Ceduna to Cocklebiddy
Trip Start Mar 14, 2009
34Trip End Ongoing
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When we said that we were going to drive from Melbourne to Perth, there was much joshing among Australian friends, who seemed to doubt that we would make it out alive. We were made to promise that we would never drive at dawn or dusk, as that was when the kangaroos lurked by the side of the road, ready to bound into your path and write off your car. A collision with a 'roo, even in road-kill form, is enough to flip a car like Doris. In fact, for all you Skippy fans out there, under the impression that kangaroos are cutesy-wootsie-ickle things to be petted - be warned, they are vicious beasts. A kangaroo can kill a man by placing his front paws on a man's shoulders and shredding him from neck to waist with the claws on his hind legs. All joking aside, we did see abandoned cars with completely shattered windscreens that had obviously careered off the road on impact.
The Nullarbor Desert is a vast plain that stretches across the south of Australia, it's name coming from the Latin for 'no trees' (check me, with my GCSE Latin and my, ahem, Lonely Planet). I would say that this was a slightly inaccurate assessment of the state of play and that 'very few trees, but lots of scrubby bushes' ('Valde Pauci Nemus, Tamen Plures Scrubby Modius' according to www.translation-guide.com. No word in Latin for 'scrubby' apparently) would be a truer picture of what we saw. And what we continued to see unceasingly, unremittingly, unforgivingly for nigh on a thousand kilometres. People don't drive the Nullarbor for the scenery. Cue 362 rounds of 'Who would you rather drive through the Nullarbor with out of....?'. Just to give you some small insight:
Q. The Beatles
Rhiannon - Paul
Rachel - John (obviously)
Q. The Spice Girls
Rhiannon - Posh
Rachel - in agreement
Q. British Prime Ministers past
Rhiannon - Blair (proviso - as long as he doesn't talk about his conversion to Catholicism)
Rachel - would chose Disraeli, but for the fact that he can't drive (and neither can I); Churchill, but for the fact that he'd drink-drive; so went for Blair in the end.
Hours of fun.
Now, driving through the desert, you don't see many people. You sees lots of shredded tyres by the side of the road and plenty of signs warning that random Australian wildlife might stray into your way (stopping to take pictures of said signs is one of the major factors that makes the trip take so long). Therefore, when you do see another car, it is the highlight for both you and them, so it is of paramount important that you wave. If you have been driving for several days and have therefore proved yourself to be hardcore, you can simply nonchalantly lift one finger from the steering wheel and nod to the oncoming vehicle. If you do not wave, you are miserable specimen of humanity, a note will be taken of your license plate number and if you should break down, no-one will stop to help, they will simply drive back and forth waving at you. So, you see, it is very important to wave and Rhiannon took that responsibility very seriously. If at any point, someone showed signs of being unlikely to wave, I would join Rhiannon with a two-handed, zeal-fest of a wave, and then they would very often wave back out of fear, which still counts. For her own amusement, Rhiannon changed her wave slightly on occasion, to keep the whole thing interesting. A particular highlight for me was the left-handed variation. Good times.
Just before the South Australia/Western Australia border we stopped for lunch, an unceremonious affair, eaten in the car to avoid the searing sun, raging flies and prowling dingoes. At the quarantine border, a severe-looking official stopped us to ask if we had anything to declare. When we didn't, her scepticism was almost gleeful, and she demanded to search the car. We have a lot of stuff - Doris' back seat and boot are piled sky-high - so we were less than happy at the prospect of emptying her in the search for smuggled fresh fruit and honey. Luckily, the officer just prodded about in our boxes and made a beeline for the esky. Now, as Brits, we are rubbish with eskies. I do see that, in theory, it is a great thing to be able to keep your beers and BBQ meat cold. To be honest though, faffing about with all that ice? The ice melting and making everything soggy? I can't be doing with it. We keep tinned vegetables and bagels in our esky. The quarantine lady might have found that a bit strange, but she waved us on our way pretty sharpish.
Arriving in Eucla (neither You-klah, nor Oohk-lah, but Uck-lah), we discovered that it was much earlier in the afternoon - we had crossed the international time line. Our excitement that we had gained extra driving time was soon diminished by a hugely confusing system that seemed to demand we put the clocks backwards and forwards by 15minutes every time we got to a new town. It made me nostalgic for China, where one vast time zone may mean that you spend half the day in total darkness, but at least you always know what time it is.
As the sun started to go down, we stopped in the town of Cocklebiddy (population 7), and set up camp for the night at the roadhouse. Crossing the country from east to west, the ground was most definitely getting harder and this particular campsite was, in actual fact, a gravel pit. Using pegs proved to be impossible so, instead, we weighed down the guy ropes with the bigger rocks that lay strewn about the place.
We piled every soft and squishy thing we had with us between us and the ground, including all of our blankets and towels. As it turned out, it was not the hardness of the ground that kept us awake, but the flapping of the tent awning in the wind and the rain dripping through. While I was under the impression that deserts were among the drier of places to be found on this earth, even here we could not hide from the determined storm that seems to be following us across the country.