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Trip Report Road Trip from Perth to Melbourne

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I spent all of 1987 and part of 1988 working in Perth, on the west coast of Australia. I relocated back to Melbourne at Easter, and drove across the country. It's like driving from LA to New York. I drove through Central Australia, through some very remote areas, from Perth to Kalgoorlie, and then the Great Central Road through to Ularu. I’d ridden a bicycle across the Nullabor a few years before, so didn’t need to see the Nullabor again. So it was through the desert, few towns, almost no people. When I got back to Melbourne, the trip was vivid in my head, and I wanted to capture it, to record my impressions.

Driving through Kalgoorlie, a mining town, trucks painted red, with "Danger, Explosives" prominently displayed. Every second vehicle seems to have XYZ Mining painted on it, a canvas water bag hanging on it, a yellow flashing light on top so it does not get run down by a 200 ton ore truck, and a whip aerial so it can tell the 200 ton truck driver it's about to overtake.

Drilling rigs heading into the outback, very sophisticated. Satellite navigation systems, fuel trucks, computer links, air conditioned accommodation. They reckon they can place the drill hole within a metre of the nominated latitude and longitude. Converting diesel fuel, diamond drill tips, tucker and water into geological data. The data is downloaded to base by satellite - drilling on line. Probably watching CNN in the middle of nowhere.

Signs 50 km from the next roadhouse "Radio us on VHF Channel 27 and order your food to go".

Driving down dirt roads, leaving a cloud of dust behind me a kilometre long. All of a sudden realising that the car is full of red dust. And I like the colour of it very much - it will be in this car until I sell it - it's finer than talcum powder.

Driving over a thousand kilometres down a dirt road, and meeting less than a dozen vehicles going the other way. Greeting passing motorists with a single finger lifted off the steering wheel. On the Five Finger Richter G'day Scale, one finger means "G'day", two means "G'day, how are y' goin'". Five fingers means "Hello. Pleasure to see you. Great weather. Enjoy your holiday. Have a nice day and do take care out there". One and a half fingers usually suffice, we Australians are mostly sparing with words, you know.

Dead kangaroos, (known in the local parlance as "Road Kill"), being eaten by eagles.

Eagles as big as Thanksgiving turkeys, flapping up into the air. Hope they get airborne before I hit them with the car. They are very slow on take off, hop hop, flap flap flap, just made it.

Conversation with a bus driver, hauling Japanese tourists, half the front window of the bus held in with bits of wood and gaffer tape.
"What did y' hit".
"Eagle. Bloody lucky it did not come right through into the bus. That would have given Masao and Yoki in the front seat something to tell the folks back in Tokyo".

Stopping to look at a radio tower, 300 feet high, with an eagles nest on each platform up the tower. An apartment block for half a dozen families of eagles.

Bitumen with a new white line painted down the edge of it, the line taken straight over the top of a dead kangaroo, and a white cross spray canned on the 'roo. Australian humour. I can imagine the conversation:
"Why didn't y' move it?".
"Look, mate. We're road painters, not bloody street sweepers".

Emus, large flightless birds, and surely the most stupid of all God's creations, being frightened by the car, and running TOWARDS it. Seriously daft birds, brain the size of a split pea.

Conversation when buying fuel. "You know not to give anyone any unleaded petrol, even if they say they have run out." Petrol sniffing is a big problem in Aboriginal communities.

Stopping in the middle of the night to camp, no moon, no traffic, no wind. Just the noise of the car clicking as the engine cools. A zillion stars, the air so clear they don't even twinkle, enough star light to see by. Shooting stars. Camping out 100 miles from the nearest people, sleeping on the ground, feeling really quite connected to it.

Aboriginal women. No matter what size they are, they have calves like sticks. Unless they are walking, they sit down. Aboriginals always sit, and always on the ground, never on seats if they can avoid it. The red sand is very comfortable, it's earth rather than dirt, the local version of Tatami matting. After a little while, everything turns a shade of pink.

Central Australian aboriginals don't like being photographed. And if an aboriginal dies, all photos of him or her will be obscured, and their name not mentioned until the mourning period is over. And if you have the same name as the deceased (like Jack, say), you'll take a different name for the duration. They will refer to the deceased as "That old feller", or "That dead feller", but never by name. It makes it difficult if a prominent aboriginal dies. Mourning can be a year or two, maybe five years or ten years in the case of a leader. Aboriginals function on a time scale that is somewhere between the glacial and the geological - they'd see a week of official mourning as a joke.

I remember seeing a thing on TV about a remote aboriginal community. They had all moved out of their houses, and were camping in rough shelters. "Why", they were asked.
"A feller died. We'll camp out until it rains".
"But it might not rain for a couple of years".
"Then we'll be camping for a couple of years. It's not long".

Just as well Princess Di was not an aboriginal - we'd have had a ten year media blackout. Then again, a 10 year blackout would be a good thing. But it's hard to imagine the Queen camping in the grounds of Windsor Castle. Keeping all that silver clean, impossible, y'know....

Tourists complaining that the climb up Ayers Rock has been closed. It's 36 degrees in the shade, there's no shade anyway, and it's blowing about 40 knots on top, for God's sake, and they look they have not climbed anything more challenging than a bar stool in decades. 200 pounds of the finest lard. Have they got a death wish, or what. I bet if they went to Jerusalem, they would not try free climbing on the Wailing Wall, so why can't they respect the wishes of the owners and stay off the rock. Aboriginals never, never climb. Except to haul a stretcher up the rock to retrieve people with heart failure or heat stroke.

Walking around the base of the rock, a place with a feeling of great age. Aboriginals have been here for 40,000 years, one of the worlds oldest civilisations, and have left no mark other than some cave paintings. Communities with strong oral traditions, and a story to explain the existence of almost every feature and mark on the rock. Feels like walking through Westminster Abbey, or Chartres Cathedral. Go quietly, you are walking over and through someone's history, disturbing their Dreamtime. Take care.

Midnight, getting lost in Adelaide, a city of about a million. Completely lost my sense of direction, and asking police for directions. This is unprecedented - I don't DO "getting lost". "Peter" and "getting lost" are concepts that cannot be associated. A contradiction in terms, a logical impossibility, an oxymoron. Like Military Intelligence, Mexican Cuisine, Friendly Fire, Fun Run.

Dawn breaking, rolling into Melbourne, glad to be back, I've driven 1500 miles in about 30 hours, with only a few hours sleep, and I'm feeling stuffed. Start unpacking, realise how much I've missed my own home, having my own piece of turf.

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