The communication below is over a week old. I feel like that Mars lander, sending messages and telling stories that won’t be heard until much later. The little log book below was written in real time on my four-day journey across Australia. Each evening I would pull out the computer and exercise my fingers remembering the little things that float around in your head when you’re alone and driving long distances. I’m trying to avoid writing a daily diary-style blog because it’s a bit indulgent and really, the tales of setting up a house are probably best left to one gloating tale of deals and rip-offs which will be called Lies, Damn Lies and Bargains!! Coming soon to a blog near you.
19th May 2008
Adelaide to Balranald
Driving along at 100 km/h yelping with laughter and dribbling chewed up chocolate biscuit down my chin.
That’s what driving across Australia means in 2008. The Red Rocket (as tastefully christened by Trent) is utterly comfortable and I could probably drive across the planet in it if I didn’t have to make it to Bribie Island by Friday in order to be there for the electricity man who promises that he will turn the power on between 2pm and 6pm. That’s going to be a fun afternoon. Sitting around in an empty house, waiting for some business-like chap with an AGL polo shirt and a laptop in his pocket to flick a switch. Willie Nelson didn’t include that in his many odes to travel.
But back to the chocolate biscuits. I’m currently in a cabin in the Balranald Caravan Park. I have just watched The Simpsons Movie on my laptop and knocked the top off of my third Toohey’s New (having refused a plastic carry bag to the approval of The Thirsty Camel bottle-o proprietor – they value environmentalism in rural Oz), so it’s going to be the long version.
It begins with selling the Honda.
Yes, quell your gushing tears, the Honda is gone. I bought her (I’m fairly confident it was a girl) on September the 11th, 2001, about an hour before the first plane hit. We travelled far and wide together, on road trips and sumo gigs. I was given some oversized speakers to install, which were stolen. I replaced them with even larger speakers, on which I spent many hours playing music with complex and well-structured bass-lines and ensuring that I will spend the rest of my years yelling ‘What?’ to anyone who talks to me in anything but a loud, clear voice in a sound-proof booth. I never got a speeding ticket. The other various treasured memories I have of that car aren’t ones I’m willing to put on record, partly for fear of prosecution, and partly because it was purchased by another blogger who shall remain anonymous unless they choose to reveal themselves here or elsewhere. I am not in the business of outing people who wish to remain in closets automotive or otherwise. They also probably don’t want to know.
The reason the Honda had to go is that, although my beloved Civic was able to fit (via my bloody-minded mania for efficient packing) four sumo suits and a 4 x 4m foam wrestling ring in the back seat, it lacked any real suitability as an interstate haulage vehicle. It was time for a new car. If you’re a regular reader, you will know that story already. The untold portion is the one in which I pulled out my mp3-playing stereo from the Honda and had it installed in The Red Rocket.
(Nb. I also installed my old non-mp3-playing stereo back into the Honda all by myself, just like a real man! I did ask my mechanic for advice and that advice did turn out to be ‘Connect the same coloured wires together’, but still – in is in and it didn’t melt the car when I turned it on, which I believe is a common problem).
Enter Bill Hicks. Bill Hicks is one of those rare comedians whose material remains relevant 20 years after it was written. Not to mention hilarious. The jokes he was making about the first Gulf War could easily be told onstage today for just the same impact. Even his anti-PC tirades in which non-smokers and anti-abortion lobbyists are grouped together in an extended stream-of-consciousness free verse poem involving Barbara Bush and a scat-munching right-wing US senator still trick you into loud, honest hoots of laughter, despite the unwelcome mental images he coerces into your mind. I had decided on a second chocolate chip fudge biscuit (packed by Mele with love and care) when Hicks began his bit about teenage white-girl American popstars who make money selling a product which has the gall to call itself music. He pushes the appropriately sweet-sounding Little Debbie (vaguely heard of her – think Strawbery Kisses-era Nicki Webster if you need to visualise) into a locked recording studio with the still-living Jimi Hendrix, an electric guitar and a lot of sexually-charged feedback. His impersonations of her screaming for her mother while Jimi plays Voodoo Chile all over the top of any of the pretensions to musical insight and, ahem, innocence she may still possess are the true meaning of comedy. As is me, squealing with goose-like laughter while trying to catch a fountain of mostly-chewed, liquid chocolate fudge tumbling from my lips.
(Nb. Sadly, Bill Hicks is dead. In an ironic twist, which would have been best appreciated by a man who mocked the jogging guru Jim Fixx for dying while jogging and then followed it up with a counter-bit in which he himself speculates about his own death at the hands of cigarettes, Hicks actually died from cigarette smoking. Although Hicks died from cancer, and not, as in his routine, at hands of a pack of rancorous anti-smokers: ‘I tried to run, they were too fit! I tried to hide, they heard me wheezing!’).
I’ve been cruising along all day in 21st Century mode. The iPod is plugged into the stereo, the mobile phone has been on (but out of service – thanks Telstra), the cup-holder (a cup holder! Such a modern conveyance!) has been cradling the best lattes the Murray region’s four baristas-in-training have to offer and the digital camera has been taking photos of road signs and curious pubs – all by itself, mind you. Both hands on the wheel for me. Oh yes. I lunched upon polish sausage and cheese from the Central Market and ate fruit from Mele’s Nonna’s trees.
I’m not shot of Adelaide just yet.
20th May 2008
Balranald to Dubbo
Today I had an auditory-visual co-experience. That means that I experienced exactly the same sensation through my ears as I did through my eyes. I crossed the Hay Plane while listening to Melbourne talkback 3AW with Neil Mitchell. The Hay Plane has been accused of many things, but I think the intellectual curiosities and broader cultural and philosophical challenges posed by talkback radio (mixed 50/50 with advertising) are the most accurate comparison I can make to the neural stimuli that the Hay Plane presents. I don’t know which was more bored, my eyes staring at the same piece of road rolling under the Red Rocket or my ears, sagging with the drones of people who would rather complain about road-works than the Burmese junta euthanasing its own people.
Other than 700 kilometres of fairly similar driving, the only other highlight was dropping into the Parkes Radio Telescope (otherwise known as The Dish) a slick 15 minutes after they had closed the visitors centre for the day. Nice timing, dingus. I did still get to have a good look at the thing, take some iffy photos and see it moving! I’m pretty sure (although not 100% certain) that they were receiving alien communication transmissions!
21st May 2008
Dubbo to Glen Innes
Ho. Ly. Shit. The New England Highway is fucking beautiful. Scooting through it in the Red Rocket in late late autumn is just as wondrous and wonderful as the Hay Plane with Neil Mitchell was unenlightening. Every town has rows of tall trees leaving ridiculously gay piles of leaves on the highway. Rock formations abound. I practised much restraint by only going to one lookout outside Tamworth and discovering that it had been spray-painted with racist slogans and swastikas. Just as I was leaving, a gentleman who Nick Earls would describe as a man who puts on a hat to go driving pulled up in the empty car park. He had a younger passenger who grinned at me and looked vaguely glad to be able to race up the steps to the lookout ahead of his chauffeur.
‘Which way are you going?’ our bespectacled driver asked, absently patting an oblong bulge in his brown wool jumper which could have been either a glasses case or a pacemaker. I explained that I was driving to Bribie Island and he responded, as 75% of people do, that he knew it and had been there on holiday (the other 25% screw up their noses, declare cheerily that they’ve never heard of it and ask questions about ferries). He then took a full five minutes to explain an activity to me which I simply had to try. I didn’t understand it, nodded and smiled anyway and drove off to piece together in my mind what the hell it was he was actually talking about. I eventually worked out that he was telling me about an amazing thing I must see which would involve me turning around and heading back towards Tamworth. I was to search for an exit very similar to the turn-off which lead to the lookout, drive up it a short distance, turn around again (got me? Heading back towards the highway), put my car in neutral and let it roll towards the main road, touching neither gas nor brake peddle. He insisted that I try this complicated stunt because once I reached the flat ground just before the highway, which sloped gently uphill, my car would still keep rolling through some mysterious magical and/or magnetic force which would pull it uphill against gravity for a distance of ten to fifteen metres!
Sadly, dear reader, I was most of the way to Armidale before I figured that out and so left the magnetic miracles of the New England to those who are chosen to experience them.
Glen Innes, however is an excellent place to have stopped. I’m glad I was enthusiastic enough to shop around caravan parks for a decent price because the first one I wandered into seemed very impressive, but for such a delightful dorf I was a bit Big Bottom Lip about staying at a place which doubled as a service station off the main highway. The place I chose (Blue Sapphire) was cheaper and looked like a country cottage which decided to throw up a few cosy cabins and call itself a caravan park. In fact I suspect that’s just what it is. No one was attending the front office, which was left with its money-laden till wide open and a note instructing visitors to call a number on the phone provided because the owners had just popped into town for some shopping. I thought about pocketing every last cent and getting a B&B with a spa, but picked up the phone instead, just in time for the chatty owner to come in from preparing a roast lamb with rosemary.
‘And a bit of lemon and garlic, eh?’ I enquired, ever the culinary enthusiast.
‘No. Just rosemary.’
Mele will tell you that this ambivalence about garlic is indicative of our move, but to that I say fiddlesticks. We shall bring garlic to these people, whether they want it or not.
And now, I am off to eat a counter meal and watch the first State of Origin contest because I am a northerner now and that’s what we do. Right Benny?
22nd May 2008
Glen Innes to Bribie Island
After a burger, a few pints of New (that’s Toohey’s New, for the uninitiated, the increasingly misnamed beer of the eastern states), some light abuse at the hands of some New South Wales supporters at the Glen Innes pub and a cosy old night in my cosy old cabin, I struck out on the home-away-from-home stretch.
The themes of inordinate beauty combined with ABC radio continued as I crossed the Main Ranges. I pulled over on a gravel park to throw out some garbage and have a slash. Right next to the garbage bin were two peacocks. Not nesting, and not exactly feasting on McDonald’s wrappers either. Just standing in the bushes, taking me in. Checking me out. I took it as a Good Sign and took Many Photos, which made me realise that I Want A New SLR Camera.
Seriously though: peacocks. A pair. Big and strong and healthy. And on the other side of the gravel truck park zone? Someone had tossed a large television into the thick vines and scrub which grew over the side of the drop-off. I think that sums up Queensland for me so far: surprising natural beauty frequently punctuated with examples of humanity’s need for thoughtless consumption. Or, if you prefer, lush rainforests and gargantuan shopping malls. Often side by side.
Thankfully, Bribie Island is easy to find and the freeways are easy to negotiate. There are monolithic signs everywhere that unmistakably lead you to where you want to go. You also get about three or four acre-sized warning signs for when your turn-off is coming up.
NORTHERN SUBURBS AND SUNSHINE COAST
your gargantuan sign will read.
‘Does that mean I get into the left lane to get to the Sunshine Coast?’ you ask, squinting into the ubiquitous sun.
JUST GET INTO THE LEFT LANE
WE WILL DO THE REST
‘Aaaah!’ you scream. ‘Fuck!’ you yell. ‘Get out of my way! I am going to miss my turn-off, you arseholes!’
YOU HAVE 6 WHOLE MINUTES TO CHANGE LANES
JUST INDICATE AND SLOWLY DRIFT OVER
So the freeways are large and fast, but easy to handle in a bright red car with South Australian number-plates stuffed to the air-vents with linen, books and cooking equipment.
Bribie Island itself is just as lovely and picturesque as it was when we visited in January. And if our car manages to avoid getting keyed, we will be ahead on points already.
As soon as I was over the bridge, I couldn’t help myself. I drove straight to the house. It’s a semi-detached jobby, connecting garages with an identical house next door which is owned by the landlord. Something the real estate agents conveniently left out until I had signed the lease for real and handed over our deposit … However, it’s not all that big a deal because as I pulled into the (deceptively steep) driveway, scraping the nutsack out of my loaded-to-the-springs new car, Mavis the Midget appeared and welcomed me to Bribie Island. Mavis is a lovely little old lady who can’t be an inch over four feet tall. Lives by herself with a little dog named Bess (or Jess) and enjoys a chat. So much so that she followed me through the house as I performed an initial inspection. Thanks, Mavis. I’ve got it from here. I might actually take a piss now, if you’ve finished showing me the window-locks.
How is it? The Tribe has chosen well. Big north-, south- and west-facing windows, large rooms, gas cooking (as I may have mentioned) and you can see the ocean from the front garden. I have unwittingly engaged in a sea-change lifestyle and really, baby-boomer-bashing aside, it has much to recommend it. The sea, for example. And the tropical birdsong, which I’m sure will have me in the Bribie Gun Shop within the week pricing scattershot rifles, but for now, it’s quite uplifting. There is a church directly across the street, which is more amusing than anything for a person who holds the views on organised religion I do. I’m sure we’ll get along just fine, just as long as no-one tries to welcome anybody else to the neighbourhood with pamphlets and hymns.
The only problem with this place is the smell. It holds the musky scent of holidays. Of exciting plane journeys, visiting relatives, sleeping on the beach, walking through rainforests, swimming in waterfalls, fishing at sunset and sleeping to the breathing of palm trees outside the window at night.
Not the most conducive environment for completing a Phd. Wish us luck and lots of it.