see the Southern Cross, shining brightly overhead. I came a long way to see that.
Caddie and Trent took me to the Victoria Markets to gather up fallen fruit and vegetables for the house, a free feast from the ground. Well, on it rather than in it but still free. They left me to explore the city by tourist tram, a free service circling the rectangle that is Melbourne's central business area. Skyscrapers tower above the streets, shining examples of the city's architectural prowess, dwarfing the original shop frontages, preserved (thank goodness) to remind folk of what the city used to look like. Laid out in the American style grid system with block upon block punctuated by broad avenues, I could be forgiven for thinking I was in Los Angeles except for the lack of palm trees. Not so in the magnificent Botanical Gardens hugging the Yarra river which undulates through the city; there, all manner of palms abound. I walk around a while, sweltering in the midday heat, finding refuge in one of the many department stores providing air con comfort for its patrons. I notice everyone walks through the shops to get where they're going rather than in the scorching 36C temperatures outside. Wise people. Bought Greek salad and bread for lunch al fresco next to a small pond in Fitzroy Gardens, dangling my feet in cool water and tossing crumbs to one or two passing ducks, while reading my book. Disturbed by a park hustler complete with can of bourbon and cola, I moved off in search of the bus home. It took a long walk through myriad air-conditioned stores to find the stop.
Friday 14th January
Janeen and I met up with Vanya, Eric and Juud, friends from Amsterdam, for lunch in the Fat Man Cafe. Bought my ticket to the Rainbow Serpent Gathering, to be held next weekend. In the Botanical Gardens we plunged our feet into cool water while enjoying a drink of wine. I asked Juud if she would like to come to the mountains with me for a few days, she was ecstatic. Yes! she said. We plan to go Tuesday for three days of peace and quiet.
The company split up, I went to sit by the river with Dennis and a girl named Mel until it was time to go find the astronomical society's starry night event, where telescopes are brought to the park for people to view the heavens and learn about the stars. Dennis cried off at the cash desk, unwilling to pay the $5 entrance fee, but it transpired he didn't need to, as anyone could have come along. The event was well attended and by the time I got to see up a couple of telescopes I was bored from waiting.
Saturday 15th January
A nothing day of grey skies and fitful showers. I drained, cleaned, and refilled the car's radiator then lazed about the house all day reading a book about English eco-warriors and anti road campaigners. I went out later to visit Brighton Beach to see the sea, grey and turbulent as it was. I felt out of place, as if I should be moving on again. Maybe I’ll go out somewhere tomorrow but by the time I drive out of the city, it's time to turn round and come back again. A new body came to take over the room in which I was sleeping, I’ll have to sleep in borrowed space until I find a spot to put up the tent.
Sunday 16th January
Another grey day. I picked up Jenny to drive up the Daradong Range, a popular mountain park near the city. It was popular all right, packed out. We couldn't find privacy anywhere, but never mind, it was a fun drive. Back in the Mansion, I introduced Jenny to Kelvin, who seemed quite taken with her, then ran her home, getting lost on the way back.
Monday 17th January
A day beginning with brilliant sunshine. The beach looked favourite, but instead I got roped into visiting a few ‘op shops,’ with Janeen, Den and Little Caddy, finding a brilliant pink cotton cap and some utensils for our camping trip. I'm staying at Juud’s tonight to help create some advertising signs for her planned herbal tea business. I imagine the Grampians will provide some inspirational places to paint them. The drive will take most of tomorrow, four hours is being suggested, even six. Juud's flat over a shop, shared with four or five others, is much tidier than the Mansion. All the lights work when you turn them on and the washing up is minimal compared to Kew! I had a long, luxurious bath before we started work on cutting out some very nice shapes to use for signs. It was late when we went to bed, giggling like schoolgirls.
Tuesday 18th January
Grampians National Park
Today we drove to the mountains via Ballarat, the town with no vegetarians (we couldn't get a decent pie anywhere) and a peculiar one way system. After buying supplies, we motored up toward the Pinnacles, stopping at a place where a waterfall should have been, except it's nothing but a dry gulch at this time of year, under which you have to stand, imagining the water flowing. I think in winter it must be quite a torrent but in mid-summer only mosquitoes populate the tiny brown pool that remains. Climbing to the foot of the fall, we rested briefly before attempting the return hike up a one-in-three staircase. Oh well, it keeps you fit or so I'm told (it nearly crippled me).
We settled for Lakeside, a small camp site nestling beneath the reservoir's steep wall. Immediately I notice kangaroo droppings around the place, becoming excited at the chance to see a real Skippy rather than the splattered versions lying dead by the side of the road. I didn't have long to wait, as a sound woke me in the early hours. I poked my head out of my tent to watch about dozen greys hopping through a nearby swing gate, designed to keep them out of the campsite. They bound over, push through or scoot under the little gate, depending on their size, and speed off into the dawning light. The dammed river skirting the site is also virtually dry, although amongst big boulders a few fairly large brackish pools remain, servicing the region's wildlife.
Wednesday 19th January
I am writing while sitting amongst trees next to a sadly depleted Lake Belfield. The original shoreline is visible many metres from what exists now, the lake has been dammed to replenish Melbourne's voracious demand for water.
I walk to the new shoreline over dried silt, softly silken beneath my bare feet. The water's edge resembled a desert. Once proudly bordering a fast flowing river, large, dead gum trees scatter the shoreline as if left there after a flood. The dam has murdered them where they stood for generations . Some have fallen, their trunks bleached white and pockmarked, like the bones of a dinosaur skeleton, long extinct. The death of a forest is a terribly sad thing to behold.
The wind whispers through the remaining trees, accompanied by the tinkling of the bell bird, calling to another, perhaps mourning the loss of more of its habitat to the human greed machine. Suddenly a logging truck thunders past, almost invisible behind the curtain of trees, but by no means silent as it shatters the peace of the warm, sunny afternoon.
Time to leave; the sun sank lower and redder to kiss the horizon as we gathered up Juud’s work to go make a barbecue feast for supper. Just before dusk, we moved out onto a field at the east of the camping grounds, where the bush has been erased to allow grass to grow. In the distance, a herd of grey kangaroos, moving ever so slowly toward our sitting place. To my delight, they came as close as two metres, cropping the grass as they moved, like big furry mowing machines. We could barely see them in the gathering gloom, but they could certainly see us, as they nervously sniffed the air, periodically standing upright to watch us suspiciously. Suddenly, as if a silent signal had been given, from out of the creek's shelter strode five huge deer, come to join the twilight feast. Easily three metres tall, they dwarfed the kangaroos as they moved majestically onto the grass.
It was growing too dark to see anything well, so Juud and I walked slowly back into the camp site. The night was windy, promising a storm. Our tent almost blew away in the early hours.
Thursday 20th January
I was up early this morning, photographing the ‘roos as they breakfasted. It was difficult to get close enough for really good shots, and once again I curse my snap-shot camera for its inadequacies.
trekked up to the Balconies, a famous lookout spot where it transpires
the upper section has fallen off, making the area unsafe and closing the
path to climbers. I did get this pic of me on the top level but you can
barely see it's me. Juud lost her hat, and stopping for a moment on a windy
bluff, a strong gust snatched my pink cap from my head. I saw it below,
almost reachable down the sheer side of the cliff, and tried to hook it
with a stick; I lost the contest when it tumbled to the depths of forest
below us. Goodbye hat, but who cares in scenery like this?
Driving on we came to magnificent Mackenzie Falls, pouring clear mountain water into a bathing pool where people swam and took photographs of each other (hence the pic of me). It was quite a long walk down but an even longer trek back up to the car, all of two kilometres - vertically!
The day was wearing on, we were anxious to return to Melbourne for our clothes to go to the Rainbow Serpent doof party. Calling Vanya from Ballarat, we learned that Eric was already setting up their jewellery and coffee stall, and as Beaufort is a mere ten kilometres away, we decided to get onto the site rather than drive back, then return again. It was raining quite heavily as we pitched our tents under huge pines at the side of what would become the dance floor.
Friday January 21st
Grey dampness greeted our awakening, We moved to a quieter spot further from the action, then went into Beaufort, scouring the op-shop for warm woollies. Back on site, we found the portable toilets had arrived, (the best loos I've seen at one of these events) along with a huge tanker full of fresh water. The tanker has obviously been used for other things, it sports a sign - Petrol! You can imagine what the water tasted like. It'll do to wash in, I suppose.
The Kew posse arrived quite late, setting up their big army tent. Some other familiar faces appeared as the trance family gathered once again to worship at the altar of the God of Dance.
The music began, but I sat down for most of the time, finding little urge to dance with my ever more painful hip. The site was well equipped, with both police and fire brigade in attendance. There was no trouble reported. Rave Save were also there to offer succour to anyone overdoing things, they also gave out free earplugs which proved invaluable when it came time to sleep.
Saturday 22nd January
This afternoon I met rainbow-haired Jason and his pal, K.C., sharing a drink with them during an afternoon's lull in the proceedings. I grabbed some sleep during the day, in preparation for the evening session with Hallucinogen, the top DJ at the gathering. It was on the dance floor that I ran into the boys from the house in Coburg where Jenny resides, Anton, Guy and Jimmy, all of whom knew me from India last season. It felt good to be amongst so many lovely gentle people. The evening was spent moving from Eric & Vanya’s stall to the Kew gang tent, to the dance floor and back again via Big Eric’s van where Mark was holed up. I just kept dropping in on people here and there all night.
Sunday 23rd January
The main dance floor played music through the day until 1600 when the party moved to the chill-out area where one should hypothetically relax to soothing sounds. A fire-pit had been dug around which a crowd of hardcore party-goers gathered to watch the flames engulf another log, oblivious to the draining of their lives. A bonfire attracts travellers like moths, they drink VB and talk their dreams. Jenny took me away for a brief visit to fantasyland, sitting beside a trickling stream. I returned to the party, which had now dwindled to the mundane, and I began to tire. I held out until 2230 when I crawled into the sleeping bag and oblivion.
Monday 24th January
My legs, back and neck ached this morning, even my nose hurt! I opened my eyes around 0800 to hear that the bulldozers were coming to plough up the field at 0900. We hastily packed up our camp, moving into the next field to sit with Juud’s flatmates for breakfast. I received free coffee and toast courtesy of the food stall where the last food and coffee were given away as they packed their equipment. I spent time chatting with friends old and new, before bidding everyone goodbye. Juud and I sped off into Beaufort for a hot wash, a pot of tea, and delicious pies in a delightful little shop run by an amateur lady artist. Her work, displayed around the walls, was very good.
Along the road, one of our hubcaps flew off, causing a frantic search of the undergrowth to retrieve it. With no other emergencies occurring, we got back to Juud's place early in the afternoon. At the Kew Mansion I fetched two live (yes, alive) chickens for Simon 2, cooked everyone dinner, and slept in Caddy’s room, relieved when the buzzing in my ears finally stopped.
Tuesday 25th January
The house's email connection was severed, I had to go to an internet lounge to collect the 10 messages in my box. It was fine weather, I hoped to be on the road to Adelaide on Friday. Little Caddy fixed the brakes, making me feel confident to drive again. Janeen got almost everyone to help in cleaning up the house, expecting a man from the council to come to inspect the property at any moment. It was fun to scrub the kitchen floor and hand sweep the lounge carpet! Kelvin made food, and I sat in the house all evening.
Wednesday January 26th
- Australia Day
I went to visit Jenny today; I called in at Juud’s, then on to Anton’s house. The first thing I saw was Kay's van parked in the back yard under cover, where he’s obviously living in it, using the house's amneities. Craig and Heidi are staying there too. It's much tidier than Kew, considering it's home to four single blokes and sundry guests. Heidi plaited my hair with some beads, a present from Bec, and I rewarded her by buying everyone pizza and wine.
When I got back to the Mansion, nearly everyone was out in the garden, sitting round a bonfire, drunk as lords, with no clothes on. I sat with them in light rain for a while, but soon drifted into Vic’s room to sleep (Vic was away for the week).
Thursday 27th January
- Friday 28th January
Young Sasha, a pal of the Coburg crew, gave the car a quick service for me. I visited Juud prior to joining the Coburg posse for a party at The Prince of Wales in St Kilda. Named Bum Spanka, it was organised by the same crew from the Rainbow Serpent, and a wonderful time was had by all. I met up again with Jason, K.C. and Big Eric’s posse. What a ball we had! I danced myself silly. Spilling out onto the pavement at 0430, there was a slight delay upon discovering Anton‘s car was parked in a garage that didn't open until 0600. Everyone waited around for him to get the car, before we drove over to the Florida Apartments for a continuation of the party. My eyes were closing by this time, so I grabbed a nap in the car, until I was woken up to taxi the gang back to Anton's. While everyone slept the afternoon away, I watered the garden and tended their vegetables. Later, packed and ready for the journey west, I filled the car to the brim with petrol, only to lose half a litre when parking on the steep camber of the tarmac; petrol just poured out of the fuel cap, causing me some distress when I thought the fuel tank was leaking! That'll teach me not to over fill in future!
Saturday 29th January
Left Melbourne early to get onto the Great Ocean Road, a feat that took some time, given Melbourne's huge urban sprawl. Stopped to rest around noon for lunch at a seaside picnic area west of Geelong, paddling in the Southern Ocean to cool my aching feet. I must curb the all-night dancing for a while! The beach was very windy, as expected when there’s nothing between you and Antarctica, but the water was still a gorgeous aquamarine blue.
Lorne, South Bay 1315
This place reminded me of places in Northern California, with its affluence and holiday town atmosphere. Big picture windows in luxurious wooden houses built right onto sandstone cliffs, stare out at the end of the world. With the very American sounding Bay FM pelting out of the radio, I motor onward, ever westerly, the fabulous sight of the bright blue ocean flanking me on my left. This is like Mendocino with an Oz accent.
Apollo Bay 1410 hrs
I just had to stop here when I saw some fantastic wooden carvings arrayed around the ‘village green’ in this coastal town. A bench has been shaped into a boat, under which tiles have been laid, perhaps fashioned by local schoolchildren, featuring seals, whales, fish and other local flora and fauna. Big tree trunks stand like polished wooden fingers pointing at the sky, their flanks carved with images of sea creatures, owls and faces. I sat for a while admiring the view in this small, well protected cove. The road, carved into the foot of towering black mountains, winds upward from here, leaving the ocean far below.
Martyr’s Bay 1715 hrs
I paused at all the ocean road lookouts along the way: the Twelve Apostles (although I could only see nine); Thunder Cave, a massive gash in the layered limestone cliffs being formed into a huge cave by the force of the ocean; and Blowhole, another underground cave being eroded by the waves, where the sound is simply terrifying as the sea rumbles ominously beneath your feet. I couldn't make most of the other places of interest, they involve four-hour treks into the wilderness to see the ocean from yet another angle. Continuing on, I pulled in here to read the story of The Martyr, a sailing ship wrecked here on its historic journey along the inhospitable coastline over two hundred years ago. It's a bleak and lonely place with scrub and shale for ground cover and a wind blowing straight from the South Pole to cool the land.
Glenelg National Park
I reached my chosen destination in sadness having touched my first Koala. Its soft fur beneath my fingers felt so lovely. What a shame the creature’s brains were spread over the road next to its battered head. Another victim of the unseeing, uncaring, logging truck, eager to reach the sawmill, speeding along at 150 kph. I cried bitter tears of frustration at the wickedness of mankind - no, that’s wrong, there is no kindness in the senseless slaughter of such innocent, harmless animals.
Sunday 30th January
Slept well in the car again, this is becoming a habit... At Mount Gambier I stopped for gas and a hot wash in the garage washroom. On my way back to the highway, I was stopped by the local cop for speeding. I guess it was inevitable, me being the only moving vehicle around on a quiet Sunday morning. The policewoman told me I was doing 75 kph 60 kph zone and warned me not to do it again. No ticket. Phew! That was a close call. I must take more care in future.
Stopped for lunch, watching a wheat field bathed in golden sunshine swaying in the warm breeze, before a vista of far away undulating hills. White butterflies dance their sexual ballet over wayside flowers and grasses, joined by the inevitable gang of Australian flies, ready to dive into your ears or nose if you stand still too long. the ants are just as bad - they bite!
Westward, the scenery changes, becoming more dry and desolate with every mile. I detoured to view what once was a lake but is now a sad, arid salt flat. Man's affects on the ecological balance of this fragile land are obvious. South Australia has sweltered in drought for years, the water table here has risen as the forests have disappeared, pushing residual ground salt to the surface from where it cannot be removed. This is what they call salinity, and it is turning huge areas into desert. More trees are removed than are planted in Australia, and the trees chosen for replanting are often fast-growing pines, which provide a big profit, rather than indigenous trees which have the root capacity to keep the salt far down in the ground. Play at God and you have to live with the consequences.
Adelaide West Beach Caravan
Park 2200 hrs
Wow, what a long and arduous drive! Hot and sticky, endless boring scenery; if that’s a sample of the kind of scenery I can expect driving to Perth, then I am definitely taking the train, it will kill me driving for 4 days along that kind of road.
I reached the home of Liz, Russell’s friend who has no room at her place but is willing to look after the car for a couple of weeks while I go west. I paddled my tired legs in the sea again, it was good to be in water after so much desert landscape. The beach road is very brightly lit, too bright to sleep and likely patrolled at night, the camp site office is closed for the night, but their car park is fine. I showered and ate, now another night’s sleep in the car. I really need to lie flat for a night or two, to ease my aching back.
Monday 31st January
I booked into the site, pitched the tent and went to book my expensive train ticket to Perth - $249 one way! I’ve no choice in the matter - flights begin at $800.
Back at the site I washed clothes in the camp laundry, packed food for the journey, and wrote some postcards while sitting on a clean, brilliant white beach. The sea is gentle, not a lot of surfing here. The dunes, like the campsite, are constantly being sprinkled, something hard for a committed conservationist to witness in the middle of a hot day, ( 38°C today). I am assured the water comes from a waste tank under the ground, recycled again and again to soak the parched grass. Like California, if the sprinklers were turned off, the place would revert back to the desert it has always been.
A bad end to the day when my battery charger was stolen from the shower block. I left a rather acid note and informed the camp office, perhaps it will be returned when I get back from Perth.
Tuesday 1st February
Had a good breakfast while chatting with some Dutch girls, readying myself for the day’s events. No sign of the battery charger yet. I left the site around 10.30, spending the day vainly trying to keep cool in the city's baking temperatures. I thought Melbourne was hot but this is even worse! Emailed from a little known treasure - the Women’s Information Centre, they allow 15 minutes of Internet time for free. I was once more struck by Adelaide's similarities to many American towns, especially when sitting in an air-conditioned mall in front of yet another Macdonald's. The shops are full of people but I guess it's easy to get customers in when you have the air-con to ease their comfort.
I parked the car outside Liz’s house, hoping she will keep her promise to get it under cover soon, it’ll melt in the temperatures hereabouts. Taking a taxi to the station, I boarded the Indian Pacific, an operation akin to boarding an aeroplane. Coach class is comfortable, with shower and drinking water, two carriages and a smoking compartment in which the steward informed us no `under the counter items were allowed’ while looking directly at me (is it tattooed on my forehead?). Fortunately nobody was sitting beside me, and the esky made a great foot rest so I could really stretch out. The bar/cafe was well stocked if a little pricey, but with no veg meal available, I ate in my seat, staring out at passing plains of wheat. This might be said to be the nothing state, as there is nothing out there, absolutely nothing! A few remaining trees stand where once was forest, scant shade for the sheep that scrabble about in oppressive heat eking a meal from the dry plains. As dusk falls, I vainly search the horizon for kangaroos, but see none. Well, they won’t come up to the train and tap on the window, will they?
The couple behind me, from Serbia, are such nice people. We chat awhile, solving the political problems of the world between us, as the train rumbles onward into the black of night. Next stop, a very small rail terminal, Buckaloo I think it was, to wait for the passing of a goods train. Most of the railway line to Perth is single track, making it necessary to stop here and there to allow other trains to pass, giving passengers a chance to stretch their legs and enjoy a beer in a tiny bar on the equally minute station. The silence of the countryside is deafening, and the stars brighter than I’ve ever seen. The night air is thick and hot in contrast to the train’s comfortable a/c. Forty minutes later a big diesel engine trundled by pulling countless wagons and tankers toward Port Arthur, the industrial city outside of Adelaide, and the Indian Pacific is soon once again on its way west.
Sleeping was not easy. The floor provided a welcome break from the seat, although even on the floor not much space was available. I woke up periodically as the train stopped and started along its’ lonely journey onto the Nullarbor Plain. I occasionally wandered along to the other carriages, trying to ease night’s boredom, wishing I’d brought my sleeping bag with me.
Wednesday 2nd February
We’re now on ‘train time’ as it's termed. Already an hour and a half back from Sydney, they ask us to set our watches to compensate time’s regression as we move west. The sun beats down even at 0700. Were told by the train's monotonous announcer, to watch out the left side for the marker of a railway worker’s grave; the man was buried beside the track he worked so hard to create. It was weird to see a white cross in the middle of nowhere, shining bright against the red/brown of the earth. Every year someone tends this lonely grave, although no-one has been seen performing the task. Eerie.
I was once told that the only place where trees still stand are the ones on Aboriginal lands, but as I look out onto them from the right side of the train, I see nothing. In the middle of the movie, the announcer tells us the area we are passing through is now owned by Aboriginals, and that parts of the Maralinga reserve were used for nuclear testing by the British during the 1950’s. No wonder there aren’t many trees out there!
A 4WD appears from out of the heat haze. The Watson postman speeds along bringing the week’s mail, collecting fresh post bags in return, before screeching off into the scrub, dust rising like a cloud behind him.
I took a shower. Lovely hot, powerful jets eased my aching muscles. Then breakfast, scrambled eggs and cold toast. Ah well, you have to rough it in the outback.
Soon we pull into Cook, a once prosperousg ghost town dating back to the railway's golden age Sporting a sand filled swimming pool, a school with empty classrooms never again to ring to the sound of children, this rusty old jailhouse into which the drunks would be thrown to cool off, and a row of houses perfect for squatting.
The town’s sole remaining inhabitants, a little family, tend the trains as they move across the Nullarbor. There are the remains of 600 trees, planted to ‘green the desert’ by the community of railway workers and their families many years ago. With the introduction of concrete sleepers, maintenance work dwindled, the inhabitants moved away and the little town grew silent. I walked past empty houses, seeing pelargonium and other plants in gardens that would never again be tended. A sense of sadness hangs over Cook.
Passing a big notice marking the border
between SA and WA, the train stopped for photographs. I declined, fearing
the heat would cause me to faint. Western Australia is little different
from SA, and I wonder idly how they can tell the borderline between the
two if there wasn’t a notice to mark it, desert’s desert whichever way
you look at it.
Without explanation, the train grinds to a halt periodically in the middle of nothing. That’s the fault of the single track sections, carefully controlled by unseen forces to prevent collisions. The antiquated line needs much work to bring it up to the standards of even the poorest rail service in Europe, even east European trains run on double tracks these days. Sadly in need of investment is the Australian railway system.
We are treated to a three-hour stopover in this bustling mining town. There appear to be more pubs than anything else. All the buildings are very lovely, old and perfectly preserved. A statue of the first miner to find gold - sparking a gold rush that lasts to this day - sits proudly at the junction of two main streets. There appear to be four main streets in the town, and apart from train passengers, they are deserted. However, when you enter one of the ‘hotels’ the locals are busy with inebriation classes. I decide to join them, ordering a glass of awful wine in a mock Irish pub, sitting on a mock padded leather sofa surrounded by framed Irish newspaper clippings and photographs of famous Irish writers, watching Pakistan’s cricket side getting pasted by Australia. Every pub shows sports on its many TV sets, to accompany the mechanical songs of the Pokies. I was quite happy until the live entertainment arrived, a male/female duo with a dreary repertoire of old pop songs. I left, finding immediately across the street from the Irish pub, a matching Scottish pub where you could drink McKewans while sitting in tartan covered chairs, staring at antlered deer hanging on the walls. The TV still showed Shane Warne having a great time with the Pakistan batsmen.
Walking further, I see another hotel, decorated in some sort of American style, with a wall mural featuring Bill and Hilary Clinton. I decided to have a drink in there. At the counter, two young girls are busy drinking themselves to oblivion with the aid of a jug of ‘Innocence’ a green slush-puppy concoction laced with vodka. Vodka-orange is a mere $2 so I decide to go for it, at that price I’d be stupid not to. We three have a ball of a time for an hour and a half, the girls giving me the low-down on the town which provides 70% of Australia’s gold. There are eight women to every man here, getting drunk and smoking home grown weed is their main entertainment, and fast food and takeaway outlets abound. I feel sure there might be a cinema somewhere, and there are always the Pokies. Time races by and I head back to my allocated train seat, delighted once more to escape the oppressive night heat and humidity. The vodka works well to put me to sleep almost immediately.
Thursday 3rd February
As the train chugged through farmland and unknown small settlements, the announcer informed we must have any fruit and vegetables ready for the quarantine officer when we approach our next destination, Midland, just east of Perth. When this bureauocrat boards, I hand over a couple of soft tomatoes and an apple, asking what if I had bought them in Kalgoorlie? He couldn't answer that but wanted my jar of honey, purchased legally at Coles supermarket. How, I enquire, can this be contaminated when I can buy the very same jar of honey from Coles in Perth, and anyway you can see there’s no fruit fly inside it. He wouldn’t budge from his official dogma, and the honey went into a large satchel to be destroyed. This is the worst case of protectionism I’ve ever seen. What a con. I could have bought fruit in Kalgoorlie but he would still have confiscated it as out-of-state produce, therefore contaminated. I hastened to mention that in Victoria they also claim to have disease free fruit and vegetables but my comments fall on very deaf ears.
1615 Thornlie, Perth
Joanne met me at the train. we had never before spoken to each other except via the Internet. She bundled me into her air conditioned car and drove me along wide open boulevards, past occasional patches of parkland, to the housing estate where she lives with her four teenaged daughters. I see a large square five bedroomed bungalow with carport and lawn, surrounded by a wooden board fence, set amongst similar properties flanking a broad cul-de-sac. No trees line the street, save those growing in front gardens, some of which are beautifully manicured. Everyone has a car - you couldn't survive without one. I wish I’d brought Matilda as I realise how far is the local station to get into Perth, a half-hour train ride away. There is no bus service to speak of and walking is totally out as the temperature is hitting 32° outside. Unfortunately the house, has no air-conditioning. There are fans, and thankfully every window has full mosquito screens. The family dog runs wild in the back garden, possibly due to its lack of attention from inside the house, where all the females are out most of the time. Currently only two of her daughters are around; the elder pair, Melissa and Fiona, are visiting Dad in Sydney so I get to sleep in Fiona’s room on a sofa-bed covered with cushions and teddy-bears. Her room takes me back to the years when I slept in a similar room crammed with girlish things. Soon the younger daughter flops in from school. Janine is fourteen and straight out of California’s teen-scene, but a very well mannered young lady, fully aware of where her life is going educationally. The next daughter to arrive, Tracey, is a quiet, mature sixteen year old in her final year at school. After dinner, neighbour and friend Pauline arrived to sup a glass or five of wine and smoke a joint with us.
Friday 4th February
Woke up at 5.30 this morning, courtesy of Ebony (the dog) barking outside my bedroom window. Cadged a ride to the station with Joanne, who gave me her concession card, enabling cheaper travel on public transport. Even at this hour the heat in the city was sun-tan material. I wandered around the compact shopping area until the free CAT bus started its journey around the city. This all day circling bus service services a route either north/south or east/west route round town, one visiting tourist attractions, museums, parks, and monuments, the other concentrating on the shopping centres and commercial buildings, of which there are many. Like Adelaide, the malls are a vital way to get around in the heat, and there appear to be more here than anywhere I’ve yet been. There are split levels, packed with shops and cafes to tempt the passing trade. The blue CAT took me towards King’s Park; I got off a stop or two beforehand, to feed ducks and walk by a large lake, before climbing the very steep slope up to the park itself. At the top, the panoramic view is where most of Perth's famous view postcards are taken, the skyscrapers gleam in brilliant sunshine. After lunch at the cafe I visited the Aboriginal Arts Centre, which was full of lovely paintings and carvings, then walked through an avenue of tall gum trees, to go back into the city and take the train to Thornlie. On tghe noticeboard of a backpacker information centre I spied an air ticket to Adelaide on sale for $200, much better than two days on a train - four hours by plane! I would leave 15th February.
Reaching Keswick station, I realised I didn't have the address nor any idea of the bus stop. I phoned, Joanne came super fast to pick me up, and take me to eat at an oriental food court tucked inside a market hall, with a very interesting selection of dishes.
Saturday 5th February
I went into the city to collect the plane ticket this morning, also bought a hat badge and another Australian adapter. I enjoyed a coffee and huge croissant in a delightful cafe with friendly and helpful staff. The atmosphere is less frenetic than back east, people in Perth seem very laid back and quick to assist you. I hear 17% of the population on this coast is British, it's Pom heaven to some people, and Perthians are known to the rest of Australia as sand gropers (don't ask me why). Perth's massive suburban sprawl spreads like a flood, all the houses have a plot of ground roughly the same size, upon which they build their own home or at least choose the design before building begins. When you move towns you literally take the house with you, erecting it at the new location.
Joanne took me to Fremantle, the port town a few kilometres to the south, on the Indian Ocean. I saw Portuguese Men of War floating below me as we sat on a man-made pier in the docks, watching a blue sea meet an even bluer sky. My bush hat and sunblock are absolutely essential here. When the sun touches your skin, you get a prickling sensation, it's so hot.
We had to return to Thornlie to collect one daughter, traipse round K-mart for shoes, then drop same daughter at her friend’s; collect daughter No 2 from work, who promptly left to spend the night at her girlfriend’s. Joanne and I then drove back to Fremantle, missing the sunset by seconds, to enjoy some of the best fish and chips I’ve had in Australia, at one of the famed restaurants in the port, operating their very own fishing boat bringing in a daily catch. Now that's really fresh fish!
Sunday 6th February
My early to bed, early to rise pattern is well established now. I am exhausted by 2200 and wake around 0600 before the house gets up and traffic fills the nearby highway. My bedroom is shaded until afternoon, so a couple of early hours' reading in bed is just the ticket when the temperatures are expected to reach 39° in the day. Joanne and I sat around all day in front of her huge fan reading the newspapers, leaving the house at 1600 hrs in the marginally cooler air to shop at a fresh produce market set up in a big circus tent. Later we joined friends of hers for dinner at yet another Chinese restaurant.
Monday 7th February
A dentist removed my last molar this morning; it was easy to see why the discomfort was returning big time, one of the three roots was turned back up on itself, obviously pressuring the nerve. What a relief to get it out, and what a shame it was the last molar after I lost three teeth unnecessarily prior to this trip. I went to Cottesloe beach to cheer myself up, sitting under a tree on a grassy bank bordering the soft white sand nursing my aching jaw. I have booked myself in at the Sanctuary in Bunbury to swim with the Dolphins on Wednesday morning, such a blast to do something I’ve always yearned for. At ‘home’ the night’s heat is oppressive, making it almost impossible to sleep.
Tuesday 8th February
Had some photographs developed today, met up with the Serbian couple from the train again in the shopping street, and had my hair cut. I bought the coldest smoothie I ever tasted, so cold it made my head ache. At 1500 hrs the wind known as the Fremantle Doctor arrived to fan the city. You can almost set your watch by it they say, every afternoon it blows away Perth’s wall of heat bringing cooling medicine. The sun beats down at only 26° today, some would say it's cold out here!
I sat for a time in the shade of a big tree in Russell Square, listening to the squawking of brilliantly coloured lorikeets and parrots, arguing noisily in the branches above me. This small park houses a great bandstand with four artistically sculpted fountains around it; a six-man protest group sit on the grass nearby with banners proclaiming their right to stay. What a nice place to stage a protest!
On the train home I watched four train security guards abusing an Aboriginal man, taunting him and laughing at their own sharp racist wit. I couldn't intervene, but another caring woman passenger told them to leave him alone, they were frightening the poor bloke. His only crime was having had one too many, and he was neither abusive nor disorderly, merely black. I saw for myself the raw racism of Western Australia, a state where the antiquated mandatory sentencing laws are deemed by the UN as being illegal.
Wednesday 9th February
A bad start to the day when I was caught between entrance gates at the train station, panicking in case the train left without me. The gates close automatically when the train approaches, and I was stuck in no man’s land for a few minutes. Upon reaching Armadale, where I change for Bunbury, the train driver accosted me, threatening to have me arrested for almost causing an accident. Pardon? Did he think I would be foolish enough to jump under his train? He raged at me publicly for five minutes while I played the apologetic victim. I almost made a complaint about his aggressive attitude but thought better of it, he was obviously enjoying himself so much.
The ticket seller wanted my phone number to call me in case the train was cancelled. I pointed out that I would not be at my home number until after the trip, but he was adamant; the rules say he has to have a contact number. Fortunately I had the advertisement for the Sanctuary with me.
In my allotted seat on the country train I struggled for comfort, it was like sitting on a stone chair. For two hours I stared out at huge beef farms, bereft of trees. No prizes for guessing why the water supply here is highly saline. The train's buffet provided me with a cheese toastie (ham removed) which tasted of nothing at all, and a custard tart tasting like a lump of lard, my only meatless choices. I really wish I had bought food before embarking on this journey.
Bunbury Bus Station
Buses are infrequent here, only one an hour goes past the Sanctuary. A lovely little cafe sits in what might once have been a railway station; it's the town’s Internet centre, with 4 computer terminals set up on a large table at the back. At the nearby tourist office, I enquired about the Sanctuary, which they telephoned for me. It appeared I wasn’t booked in, but come along and they will see what can be done. This doesn’t sound very good to me.
Everything’s very quiet after Perth. Bunbury sits on a lagoon, protected from the Indian Ocean by an outcrop of land. Huge grain silos stand at the edge of a jetty, and the real beach is a long way off.
The Sanctuary is a posh golfing resort. The car park was full of flash 4WD vehicles with clubs in the back and designer families to match. They are definitely not used to clients arriving alone without a car. I am reluctantly given a lovely room containing all the usual conveniences, and a fridge, with a view out onto the golf course. There was some confusion at the desk about my booking. I let it slip that I was a travel writer, and they assured me everything would be fine, they would call the dolphin centre to organise the trip for the following morning. I left to shop for supplies in town, the Sanctuary restaurant looked far too pricey and I hate eating alone in that kind of situation.
Nervous about the arrangements, I went to reception to check out the situation with the dolphin swim. The owner of the place was called over to tell me what was happening. The rude bitch spoke directly to the receptionist as if I wasn’t there:
“Tell the lady that my manager will sort it out when he gets back at 7 p.m., we will do our best to honour the booking but we are not responsible for the wording in the advertisement in the newspaper. There was an error and the hotel would be changing the advertisement. The lady must have spoken to one of our ‘through dailies’ and the booking wasn’t made properly but we will see what we can do.”I almost hit her. I was standing four metres away, she completely ignored me, carrying on as if I were invisible. I cooled off in their swimming pool, waiting in my room for the verdict. When it came, the girl had organised the assistant manager to take me into Bunbury at 0715, assuring me I could relax until morning. I bathed, ate, watched one of their four movie channels, polishing off a bottle of wine, staring at the brilliant stars.
Thursday 10th February
Well, what a fiasco. At 0715, the girl called me from the desk to inform me I couldn't get on the dive that day as it was full, but tomorrow it would be possible. I went mad, pointing out that this was the reason for coming here and my return ticket was for this afternoon’s train, the early train having left at 0630. Was she telling me the entire trip was now cancelled? Her profuse apologies and the promise of a reduction in my room costs enraged me sufficiently to go to reception to inform her that if she though I would pay for the room after this debacle she had another think coming. I returned to room 114 and packed my bag, leaving for the bus stop.
In the Internet cafe, the owner gave me free coffee, offered free internet use and went to inform the tourist office that the travel writer was not happy. I calmed down but wanted to cry with frustration. Soon a delightful young lady came in to placate me with a CD of the town, a message pad, bumper sticker and the offer of a trip to the 1100 hrs ‘Dolphin Watch’ at their expense. She even offered to run me over to the Dolphin Centre in her car. Well, that was more like it. I spent a couple of hours at the small cove beach before returning to take up her offer.
At the Dolphin Centre they were expecting me, the owner came down to meet me, promising a personal tour of the facilities. My fame had spread, and doubtless they were anxious to get a favourable report from me in whatever journal would publish my work. On the beach, along with about thirty others, I climbed aboard one of two boats busy taking on passengers. We listened to a bit of information about the dolphins, and spent much time bobbing on the swell waiting for their appearance. When the animals did appear, it seemed to be always on the wrong side of the boat, or surfaced for such a short period that I couldn't get the camera focused quickly enough. I ran off some shots hoping they would come out well. The boat, almost full of Japanese tourists, was then taken to watch the death throes of a small, emaciated whale, come inshore to die in the relative safety of the cove. Marine biologists are visible onshore ready to euthanase the creature when it decides to beach itself. For that is what it has come here to do, driven by whatever force commands these gentle giants to haul themselves out of their ocean to die on our earth. I felt so sorry for the whale as the boat cruised past, everyone frantically clicking at its distress; surely we were contributing to that distress?
On shore again,I was conducted around an exhibition detailing the work of the conservationists to preserve and study local marine life, then left alone to watch a film of ocal sea life.
Walking back to the cafe, I bid farewell to Bunbury, having enjoyed the day despite its negative beginning.
Returning to Joanne’s house, I helped to mow the lawn and clear the back yard of garbage ready for the monthly garbage pickup of household items. I'm amazed how little is recycled here, unlike Melbourne, who to take any and everything plastic glass or paper. Well, at least it is collected from the kerb, but I have yet to see batteries being recycled here. We stop work upon seeing a redback spider. Redbacks are among the deadliest of the biting spiders in Australia, so we gave it a very wide berth.
Friday 11th February
Today Joanne and I drove to Albany (pronounced Al bunny, not awlbunny as they correct me) to spend the weekend with her friend Lesley. We picked up a hire car and began the 700 km boring drive south. I say boring in that the bush is lovely, but monotonous after the first 100km.
Lesley proved a fun lady, she welcomed us warmly to her bungalow home and rushed us out to sight-see in the late afternoon sun. Walking the coastal pathway stretching for some miles along the Albany cliffs proved too much for my hip and we had to return too soon, shame, as the scenery at the end of Australia was just spectacular.
the way back to the house, we pass by the Dog Rock, a famous Albany landmark
pictured here, it's not difficult to spot where it gets its name. I began
to read a great Australian history book, devouring facts about the continent’s
discovery. Albany was the place they made their first landing to conquer
the western coastal plain….
Dressing and preening ourselves for the evening, we taxied into town to the music club run by her fancy man and his plain but multi-talented wife in what was once the town’s cinema. It took me back thirty years to visit the original toilets with their 1950’s livery and architecture, and sit at a cafe table in what once was the movie house back entrance, now extended to make an arcade of shops.
Saturday 12th February
The girls had me out early to see the local sights. First the Gap, a cliff cleft of dizzying proportions, a famous suicide spot where high cliffs are pounded by the Southern Ocean with thundering force as it throws itself onto the rocks. Next, Blowhole, where no sea is visible under the massive rocks but the tumultuous rumble seeps up from a tiny crack, almost knocking you to the ground as it pounds into the cave below. The scenery was simply beautiful, the sea had colours to spare as it heaved in blue perfection onto a milk white beach in a tiny neighbouring cove, far below us. We drove around the peninsula to the end of the road, passing by the house of Roger, an English friend of Lesley, who has built the most beautiful old property at the end of the peninsula, with not another house in sight. A cabinet maker’s dream, Roger has lovingly created all stairs, floors, doors, cupboards, and near every wooden item in the house with his own talented hands. He has a flair for design, each bedroom perfectly designed and coloured. What a property! Kangaroos come up to feed on the little grass lawn he planted, he can actually sit on his balcony with an evening drink to watch them. Beautiful is not enough to describe it.
Moving on, we stop for tea at Frenchman’s Cove, a cliff-top caravan park with cafe which has cages of parrots, Lorikeets, parakeets and other Australian birds in its gardens. I ache to free the lovely birds but guess it's better than their being killed by feral cats, the biggest and deadliest predator of Australian birds and small mammals. Far below, another strip of white sand stretches to the far headland pointing into the wild ocean at Antarctica.
Lesley must work so we drop her off, take an hour’s rest, meanwhile Joanne took me out to the golf course to watch the local kangaroos crop the grass, unconcerned for speeding golf balls whizzing by on their way to the first green. I got closer to these reds than any bush kangaroos, they seem more accustomed to people wandering amongst their herd.
We changed to go for dinner at a restaurant owned by Jo's friend Ken, where a delicious fish supper was served. After our meal we went on to meet Lesley at the Duke of someplace, where an Irish duo played unknown ballads on guitar and accordion - predictable and boring. The pub was packed, forcing us to stand in the spacious back garden under creeping wisteria and Acacia trees decorated with fairy lights - enchanting.
Sunday 13th February
Taking our leave of Lesley, we left at 1130, taking the westerly road to Denmark. A pretty riverside town, it seemed a perfect place to live. A walk by the river, then off towards Walpole, taking in Conspicuous Cliffs, a conservation area sitting over the most gorgeous beach, and its environs. Driving on we came to the Treetop Walk at Walpole, where a high walkway has been constructed allowing visitors to walk amongst the canopies of the oldest original trees on the western coast. It was just fabulous to wander up to the high branches to look down on the tallest trees in the land. Not so lovely when the walkway sways slightly, as it does when too many people are on it at once, quite disconcerting to look down at that point. Wandering onwards we passed into the tingle forest with its burned trunks that thrive miraculously after a forest fire, hollow as houses and many times larger. What a lovely place, and so good to see it being conserved, there is much animosity towards the logging companies operating in the area hereabouts.
Onward to our next port of call, a roadhouse in the forest with a fabulous menu and sporting a Rolf Harris original work on the wall, won in a raffle by the owner’s mother for a 50cent stake. Worth a bit more than that now I should imagine! It's magical to sit and enjoy the late afternoon sun outside this log cabin of a pub, listening to the birds in the tall old trees.
Monday 14th February
In the city I booked a wildlife park tour for the evening, worked out the route to the airport, sent postcards, and developed a roll of film before going to Cottesloe beach again for an hour’s undisturbed peace on the sand. Undisturbed that is, until parties of schoolchildren appear for their weekly swimming lesson; all Australian kids must learn to swim, and schools here choose to do this on Monday afternoons, I now learn. It's quite the noisiest beach day I’ve had in Australia.
The Aboriginal family who travelled on the same train with me have now drunk enough grog to become noisy and abusive. I'd heard they have a low alcohol tolerance and there was the proof. Their little girl played by herself, imitating nearby sunbathers by lying on the hot sand in her pretty dress, with no toys or playmates for amusement. Her parents drank from a cola bottle full of yellow liquid, moving ever closer to oblivion. I am careful to avoid eye contact after the first encounter when the child’s mother shouted at me drunkenly for looking in her direction. Such a shame to see a once proud people brought so low...
Wildlife Park 0745
Darkness has fallen and the sound of the bush is all around. A unique noise here, impossible to hear unless you could be in all areas of Australia at the same time; the voices of many creatures rend the night. The park’s English owner proved quite informative about the animals, spouting facts all through the tour. We got to pet the kangaroos, emus and ponies, the rest of the animals kept their distance or were not friendly enough to touch. After dusk, we stopped for a barbecue picnic to give the night creatures a chance to awaken. You never see a possum until the sun goes down, nor a bat for that matter, and a wombat is underground all day, coming out when darkness falls. According to the park owner, many of these animals have to be culled yearly to keep the rest alive in the wild, for if they were allowed to proliferate, the food supply would dry up fast and then even more would starve. Well, if there weren’t so many people, there would be more space for their food supply....
Tuesday 15th February
Flight day. After wishing the girls goodbye early in the morning, I packed and sat around reading until time to leave for the city. The heat was 35° today, far too hot to be carrying heavy luggage. I made my way to the Carillon food court to while away an hour in air-con comfort, taking my last look at Perth from the airport bus. The airport was predictably peaceful. A four-hour flight over the Nullarbor brought me into Adelaide at 2000 hrs. At Liz’s house I was surprised to see Matilda out on the street in the same position I’d left her. I drove to the beach campsite but again, too late to book in, so I slept again in the car park. From the trunk, a nasty smell pervaded; in Adelaide’s intense heat, a bag of potatoes had melted, stinking like rotten veg does; so I had to clean and wash the trunk, gagging at the stench. Thanks Liz.
Wednesday 16th February
Made my way to the Adelaide Caravan Park, $20 for a gravel pitch near another highway so I’ll not be here more than one night! Into town to check email, stock up at Bi-Lo and phone Gazz, my other internet friend who lives here. His telephone was switched off for ages but I managed to get through later which is when I learned he is in Elizabeth, miles to the north, rather than Adelaide which he has always claimed. I asked him where we should meet, his reply: “Oh, I can't be bothered,” and put the phone down. What a rude man. He’s off my contact list when I get home, that’s for sure!
My planned drive up to Ayer’s Rock is cancelled due to severe flooding north of Coober Pedy, the Sturt Highway is washed away in places they say. Drat. I will have to re-think the next fortnight. It was hard to sleep at the site with traffic noise and music from the local pub, just audible from my tent.
Thursday 17th February
Up and about early, went into the city to change money and do the rego thing. The woman at American Express recognised me as the one she had overpaid two weeks ago so I had to repay $80, no choice in the matter. Damn it, I should have gone to Westpac instead! At the rego office the process was easy peasy and by 1100 I was on the road to the West Bay campsite, hoping to see my battery charger. Lo and behold, it had been returned, transforming my low opinion of the city to one of almost liking it. If I had an air-con apartment here I guess I could survive although it would need to be double-glazed!
I drove east on the Western Highway, toward Melbourne, stopping off the road at a sheep farm along a red dust road. Crossing a railway line, I pitched the tent in a small copse, marvelling at the sunset colours. A blood red sky welcomed a near full moon. The highway was visible but not audible, thank goodness. As the Australian sun dropped from the sky like a stone into a pool, I watched a possum creep out of a hollow tree, ready to hunt for food. The brilliance of the stars and the sounds of the bush were just wonderful. I like spending the night outdoors. It was hotter than July, the earth gave off its own heat until late in the evening. By 2200 I was exhausted from dodging mosquitoes, lying down to sleep. The first train woke me at around midnight. I thought an earthquake was happening, but realised I was camped so close to the railway line. Silly me to think it would not be used at night, goods travel all the time around this land. Another three trains passed by before dawn, but by the third, I was an old hand at sleeping with the ground shaking beneath me.
Friday 18th February
Drove onward, stopping occasionally for shade and drinks. Another scorcher today. Reached the outskirts of Melbourne at 1730 hrs, driving straight to Coburg where Guy was alone. Over to Northcote to be told Craig and Juud were out looking at vans, so off to Kew where most of the house were off fruit picking, just a nucleus of Mick, Vic and Simon 1who let me have a shower and check the mail. Vic invited me to a party with the bottle tonight, but having driven enough for today I returned to Northcote where Juud’s new van had arrived in its sunshine yellow glory. After a couple of hours’ relaxing, I went back to Coburg in the hope of finding Sasha, but when I arrived, nobody was home. I fell asleep on the sofa, cuddling Kali, the most beautiful kitten in the world.
Saturday 19th February
My sleep was brief, the boys arrived to pick me up for a beach party at Half Moon Bay miles away. With bottle and blanket, we set off to a wonderful place to dance on the sand until 0700 when I just had to have a kip in the car. After a couple of hours, I woke up to climb down the steep walkway to the beach. A posse of athletes were training, running up and down this walkway, a tall black woman at their head, running uphill at a frightening pace. The boys, seeing her, remarked that she was Kathy Freeman, Australia’s Aboriginal sprinter who should take gold in the coming Olympic Games.
Back in the house the boys crashed out while I pottered around in the garden, tending their tomato plants and pumpkins while breakfasting on apples and figs. The grapevine could use some trimming and the grapes are yet too young to eat. The temperature rose to a blood boiling 38° but thankfully a cooling breeze blows through the building.
Everyone comes alive again late afternoon, there's another party tonight? Oh no, this is getting too hectic! As the sun sets, we go to a park to meet up with the gang under a spreading gum tree in a ring of candles, eat Thai food and drink wine until late. I foolishly put two of my rings on the esky and forgot about them until we were back at Coburg.
Sunday 20th February
I woke early and drove to what I thought was the park, but as I discover upon returning, was not the right one. Jim B kindly took me back to the place we were sitting but by now it was too late, the rings were gone. I booked myself onto the Sea Devil service to Tasmania for Tuesday morning and hung around the house all day.
Monday 21st February
Did the ticket thing, and drove over to Juud’s for a few hours. She took me to Adam’s place in the next street, where Tim and Kerry are staying. It was good to be again with old friends. I promised to call in on my return from Tasmania, where I am going in the morning.
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