This weekend, Mr B and I packed up our suitcases, the dog, and the cat, and drove more than 2000 kilometres across Australia to our new home in Adelaide, South Australia. The drive took us through the heart of the Australian outback and I wish I had the words or pictures to do it justice.But we covered the distance in just two days, so there were few stops, and the only photos I have are Instagram snapshots taken from the moving car.And words... well if you've been in the Australian outback, you'll know it pre-dates words by about 30 millennia.
The outback is too ancient, too isolated, too harsh, and too inscrutable for a city dweller like me to be granted the right words to tell its story. So here, instead, are snippets - little totems - from the journey.
The houses disappear first. Then the hills, and any tall trees. The road stretches into a distance where the horizon starts to curve, and we drive an hour without meeting another car in any direction. It is all very silent.On the rare occasion that we do pass another vehicle, most often they are shipping trucks or road trains, Mr B gives them what he believes is the Salute of the Road, an unspoken camaraderie. This consists of him straightening the fingers of his right hand into a stationery wave, without actually lifting his hand off the wheel. To Mr B's dismay, most truckers appear oblivious to the Salute of the Road, but he persists in hope.I put on a reading of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
, a welcome and very entertaining diversion as the desert relentlessly unfolds.
As dusk gathers, our drive becomes dangerous. This is the hour that kangaroos get lively, and a Big Red leaping onto the road at the precise time that we meet a rare oncoming fellow motorist almost has us. When you're hurtling along the open road at 110, 'roos crossing are a lethal hazard.
After the sun sets, quite spectacularly and blindingly in the red dust and directly in our eyes, the tension builds and we are both on high alert for animals appearing out of the darkness. We turn off the story. Night draws in. From our place directly underneath the Milky Way, the stars appear as big as plums. We encounter more 'roos but manage to avoid catastrophe, and Mr B spots an echidna ambling by the side of the road, going about its private business.
By the time we pull into Bourke, our stopover for the night, we are both wrung out. Pets are not welcome, so the dog sleeps in the car and we sneak the cat into the hotel bathroom in the little fruit box she has slept in all day.
We wake before dawn and are on the road as the sky begins to open up. It's almost two hours before we get to the next town (the next town = breakfast, so I am starving).Today, we see all the animals we mercifully missed last night. Kangaroos of course, grey ones, red ones, and the smaller wallabies. We pass emus, mostly in twos but once or twice in a whole flock. Feral goats are everywhere, and cattle, wild boars, foxes, and a sheep that sends the dog into a frenzy when it runs clumsily away from the car, unshorn wool dragging along the ground.(Oh! Joy of joys! Someone has just returned Mr B's Salute of the Road. He lets out a "WOOP!" and then "YEAH!" and punches the air with his fist. You'd think he just won an Olympic gold medal.)
When we stop for fuel in a remote little town, a flock of red-crested black cockatoos lands noisily in the tree above us. With their wings spread, the sun glints through the red underneath and the cockatoos appear otherworldly: dark and fiery and unpredictable.
Fuel and food stops are fascinating. We pass through towns of utter isolation, rotting fence-posts and rusting corrugated iron buildings bowing in the winter wind and sun. There are wildflowers, this time of year, but no pasture. It is a cruel place. We wonder how people survive out here, and why they choose to. I admire but I don't understand them.
At one stop, Mannahill, an abandoned race track sinks back into the desert. We think about the town it must once have been.
Then I put The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie back on, and we drive into another dusk.
Have you ever felt like a foreigner in your own country? Tell me I'm not alone.