Solo across the NullarborThe Final furlong:
Caiguna to Norseman
Norseman to Southern Cross
Southern Cross to Northam to stay at Nicki and Roy’s place
Northam to Perth, a skip and a hop
One thing I have learned about myself over this last week is that I need time to myself. I enjoy being on my own and the freedom to do as I please and when I want to. However, and it’s a big however, isolation is not good for me beyond a few days. After day four, I found myself turning peculiar. I found that I immersed myself more and more into my own bubble and that I withdrew from others in an unhealthy manner. I retreated into the sphere of day-dreams and often found it almost impossible to shake this off and to live in the real world. Quite unhealthy for the mind, I am sure!
The drive from Caiguna to Norseman was the last long drive and marked the end of the Nullarbor. The weather turned cooler and there was even a bit of rain. Just after leaving the campsite, the longest stretch of straight road starts, the 90mile straight – 147km of road without the slightest turn. As most of the A1 in this part of the world is fairly straight anyway, it didn’t seem that taxing. For obvious reasons, the road has the dual function of being a landing strip for the Flying Doctors and is marked as such, piano stripes and all. One of my animal highlights was seeing a wedge-tail eagle sitting on a tree stump, looking straight at me and then taking of. These birds have a huge wingspan and it was an awesome sight to see it lift up and off.
In Norseman, I filled up the tank, emptied the cassette (the toilet, argh!) and booked into the campsite. Then, to celebrate having crossed the Nullarbor, I walked into town to eat in the only hotel/pub there, yes you guessed it, the Norseman Hotel. On my way I was approached by an Aboriginal teenager, who was keen to chat. He was a Year 10 student (4thyear in Scotland) who wants to either become a boiler maker like his father, a teacher or an engineer. He told me that from Y11 Norseman students, who want to continue with their schooling, have to travel to Esperance on the South coast for the last two years of school. There they board during the week because you couldn’t really travel to Esperance every day. I told him I was a teacher, which really impressed him. In Norseman High School there are only two teachers and around 50 kids he said so, I guess, he hasn’t met many teachers in his life. We had a great wee chat and eventually he pointed to a group of girls who stood about 100 metres away and said about one of them that she had recently moved to Norseman from Esperance and that she was full of herself because she was from the big town. Esperance really isn’t that big but hey-ho, it’s all relative. At this point the Esperance girl called him over and he cycled off. I could hear her ask him who I was and they were all giggling. It was a lovely wee encounter. So on I sauntered to the delights of the busy juke box, the footy on the telly, the open fire, the men, the busty English backpacker barmaid and the grilled barramundi with salad and chips, washed down with a pint of One Fifty Lashes Pale Ale at the Norseman Hotel. I must admit that I kept turning round on my 1km walk back, as the streets were deserted, which I suppose was a good thing, but you can’t fully get away from the paranoia of getting buried somewhere in the outback with your skeleton being found twenty years later by a gold digger.
I woke up alive and icy the next morning. My phone told me it was 3 degrees Celcius and even Roddy’s Turbo Furnace, our normally very effective hot air blower, was useless for the longest time. Fortunately, though, winter in Australia isn’t that bad even though the locals love “rugging up”, i.e. walking about in snow boots, scarves and wooly hats as soon as the thermometer drops below 15 degrees – your average summer’s day in Scotland, “Taps aff!”
Southern Cross, another outback town with quaint, mostly derelict hotels will stay in my mind mainly for the lowest point in my self-absorption when I pulled out of the petrol station on the wrong side of the road! Almost colliding head-on with a roadtrain! The driver was too shocked to toot his horn but he did manage to swerve away from me and to stick me the middle finger. I swerved too and applied the brakes hard, which had the secondary effect of tipping all my CDs on the ground and for the spare water canister under the unmade bed to shoot forward, knocking an appropriately sized hole into one of the interior walls in the van. The incident finally shook me out of my reverie and forced me to focus on the here and now. I don’t think this will happen to me again in a hurry. It could all have been over in a flash!
I stopped at an exhibit of the original rabbit-proof fence, which was built in order to keep the infestation of rabbits out of WA as much as possible. The fence also played its role in that awful part of Australian history, the Lost Generation, when it served to guide three little mixed race Aboriginal girls back to their families after they were abducted from Jigalong in the North and taken to the Moore River Settlement. There they were supposed to lose their Aboriginal heritage in order to be made more white and then to be used as domestic servants. The girls managed to run away and used the rabbit-proof fence as a guide to walk back 2400km to Jigalong. Watch the film Rabbit-Proof Fence if you haven’t already.
After a shortish drive I arrived in Northam, the home of Nicki and Roy. They had invited me to stay over with them and so I was back in civilisation and in a social setting. Nicki is one of Roddy’s “many ex-girlfriends” and a nurse. We have known each other since one of my earlier visits to Australia and I like her very much. He has good taste for the most part. You can imagine that we had loads to talk about! Opposite their house is a paddock for sheep and one kangaroo that seems to think it’s a sheep as it stays there all the time.
After a great night in a proper bed, I drove to Perth and on to the Karrinyup Waters Resort where we spent three months last year when Roddy needed treatment.
So this is where we are now. For how long I don’t know, yet. Roddy’s daughter Alex has been struggling with a few things and we are hoping to support her while she is in this difficult spot.
2700km is a long way but the funny thing is that it is very easy to drive. In Germany there are so many spaghetti junctions on the Autobahn that you either need a good GPS or you need to plan and know your geography. In 1987, when I was driving up to Scotland for the first time, I thought it was hilarious that all I had to do was to follow the bold sign for The North. Still, GB is quite a small country. In Australia, however, this lack of a complex infrastructure is even more apparent. Most of the 2700km I just covered were driven on one road, no junctions, no other road options even. The odd turn-off for a farm, 257km away down a dirt-track. You can’t get lost, just follow the sun to the West or look for the Southern Ocean, which should be to your left. You can’t go far wrong, just as long as you keep your eyes and your mind on the road.
Nina Simone, again, because she is so good,
Scottish and Scandi folk music,
Simon and Garfunkel,
And lots more besides.
Would have liked to have had Xavier Rudd on my iPod…. Need to fix this.