Drive Around The World (Australia)

One family, one car, one year, one planet

Darwin – Melbourne, Australia, Day 334 – 360, 8 March – 3 April 2009

Darwin – Melbourne, Australia

Day 334 – 360

8 March – 3 April 2009

3,911km

Total: 36,984km

Soundtrack:

‘Orstralia’ – The Saints

‘According To My Heart’ – The Reels

‘Bring It On Home’ – Led Zeppelin

‘Homeward’ – The Sundays

‘Birdbrain’ – Steve Abbott

‘Blue Sky’ – Mach Pelican

‘Road Kill’ – Rickie Lee Jones

‘It’s A Wonderful World’ – Louis Armstrong

‘Last Splash’ – The Breeders

‘Bound For South Australia’ – Trad., The Seekers

‘Last Post’ – Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet

‘Grey Skies Over Collingwood’ – Weddings, Parties, Anything

‘Maybe The Last Time’ – James Brown

‘End O’ The Line’ – You Am I

‘The End’ – The Beatles

 

DB: I have been postponing writing this ‘last post’ for some time, but have now decided to bite the bullet.

What for us has been a monumental twelve months was now quickly coming to an abrupt and somewhat traumatic end.

We tiptoed into our friends JJJZ’s house in Darwin a little after 5am and got a couple of hours’ sleep before picking up where we left off almost a year ago. That is, eating, drinking, swimming, going to the markets and generally living a serene holiday life. The quiet in the Darwin suburbs was punctuated by the almost forlorn call of a local bird that sounds distinctly like the piano part in the chorus of the Reels’ ‘According To My Heart’. If you time it right, you can sing the words and the bird will sing the response, like a fleeting, enigmatic meeting of kindred 1980s Australian music spirits, with the protagonists communicating only through song before parting as quickly as they met.

Our reintegration into Australian culture had its comforts as well as its surprises, particularly coming from South East Asia. Shopping centres were full of stuff that surely nobody really needed, young men spent time and money doing up their utes and people with serious weight issues constantly emerged from the fug of fast food joints. The NT News, a rag that is mostly useful for kindling and packing crockery when moving house, continues to celebrate the supposed impending disaster that is mass crocodile infestation, this time by providing quotes from Darwin’s premium croc catcher, Robbie Risk. I kid you not. Still, while there is no shortage of events and occurrences in Darwin to raise an eyebrow, we felt a sense of belonging with even the smallest things, like knowing streets, shops and shortcuts. We again made a beeline to Mary’s stall at Parap Market for the single best laksa in the country. Listening to the Sound Relief bushfire/flood fundraiser for a few of my favourite bands recently reformed for the occasion, on the national yoof network, had us feeling more emotionally ‘home’, while the geckos chirped us to sleep every night.

In Darwin in particular we were also reintroduced to the reality of two Australias – Indigenous Australia and everyone else. Rarely do the two groups comfortably interact, and it reminded us of the need to continue the task of building bridges and reaching out. There’s a long way to go.

SK: Once they had overcome the aural shock of Australian accents everywhere, Maddy and Raffy acclimatised incredibly fast. They had been particularly attuned to our native inflections while overseas, eagerly listening for the distinctive Aussie drawl when we were in places with a large tourist body. Hearing these ubiquitous sounds was evidence that we were really home. 

At Parap Market, Maddy jokingly asked me how many dollars to the dollar. Together we marvelled at signs in English, not being charged exorbitant fees for ATM transactions, not needing maps to move around, not performing mathematical acrobatics to calculate currency conversions, and the unfamiliar familiarity of Darwin.

The kids also reluctantly used this hiatus to furiously finish their scrapbooks (visual diaries) before the end of our trip. We recalled the last few weeks through Thailand, Malaysia, (“Was the Crystal Hotel in Kota Bahru, or was that the Crystal Lodge?”) and Singapore: notes were made, pictures were pasted, memories were locked into the pages.

Darwin was also the catalyst for reconnecting all that I had severed before we left – memberships, subscriptions, insurances and so on. Phone call by phone call we were returning to ‘normal’ life.

We celebrated Danny’s birthday down by the wharf, with a Top End ‘son et lumière’ show featuring a brief display of lightning accompanied by the drumming of rain on the tin roof. It was the last trip birthday – another ‘last’.

DB: Our truck would be in transit from Singapore for a few days yet, so all we had to do was make some decisions about our eventual route home and enjoy the tail end of the Top End’s legendary wet season. When, finally, word came that the truck had arrived, Sandy and I went into action. A time on the following day, Friday, was set for us to drive the truck out of the shipping container and for customs and quarantine to do their thing. Given the strictness of quarantine conditions in Australia we were well aware of the potential requirement for us to have the truck cleaned yet again, but, even thought this would potentially cost us more time and money, we still didn’t want to be complicit in importing any biological nasties into the country.

I had envisaged the quarantine holding area to be one of clinical cleanliness and sanitation, with a team of white-coated laboratory technicians with clipboards and a look of earnest dedication buzzing around. Like the Ponds Institute. Instead, the shed where the truck would be inspected was a dusty steel oven surrounded by stacks of dirty shipping containers and marauding mobile cranes.

To enter the customs area we needed special identification and luminous orange vests, which we collected from the shipping company offices, and were met by Pat and Bob from the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service – AQIS. Young Pat walked us over to the quarantine area, through the blazing heat and a barbed-wire gate, and across the already blistering tarmac, while older Bob drove the short distance in air-conditioned comfort. Slacker. At the truck we were met by James who represented the shipping company and who negotiated with the AQIS men. And then we got to work.

For the first time in a year, almost everything needed to be removed from the truck for inspection. Pat poured over and through boxes, containers and bags, while Bob got to work under the bonnet. I had been advised that one of the first things quarantine inspectors would check is the air filter, which would potentially identify any bugs, spores and the like that could be located elsewhere on the car. To my surprise, the air filter was checked by a most precise scientific process whereby Bob asked me when I last changed it. I told him, and he left it at that. I was now quietly confident that Sandy and I would be driving back to our friends’ place in a few minutes. But no sooner was I planning what to do with the rest of the afternoon did Australia’s quarantine’s finest pull the plug.

Bob advised me that we would have to get the truck washed again, inside and out, as he had found a dead bug in a cavity beside one of the truck’s batteries, and a crusty old blade of grass under the driver’s seat. But, to my sheer astonishment, the two miniscule items of contraband were not placed delicately in a sterile sample jar or bag and catalogued for further analysis down at the lab or obliteration in some searing furnace; Bob, after showing me the offending, brown and brittle blade of grass simply rubbed his thumb against the tips of his fingers and allowed the grass to be caught in the warm breeze that headed towards Darwin Harbour. Yep – real worried about destroying Australian life as we know it.

While I was trying to process and determine the supposed difference between letting stuff loose on one side of a cyclone fence and not the other, or anywhere else in the country for that matter, Bob came back with an even stranger development. When I asked about the process for getting the car washed again, thinking that it would need to be done within the confines of the quarantine area, he told me that we had to either negotiate that with our shipping company, or – get this – he could arrange paperwork enabling the truck to be washed off site. In short, that meant that we could get the authority to take the truck out of quarantine and away from the port, and get it washed wherever we liked, and then have it back for another inspection.

It took me a while to get this round my head. The question that kept bugging me was this: “What’s the difference between washing the truck again somewhere in Darwin, such as the local Scrub ‘n’ Go, or our mates’ driveway, potentially setting any sundry blades of grass, dead bugs and contaminated dirt free into the greater environment, and not washing the truck again at all?”

Sandy and I decided to get James from the shipping company to deal with the washing as he seemed to know what the AQIS bods would be looking for. And it was still only 2pm, so potentially we could get the wash and inspection done before stumps. With a bit of luck we would be able to hit the road on Saturday for a leisurely jaunt south to Melbourne.

But of course it was POETS Day – that bastion of Australian workplace tradition: Piss Off Early, Tomorrow’s Saturday. I remembered that a public servant’s standard workday in the Northern Territory ends precisely at 4.21pm (this is no joke – workers at Darwin’s museum would be taking their first sip of beer at the Ski Club next door at 4.22pm daily), so it turned out that nobody from AQIS would be remotely interested in doing another inspection that day. We did consider the option of having the truck signed out there and then, and perhaps never going back, but thought we’d try to do the right thing. We’d have to wait until Monday.

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(Pic: When in Rome… the Ski Club, Darwin)

By first thing Monday morning James had given the truck yet another bath blast and it was looking like it had just rolled off the production line, not driven around the world. Two new AQIS inspectors came around for a squiz, and one of them found another dead bug, this time lodged in the back of the radiator. A quick conversation between a slightly embarrassed James and the AQIS mob resulted in the truck going back to the wash bay and a subsequent immediate inspection. Any more high-pressure hosing and we’d need a new coat of paint.

The wash bay process provided another shock to the senses. While James was blasting the radiator, and even using a pair of tweezers from our first aid kit to pluck a stubborn bug from its bunker, I noticed that not all of the water landing on the concrete floor ran towards the drain that ostensibly collected the foul and infecting contraband and deposited it into a secure tank. Half the water ran the other way, back down the driveway. Out of interest I followed this errant stream around the corner and past the wall of the wash bay, and discovered, to my horror, that the water cascaded down some rocks and into Darwin Harbour. The entire process, it seemed, was a waste of time, and at the same time filed under ‘revenue raising’. Funny how cane toads are a bit of a nuisance around these parts.

Ultimately AQIS gave the truck the thumbs up – literally. The official authority to drive the truck out of quarantine was one person’s vertical thumb indicating to James that all was hunky dory no wuckas bewdy mate she’s apples. No paperwork, no signatures, no stamps of approval. A sophisticated process, it seems.

Another hour of waiting for customs to give the all-clear to AQIS, or the other way around, we weren’t really sure, and finally we drove home. But we weren’t done yet. The truck was booked in for an overdue service that needed to happen before we headed out into the Australian outback again, and so it was all hands on deck to pull everything out of the truck and then a sprint to the mechanic’s for the service.

David initially told us that he couldn’t service the truck that day, even though it was booked in, because it was relatively late in the day and he had assumed we weren’t coming. But then he saw the stickers on the side of the truck, and all was right in the world again. We had a chat about the trip and his desires to do something similar, and picked up the truck later that afternoon. David also had a couple of EK Holdens in the workshop – a model very close to my heart – and a souped up FX that belonged to his daughter and that boasted automatic transmission, power windows, air conditioning and power steering – not exactly standard equipment in the late 1940s-early 50s. David and we had long chats about cool cars and exotic destinations, but as some work needed to be done on the truck, we made our getaway.

Surprisingly, there was nothing in the truck that needed any great attention. Given some of the tortuous roads and dust through south eastern Europe, Turkey and south-east Asia I had assumed that at least some of the running gear such as brakes or suspension would need a going over. Instead, all was first-rate and, with new doses of fluids for the engine, gearbox and diff, we were right to go.

SK: Our wonderful Darwin hosts JJJZ deserve a medal (or at the very least a great meal) for hosting the four of us for 2½ weeks while in the midst of packing up their house to move south. We were melancholy and anxious about the impending end of our trip, and frustrated that our car was taking its usual slow boat trip back to us. Meanwhile they were slowly but surely boxing, lawn sale-ing and giving away their possessions. (Some of which ended up coming to Melbourne with us!) I would have been tense and cranky had the roles been reversed, and so am most grateful that they maintained their trademark calm and poise in the face of pacing house guests and their own stressful times. It is hard to spend weeks being a tourist in a city you have lived in, especially when you are there waiting to go somewhere else. Nevertheless, a good time was had by all, and it was relaxing to spread out in a home, watch all the kids play, swim, read and invent game after game, and hang out with good friends. Finally in spite of shipping delays and AQIS paperwork, we were able to repack the truck, shed some of our excess weight in books, and drive off.

Our last night was spent with the JJJZ at Nightcliff beach with fish and chips and a great rolling storm – churning purple and grey clouds, bursts of lightning and big, fat drops of rain. A fabulous send-off.

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(Pic: F & Cs at Nightcliff beach, with added storm front)

DB: Our plan was to head off early on Wednesday morning, but there was one last Darwin task – an extended interview on ABC radio. The four of us drove into town and had an hour-long on air chat with Leon Compton, and was simultaneously listened to by seemingly hundreds around the Northern Territory, along with family, friends and colleagues in Melbourne, many of whom were sending SMS messages to the station during the interview.

Leon insisted on checking out the truck straight after his show ended and, while he was poring over the finer details, a bloke in a Falcon station wagon pulled up. Hanging out of the car window, he proclaimed to us all that he had heard the interview and immediately decided to drive over to have a look for himself.

Lunch with JJZ at the world renown Roma Bar signified the beginning of the end – and away we went. Heading south along the Stuart Highway lead us towards magnificent Katherine, and in no time were we in our element, with the wide, open road, the big blue sky, the music cranked up and the world as our proverbial hard-shelled mollusc that is best served chilled and doused with lemon.

Heading south we passed suburbs and towns once familiar when I worked with teenagers and parents all those years ago in these parts, eventually rolling up to Katherine (Nitmiluk) Gorge. We were there some eleven months ago but were prevented from staying the night by the acrid smoke produced by the annual burn-off. This time the air was crisp and clean. Our intention was to take the children on a cruise along the river through the gorge, but the financial outlay required made us recoil. We would not get much change from $160 for a one-hour splash up the creek – a sum that would put severe pressure on the old abacus at this late stage. We wanted a short cruise, not to buy the boat. Being told that our campsite would be bumped up to an eye-popping $38 per night the following week in time for school holidays and Easter made us wonder if the Katherine Gorge National Park was being run by the mob. I looked for the usual signs: violin cases, dark suits, shirts, ties and glasses, black Mercedes Benz limos with blacked-out windows, food and beverage stalls at an AFL venue, but results were inconclusive. Hey, Pachuco.

Instead we made our way to the Katherine School of the Air. A staple of Australia’s efforts to provide education to children living in remote locations, we were shown examples of the school’s history, from ancient and clunky valve radio transmitter-receivers, to today’s digital video technology, and got a real sense of many children’s daily learning regime by watching a ‘class’ in action. Our guide, a Melbournian originally but a Katherine resident for a paltry 45 years, also presented a small joey that had been orphaned recently but was now a member of her family. That night, at our campsite, we entertained the joey’s relatives who were both inquisitive and out for a cheap feed.

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(Pic: Raffy and Joey, Katherine)

On the way from Katherine we stopped in at Mataranka Homestead where a replica of the Elsey Station, home of Jeannie Gunn, author of ‘We of the Never Never’, takes pride of place, and splashed about in the crystal clear warm water of Bitter Springs, before continuing south. The thought of living a colonial existence in these climbs, as Jeannie Gunn did all those years ago, is mind boggling, but the serene setting of the springs reminded us that not all of these parts are harsh and fraught with danger. Scooting past enormous termite mounds, testament to the vitality and liveliness of the often-concealed indigenous fauna of these parts, the setting sun continued to alter the light and colour of the vast desert space.

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(Pic: Raffy, Sandy and Maddy, Bitter Springs, NT)

Given we were now officially running out of time we made for the most direct route home, which unfortunately meant revisiting places of yore, but still made for exquisite road travelling. Next stop was the wackiest of outback destinations, Daly Waters. After pitching the tent we headed for the pub that is a shrine to the souvenirs of a thousand passers-by who have had their personal belongings stapled to the rustic innards of this public house in gratitude for a grouse night out.

While breaking camp the next morning, a couple who had camped next door sauntered up and, after gingerly introducing themselves, asked us “if we were those famous people what were on the wireless the other day”, or words to that effect. Sure enough, we were proclaimed celebrities, and were made to feel rather special for the journey we had completed. (None of my family were forthcoming to tell me that I had egg yoke in my beard during the entire conversation, but that’s another story.)

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(Pic: The Drive Around The World card takes pride of place amongst the thousands of souvenirs at Daly Waters pub, NT)

Stopping briefly at Newcastle Waters we picked our way through the mostly deserted town that once was the centre of Australia’s famous cattle droving industry and way of life. Now the crumbling store and pub that are adorned with copies of records of stock movements over unfathomable distances are all that remain. I felt conflicted by thoughts of the supposed idyllic existence of the quintessential drover, loping along on his (and sometimes her) trusty steed, moving docile beasts from one section of the allegedly vacant land to another, and the impact on the country’s pristine environment and original inhabitants.

The land around Newcastle Waters was flooded, bringing with it hoards of water birds, fish and insects. Of course, we were unable to answer Maddy and Raffy’s questions about where they all came from, given that permanent water was so far away, or what will happen to them when the water dries up. At lunch in a small clearing near a creek we were joined by a large flock of chattering black cockatoos, whose squawks cracked across the noiseless air like thunder.

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(Pic: Flooded Newcastle Waters and resident bird life, NT)

The archetypal Aussie one-fingered road wave is at the same time comforting and fills the driver with angst. For one reason or another, the further out from a substantial populated area the more likely drivers coming the other way will raise one finger from the top of their steering wheel in salute to the oncoming driver. Some drivers get a little more effusive by raising two fingers, politely, and once in a while we came across some adventurers in a rented van or camper who would provide an entire hand in salutation.

But once in a while I found myself raising a finger – again, politely – towards an oncoming vehicle, only for the other driver to disregard, or simply ignore, my attempts at outback road camaraderie. The nerve! The chutzpah! The sheer unmitigated gall! In a split second my confidence and sense of self-worth go plummeting through the floor. What, am I not entitled to a return greeting? Was it something I said? Am I a lesser driver? The desperate need for validation was palpable. Of course, a pattern appears, and we begin predicting who will and won’t return the signal. Most truckies don’t do it, as they are on the road all the time, and they are so high up (physically, but, well, you know) it’s difficult to know if anyone is in fact at the helm or not. Local bureaucrats don’t do the road wave, as they are obviously far too important to communicate with the lowly traveller. You can tell them apart by the new shiny, white, large Australian sedan or little hybrid and the distinct lack of luggage on the back seat. In a crisp, ironed shirt and kempt hair, they have a conspicuous air of being on a vitally important mission to save the world.

But most of the others are happy to acknowledge their fellow road users with the little wave. Like playing our kids’ game of ‘sweet and sour’, determining if you are sweet when you get a wave back, or sour if you get nothing, the more regular the little wave the more we felt a member of the vast community of strangers placing as much importance and gaining as much enjoyment in going from points A to B as the points themselves.

Karlu Karlu (Devil’s Marbles) was once again majestic and fantastic – the dry spheric rock formations more in keeping with the fabled intergalactic visitors of nearby Wycliffe Well than simply and impossibly formed by millions of years of erosion. This time, though, we increased the park’s population to five. Last time we had to muscle in between glorified cruise ships on wheels, but now we were the only ones there except for one other bloke a bit further up. The irrepressible flies finally flew away at sunset, but that only presented another problem. A lone dingo made itself known and was obviously attracted to the kanga bangas (roo sausages) and tofu on our barbeque. OK, it was smitten by the tofu, admittedly, but this is no time for culinary contortions. Nonetheless, it was more patient than a hard-core real estate agent, knowing full well that no matter what happened it was going to get a feed. Its all too close proximity made us jumpy, and we hastily retreated to our tent. No sooner than we began moving away from the food that it made a move for the scraps. Keeping a torch in one hand and a rock in the other, we backed away toward the tent, and lay still, watching the vivid Southern Cross and its millions of cousins through the windows and listening to the shrill howling of the hungry dingo. I didn’t sleep well that night.

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(Pic: A dingo’s got us by the Devil’s Marbles, Karlu Karlu, NT)

Ernie (the Dingo) popped in again at breakfast time, but gave up pretty soon after realising that what we had to offer wasn’t going to float its boat. After a ramble amongst the rocks we again hit the road towards the capital of central Australia, Alice Springs. In three days we had gone from lush, wet and green to sparse, dry and red.

NRJG once again welcomed us with open arms and fridge to their Alice home, and opined that there was probably an easier return route to their place than circumnavigating the globe. We washed a few days’ worth of dust and road grime away and enjoyed a family’s company in preparation for the final leg of the journey. The evening chill reminding us that we were now indeed far from the sticky, sultry climes of south-east Asia and the Top End; we were now tantalisingly close to home.

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(Pic: Good old outback hospitality, Wycliffe Well, NT)

SK: Being with Nicki and Rob in Alice Springs was calming and reassuring. We were touching base with old friends who were also facing an upheaval in their own planned move to Melbourne. Together we could discuss our feelings of displacement and dislocation after being somewhere else, and returning to a city that was ‘same, same, but different’.

DB: The landscape had been changing hourly, from tropical to desert in degrees so considerable and yet indecipherable it was at once acutely identifiable and obscure. The soil was now vividly red, the sky impossibly blue, the traffic few and far between. We camped at Marla with a few other lost souls and continued south.

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(Pic: The eyes have it: the wide open road, NT)

SK: As the landscape dried out so did our skin. It felt like we were desiccating – out came the lip balm and the moisturiser. Sounds banal, but it was a visceral indicator of our travelling into drier climes. South of Daly Waters there were fewer clouds in the sky; just immense expanses of that blue that only seems to be present in Australia, juxtaposed against the greens, browns and reds of our home landscape. It was so hard not to think parochially, not in sunburnt country clichés. Nevertheless, there it was, laid out in all its iconic glory. Mesmerising.

DB: Maddy had begun complaining of a stomach ache, but the standard symptoms of something sinister had not manifested. A bug? Nerves about returning home? We decided to keep an eye on it and continue on.

By the next morning in Marla Maddy was in a spot of bother. Sandy got on the phone to Dr R in Alice Springs who suggested we speak to the local nurses and get them to brief him. The local nurse gave a shrug and said that we’d need to get to a doctor. That meant going back to Alice (450 kms) or getting to Coober Pedy, which was much closer (at 230 kms).

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(Pic: Approaching the South Australian border, NT)

At Coober Pedy we headed straight for the hospital, joining the queue of a couple of rough looking opal miners smelling of rough liquor and looking like they could do with a decent feed. Finally, we got to see the doctor.

By this time Sandy and I were almost convinced that Maddy had appendicitis. The pain had moved to the left and slightly south – not good news, and going to the loo didn’t make a difference. This would mean an emergency flight to Adelaide for an operation. We already started talking about who would go, and who would drive south to meet up. But by the time we got to see the doc Maddy noted that there was pain in the water-passing stakes. Not good news for her, but good for us. UTI. Immediately treatable with a few pills. We checked into an underground motel with kitchen and by breakfast time the divine Miss M was as right as the rain Coober Pedy almost never saw.

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(Pic: Lunch by a salt pan, SA)

SK: There we were, in a town in the middle of the desert, armed only with the magic plastic of a Medicare card. And that was all we needed for speedy and accurate diagnosis and treatment. A quick trip to the chemist where there were hundreds of medications, all clearly labelled and with a qualified pharmacist to dispense. We take it for granted. And we were so relieved to be able to do so.

DB: Perhaps symbolically, we were now slowing down with the speed limit in South Australia a paltry 110 km/h, as opposed to the much-despised recently instigated 130 km/h in the Northern Territory. Until a couple of years ago there was no speed limit outside of towns and cities, meaning, unsurprisingly, carnage was abundant.

SK: Raffy was continuing his voracious reading, averaging one book a day. We had stocked up with loans from his friend Jonah, but at this stage we were going to run out pretty soon. Luckily he was equally engrossed in the landscape, and spent hours watching the scenery change. Maddy and Raffy both noted that hour after hour it would transform; soil, trees, shrubs, even the colour of the asphalt, and so by the end of the day we would be setting up camp in a terrain dramatically different from the night before. Maddy had immersed herself in one of Jack’s books, so was simultaneously experiencing the climate in Cornwall and in the Flinders Ranges.

As we drove, we dreamed of future trips… revisiting the Kimberley, this time in the dry; a slow meander around Tasmania… We knew that anything was now possible.

DB: We set out on a still, bright, hot morning for what would be our longest single drive on the trip – all 594 kilometres of it. Past defiant desert oaks and vast tracks of salt bush and spinifex, along essentially deserted black-top, sometimes dotted with hand-painted signs on old car bonnets, the sun-bleached bones of road-kills past and odd plastic bottle trees – shrubs decorated with plastic bottles threaded onto outer branches, in the middle of nowhere, with nobody within coo-ee to be seen. Who put them there, and why? The environment continued to change ever so slightly every so often, like a ‘Necks’ album; the trees becoming slightly larger and abundant, craggy hills now providing respite from the endless flatness, the earth becoming sightly more fertile. Another ‘last’ – the final stretch of road without mobile phone contact. Approaching the Great Australian Bight our phones came to life with chirps of text and voice messages from friends and family wondering where we were, and when we’d be back.

Then, almost without warning, we found the sea again. For us, the sea has a reassuring and nourishing quality that alleviates an odd sense of claustrophobia experienced in the impossible vastness of central Australia. For one reason or another, the sea represents endless openness, a space unencumbered and plentiful. This, no doubt, comes from growing up on the coast, and probably has something to do with parents and grandparents arriving by boat and never experiencing an arid way of life. Still, the salty blue depths of sea enriched us.

Past sleepy towns whose pasts are steeped in fishing but are now often reminded of days of yore by the rusting factories and rotting piers, where retirees spent their last, sun- and salt-filled days on deck chairs perched strategically aside their aging caravans, their diaries filled daily with the late afternoon aperitif at a central location in the caravan park, shooting the breeze, cleaning and perhaps cooking the day’s catch and regaling the assembled residents and passers by with tales of the good ol’ days. The evening yarn is as nutritious as the evening feed itself.

We parked next to the single, diminutive space of reasonably green grass in the Port Germein caravan park – the rest of the grass blown inland by the sturdy sea breeze and assisted by the persistent drought that releases flora to the elements – and set up camp. The town boasts a jetty that goes on forever and a sunset that seems to never quit. The listless, solitary after-dark thwack of thong on foot from the amenities block to their owner’s own little rented patch of home speaks of loneliness and isolation. I wondered if the good folk of St Germein caravan park, and hundreds of others like it, were satisfied with their lot, if they wanted for anything substantial, and how envious I was of a life simplified and unembellished. Still, no matter our judgement about what others may or may not lack, the caravan residents welcomed the dusk by sweeping the concrete slab outside their van and tended to their pot-plants proudly and diligently. A caravan opposite saluted the dipping sun with a stereo-blast of a ukulele version of Satchmo’s ‘It’s A Wonderful World’. Yep, too right. Cheers.

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(Pic: Sunset, Port Germein, SA)

SK: I felt conflicted – wanting to arrive, to have the anticipation and anxiety of arrival over and done with, and of course at the same time trying to draw out each day, make this remarkable journey last. Danny and I were fraying as well. The kids, excitedly counting the days until their reunification with friends and family, were doing fine, but we adults were in disparate spaces, sometimes at odds with each other, trying not to be affected by the final ‘lasts’. But they were there, unrelenting: each kilometre was one less, each night was one closer to the end. We alternated between supportive and negative.

DB: We passed an infinity of South Australia’s unique steel and concrete power poles. The further we went from Port Augusta, the less inclined road travellers were to use the one-finger off the steering wheel salute. The big country was behind us now. We rolled through the somewhat familiar country of South Australia’s fabled Clare Valley, full of small vineyards, cloistered townships with idyllic pubs, Victorian cottages and mechanic’s institutes.

Down by the thirsty Coorong is Meningie, a sleepy town with a caravan park on the beach where we pitched the tent and watched the sun set over the fast-depleting lake that once upon a time was fed healthily by the Murray River, but now is all but cut off from the final pathetic dribbles of the once mighty tributary. Still, we thought of iconic Australian cinema as we observed numerous Mr Percivals basking in the sun atop ancient pier pylons, or joining forces to heard small fish towards the shore before chowing down. The bill of a pelican can hold more than it’s belly can. I thought of one of my mum’s paintings of me feeding such birds not far from here when I lived a life before driving, family and travel, and wondered what it is about the pelican than mesmerises me so. Top bird. I don’t think Steve Abbott has mentioned the pelican yet in his podcast that is currently entertaining us in the truck. Note to self – ring Steve. He’d appreciate it. Not long after sunrise Raffy joined me down on the sand to salute the day and make the most of our few bucolic moments left on this trip. All that serenity, eh?

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(Pic: Raffy and Danny welcome the morning sun, Meningie, SA)

Our very last night on the road – day 360 – was spent in the majestic Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park. Stopping in at a favourite locale, Mount Zero, we found the olive grove store open but deserted. Maddy, our resident gourmand, in particular, was hankering for a jar or five of mixed olives, and anything else that took her fancy, so, after nobody came to assist, we left enough cash for a couple of jars with a note on the back of one of our cards. Most of the oval goodies were consumed at the campsite that afternoon.

The kangaroos thumped by the tent throughout the night, and after a royal breakfast in the coolest weather we had experienced in months (since Turkey, really) and a skilful final pack, we skimmed along tree-lined dirt roads and past eye-popping rock formations until finally, most reluctantly, and somewhat tearfully, we found our way to the Calder Highway – scene of the first stone chip our windscreen suffered on the trip. No sooner were we reflecting on moving from bush to city that the Melbourne skyline loomed in the cool, wet, grey horizon. No-one does grey skies like Melbourne.

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(Pic: Dinner guest, Mt Zero, Grampians National Park, VIC)

From the Calder to the Tulla and into bumper-to-bumper Carlton. We spent longer getting to Queens Parade from Flemington Road through Royal Park than from Mount Zero to Melbourne. Welcome home. First gear all the way. Are we really volunteering for this?

From Carlton into Fitzroy and Collingwood. Being late afternoon on a Friday Sandy luckily agreed to tackle Carringbush’s Johnson Street out east instead of the Eastern (Freeway) Carpark, as, in the words of the great Baldrick, I had a cunning plan.

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(Pic: Our last bit of dirt before Melbourne, Grampians National Park, VIC)

Unbeknownst to the rest of the family, I had been texting furiously for the last couple of days, organising a little surprise. We were on our way to Sandy’s parents’ place in the east, so Johnson Street made sense. But at the last minute, I grandly proclaimed that I just wasn’t ready to go home yet, and pulled the steering wheel left towards Studley Park Boat House.

Sandy pondered “Where are we going, exactly?” while Maddy announced that she had a “funny feeling in her tummy” about all this. I really didn’t want to make anybody anxious, but I did think that we deserved a bit of kudos. After all, it’s not every day we get home from driving around the world.

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(Pic: DSMR roll into Studley Park boat house, with Maddy’s friends waving us on, and with Sandy, Maddy and Raffy still wondering if Dad’s really freaked out this time.)

Rolling down the road towards the boathouse I spotted a few of Maddy’s school friends. “Oh my god!” Maddy screeched. A little further on, a horde of family and friends emerged from the only recently past deluge into the bright sunshine and, like a ragtime band at a New Orleans funeral, played us home. I felt overwhelmed. We’d done it. We were home. We were cheered and hugged, and lapped it up. We were home.

Bugger.

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(Pic: Danny’s rather reserved homecoming response)

SK: Driving past the zoo, we were trying to recapture the moment almost at this same point seven years ago when Danny had blithely said “Let’s drive around the world”, to which I replied “What a great idea.” But we couldn’t quite come up with anything to match it. Raffy nominated Africa and Iceland; great suggestions but perhaps a rather difficult continent and country combo to negotiate. I think we were also weighed down by the grey mood of Friday afternoon traffic.

We had stopped for coffee in Ballarat, and so by the time we had been sitting in Melbourne traffic in the rain for an hour, I well and truly needed a toilet break. Danny’s shifty pullover into the Studley Park Boat House drive didn’t really register as odd – all I could think of was that there was a bathroom there. And there was, and in addition there were dozens of people to welcome us. It was wonderful but truly overwhelming. It also explained why Danny had spent the last two days “making notes” on his phone as we were driving.

DB: And so, here’s how it stacks up:

Total distance: 36,984km

Total distance travelled including short local trips: 38,095km

Total driving hours: 353.5

Countries: 25

International border crossings: 32

Litres of diesel: Approximately 2,540

Parking tickets: 2

Speeding tickets: 0

Prangs/bingles/fender benders: 0

Globes: 1

Filters: 11

Belts: 1

Blowouts: 1

Breakdowns: 0

Tracks listened to in the truck*: 12,062

Photos: 7,202

Lost children: 1 (briefly)

Beds slept in**: 160

Longest drive: 594km (Coober Pedy – Port Germein, SA, Australia)

Shortest drive: 34km (Nong Khai, Thailand – Vientiane, Laos)

* Includes songs, talking book chapters and podcasts

** Not counting the tent

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(Pic: That’s it. It’s all over. Back where we began, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia)

The trip itself was now at an end, but our minds were still travelling. We wonder what the next few weeks will be like…

To be continued.

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10 Comments»

  auntiefranny wrote @

Just finished your wonderful final entry…what an amazing effort from all of you…truly remarkable!
So glad to see you happy and well.
Loved every minute of your blog… till the next adventure…

xxx

  Barbara K wrote @

Welcome Home! I have been following your travels since I found you via Jon Faine’s site.
Thank you for including me on your journey, even if an unannounced stowaway!

  drivearoundtheworld wrote @

Barbara – was that you in the back seat? Thanks for coming along with us – it’s been a thrill.

Cheers

Danny

  null wrote @

出張マッサージ

  Hilary wrote @

feels like the journey continues in that photo of the open road en route to the sa border – quite the optical illusion. melbourne is glad to have you all back safe & sound and i take it none the worse for the experience. thanx for taking us vicarious travellers along.
most fondly
hilary

  Melb Vicau wrote @

omgf, orasomely cool blogsite mate, lovely pix at top of page, big things for this site i think!

  John Petersen wrote @

Bloody amazing! Well done to you all.

Best regards,

JP

  Letha Rivas wrote @

You have done it once more! Superb writing!

  drivearoundtheworld wrote @

Thanks Letha!

  caravan holiday park wrote @

So glad to see you happy and well.
… till the next adventure…


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