Sunday, December 12, 2004

Monday December 13, 1971 

I woke up to the sound of something screeching very loudly and very close to my left ear.

Then the caravan ceiling smacked me on the head. Remembering, again, not to sit bolt upright in bed, I pulled on my clothes and jumped down from my top bunk.


Last night, the Valiant had rolled to a stop at the Port Augusta Fauna Park, kind of a cross between a caravan park and a zoo.

Its camping sites were scattered around the park, and there were wallabies, peacocks, deer, goats, emus; some wandering around, some in enclosures. Cool.

Cousin and I spent the early part of the evening doing what we usually did, checking out the place, stretching our legs after hours of driving.

From way over the other side of the park, I could see uncle sitting on a deck chair right next to the open door of the caravan. Aunt sat next to him, rolling tomorrow’s cigarettes. She rolled all her own cigarettes, making them curiously thin. The tobacco lasts longer.

They sat there in the early evening light, chatting about what? They were neither young nor old. They were in their middle years. He was mild-mannered, quiet and patient and had curly hair that was already white; she was a tiny slip of a woman with dark hair and olive skin. She was always ready with a wisecrack, just like her younger brother, my father.

Later, in the van after dinner, we played cards around the kitchenette table.

It was a noisy night at the Port Augusta Fauna Park. I listened to the chattering of partying fauna, wondered for a while what they were talking about and then fell asleep.


And so, this morning, a sudden screech woke me with a start and I hit my head. Having climbed down from my bunk, I slipped outside the caravan to personally greet the locals.

A peacock was scratching about looking for something it had lost in the dirt and a wallaby bounced up and down on its way to wherever wallabies go in Port Augusta, South Australia, at six-thirty on a Monday morning.

The menagerie was still hyperactively chattering to itself when we left at five past eight. Two emus were having a domestic and the peacock was refereeing. A goat looked on, baaed loudly, walked away and started chewing a timber garden railing near the cockatoo enclosure. I guess there were humans about as well, but I don't remember any!

On the long, lonely road out of Port Augusta, the landscape started to change, turning from brown to red, as if the earth was oxidising.

Sure enough, we soon came to a town called Iron Knob. Don’t laugh. In Australia, a knob is a small hill. Or a door handle. Iron Knob is a metallic bump in a flat landscape, like a ball sitting alone on a billiard table. It’s still a funny name though. The iron mine adjoining Iron Knob is called Iron Maiden. Iron Knob and Iron Maiden. What a pair.

Lunch: Kimba. Under a tree again. I have the photograph. Valiant and caravan parked under a tree in Kimba, South Australia, December 13, 1971.

I love the names of towns, they fascinate me for some reason and I never forget them. Kimba. Kimba. Kimba.I can’t stop saying it. One day I’ll have a cat and call it Kimba. By the way, here is Kimba on the map. (And thank you to the pretty girl pointing it out. I don't know who you are, but I'd like to. Hello, world: if I've googled your picture, let me know who you are.)

The idea of parking under trees was not solely for the purpose of me taking a nice photo, but because it was damn hot. No air-con in the car. Or the 'van.

The afternoon drew remorselessly on and so did we. Small towns approached and receded, sleeping in the afternoon sun. Wudinna. Poochera. Minnipa.

Minnipa was nothing more than two giant cylindrical wheat silos soaring into the endless sky. We could see them approaching from miles away. Just as, if you were an ant, you would see two milk bottles in the middle of a tennis court from the baseline. If you happened to be an ant on a tennis court.

Leading away from the silos, a broad gauge railway track glinted metal in the hot sun. On the rails, several faded red railway trucks were snoozing, waiting patiently to carry grain to seaports.

We hit the edge of Australia at four o’clock.


On my uncle’s car radio:

The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the empty skies, my love,
To the dark and the empty skies.

is it time for a nap yet? i think so

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