I have been fortunate enough over the years to have been able to go on quite a few adventures across Australia. Recently, it has all slowed down quite significantly, I mean, being a single parent will do that. But I have thought I may share some of my adventures with you, not all at once, but from time to time. I had thought about going about it in some sort of chronological order, but instead, I will basically tell you about the ones that come into my mind first, and go from there.
Australia is a huge country. If you live here, or have visited and left the main big metropolitan centres like Melbourne or Sydney, you’d know just how darned big it is. Here, you can drive for 3 or 4 hours, and still not have run into the next piece of human habitation. When you do, it could just be a Roadhouse, and nothing else.
For those who don’t know what a Roadhouse is, it is a petrol station, out in the middle of nowhere, usually with some sort of ‘Restaurant’ which usually sells tonnes of deep fried food out of a hotbox, and some very stale, very light on fillings, sandwiches, for a million dollars per plastic container, and what ever you do, don’t buy fuel there if you can avoid it, as you will need to take out a third and forth mortgage on your home to pay for it.
These little Oases in the middle of no where, as much as I have painted a bleak picture of them, are a welcome relief when you have been driving for hours, in the hot outback sun, the blast of refrigerated air that hits you as you open the door is just one of the little luxuries these places offer. It also helps that buried in a wall of drink fridges you’ll find some sort of sugary refreshment that will wake you up and cool you down all at the same time.
They can also at times supply some sort of rudimentary camp ground, and if you are lucky, a swimming pool and possibly a small air-conditioned metal box called a Donga that you can spend another million dollars on to stay the night in a bed under rank smelling air-conditioning. And if you are super lucky, the donga will also have it’s own toilet and shower, in the same space a linen cupboard takes up. Oh, they are a glorious thing when you have been driving for days, free camping in roadside rest areas for the majority of time, as they usually are well enough sealed to exclude flies and ants. ( and spiders, snakes, wild pigs, lost in the night cattle,………)
On the topic of things that go bump in the night, I have a few stories to tell, from different trips.
One particular time I was camping with my former partner, we had found this small grove of bushes just off a highway, just outside of a small outback town in NSW. It was late, the sun was waning, so enough light to pitch the small dome tent we had, and to check to see that there weren’t any real dangerous inhabitants around the bushes. We’d been traveling for about 13 hours this particular day, dog tired, so after inflating the blow up mattress and throwing our pillows and a doona into the tent, we quickly whipped up some dinner of tinned stew, some slices of bread and butter, and a hot cup of tea, then as the night enveloped us in inky blackness, we retired to the inner sanctum of the tent.
Just as we had got comfortable, and sleep was just about to engulf us, the noise started. A rustling of leaves, just on the other side of the thin tent canvas near our heads. At first, a little here, a little there. Then it picked up in intensity, grew louder. I turned on our small flashlight, and under the doona looked at my partner. Both of us were wide-eyed, suddenly fully awake. What ever it was it sounded big. It sounded big enough to do damage.
In a quick move, I threw the bedding off, in just my undies, and slid the zipper on the tent down, sprung out the tent with this feeble little flashlight, and ran around to the back of the tent, wildly swinging the torch around trying to see, and hopefully scare off what ever it was. There was nothing there. My partner came out, and she too looked around, neither of us could see anything. This thing had to be big, was our flashlight that bad ?? Then, in a moment of brilliance ( I thought anyhow), I opened the car, started it up and swung it around, lights on full beam, blazing the bushes into oblivion. Then we saw it. There, snuffling around in the leaf litter, making noise enough for something 100 times it’s size, was a small echidna !!!
Another time, we free camped down a spoon drain off the highway in the middle of the outback in the Northern Territory. We set up camp, had dinner, and after enjoying the sunset, we retired to bed, but neither of us could sleep. My partner said she felt uneasy. I did too. It was one of those unexplained vibes you sometimes get that something isn’t quite right. There were no noises, or anything that was alarming, it was dead quiet, nothing to disturb you, should have been easy to just drift off to sleep. But we just couldn’t. After about half an hour, enough was enough. So we decided, in the dark, and with just the lights of the car to pack up, to drive on to the next Roadhouse which was about an hours more drive further on, and set up camp there for the night. No sooner had we packed up, put everything in the car, and got in ready to leave, a mob of about 20 cattle came stampeding through, full belt, right over the spot we had set up the tent. Sometimes you just have to listen to that sixth sense.
Other times when traveling, I have driven until it is dark, pulled up at some rest area where other campers have pulled up for the night, rolled out my swag, had a bite to eat and drifted off to sleep, and then woken in the coolness of the morning and the early morning light,to some absolutely stunning scenery.
One time, I was relocating hire cars on my own between Broome in Western Australia, and Katherine in the Northern Territory, I had driven for about 14 or 15 hours, it was about 10pm, I had crossed the Northern Territory / Western Australia border, driven for about an hour longer, and saw a rest area off to the side, pulled in, rolled out the swag and pretty much just climbed in and crashed. It was a great sleep. So it was pitch black, no idea of the scenery, as for the past few hours all I had seen was what was illuminated by the car’s headlights, nothing else.
Well, that next morning, the sun rose, with an explosion of reds and pinks, and right next to the rest area, a huge, towering rocky escarpment rose high above me, all resplendent in the early morning light, galahs were calling and flying around in the haphazard manner in which they do, and on the other side of the road, the trees tapered down to a magnificent bend in a river, the river being the Victoria River. I will easily say that this has been, up to this point in my life, the most magnificent scene I have ever woken up to. Even though it is 20 years later, I can still see that magnificent morning.