Saturday, December 17, 2011

Nullabor Diaries

Dundas Rocks, Norseman
Clay salt pan. I could feel the warmth through the floor of the tent. A thin crust of shining salt and then slimy clay underneath and the Bedford up to her axels in the middle of the dried up lake.
What was I thinking?
Three hours after I drove across the lake, a parallel track eight metres long was plowed black into the pristine ice rink surface. Three hours it took to claw back eight metres. The sun was going down. The kids were wailing. The clay was hot underneath the thin layer of brittle salt. Emu tracks in the white sand where I went hunting for branches and traction. Round boulders atop another, an indigenous feel to the place. Good hunting, roaming place. Eve and still hot. Evening crickets chanted, different to the ones in Albany, a continuous teacher's whistle. Salmon gums creaked, limb against limb. I would be prone to dendrophilia among these trees, if I wasn't so fucking bogged.

I got up at 4.30 and brewed some coffee, saw the sunrise over the salt lake and went out to collect some more brush to put under the car. 8 am. Still bogged. We flagged down an elderly Kalgoorlie man with a hangover. He was moving to Esperance because of a woman. He took us into Norseman where Barry, tougher and older than old boots, offered to tow us out. Barry had lived in Norseman for 51 years and hated the sea. He pulled the Bedford out of the clay pan, berated me proper, shook my hand and drove away.

Balladonia Roadhouse
The crows were still there. Last time, hitch hiking with a twitchy, ferrety truckie the flies went straight for my nose and mouth. The heat was horrific. Crows hopped about, dusty and opportunistic. A tiny car pulled up and four skinheads fell out, drunk as lords, black eyes, bleeding. Until I returned to this place those skinheads and the crows represented Balladonia to me. This time around, Balladonia was positively Camelot but the crows and the flies were still there.

Bits of Skylab and cameleers and settlers and the Old People. I was thinking about that. The black woman sat near the waterhole. Just sat. Normally she would have a bag of seeds and she'd grind them up on a stone while she chatted and laughed with the other women, grind the seeds into powder, mix it into a paste, light a fire, make some tucker with careful, long fingers. The seed mixture would clean out her system, nourish her, spread through her like life itself. Today, she got some chips and a coke and she doesn't need her dilly bag. So she just sat and looked at the water.

The wedgetails are like the lions of the Nullabor and the crows its hyenas.

Caiguna Roadhouse
Truckies sat outside in the lights and setting sun, smoking.
A blonde woman in a fur coat filled her F100 ex-ambulance with fuel. Same vintage as the Bedford. Her daughter hovered, a fairy in pink. Trucks thundered by making the ground shudder and splitting the night in half with their lights.
The road was bleeding with dead and desiccated kangaroos and bones bleached in the sun and strips of black rubber and wheels and wheel rims and rubbish and pallets and emu carcasses.

Cocklebiddy had wedgetails everywhere. A good humoured place with a bunch of fat, wild looking truckies sitting out the front. Then Eucla and that magnificent rise up over the sea and ultramarine blue of the ocean and white lime sand. A border town with a cheerful ocker officialdom. You are now in South Australia. Nullabor Plain. An expanse of blue smokebush meets the sky, red earth and the odd surprise of a good green.

Truck drivers eyed me off. Dark. Wild hair. Thongs. Stubbie shorts. Same uniform. Sometimes their legs were really dirty. One followed me around the shop at Yalata.
"So where ya goin'? Byron?
You know people there?
Was that you behind me?"
"You're my roo bar for the day," I said. I like sitting behind on trucks. Let them hit the kangaroos. Their slipstream also absorbed some of the impact of the passing roadtrains that shuddered my van.

The girl in the F100 looked tireder at every roadhouse. Her son, about twelve, filled the car with fuel,  cranky. Her daughter the fairy played with one of their dogs on the concrete. Their other dog was approached cautiously by a dingo in the carpark. I saw the yellow sticker on the windscreen.

The truckie had puffy eyelids and slits for eyes. He was unusually clean and his eyebrows gave his face a mean look.
"Nice meeting you," I said as a goodbye.
"Don't expect me to change a tyre for you when you get a flat, darlin'."

 A collective morbid they were, the crows, conferring in the middle of the road around mounds of kangaroo. The stretch from Balladonia to Cocklebiddy was carnage, blood all over the road. A dead roo every fifty metres. A big buck slouched on the road reserve, his legs broken, watching the traffic pass almost nonchalantly. Wedgetails posed on singular trees. They were magnificent. When standing, they were hip height to an adult. Their bodies were streamlined, ready for flight, long legs, cruel talons. They hung in the air in pairs. We stopped by a smashed caravan. The chassis was gone, just the windows and twisted aluminum, a toothpaste tube, cups, underwear, and sprawled across the smokebush, flowered curtains.

There was something apocalyptic about that highway that never bends. All that blood and eagles tearing at excoriated flesh ... the way the dead kangaroos lay with their paws clasped like hands across their chests, in prayer.

A sign at Cocklebiddy roadhouse says, "In God we trust. Everyone else must pay cash." The counter was manned by a gnarled character with a long, strawberry blonde beard and cracks in his face as deep as my thumb. I ran out of money there.


  1. Spellbinding ST.

    It's still a harsh land alright. I get that truckies have ridiculous schedules but I still get angry about people leaving roos with broken legs to drag themselves off the road to die a slow death. We cleaned up after someone who did that. All we had in the car was a hammer - to kill a big grey. My partner at the time lobbed one solid hit between the eyes. Better than the alternative.

    I would have been tempted to do that to the driver. Thankfully he was long gone.

  2. Something very Mad Max about your Nullabor Diaries Sarah. As with Merc - just wanted to read tll the end, loved the line about the roos with the crossed paws in prayer - often thought that myself when I've seen it.