Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Wednesday December 15 1971 (continued). 

Where were we?

Melting in the desert. Eating salad sandwiches. Drinking tea. At twenty past nine in the morning. You know what? The best drink you can drink in the heat is hot, sweet tea. Any tea-drinker will tell you that.

Oh, man, that spider: it was the biggest goddamn spider I have ever seen in my life, about the size of the average crow. And the same colour. Right in my face.


Back in the car. Uncle at the wheel for the second part of the day’s scenic drive. Are we enjoying ourselves, he burbles? The sights? The weather? The endless road?

He’s totally the joker. Aunt lights another thin cigarette. I told them about the spider. Uncle said I should have taken a jar and collected it as a specimen for school. Totally the joker.

Dust is everywhere. Especially in the car. No air-con, so the windows have to be down or we fry. Hundreds of miles of dusty roads in a red desert means you can’t escape it. And it's 101 degrees. Fahrenheit.

Sometimes as I’m riding along in the back seat, gazing out the car window at the spinifex, cousin’s napping head lolling on my shoulder, aunt and uncle in the front seat, dash radio burbling softly, I get to thinking that it would be easier travelling through a sandy desert because the sand would not be as infuriating as dust, which is finer and hangs in the air like a hot, red fog.

We stopped at Water Tank about midday. 102 degrees. I’m almost delirious now, so I’m not sure whether Water Tank is a place or just a water tank. I have a feeling it’s on the map, so let’s stick with the upper case W and T.

But even though it may have been on the map, it was still just a big wire-fenced square compound with a corrugated iron roof covering a tank and rudimentary pump drawing water from some subterranean aquifer. Well I guess an aquifer is subterranean by definition.

The water was brackish. But it was water. You have to boil it first.

We left Water Tank behind and slowly the red landscape changed. The spinifex turned to low shrubs and the low shrubs turned to small trees. Still straggly and parched but small trees nevertheless. We saw lots of these.

Oh. I haven’t mentioned kangaroos since Port Augusta. Maybe that was wallabies anyway. Wallabies are just like small kangaroos. As whippets are to greyhounds. The same but different. I’m raving. I’m delirious. It's 103 degrees.

Kangaroos are dangerous because they run in front of your car and you hit them and sometimes they die and sometimes you die. You have to be particularly careful at dawn and dusk when they are on the move. Uncle was particularly careful. We didn't hit any kangaroos or anything at all.

Interesting note: in recent years, hitting eagles has been as much of a problem as hitting kangaroos on outback roads. Why? Because of the Drought. (The Drought is to blame for everything in Australia.) Eagles feed on small animals, right? And small animals eat grass, right? But the Drought killed much vegetation and small animal numbers were reduced, forcing eagles - formerly wary of roads and traffic - to eat roadkill for food. They descend to the road and gorge themselves and are unable to lift off as quickly as drivers – accustomed to other birds flitting away before being hit - expect. So if you see a wedge-tailed eagle on the road, slow down. It’s not going to flit away like a sparrow.

Two in the afternoon. More delirium and more funny place names: Caiguna. Cocklebiddy. Balladonia. (I love Balladonia, it makes me think of a mythical place where songwriters go to write long, lilting songs about adventure and romance. But it wasn’t like that at all. It was just a Mobil roadhouse frying in the sun - 105 degrees now - with its Mobil flying horse sign blown down by a storm.)

The Eyre Highway ended at a place called Norseman. It was more like the Sahara than Scandinavia.

This is where we ended our day’s driving: a dusty old caravan park run, as most caravan parks seemed to be, by some friendly old couple. Their home was a glorified caravan with an office - ‘All Visitors Must Report Here’ - tacked onto the front and a propped up clothesline out the back.

On entering the office through a flimsy screen door you could smell their dinner cooking and hear a television set blaring in the living room behind the office. A few dusty tourist brochures hung limply on a shelf and a bell rang when the screen door slammed.

We parked the 'van. Across the way, sure enough, were the old fools and their Renault. He seemed to have figured out the tent. Only took him half of Australia. By Perth he’ll be an expert.

I headed straight to the shower block to try and shed some dust.

I stripped off and stepped into the concrete shower cubicle, turned on the water and watched the dust flowing red down my trunk, down my legs, through my toes and out the circular drain hole. Guess what - the water trickling out of the showerhead was salt water. Have you ever showered in salt water?

It made my body stickier and dustier and saltier than before. I finished my shower and sandpapered my naked body with my towel.


On my cousin’s cassette player:

I wanna live with a cinnamon girl
I could be happy the rest of my life
with a cinnamon girl
a dreamer of pictures I run in the night
you see us together chasing the moonlight
my cinnamon girl

is it time for a nap yet? i think so

Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?