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no fixed abode in print

This blog wasn’t the only thing written while we were of no fixed abode.

Here are some articles based on our brewery experiences, published after the trip.

West Australian newspaper

The Grape Escape: page 1,

The Grape Escape: page 2

Beer & Brewer Magazine (Issue 12)

Don’t Discount Darwin: page 1

Don’t Discount Darwin: page 2

Pearl of the West

Contents page

So the trip is finished *big sigh*

Over five months we pretty much did a lap of the continent.

We had an outstanding time, saw so many things and met so many people, but it really feels like we only scratched the surface. Don’t be surprised if this website gets resurrected if we find the means to make another trip.

Each post is listed below in the order they were written so you can look back at some of the posts or check them out for the first time. Thanks for reading.

Any questions – feel free to post a comment.

1. What goes ‘clonk-clonk-clonk’ in the night?

  • Barcaldine
  • Bogantungan
  • Crocodile Dundee
  • Drummond Range
  • Emerald
  • 2. The old country

  • Tree of knowledge
  • Walkabout Creek Hotel
  • Boodjamulla / Lawn Hill National Park
  • olive python 
  • snake 
  • swimming
  • 3.The Isa experience

    Riversleigh
    Fossils
    Mt IsaMines

    4. Love on the highway

    Odin’s Warriors
    Elsey National Park

    5.Victor’s place

  • Walking with spirits
  • Beswick
  • Wugulaar
  • Corroboree
  • Tom E Lewis
  • 6.Bininj, Balanda and Crocs

  • Kakadu National Park
  • balanda
  • bininj
  • crocodiles
  • kingfishers
  • Warradjan
  • Yellow Water
  • 7.Walks & waterfalls: the ups and downs of Kakadu

  • Kakadu National Park
  • Angbangbang
  • Burrunggui
  • Jim-Jim Falls
  • Nourlangie
  • rock art
  • Twin Falls
  • 8.Gruesome events on the ground, strange objects in the sky

    Arnhem Land
    Butterfly Gorge
    Douglas Hot Springs
    Nitmiluk
    snake

    9.Edges

    Darwin
    Gurrumul
    Markets
    Mindil Beach

    10.Bad luck in sickness country

    Kakadu National Park
    Elsey National Park
    Jeannie Gunn
    We of the never never
    Gunlom
    Sickness country
    Uranium Development Project
    Water monitor

    11.Stone country

    Aboriginal art
    Gunbalanya
    Injalak
    rock art
    weaving
    Wilfred

    12.New ways of seeing

    Brisbane
    Indigenous Community Volunteers
    Musgrave Park Cultural Centre
    Samson and Delilah
    Stolen Generation

    13.To Nitmiluk

    Nitmiluk
    Black Arm Band

    14.Hot & thirsty business

    Nitmiluk National Park / Katherine Gorge
    Bula
    Bushfire
    Butterfly Gorge
    Jatbula

    15. A push start in the twilight

    Daly River
    Nganmarriyanga/ Palumpa
    Port Keats / Wadeye
    Scabies

    16.Car crash #45

    FACSIA
    Intervention
    Nganmarriyanga / Palumpa
    Victoria Daly Shire Council

    17.The wild west?

    Boab
    Cattle
    Kununurra
    Lake Argyle
    Timber Creek
    Victoria Highway
    Victoria River
    Western Australia
    Wyndham

    18.Moving through white spaces

    Beer & Brewer
    Broome
    Cable Beach
    Fitzroy River
    Geikie Gorge
    Gibb River Road
    Kimberley
    Matsos microbrewery

    19.Green spaces (and caption competition)

    Cape Range National Park
    Hamersley Range
    Karijini National Park
    Millstream-Chichester National Park
    Ningaloo Reef
    Pilbara
    Port Headland

    20.Where the wildflowers are

    Kalbarri National Park
    Lesueur National Park
    Murchison River
    Stockyard National Park
    Wildflowers

    21.Tasting paddles

    Australian Craft Beer
    Bootleg Brewery
    Bushshack Brewery
    Collie Motorplex
    Colonial Brewery
    Cowaramup Brewery
    Duckstein
    Margaret River
    Triumph PI
    Triumph Sports Owners Australia

    22.We have a winner!

    Caption competition result

    23.Sold on the sticks

    Bootleg Brewery
    Cape to Cape
    Duckstein

    24.Fine art and firetowers

    Firetowers
    Karri treesMarianne North
    National Geographic
    Redwood
    Shannon National Park
    Southern Forests
    Warren National Park

    25.The way of the Waugal

    Bibbulmun Track
    Mandalay Beach
    Northcliffe
    Pingerup Plains
    Walpole
    Waugal

    26.Stirling stuff

    Red Tingle
    Stirling Ranges
    Tree Top walk
    Valley of the Giants

    28.The longest surprise

    Heading home for a Christmas surprise

    29.It had to happen

    Cape Le Grand
    Esperance
    Western Grey Kangaroo

    30.Tree free golf

    World’s longest golf course
    Great Australian Bight
    Nullarbor Links
    Nullarbor Plain

    31. Well trodden paths

    Port Augusta
    Mt Remarkable National Park
    Peterborough
    Broken Hill
    Sculpture Symposium

    32.History lessons

    Darling River Wilcannia
    Louth

    33.A pine ending

    Hebel
    St George
    Storms
    Bunya Mountain National Park
    Bunya Pines

    A pine ending

    A paper plate is suspended, flattened by the force of the wind against the criss-cross wire fencing around the small park in the tiny border town of Hebel. Nearby, the gazebo above the public barbeque is shaking back and forth. Normally we’d be eating our lunch at a table in a place like this, but the weather is so harsh we’re better off inside THE BENCH, even though it’s swaying gently from side to side.

    The excitement of the storm is electric – in more ways than one. We’ve just come charging through the dirt from Brewarrina on the last miles of New South Wales with a drama enacted in the skies around us, cumulonimbus collapsing in the distance like slowing spinning tops. The last thing we wanted was to get stuck in the mud, but incredibly we haven’t seen a drop of rain. It’s a buzz all right.

    THE BENCH and friends

    A big truck arrives from the north. As we’re out watching the storm and taking photographs the driver approaches, his adrenalin-fuelled grin almost as wide as the brim of his cowhide hat. He tells us his story:

    “We’re coming down from Roma and the rain got so hard we really needed to stop. But we couldn’t – there’s nowhere to pull over, and if we stopped on the road someone would run up our arse, so we had to keep going. Then we came up behind an oversize load! Oh, it was dangerous, man!” He’s shaken, but clearly excited, and is taking photos of the distant storm with his mobile phone so his mates will believe him.

    Then I notice the signpost 50 metres away and think what a fine photo it would make. I wander over and line up the shot, and just milliseconds before the shutter clicks a thunderbolt pierces the grey sky in the distance directly behind the Lighting Ridge sign. It was so nearly a perfect storm photo!


    Almost!

    Continuing our journey we see the aftermath of the storms. It’s been rare on our journey to see standing water at the edge of the roads, and so often we’ve been in country that’s crying out for rain. When we reach St George the sun is shining – it’s the calm after the storm. The main road into the town centre is closed as the fire service remove fallen trees from the power lines and the cafes and food shops have closed because there’s no power.

    We were experiencing mixed emotions. It was exciting to be almost home for Christmas, and to be setting up this big surprise for Ella’s family who thought we were still thousands of kilometres away in Western Australia. But the excitement was tempered with sadness because we knew our big trip was nearly finished. Still, we were all set to spring our Christmas Day surprise, after we visited just one last National Park.

    A little green nugget hanging off the main mass of the Great Dividing Range, Bunya Mountain sticks out of the surrounding farmland like a cool, soothing emerald. We take the road that winds up from Dalby, feeling the temperature drop as soon as we reach the steep slopes and switchbacks and disappear under the cover of trees. And what trees.

    There are a select group of pine tree genera that are endemic to Australia and the Bunya Pine is one of these. I’ve often felt that introduced species such as the common plantation pine from California, pinus radiata, look out of place in Australian landscapes. Perhaps it’s because they remind me of the photos of overdressed Outback pioneers posing for photos in their Sunday best despite 40ºC heat – they often seem bedraggled and parched.  The Bunya Pines are clearly at home here, though, and their conical domed crowns pepper the hillsides.

    Looking up inside the crown of a Bunya Pine

    From our campsite among the trees at the top of the hill we see storms passing to the east and west, lighting displays that seem to be at the same altitude as we are, yet they miraculously steer clear of us and we stay dry. In the daytime we tread a few of the bushwalks through the rainforests in the gullies and across the distinctive and curious-looking ‘grassy balds’ – open grass clearings on the hillsides that are the result of centuries of bushfires.

    We manage to avoid the two recognised hazards of the area, being bitten by ticks and getting hit on the head by pine cones falling out of the trees. If that sounds completely ridiculous then consider this. The cones are reputed to grow up to the size of a football and can weigh two or three kilos, and the nuts that grow in the cones are as big as brazil nuts! Try sprinkling them on your cereal. Of course, they were a popular source of food for indigenous Australians who came to the mountains to gather them. They ate the nuts raw, toasted or apparently buried them in mud for several months to improve their taste.

    On our walks we keep our eyes peeled for any of these immense cones in the undergrowth. They aren’t produced every year, though, so it looks like 2009 wasn’t a good year for pine cones.  It was a good year for us, though – a year of exploration and discovery. We ventured beyond the big snake draught excluder of the Great Dividing Range to places we’d often never even read about. We dispelled the myth of the Outback as a singular entity, went out into the country and realised that it is so much more: it is a continent of diversity. Perhaps it doesn’t have the mystique of Asia or the overt cultural manifestations of Europe, maybe much of it is arid and unforgiving and groaning under the weight of its own stereotypes, but there are a remarkable range of landscapes to experience. Yet, after 32 blog posts, five months and 25 000 kilometres travel, and countless breathtaking views there are still many more landscapes that we didn’t see, which is just as well because it gives us the excuse to get out to see them on future trips.

    Thanks for taking the time to read. I’ll put together a contents page for the final post here, with links to all the posts for easy navigation.

    Flower on the floor at Bunya Mountain National Park

    History lessons

    We gazed briefly at the murky green water of the Darling River from a bridge in the centre of Wilcannia. It was hard to reconcile the black and white photos of paddle steamers and rowing regattas on the interpretative signboards with the little swampy pools in front of us.

    The 1500 km long Darling River is the fourth longest river in the land and is part of the Murray-Darling river system. Before there were roads and cars, trucks and trains, it was this river system that really opened up the Outback for settlers, providing a water source and enabling paddle steamers to ferry goods out of the countryside. Towns like Wilcannia, once known as the Queen City of the West, sprouted along the banks. But they’ve wilted now.

    Wilcannia - take the time to read a book

    Unfortunately rivers aren’t always predictable on the driest inhabited continent – and the fortune of the town has mirrored the ebbing and flowing of the water. The steamers stopped operating between the two world wars, and the Darling was frequently unnavigable when it was open to traffic; it dried up forty-five times between 1885 and 1960. Drought hasn’t been the only problem, though. Too much water is syphoned out for irrigation, it is polluted by runoff from agricultural land, and because the whole catchment sits across state boundaries, it’s fallen prey to political wrangling. It makes for a great case study for getting rid of a whole layer of government! In 2007 the World Wildlife Fund named the Murray-Darling one of the “world’s top ten rivers at risk.” With any luck the Murray-Darling Basin Authority that was formed in late 2008 to provide a single agency for the system’s management will lead to an improved future.

    Murray-Darling Catchment

    We lurched back onto the dirt to follow upstream the flow of the Darling, the white flour-like bulldust sand exploded under our tyres as if we were driving through a minefield. Although we were passing through pastoral land, there were few signs of life. It was blindingly bright, with scant vegetation to soften the screaming sun.

    Since moving to Australia I’ve often looked at a certain page on the map and wondered about one of the towns marked on the Darling. Many other places along the river took names based on the indigenous languages, or were named for prominent people of the era, but this one has the same name as the town where I grew up in England – Louth. It’s hardly unusual for colonialists flung far from their home (and unlikely to ever return) to seek comfort in naming their new patch of dirt for their old one. Australia’s full of such place names. Yet as this name is so familiar, and I have a keen interest in historical geography – how could I stay away?

    Bulldust farming

    I sought connections between my sleepy hometown Louth, nestled with its Georgian architecture, soaring church spire and markets at the base of the Lincolnshire Wolds, and this Outback Louth. Of course I knew that the Australian Louth would look quite different: one thousand years newer at least, it would be small, down at heel and stuck to its source of life – the river – like a limpet. Dirt roads would lead in from all directions and only a short central section through the settlement would be bitumen sealed.

    Outback post box - with water for the postie?

    I wanted to find out more about the naming. Had the founder chosen Louth simply to remind him of home or was it aspirational; had he hoped to recreate a bustling market town on the banks of the Darling?

    Like Wilcannia, there’s not much left of Louth. The solid square-cornered brick house that is the former post office speaks of past prosperity, although there’s none of the sandstone splendour we’d seen downstream. Apparently there were many pubs in town at one time, but now there’s just Shindy’s Inn. It seems like the place to find out more about the local history.

    When we get there it’s empty, but open. Clad in corrugated iron, it has the hallmarks of an Outback Pub. In all three rooms photos, jokes and poems are plastered like wallpaper. We get chatting to the woman who runs the pub and discover that she and her husband left a farm to take on the pub. The drought moved them on, but they’re glad they made the decision. She doesn’t seem too interested in my historical fascination, so I start inspecting the walls.

    As I scan the faded photos of floods and droughts and the halcyon days when steamers were loaded with bale upon bale of wool from the surrounding farms, I wonder if I can see something behind these images, read something between the lines. Back in Lincolnshire they stopped using the little 11-mile canal at the beginning of the last century. First it was closed for the duration of the First World War, and then in 1920 a massive flood hit the town claiming 23 lives and damaging the infrastructure. That was the death knell. I guess that it would have become unviable by then anyway, out competed by train and truck. And that’s precisely what happened to the Darling at this end of the world only a few years later. Compared with the Louth Navigation, shipping on the Darling was massive and its steamer- towed barges could manage the same load as twenty of today’s semi-trailers. Such tonnage would have dwarfed the British boats.

    The Darling at Louth - December 2009

    And then I see him. In a small frame on the wall amongst the other bits and pieces, hardly in pride of place, is a Victorian photographic portrait, sepia tone but less weathered by the sun than some of the photos from this decade. I immediately know who it is – Thomas Matthews, the founder of this town. He’s posing, sitting upright with a stern and serious look on his face. It’s the same expression that has convinced generations of people that Victorians had no sense of humour. At this point I’d like to be able to report that the image in the photo winked at me and whispered the name of a pub or a street in my hometown, but I don’t look into his eyes, I move on to read the inscription below:

    “Thomas Matthews, known as the King of Louth. Born in County Louth, Ireland.”

    Oh, yes. County Louth, Ireland.

    Well trodden paths

    Reaching a fork in the road, where the Eyre and Lincoln highways meet in a dry and empty landscape, we see a cluster of large concrete water tanks daubed in bright colours and writing. It seems that each year the winner of the local football competition celebrates their victory with paintbrushes. We both experience a slightly odd feeling: a feeling of familiarity, a feeling that we’ve been here before.

    And we have. Eighteen months ago we spent a few weeks driving to and around South Australia. Port Augusta looked quite different this time. What seemed a bit run down a year and a half back now seems like a bustling metropolis – not because it’s grown, or because we’ve seen so much since then, but because with a population of 14 000 it’s the biggest town we’ve seen since Albany. The sight of a supermarket can make one giddy, but while Port Augusta proves a useful place to stock up on supplies, we’re drawn to another oasis: Mt Remarkable National Park.

    It’s a gem of a place, 50 km south of Port Augusta, and a short distance east of the Stuart Highway (the road from Adelaide to Darwin). Explorer Edward John Eyre named the mountain in 1840 due to the “lofty way it towered above the surrounding hills.”

    Towering gum trees

    Our memories from our last trip here were so fond that we wanted to come again. Nestled at the foot of the southern Flinders Ranges, Mt Remarkable National Park is a wildlife haven with great walking tracks that run up along the ridges and through the valley, and gnarly old Red River Gums that tower over the picturesque campground.

    You might expect that after the novelty of the last few months it would seem somehow less interesting, yet it had actually changed for the good. It was much greener, the river was flowing slowly and birds and wallabies were making the most of this in the driest state in the country.

    Remarkably wet!

    We just had time to climb up to Black Range lookout. From this lofty point we looked west out over parched fields to the Spencer Gulf.

    Wet & Dry

    Eric Newby’s The Last Grain Race recounts his 1938 journey as a crew member on a Finnish four-masted barque, one of about a dozen that made the voyage from Europe to Australia and back collecting cargoes of grain from the south and trying to do it in the fastest time possible. The book is a vivid and humorous account of the experience of living and working on these ships – as the title suggests they were on the verge of disappearing into history, overtaken by war and modern technology. Their destination – the source of the grain – was here in the Spencer Gulf of South Australia. Ports still line the Gulf, today, although they don’t seem to be thriving. We don’t hang around to find out, though, because we’re heading inland, weaving through the ranges, along dirt road shortcuts and past tiny rural settlements.

    Classic Outback pub

    Any doubt about the continued role of grain in this part of the world is dispelled once we steer inland. It isn’t the sight of silos sticking up on the horizon like churches in rural England, or any other visible evidence of harvest, but the smell that brings it home. I’ve never smelt wheat in the air so strongly as in Peterborough South Australia – it’s like being dropped in a giant biscuit barrel.

    A sign on the edge of town reminds me a little of the Royal Family – just as they changed their name from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor in 1917 to sound a little less Germanic, so Petersburg became Peterborough a year later. That’s not the only thing that reminds me of the monarchy, though. There’s a faded glory to the place that suggests its role has diminished in recent times.

    Peterborough was once a rail hub. Three different rail gauges converged here and an unusual turntable was built that catered for them all. The end of the steam age, the change to a standard gauge, and the rationalisation of rail services led to demise of this town. Today there’s a steam heritage museum for enthusiasts.

    A little bit of polish and this whole place could be a living museum. The crumbling federation architecture makes it feel like a coma-town rather than a ghost-town. There are several cafes, shops and pubs along the main street through the town centre, but there’s clearly been a contraction in business since well before the GFC. Bright new shop signs indicate those that still trade, but they’re probably outnumbered by those that might as well be mirages to weary nomads – signs are up, but upon arrival it’s clear the business shut down long ago.

    Shut up shops in Peterborough

    The Federal Hotel, Peterborough

    After Peterborough we return to long straight roads, sea views a distant memory, as we head towards the iconic mining town, Broken Hill. I was expecting something like the bland new town of Mt Isa, visited near beginning of our trip, however Broken Hill’s history radiates from the sun-baked colonial architecture in the town centre. It’s impossible to walk for 50 metres without stumbling across a heritage sign showing a 19th century view of the street with an explanation of its significance.

    Unfortunately we’ve hit town on a Sunday and several of the attractions we were hoping to visit are closed. A trip out to the Sculpture Symposium is well worth the detour, though. A walking trail winds through the arid landscape to a viewpoint that looks back to town, and against this backdrop sit a dozen sculptures, created by a number of international artists invited here in 1993 to work massive sandstone blocks quarried nearby. It’s a beautiful way to see the desert, the artwork blending so well with its surroundings.

    Broken Hill Sculpture Symposium

    Back in town it’s impossible to forget what Broken Hill is famous for – many of the street names echo the source of its wealth. They must be useful reminders for high school students learning geology or chemistry: turn left off Crystal Street onto Oxide Street, cross over Argent Street, keep going until you get to Mica Street, then turn left again and cross Sulphide and Bromide streets, before you get to Garnet Street. Once here turn left, pass Cobalt Street and walk to the end of the road. Do you recognise the view? Yes, that’s right, you’re back where you started.

    Broken Hill Sculpture Symposium

    Tree free golf

    We all know that golf is, well, crazy. Or as Mark Twain said, it’s a good walk spoiled. Neither Ella nor I have ever played golf, well not properly, and neither of us have any inclination to play golf, but as we began our trip back east in earnest we noticed a rather unusual golf course.

    We’d already seen a few outback golf courses on our trips. If golf suggests to you a green scene you’d probably be challenged by such courses. Think beige. Think big dusty vistas with distant sun-bleached flags, broken down corrugated iron clubhouses. Think irreverent Aussie humour.

    But this course stretched the concept of a golf course, literally. I suppose the longest golf course in the world (1365 km) has to be located somewhere, and it seems that this somewhere is in the middle, and the edges, of nowhere. At least nowhere is what the majority of the Christmas traffic, screaming through the 1200 kilometres of straight hot grey bitumen to travel between Norseman and Ceduna (the next town of any significance) must think this place is.

    The Nullarbor links

    Specifically, most of the 18 holes are located at roadhouses along the Eyre Highway, the long straight sealed road that connects the western and eastern states. On its way it crosses the notorious Nullarbor Plain and runs close to the epic bay known as the Great Australian Bight. Let’s face it, if you were trying to walk to the next tee, it wouldn’t be the golf that ruined your walk.

    The Eyre highway’s westernmost point is at Norseman and most traffic arrives via Kalgoorlie to the north or Esperance to the south. But we came in the back way picking up the Highway 200 kilometres into its stride, at hole 7 – Balladonia. We arrived after a tooth-rattling ride up the bumpy track from Cape Arid National Park. Short cuts out here can be a little misleading – a 300 km dirt track isn’t necessarily quicker than driving double that distance on dirt. And two-dimensional road maps don’t tend to show road conditions in any detail, nor the universal indicator that things are about to change: council boundaries.

    After cruising along a wide smooth dirt road, kept in good condition for the trucks that service the well-spaced farms, we breached the border between the Shire of Esperance and the Shire of Dundas. The road narrowed to a rocky track and our driving speed halved as we negotiated the corrugations and picked a safe route. This wasn’t a problem for THE BENCH of course, and our aim to get back to the east coast for Christmas was never supposed to rule out seeing some of the alternative sights.

    In 1865 the surveyor E. Alfred Delisser’s account of his ‘journey into the interior of Australia, north-west of the Great Bight’ appeared in the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society of London. He described this great swathe of land as “An immense plain … destitute of trees.” The latin for no trees, nullus arbor, morphed into the present day name – the Nullarbor Plain.

    Much has happened since Delisser’s prophetic report: cattle and sheep have grazed; horses have been bred for the British Army in India; Aboriginal reserves have been set aside; roadhouses have been built to service the traffic. Yet the area is still considered by most as stark vacant land existing solely as white space on the map separating places.

    Fortunately, we’d become a little travel-hardened by now. After driving some long straight stretches of road in the north of WA, where there was far less traffic around, we weren’t oppressed by the emptiness of the landscape. Perhaps we’d been living outside for so long, or spending so much time observing things; our eyes seemed to have sharpened to notice the changes in the vegetation along the way, to appreciate even the seemingly mundane. We had a good time taking it in turns to drive, the passenger snapping blurry photographs of the slightest object of interest.

    50 points if you spot a tree!

    Eventually, as the day was finally drawing to a close, we arrived at a lookout. Looking over the Madura Pass exceeded expectations. We must have been standing on the edge of an ancient sea cliff, perhaps 40 km from the present day coast. Suddenly there’s a view, a new perspective, topography. Suddenly there’s trees!

    But it’s not just the physical landscape that captivates. Earlier in the day, after driving the longest dead straight section of road in the country (the 90-mile straight), we entered a new and unexpected time. There it was, just lying in the middle of the road, a surprise change in time zones. Well, we knew the clocks would change by 1hr 30 mins when we reached South Australia, another 500 km east, but no one had warned us about this preparatory time zone. It isn’t even on a major line of longtitude. The cheek!

    As we rumbled along the road, questions about this unusual arrangement surfaced. Did somebody think we need to be eased back into east coast time? How many people actually live in this time zone? – our map only shows three roadhouses before the WA/SA border and to the north lies desert. What, exactly, is the point of it?

    We’re obviously not the first to be confused by this. Paying for fuel at one of the roadhouses I noticed the clock showing this strange time. A sign points to the clock, saying: “Yes, this is the correct time.” A second sign points to the first sign. “Yes, the sign is correct.” I felt an incredible urge to ask the man that served me if the second sign is correct. But then I remembered the response I got from a border guard in Europe when I sarcastically suggested that there was another passenger hiding in the boot of the car. Some things are best left unsaid.

    A Dingo hunting

    After overnighting in the campground at Madura, we pass into South Australia where the highway runs really close by the sea. Just as we’re catching a couple of lean cyclists who are fighting their way through the wind, we take a turn off down a short track, walk 50 metres, witness a scrawny young Dingo attempting to hunt, and look out from the stark beige Nullarbor. The view is equally as challenging, equally isolated and uninhabitable, but so very different. This time the cliffs look over the sea.

    A great place to go for a ride?

    So once again the Australian landscape has something special up its wizened geological sleeve. As we look from the cliff we’re standing on the world’s largest limestone karst landscape. There are over 250 recorded caves riddled through this apparently empty plain. And while there may not be many trees around there is a remarkable biodiversity.

    Out in this wilderness, in the hard arid wind, among the sand and scrub, a 1984 biological survey identified 794 vascular plant species, 56 mammals, 249 bird species, 86 reptile species and 1 frog species … but no golfers.

    Bunda cliffs

    It had to happen

    So, back to the journey… back to Western Australia…

    It had to happen. It was inevitable. If someone had told us before our trip that this was going to happen, we wouldn’t have been surprised. There’s no way we could drive all the way around Australia and not have this happen. The only surprise was the time of day: we would have expected it early in the morning or late in the afternoon – but it’s only 2pm.

    Given the high probability of this occurrence, we came prepared. Tucked behind the car seats is a folding army surplus shovel: a tool to ease the problem. And now here I am, shovel in hand, standing at the side of the road, 30 kilometres east of Esperance. Hesitating.

    There are over 200 species of marsupial in Australia, and many of them are Kangaroos or Wallabies. In the wild they generally give humans a wide berth, but they’re a serious hazard around roads. Wherever you drive outside the towns and cities, marsupial remains – large, small and in various stages of decomposition – litter the verges.

    This dull windy afternoon, as we were making our way along a pine tree lined road towards Cape Le Grand National Park, a medium-sized Western Grey Kangaroo sped from the shelter of the trees on the left, into view and into our path, just metres ahead. Drivers can crash when they swerve to avoid creating roadkill. But a big roo can damage a vehicle and its occupants in an accident. So what did I do?

    Western Grey Kangaroo courtesy of http://bird.net.au/

    It happened so quickly. Instinct told me to swerve, but instinct isn’t as fast as a two tonne Land Rover in fifth gear. Like two people in a corridor that can’t decide which side to pass each other, we collided. I tried to go left – the direction the roo had come from – but it did the same, pivoting to hop back off the road, to no avail. It disappeared below our sightline; there was a hard clunk against the massive protective roo bar, followed by a scream from Ella. Shocked and horrified we pulled over to the side of the road. In the mirror I saw the poor animal flailing on the roadside, so we raced back to see if there was anything we could do.

    Chest heaving, the roo lay stretched out on the verge stunned, eyes open, incapacitated. It wasn’t dead. I looked for signs of a Joey that might have fallen from a pouch, but it looked like the roo was male. A line of blood at the base of his thick tail didn’t bode well. A broken tail would render it immobile if it survived – a sure death sentence. Scenarios flit through my mind. Should I whack it with the shovel and end the suffering quickly? Or maybe the damage isn’t too bad. Should we take him to a wildlife carer? How would we even find one of those anyway?

    Our mobile phone had coverage, so I waited at the end of the line as the Ranger at the National Parks headquarters in Esperance tried to find details for a wildlife carer. It felt futile, but we felt we had to try. How could we fit him in the car? Ella began to move things to make room.

    Then I heard the sound of crunching gravel. I ran over. The roo’s back legs were pushing and struggling. But it was spinning in circles on the floor. Death throes.

    The Ranger came back on the line.
    OK, I think I can find someone for you.
    Don’t worry, it’s too late. It’s died.

    We drove on quietly, subdued by the event.

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