I may as well start with the bleedingly obvious. Australia is huge.
I just spent three weeks driving from Kununurra in the extreme north-east of Western Australia to Uluru (formerly Ayers rock) just over the border in the Northern Territory. 1900kms of the 4000kms was on the Canning Stock Route (CSR), a bare single lane track. As I left Uluru I took a daytime flight to Sydney and because of the way the plane turned I didn’t see a building until we started descending on our landing approach. The country is huge and empty of people – well, in the middle it is. Our vehicles were fully laden with diesel, food and water and even more scary – we were out of phone coverage for two whole weeks.
Over the years collectively I’ve spent over a year in Australia. I understand it less the more I see of it – is this usual? Shouldn’t one gain more understanding the more often you visit a country.
On this trip we started in the tropical north with the daytime temperature in August reaching 36 degrees. We basically drove in a south westerly direction over two deserts and more than 700 sand dunes, towards, but not reaching Kalgoorlie. We popped out of the CSR at Wiluna, drove on bitumen as far as Leonora and then turned left on the unsealed Great Central Road – all the way to Uluru.
Once we’d left Kununurra I slept on the ground in a swag under the ever present stars for 18 consecutive nights, from full moon to new moon, on only one night did my bag frost over. The red deserts after a successful wet season earlier in the year were full of flowers, wildlife, birds and waterholes. The only snakes I saw were dead on the road. We swam every few days in lakes and waterholes and showered with water drawn from the wells put in in the early 1900’s by Canning himself.
Sometimes we drove over corrugations and tried to find the sweet spot at speeds up to 80km an hour to protect the vehicle from falling apart, at other times we would have walked faster than we drove over massive boulders and through dried up creek beds. Bits fell of my sisters Toyota Land Cruiser Prado and the bash plate under the radiator abandoned its position and a leak was sprung. Springs were an issue with an accompanying Land Cruiser and a shock absorber on the third vehicle, a Hilux. Every day we passed abandoned, stripped vehicles that didn’t make it.
We saw fellow travellers on an irregular basis, at one stage we went three days without passing another vehicle. We were amongst the youngest groups on the CSR, the demographic on the route is very much Australians in their late sixties and seventies. We drove through indigenous communities and in the south and north of deserts there were enormous stations with doleful looking big-eared cows – how these farms are economic is beyond me.
The indigenous issue is massive and I’m not going into it here. Canning himself was charged with mistreating his Aboriginal guides and captured local men and chained them by the neck without offering them water so they would lead him to native springs. The people of the oldest known continuous culture were still being massacred across the country in the 1920’s and were only given the vote in 1962.
On a last note there were six people and three vehicles in my party. Three of these were new to me, a great couple from Melbourne and an interesting younger Kiwi who lives in the Kimberly. Luckily the non-family members of the group were more mechanically minded than we are. The other two are older siblings, sister Wendy and brother Tim. I’m 56 years old but having spent more time with them on this journey than I have in more than forty years, it’s very clear – I’m still the little brother. We are still talking though. It was a great trip.
The ever present Honey Grevillia
Title photo Land Cruiser cab, sunrise Lake Disappointment