Posts Tagged ‘Nullarbor Links’

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


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