An Outback Night

October 26, 2013 in Australia, Oceania, Travelogue

Tony Outback

sunburnt earth. mirage.

nuanced landscape, subtle change,

ubiquitous flies

(We have kind of a thing for haiku… I wrote this one between Richmond and Hughendon on the long flat. There’s another that we wrote a day or two in frustration… about flies, but you’ll have to message me if you want a copy… it’s not PG enough for the blog!)

It has occurred to us, more than once, that our lovely Hyundai iMax van is a life raft in the midst of a scorched ocean. With water, food and relative comfort we are ferried through a landscape that would surely kill people as ignorant as we are.

Huge swirls of dust, not exactly devils and not quite tornados appear, like sand jinns, and dance hypnotically against the horizon; throwing tumble weeds high into the air. Long trains chug into view, pass us, and disappear in our rear view mirror. The children count the cars: 96.

The landscape changes:

Trees appear, and then disappear. Suddenly we are on the savannah, straw coloured grasses as far as the eye can see: a study in oatmeal and tan. Someone mentions that a lion would be a good addition to the landscape. Wouldn’t that be a surprise to the local kangaroo population. There is discussion as to how a lion would have to modify his hunting strategy to bag a kangaroo. The conversation morphs into the hunting and thought patterns of big cats. Uncle Dick got us fired up on an excellent book: Tiger, when he was with us in New Zealand.

Termite hills are scattered across the landscape. They look like little sunburnt gnomes supervising the passage of time. Other travelers have stopped and dressed a few of them in old t-shirts and hats, which only increases their personification. Hours later, the termite towers have grown exponentially; some are the size of a small car. They look like big red boulders on the plain. Small replicas of Uluru. Hours later, they’ve disappeared altogether.

Cattle, on a drove, are standing, en masse, in the middle of the highway. Highway might be a strong word. It’s a road approximating the 7 km stretch between the 11th line and the ferry boat on Wolfe Island… only it extends for 5,000 kilometers; give or take a couple of thousand. The cattle look at us as if we’re the interlopers. True story.


We camped last night in the Outback.

We camped last night in the OUT. BACK.

Our excellent Camps 7 book, generously leant by Norm and Marg as we left Drysdale has been a godsend. We pulled off the road, unwrapped the chain on a gate, and lumbered  a kilometer and a half back into the bush. Well, maybe not bush, maybe “scrub” is a more accurate description. The road was clearly outside of our rental car contract specifications. We crossed the dry river bed, gunned it up the rutted hill in a cloud of dust and tipped over the crest of a hill to be surprised by water: Corella Dam is still wet. A mob of afternoon-a-roos looked up at us lazily, chewing mouthfuls of dry grass.

It was the best campsite of the trip, thus far, from my perspective:

  • Perfectly flat
  • Picturesque
  • Not another soul in sight
  • Free

Jacqui and I cooked dinner while the tents materialized in the twilight. The sun set in layers of blue and gold behind low hills on the far side of the lake. Feral cats and semi-feral cows patrolled the outer darkness and the stars came out to sing.

Cooking Outback

There are stars, and then there are stars.

We’ve been lucky a few nights of our lives and seen breathtaking night skies. Tikal was good. Camped at Douz, on the edge of the Grand Erg Oriental was better than average. Deep in the mountains of New Zealand redefined darkness and starlight. The Outback sky will be among those that we mark star shine by.

Hannah played her guitar and sang softly in the tent while the boys giggled and played with their headlamps to a disco ball effect. The tent glowed a soft, contented blue against the black night. Tony blew into his didgiridoo, trying to extend his ability to sing the Aboriginal songs, or approximations of his own. We sipped wine, surrendered to the hot wind, which mercifully delivered us from most of the flies, and talked softly in the darkness, counting shooting stars.

When I close my eyes on other dark nights, the wet Hawaiian and cold Canadian nights to come, nights in jungles far away, and think of Australian nights, this will be the one I remember: The quiet hiss of the gas lantern over the sizzle of sausage in the pan and my friend’s lilting voice shushing little children away from the hot stove, the sound of boys playing with sticks instead of helping with the tents, guitar music in the darkness, and the silhouette of The Man’s hat outlined against the horizon.