It's quiet tonight and the only sounds are the dog licking her feet beside the fire and the local owlet nightjar doing her four point calls before roosting. I've just returned from a south coast road trip that I set out upon a week ago. It's so good to be back in my own bed after sleeping in hotel rooms and my swag every night.
I was headed for the Esperance Readers and Writers Festival, the final weekend of several months of readers and writers getting together in the remote outpost (not that the locals would call it that) of a little port town on the south coast of Western Australia.
The drive was more than 700km so I broke it up by staying with my son the first night, dropped off the dog for him to care for and set out again the next morning. Driving east meant getting into the salmon gum and mallee country that I so loved when I built a little shack in a ghost town out that way. The deep dive into the river systems of the Phillips and the Fitzgerald is always a moment I find exhilarating. I do love this part of the earth.
Five kilometres past Ravensthorpe, I stopped for an older woman walking along the highway, dragging a pink suitcase. As a perennial hitch hiker it is my karmic responsibility to pick up other hitch hikers and there she was, sticking out her thumb and reckoning with me to slow down and pick her up. 'Why didn't you stay closer to town?' I asked her as I threw her suitcase on the back of the ute. 'People are driving too fast to pick you up once the speed limit is upped.' Hitch hikers' rule: stay close to town rather than walk out to the 110 kph zone. She grinned and did a little dance, sang an approximation of Nutbush City Limits and then said, 'I'm like a kelpie dog, love. Just have to keep moving. There's no way you'd catch me sitting around on the outskirts of town. I have to keep walking.' She had short blonde hair, she looked strong, her eyes gimlet brown. Later on the drive she told me that she was 72 and her oldest daughter is the same age as me. She also told me she is a prophet.
Here's where the hitch hiking thing gets weird. When I tell people this story of picking up a septuagenarian, homeless prophet, they ask 'So what were her prophesies? What did you learn?' or, like my son, they'll say 'Mum, you are the only person I've ever met who could find a story like that from a simple road trip.' (That's fair enough. I'm the only person he's ever met who, when buying a car, had an exotic Indian Ringneck parrot thrown into the deal.) The thing is, when you pick up a hitch hiker who is not nuero-typical AND a prophet, it's a job to avoid road trains, keep up conversation and the peace and this is often a over a period of several hours and within the cramped confines of a ute cab. So no, I didn't press her on her prophesies but I did hear a thing or two about Prince Philip ('The Queen was giving out chairs and the one with his name on it was empty. Same day he passed.' Meaningful look) and of course the Corona Virus.
Just out of Ravensthorpe, the visuals of salmon gum country are quite suddenly smashed by the new mines; massive upheavals of dirt and trees and minerals. It's quite full on and we were stopped on some samphire flats by a road crew who were building an overhead conveyor belt to cart ore. 'Why are we waiting like this?' cried the prophet and then chattered through some more family history. Then she was impatient again at the standing still line of road trains ahead of us. She opened the car door and was about to step out. Kelpie mode. Keep moving.
'Hey, get back in,' I said. 'Listen to the radios.' I have a UHF in my car, permanently set on channel 40 because it picks up most road crew and truckies' comms. 'Have a listen to this.'
'It's just common fucking sense,' crackled one road train driver to the road crew supervisor. 'There's no one standing on the side of the road, it's a fucking traffic light and there's no one coming the other way. Just let us through mate.' In the indelicate communications that followed between the two, some kind of treaty was brokered and finally the road trains ahead of us began to move. The prophet grabbed my radio console. 'Jesus loves you guys!' she shouted. 'Thanks for the excellent entertainment.' and slammed the radio back in its slot.