Highway to Hell

by Ant Stone on June 1, 2009

in Australia

[Editors Note: In an unprecedented grovel I'm beginning this post with an apology to all those who believed me abducted or absconded! The Outback of Australia turned out to be the most impossible region to achieve any internet time - not least because Reb and I are too tight to pay the $30 to stay in a caravan park, ergo rarely even have electricity for the laptop (and you try asking where the nearest Internet Cafe is in Willabongadongdong!). Needless to say, over the next few weeks as I descend on Perth I will be typing up a mountain of notes and bringing you up to speed. OK, grovel over - here's the latest, entitled 'Highway to Hell']:

Highway to Hell

I had it all planned. A clever tribute to the Outback, laden with full stops in place of traffic lights; commas leading you up highways; exclamation marks to record calamities; and semicolons for side trips (and brackets to let you in on the local secrets). I was going to carefully pull over at paragraphs, use capital letters to signal the beginning and a trail of… to pull you to a stop. The title? Gone Walkabout. The beginning? I start the engine. The middle? I push the accelerator. The end? I push the brake. Oh, how wrong could I be. Australia’s lineal highways have stripped me of the literary curves and swerves I usually prune, and reduced me to the arrow straight, tell-it-like-it-is truth. The sparsest, remotest… most soul-sapping… nothingness you have ever seen. Roads so straight they send you round the bend!

The Truth

hth_roadmotionThis post could be easily modified to transport you lazily over thousands of kilometres, pausing once or twice for morsels of curio. However that would give potential for the fallacy that the whole outback is full of morsels of curio! It’s not – I have to get this out before I’m slammed to the ground by a hairy-limbed road train driver – it’s FULL of clumps of grass, lots of grass, and gum trees, lots of trees! There is nothing for miles (or kilometres). Mile upon mile upon brain-bonking-granite miles! The highway hardly changed a jot, it was as though the government had tempted me in with the promise of a mob of Kodak kangaroos and a shindig with a Swagman by the billabong. They banked on me being so brainwashed with boredom that I wouldn’t have the ability to reveal it.

The Whole Truth

hth_treeofknowledgeHeck, you haven’t done anything wrong so I’ll only take you as far as the Queensland/Northern Territory border. This journey took us passed the burnt orange plateau of Blackdown Tableland and onwards through Queensland’s gemfields where ‘fossickers’ search for that elusive retirement fund on the fringes of the teasingly named towns of Emerald, Rubyvale and Sapphire. I got my first cultural-clicks along Highway 66 (boom boom) in the town of Barcaldine. It’s hard to miss Barcaldine’s main attraction; a fantastically huge suspended cube of hanging lengths of wood dangling above a simple dead gum tree. That gum tree was the meeting place for the organisers of a shearers’ strike in 1891 that spearheaded the formation of today’s Australian Labor Party. A few days before we visited, two youths nabbed a branch from the historic tree and now face a punishment that ranges between a $75,000 fine and 80 hours community service (depending on which local you speak to).

And Nothing…

hth_roadtrainThe effortless stretch of road was in the groove between the railway tracks and telegraph poles that brought so much opportunity to the once inhospitable region. It also took us via Longreach, the birthplace of Qantas (Queensland & Northern Territory Aerial Service) and the region of origin for the Australian anthem, Waltzing Matilda. Pure rock and roll! More thrilling than this was my first sighting of an emu; three mangy, oily pompoms darted alongside the ute with all the grace of a catwalk model who had accidently dropped her girdle. To complete the picture book scene, imagine enormous singed brown wedgetail eagles competing with spiralling brown kites for road kill that had no doubt been stomped by the severity of the road trains.

But The Truth

hth_sigNext along the route came a couple of true blue pubs, each with a tale to tell. The first was the Blue Heeler – once home to the remote surf lifesaving carnival (despite the nearest beach being over 950kms away). The Blue Heeler now encourages punters to make their own mark by scrawling messages of wit and wisdom over the walls for a donation to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. The second pub turned out to be a slight anticlimax; the Walkabout Creek Hotel, which some of you will know as the bar frequented by Mick Dundee in the untouchable movie, Crocodile Dundee. The walls are adorned with fading photos and the bar seems to be frequented more by portly caravaners than those in search of a corroboree. I’d even taken my penknife in so I could pull out the line, “that’s not a knife – this, is a knife!” But alas, the moment didn’t present itself.

So Help Me God

hth_ntborderWith the border within reach I planted my foot, oblivious at first to the introduction of grand termite nests and the increase in trees. By the time I reached the mining town of Mt Isa - 185km from the border – I was like a bobsleigh rider transfixed on a world record attempt. Faster. Faster. Faster. Speed limit 110kmh. Slower. Slower. The border. Faster! Faster! Bloody floor it! Bye Queensland – you brick of boredom. Hello to the Northern Territory! No wait, hang on. Nooooooo… you’re supposed to be DIFFERENT!

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Nomadic Matt June 3, 2009 at 3:13 pm

glad you weren’t abducted. We don’t need a sequel to the movie wolf creek. the first one was bad enough lol

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