Sunday, 23 September 2012

I love a sunburnt country

‘I love a sunburnt country,

A land of sweeping plains,

Of ragged mountain ranges,

Of drought and flooding rains.’

Dorothea Mackellar

Those lines, written in 1904, are so famous they border on cliché. But after completing this trip, I reckon they have a clear ring of truth to them. Simple words that do so much to describe our massive, wild country.  

I started off in the dry west, where the sun shone day in day out, the sky was always blue. In Margaret River there was a heatwave, with three or four days close to forty degrees. The forests of the whole south west are suffering for lack of rain, and it’s not forecast to get any wetter.

In three solid days I inched over the plains of the Nullarbor, so flat so empty so wide.

I saw the mountains of the Stirling Ranges in WA, the Flinders Ranges in South Aus and the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales. I’ve climbed their peaks, admired their curves, slept under their stars.

The day I drove into Victoria it rained steadily. Through Murray farming country I took back roads to avoid the road trains and caravans. The following day I arrived in Griffith NSW and it was still raining. Bitterly cold, hard little rain drops. I was hoping to find some fruit picking work, but I was disappointed. One reason, I was told, was that only eight weeks before, Griffith – as well as a big slab of the state – had been underwater. Biggest flood on record, pretty much. Sandbags in the main street, people evacuated. Towns up and down the rivers were the same. The Murrumbidgee had risen and risen and nobody knew when it would stop.

No work for me, so I drove through Wagga Wagga and into the Snowy Mountains. It was grey and misty, light rain dripped now and then. I hiked through wet forests with bird calls echoing around the empty valleys. Bell birds, crows, a lone black cockatoo.

At Yarrangobilly there’s a thermal pool. On a cold grey afternoon, with the sound of a stream riffling away behind and a misty rain falling, I floated around in twenty seven degree water that was rising from somewhere deep below the earth’s surface.

And I camped in the snow, it was hard to believe. It felt so recently that I was in that Margaret River heatwave, though that was many weeks and many kilometres earlier. There I found myself pitching the trusty stingray tent in a field patched with snow and ice.

I hit the east coast at Tathra and headed up to Bateman’s Bay. The next day there was a severe weather warning and we were battered by one hundred kilometre an hour winds, flash floods and fallen trees. The ocean became a roiling mess of flying froth and thundering waves.

Up the green south coast I went, where friendly locals told me the best spot to paddle out, a night in the lush Jamberoo valley, a hike in the cold Blue mountains, then on busy highways back to the old stamping ground, where towns and people and cars hustle busily together. I made it home.

On the trip I’d not heard the news of the world. I wasn’t much interested. My world was simple, uncomplicated, involving what I would eat that day, what I might like to do and where to go. The snippets that came my way, I felt I’d rather not know. The looming industrial development of our wild places  – The Kimberley and our very own Great  Barrier Reef under threat, and the ground beneath our feet in the eyes of the coal seam gas corporations. Who comes up with these ideas?

Australia, you’re my country and I love you.

You are an amazing land, there’s no doubt. You are powerful, colourful, and diverse and I hope to heaven we don’t ruin you.

Sunrise, Bibbulmun Track WA

Banksia Man Party, WA

Lucky Bay, WA

Shark Bait Surfing, Eyre Peninsula SA 

Flinders Ranges, SA

Snowy Mountains, NSW

South Coast NSW
That’s the last of my entries describing my trip across the country. I guess I’ll now move on to writing about random things.
Thanks for reading, hope you’ll stick with it!

Sunday, 16 September 2012

The music

One of my life’s great pleasures is listening to music on a roadtrip. Loud music on a long drive. I’ve spent enough time in a car without a working stereo to know what it’s like to drive in silence, and I believe that experience has made me appreciate the travelling tunes even more.

There’s something incredibly satisfying in putting on the right music for the right moment. Sometimes the song does more than suit the moment, it is a part of the moment, it creates it. There have been times when I’ve been driving and I’ve come upon a scene of startling impact – maybe the still coastline at dawn, or a dripping wet forest in the mist, or a long familiar street I haven’t driven down for years – and the music is there with me. I know that from that moment on whenever I hear that song I’ll be taken right back to this time and place, I’ll feel it, smell it and live it once more... the sun cruising the dusty roads of South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula with wet salty hair after some long smooth waves at Granites, listening to that unmistakeable guitar sound of The Cruel Sea, Tex Perkins growling ‘my heart is a muscle and it pumps blood like a big old black steam train’, and I’m thinking about travelling the country and surfing unknown waves and camping under the stars by a crackling campfire, I was free, alive, on the loose in the world...

...long straight highways in the rain, as roadtrains howled past with a rumbling gust from their fiery depths, spitting spray onto the windscreen, listening to Bruce Springsteen’s dark smoky sounds on Nebraska as he sings about death row inmates and troubled Highway Patrolmen...

...driving down into Prevelly from Margaret River on a warm Autumn evening and the sun had just set and there was a band of apricot-orange on the horizon, lines of swell stretched away, there was a purple tinge in the air, and I’d just quit my job and left Freo and was moving across the country with all my worldly goods in the car with me and LCD Soundsystem were saying ‘look around you, you’re surrounded, it won’t get any better’ and I believed it.

On this journey I was moving towards a new chapter of life, and on the way I had been weaving between optimistic excitement at this new beginning, and pessimistic apprehension about my chances of finding happiness on the east coast, or anywhere. Some days it took just a simple song lyric to tip the balance one way or the other. A word or two could leave me hollow and shaking, or on the other hand the right song could have me smiling and tapping the steering wheel, singing along loudly and feeling that living this life is a damn fine thing to be doing today.

I’m reminded of a great book I read a while back, Vernon God Little, where the main character is similarly affected. Talking about listening to pop songs and the psychological impact it had on him, he says ‘ get all boosted up, convinced you’re going to win in life, then the song’s over and you discover you fucken lost.’

 My music is precious to me, it helps shape my days, so when I misplaced a case full of twenty four of my favourite cds in Denmark in the south of WA, I didn’t hesitate in reporting it to the local police. The officer took my details and said she’d ring me if it showed up. She hasn’t called so far but the way I see it, the song hasn’t ended just yet so maybe I can still win.
Have you got a musical moment to share?

Sunday, 9 September 2012

The Voice

‘Thank you very much. I’ll be back later.’

I recognised the voice. I knew it well, though it had been a while. Perfectly enunciated, clear and deep. Loud, but not booming - just a notch above any other voice in the room. That voice had come to our house every weekday evening at seven pm while I was growing up.

When the owner of the voice had left the reception area I walked over to Terry at the counter and said ‘that was Richard Morecroft wasn’t it?’ I was a bit excited because I had a lot of respect for Morecroft, I reckon he’s cool. I feel like he taught me so much about the way the world is, and the ABC news has never been the same without him. And that story about him reading the news with a baby bat stuffed up his shirt was great.

Who would have thought I’d bump into someone like that at Arkaroola, out here in the middle of nowhere?

‘What?’ said Terry. ‘No, it can’t have been.’ She was talking in a husky whisper, having all but lost her voice.

‘Yeah it was’ said Paul the helicopter pilot who was leaning against the counter.

‘The bloke off TV?’ said Brendan who was also lurking around, ‘nah it wasn’t him.’

Morecroft had been unshaven and less groomed than on TV, but I was pretty sure it was him. That voice. Terry looked into the booking system on the computer, and up came the name ‘R. Morecroft’.

‘Oh my God it’s him’ she croaked, ‘I need to go and talk to him. I’m going after him. I love that man.’

And I thought I was excited.

‘Hold on’ Paul said, ‘he’s staying another night. Talk to him later.’

‘Alright. But I’m going to get my Letters and Numbers book, so when he comes back he can sign it for me. I’ll give him a discount on his room for it.’

I’d forgotten that he had a new show, and it turns out Terry and Brendan are big fans. Big big fans. They watch every night, one specialising in word quizzes, the other in numbers. Terry has several books.

I happened to be loitering in the bar when Morecroft came back in later, and Terry was ready. He was happy to sign her book. With her sore throat she apparently couldn’t say all she needed to, so she handed him a note she’d written earlier, which he thanked her for and said he’d read later.

He came in yet once more a little later and thanked her for the kind words, which I gathered were gushing praise of the show and how she and Brendan don’t miss an episode.

Morecroft walked up to Brendan, the stocky no-nonsense worker in his scuffed boots, work shirt and truckers cap. Brendan smiled shyly and said ‘Richard Morecroft.’ They shook hands then Brendan stepped back, not knowing where to look.

‘Terry told me you like the show?’ Morecroft said.

‘Yep.’ Brendan’s words had dried up. He shuffled his feet. ‘Watch it every night, all the time.’

‘I’m so pleased. I think the show is not so much a competition as a celebration of people’s intelligence.’


‘Alright, I’ve got to go. But it’s nice to meet you Brendan.’

The voice left the room.  

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

And now for something completely different

The Brainwave

Last night I was waylaid by a brainwave.

A brand new idea, a bolt from the blue, a turning on its head.

I turned and paddled and I caught that wave

taking the steep drop and feeling it surge beneath me.

I rode its neural pathways,

the thrill of a new plan like a slap of wind in my face.

Before I'd finished riding I had another wave and then another.

The brainwaves came on, growing larger and frothier

until I was engulfed in a wild brainstorm.

Thunder announced a thought from the east,

lightning illuminated my mind from the west,

and gusts of wind swept new possibilities around me.

Then I remembered I'd left the washing on the line.

So I put on my braincoat and ran out

to save my clean clothes from being saturated with revolutionary plans.

Those things never come out.

That done, I stood in the storm

listening to the wind and feeling its freshness, its new perspective,

all those ideas filling the gutters, soaking the soil.

Soccer will be off tomorrow, but it's good for the garden -

imagine what will be sprouting from there in the coming weeks.

I lay awake all night

unable to sleep for the stars and the universe and this warmth inside me,

my tanks filled and sloshing with lovely fresh breathing new thoughts.

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Acacia Sunrise

I got up at five o’clock. It was dark and cold, but it was May in the Flinders Ranges, so I expected that. I put on a couple of jumpers and a big jacket, grabbed my back pack and head torch and strode up the track along Acacia Ridge. My breath came in clouds in the beam of torchlight before me, and as the narrow rocky path rose steeply the clouds grew thicker. I stopped to take off my jacket, and then a jumper. I paused and switched off the torch to look at the sky above me. The silent blanket of bright stars shining up there made me shake my head in wonder. This place, this world...

It took around half an hour to reach the summit. It was still dark but there was the beginning of a faint orange glow on the eastern horizon. Closer by was a small cluster of pulsing lights at the Beverley uranium mine. The uranium that geologists had been hoping to find in the hills of Arkaroola has mostly been washed down to the plains, and now there are two mines there digging it out. Their lights were the only sign of humanity I could see in the hazy grey before me. I pulled my Trangia out of my backpack and boiled up a cup of tea, then sat back to watch the show.

I was determined to take in all that Arkaroola could offer, seeing as I’d made the long trek out for a second visit. I’d earlier spent a few days at Arkaroola, then decided to go and hike at Wilpena Pound but I’d been lured back to the more remote, the wild and free feeling of Arkaroola. There were things still to be done there. Including watching the sun rise from the top of Acacia Ridge.

Gradually the thin line of orange on the horizon grew brighter, and grew thicker. The blackness around me turned grey–green and ever so slowly the hills began to reveal themselves. The rumples of the landscape, the curves and the creases, the steep slopes and the smooth valleys slowly appeared.

The stars were dimmed one by one and when the bright point of the sun broke over the horizon, the rocks around me began glowing with a deep red. The Spinifex was yellow and the sky was blue, the precise shades changing with every moment. The rays of sun immediately warmed me, the gentle heat on my face brought out a smile.

Below me I heard a tumble of rocks, and looking down I saw two yellow footed rock wallabies hopping down the slope. These are pretty animals with a thick tail that’s clearly striped dark brown and orange. They have white stripes on their sides up to the shoulders, separating the lighter fur on the chest from the darker back, and their four legs are all the same orange as the stripes on the tail. They’re rare after years of being hunted for their skins.

 As the sun rose the colours of my surroundings became brighter. I felt like I had been one of the privileged to have seen this day born, I had seen it go from icy black invisibility to this bright sunny day that promised to be warm. I had nothing that needed doing, except maybe another hike so I was reluctant to leave my vantage point at the summit. But I knew before much longer I’d be joined by others making a daytrip up, and I didn’t feel like being there for that. So I shouldered my pack and wandered on down to see what else the day would bring.