After the Nullabor, our plans were to travel down the Eyre Peninsula on the west side and up on the east. Roddy was keen to see Woomera, north of Port Augusta, on the way to Alice Springs, right up the guts of the country and from there to backtrack and head towards Adelaide by the second week of December. There we would leave our van with a friend, fly to Perth and then on to Scotland for Christmas and most of January. But first things first!
After having re-acclimatised to civilisation in Ceduna we headed to Elliston, a small town on the west coast of the Eyre Peninsula. Elliston is fairly sleepy but has a renowned bakery and a picturesque town centre. The campsite was fairly empty and the manager decidedly relaxed. He emerged from a cabin with more than a layer of designer stubble, a heavy-duty flannel shirt and jeans that had seen better days. He more or less took our details, then put both legs on the counter and chatted with us, asking us where we were from. This always makes for a slightly complicated answer and the question of how we met. He was intrigued with the idea of our internet dating and I got the impression that he was forging a plan. Perhaps a smallish make-over and he’s a goer. Are there any ladies out there who would fancy a rustic future in Elliston?
Coffin Bay and the National Park of the same name lie en route to Port Lincoln. The National Park is partly limited in accessibility by two wheel drives like us, a common feature of the Australian countryside. Nevertheless it is beautiful, giving views of the breathtaking coastline and a rolling dune landscape. Here I came across a new hero of mine! It is a tiny bird weighing all of 30g. It is called the Red Stint and it flies from Siberia every year to the south of Australia to nest. Wowzer! 30g! 10,000km! tiny wings! Roddy explained it, saying that it was an aberration of evolution – as the continents drifted apart so gradually, the daft wee bird (over generations) never realised that it should find a closer warmish place to lay its eggs and so every year it flew a few mms more, as did its babies and theirs and – you get the drift. Now it’s at the ridiculous stage and the bird is driven by its genetic instinct and can’t think to change a habit of a lifetime. Sad! But impressive and my new hero.
Port Lincoln, at the southern tip of the Eyre Peninsula was breezily cold! The bloody Antarctic wind! The town was so much bigger than we had expected. They build ships here and even have delights such as McDonalds as well as all the other fast-fooders. There is a lively esplanade; a town with confidence and huge wheat silos. Eyre peninsula is characterised by its pastoral nature, rolling wheat fields, dry stane dykes and beautifully kept solid stone houses. Stones litter the landscape everywhere, apparently waiting to be picked up and used.
Driving north again but on the eastern side of the peninsula, we came across Whyalla, another quite prosperous looking town. It’s a steel town with art nouveau styling on town centre buildings and a minesweeper ship that can be visited.
Port Augusta was our last town on the Eyre Peninsula at the crossroads between the peninsula, the road to Alice Springs and Adelaide in the opposite direction. It is nicely old fashioned, with art-nouveau houses. We stayed at the campsite, which was looking over the railway line, the estuary and the red Flinders Ranges, a large mountainous range, which we will visit after Scotland.
The weather had been fairly cool with floods in Melbourne, so we thought we’d escape north and inland to catch some sun. Woomera was on Roddy’s wish-list due to its nerd appeal so that’s where we headed. I loved the fact that it was on the Stuart Highway, which leads, via Coober Pedy and Alice Springs, to Darwin – through the red centre of Oz. The legendary Ghan runs parallel to the road as does a water pipe. Huge road signs in English, Germanglish and (possibly correct) Chinese warn motorists of stray animals on the road. The vistas were atmospheric, opening up onto salt lakes and table-top mountains. There was a real red dirt bush feel. Sheep and cattle graze on the sparse offerings of saltbush. How can they survive here? They seem to thrive though and are very large. I guess there are relatively few animals per square kilometre so they don’t have to compete for food.
Woomera is a 1950/60 missile-testing town at the edge of a test range which itself stretches all across Australia. The UK did a number of atomic tests 400 km west of Woomera for which it was the supply base. Funny how the UK thought that this was ok….? Woomera is odd but strangely likeable with that irresistible sweet dusty outback smell. It’s a full sized town with the ambience of a mining town but with military overtones, a bit of a ghost town. It’s virtually empty but with full sized theatre, two churches, a fire and emergency station and a supermarket. We walked into the school and had a chat with the receptionist who told us that the school was built for several hundred kids from military families but at present only caters for two kids! It has a full size oval with floodlights and two swimming pools. She encouraged me to apply for work in the New Year! Hm!
Housing here is institutionalised and subdivided into their uses such as the dwellings for single officers. The campsite is run by the Department of Defence and the manager Shane Hoffmeier, the Hoff, is a bald muscle-clad Popeye. Rules are strict. One of our favourites: not only was one to be evicted if one broke any of the rules, but one had to evict within 30 minutes! On the morning of our departure The Hoff phoned the cleaner at 10.03 to tell us to leave now. Arrest me officer!
The town museum displays ex missiles and bombs, as well as the idiosyncratic political and social story of the town. In the 50/60s it was a microcosm of people from the USA, UK and Australia who rubbed along together in this remote outpost, making it work for themselves.
We saw muscly men in blue camouflage driving to the base, which is in the centre of town. They must live ca 300 metres from the base but why walk when you have a motor? Eerily we also observed Mercedes vans with blackened out windows prowling the streets, looking very dodgy – either highly secretive or perhaps a hearse? I had a chat with the woman at the check out in the supermarket who had lived here for 10 years. She said it was hard living here but she was from the outback originally and finds it now impossibly loud and busy in Adelaide.
…Which was where we were now heading towards. We stopped off at Crystal Brooke, a small town, where our neighbour was a German guy – again! Honestly, we met so many Germans. He was one of the non-stop talking ones which was a bit tedious. Blablablabla… Why do so many single travellers just talk without any awareness of their audience and a stop valve? He travelled with a cat that was always locked into a netted tent. Not only was our neighbour chatty but above us we had the loudest Corellas ever – thousands of them congregated in the branches, knocking each other off their posts, swinging upside down on one leg and screeching at deafening volume for an hour before sunset.
On the drive to Adelaide I felt excited, as it was only the second big Australian city that I have seen, apart from lovely Perth. We were booked into the town centre campsite in Hackney, a mere fifteen minutes walk from the CBD (Central Business District, the acronym for city centres in Australia), leading through the Botanic Gardens and alongside the Zoo. Our site was high above the Torrens River, a sluggish trickle contrary to its dramatic name, with the back of Gecko actually overhanging the steep descent down to the river. We were rewarded by nightly visits from the cutest possums. Here in SA there are even wild koalas – there are none in WA apart from those introduced in National Parks. The males apparently make the most awful sounds at night. I didn’t hear them as I sleep like a corpse but Roddy did, and we saw one in the morning, high up in a eucalypt.
Adelaide is interesting and very likeable. Undeniably Australian, but reminiscent of Glasgow and even Heidelberg. It almost has a European feel. As we will spend a little bit more time here after our Scottish stint we took it easy. Despite this I had to attend hospital after a second episode in two days of palpitations that lasted for about 30 minutes. I was given an ECG and bloods were taken. Neither indicated anything sinister apart from the news that my cholesterol is high! No more sweets or cream sauces for me I guess. Should I become a veggo-pescatarian with the odd excursion into steak-land? Any tips from my readers? The doctor gave me a referral for my GP to have a holter monitor fitted and an ultrasound scan of my heart done. I have had palpitations accompanied by loss of colour vision and a buzzing sound in the ears for most of my life, normally prompted by heat, high humidity and dehydration of sorts. The day I emigrated to Australia, though, I had an episode which I think might have done some damage to the heart. I was so stressed that day with winding up final things in the house, dealing with the rental agent and an insurance assessor who popped round to check out a bathroom claim. Added to this was the emotional strain of leaving behind my life of 28 years in Scotland, leaving a house I had lived in for 24 years and, most of all, leaving behind my kids. I had the worst palpitations in the estate agent’s office and could hardly see but kept going and walked home where I had to lie down because I thought I was having a heart attack – shooting pains in my arm and all – but it eventually got better. Still, that day was quite traumatic and my heart felt raw for a while afterwards. I should have had it checked then, I know, but at least now something will happen. I have since seen my GP in Perth who agreed and also wants me to see a cardiologist who, after these initial investigations, will probably fit a rod under the skin, which will track my heart for three years! Apparently that’s the way things are going. I guess they would be able to read the tracker periodically rather than waiting for three years for results. I’ll be like a dog with a chip! Bloody hell – I’m getting old!
We left the van with a friend John, an ex-colleague of Roddy’s, in the Adelaide Hills. He told me how influential Roddy has been in his life and how much he admired him. He is not the first of his colleagues to have told me that and it fills me with pride to have this fabulous man by my side who has had such a positive impact on other people. I think people admire his strength to go after what is important to him, his ability to totally focus and plan his route as well as his lack of fear or worry about others’ opinions of him. His knowledge of his professional field, too, clearly impresses other techno- and radiophiles and I know he has his list of fans across the world who follow him on Youtube.
John is married to Andrea, a German woman whose parents were over from Hamburg for a visit. We had the benefit of the German environment and enjoyed a proper Kaffee und Kuchen session that lasted a while and involved several cakes and a river of Kaffee und Tee. After making new friends, we slept in the van and then left it there. Hopefully there won’t be a bushfire in the hills, cause otherwise our van will be no more. As there were bushfire risk warnings everywhere, I took out everything that I felt would be exceedingly hard to replace, i.e. my folder with all original documents, my two laptops and any valuable jewellery. Everything else can be replaced.
A short flight back to Perth and four days there allowed just enough time to catch up with some main people and, especially, the kids. Jane, Alex, Karyna, Roddy and I had a lovely meal at Fibber’s in Leederville, which was sort of our Christmas meal. When we asked for the bill we were told it was on the house because Jane had worked for them and the boss wanted to treat us all. Bonus!
Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you all xxx