And Sydney and back. The 4000km journey there was like following a long line of wool to a tangled ball at the other end. Sydney is a baffling city and deliberately so. In Perth you don’t feel like you have any urgency to go anywhere at all. In Melbourne you can be taken anywhere by a tram or a train ride and once there, there’s more than enough for an easy wander. Even Tokyo, with its messy back streets and baffling subway maps, breaks into an orderly series of circles and lines that will take you where you need to be. Sydney you can’t go anywhere without feeling you’re unwittingly involved in a transportation krypton factor – roads turn into bridges and toll roads, walking will get you on long roads and no one train seems to take you from where you are to where you want to be. Even the beaches aren’t the long stretches of sand and water they are here but a series of bays, separate and distinct. And on top of this, there are about 70 places you need to go to. So I don’t feel I was able to get much done there, but maybe that’s the point. Sans-seriffy.
Day one started early, filling up the 121 with our stuff, a double swag that shared the boot and the back seat and the three of us. We had no idea how far we were going but the lack of a goal places the present moment in an amiable context and we did make it as far as Cocklebiddy by sunset. It had rained since Southern Cross. We stopped in at the Cocklebiddy caves in spite of finely tuned instincts that driving on a poorly marked track in a small car off the highway for 11km to visit a large underground cave after a day of as darkness settled may be unwise. Simon went in, we waited so at least there’d be somebody to inadequately explain what we were doing to rescue workers. He emerged disappointed but that’s darkened voids for you. Rain meant shelter and we stayed at the Cocklebiddy roadhouse motel. They seemed to be in a hurry to get to bed but we caught the kitchen and I enjoyed bangers, mashed potato and egg at a cheeky $17.50 (Cocklebiddy prices is now a standard measure of food prices). No point in sleeping in and the Cocklebiddy Roadhouse hadn’t opened yet (despite the early night) so a 100km or so drive to the next roadhouse for a full tank of petrol, a coffee and bacon and egg burger and an elevated view over a tree filled slope that opened out to a spotted plain and then 90 miles of curveless road. By mid-morning we were out of Western Australia and the border village was, unusually covered with water.
Flat scrub but a view of the ocean then the cliffs of the Australian bight. A nasty tear from when we detached from Antarctica – no loss really. Ceduna, famous for oysters, was our first town for a day of driving and after passing through quarantine we stopped for two dozen oysters and a glass of wine at the Oyster Bar. Despite tourist info radio’s suggestions, we didn’t stop at the tyre place or the pharmacy but instead drove down the coast past Smoky Bay to Streaky Bay which made me think of bacon. We had enough sunset left to walk the wooden pier, have a few Coopers and a meal of a mixed grill and oysters kilpatrick (cheap as it was tasty) at the pub that faces it, and then wander around the caravan park looking at the pelicans. Streaky Bay is still the place you had holidays when you were a kid at, it should be frozen in time for posterity (or gotten into to make a killing on development).
Much excitement at going to Iron Knob, the most amusingly named place in the world for my money. More so than Poochera, which was the first town we went through which is only slightly amusing it if you imagine it as a metal band for Japanese children’s characters. More fuel and we’d picked up a hitchhiker – a small finch wedged in the grill. Iron Knob has the first peaks after much flatness so the anticipation was killing me. Sadly it is one of the most depressing places in the world. People seemed to live there but the place was empty and it seemed that every last piece of value had been dug out and shipped elsewhere. Port Augusta was the first large town and if the if the Eyre Peninsula is the body and Adelaide on the the arm, then Port Augusta is the armpit. We grabbed fish and chips and Simon had his piece nicked by a local and we thought perhaps this wasn’t for us and got out of South Australia to NSW and Broken Hill.
Broken Hill is NSW’s answer to Kalgoorlie and after house of concentrated flatdullness we had our hopes up. The faded signs for Mario’s hotel that we passed were true and we booked in at the Palace Hotel. Famous for being in Priscilla Queen of the Desert it’s value comes from every available space on the wall being painted by an aboriginal artist with a landscape or the ceilings by Mario himself with Aphrodite and the Garden of Eden. Nothing coheres – logs, stuffed animals, mermaids all in a gorgeous 19th two story pub that started as a coffee parlour. A $12 t-bone and two bottles of wine at the Barrier Social Democratic Club followed by port on the wide wraparound balcony on the Palace. A cachet of happiness was built for the last 1100km or so to Sydney.
Flatdullness returns quickly and then the hills build and we’re in rolling agricultural area. Dubbo. Orange. And then Bathurst. I turn in a respectable 6 minutes and 9 seconds on the Mt Panorama track, joining a line of Australian motoring legends. The Blue Mountains see rain as a feature of three of our four travelling days and the vista is zero. Dinner at Katoomba, I finally have a cappucino and am unhappy with cocoa on the top and vow to ask for it not to be there in the future. A risotto is a meal without chips. And then down the hill to Sydney and that’s enough for now.
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