Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Tuesday December 14, 1971 - morning. 

Ceduna is on the very edge of the vast Nullarbor Desert, Nullarbor being an aboriginal word meaning ‘Latin for No Trees’. Heh. We joked about that for days.

The desert, on one side, comes to a sudden and very dramatic stop where it meets the Great Australian Bight, part of the Southern Ocean. Imagine a flat plain that just stops dead, dropping off sheer into the ocean. Those cliffs run along the coast for thousands of miles. All along, the unrelenting sea, over thousands - maybe millions - of years, has gouged channels deep into the cliffs which emerge as blowholes in the plain. People fall into them. What a horrible fate.

Ceduna - which we reached last night - is a fishing village. Well, it was in 1971. Maybe today it is an IT outpost or a casino town or a canning industry hub or a destination for photographers of bikini models. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just the same as it was in 1971. The nearest large town to the east - Port Augusta - is 480 kilometres away (that was yesterday's journey) and the nearest to the west, 1200 kilometres. That’s the way we’re headed. Don’t run outta gas, Uncle. (Not really a danger, there's a number of fuel stops in between.)

The car has run like a swiss watch so far, hasn’t missed a beat. Just thought I'd mention that.

Today, we left Ceduna aiming to reach Eucla - across a red desert with nothing in it except the three hundred mile dirt road running through it. That’s right, the road is unmade.

It was a steamy, humid, dusty, exciting, unforgettable day. A threatening humidity lurked under a blanket of darkness as we hit the highway at probably five-thirty, six. A journey like this needs an early start. Goodbye, Ceduna.

Ceduna shut its eyes and went on sleeping. It wasn’t long before the made road ended. As we hit the dirt, the tyres immediately starting talking a different language, a kind of cobble-cobble-cobble instead of their usual whishing rubbery sound. With less grip on the road, the car and caravan developed more of a swaying motion. Each surface variation - for example, a pothole - would cause the suspension to swing, creating a pivoting effect at the towball, the central point between car and 'van. So we kind of swished along in the heat and dust like a landlocked boat.

The morning creaked towards noon. The miles rolled under the car and the caravan and out the other end in a cloud of red dust and a scatter of pebbles.

Red dust everywhere. Scrubby, indeterminate desert plants. OK, they probably had names, I’m not a botanist. But you wouldn’t want them in your garden next to the prize roses.

The traffic on the Eyre Highway was rare enough in those days that the aborigines – the Anangu people - gentle, black-skinned, snub-nosed, brown-eyed folk with washed out hair and that awesome presence that people whose ancestors have lived in the area for thousands of years - could flag down cars going through and shyly show travellers their artefacts: boomerangs, leathergoods, bark carvings. We took a look and had a chat with the gentle, lost-in-their-own-land Anangu people. 'G'day. Where you from?' 'Melbourne, mate!' 'Melbin long way, mate. Where you goin'?' 'Perth.' 'Perth long way too, mate.'

That place is called Yalata. It is still there, but there is probably an air-conditioned showroom with credit card facilities, an espresso machine and low fat muffins.

Later, we crunched to a stop somewhere in the flat sea of red dust for a sandwich. A dust sandwich. With maybe hardboiled egg. A hardboiled egg and dust sandwich. And cups of tea. Always cups of tea.


On my cousin’s cassette recorder:

the first thing I met was a fly with a buzz
and the sky with no clouds
the heat was hot and the ground was dry
but the air was full of sound

is it time for a nap yet? i think so

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