Author DaQuaPart 7

With less than two hours to go to my destination of Auburn, my mind drifted back and forth. In the past three days, I had left behind the storm of Alice, with desert rains and searing sun chasing each other down the highway, with me in hot pursuit. I had driven through a land of sacred stories and many traditional countries, where emus and statuesque kangaroos roamed, under the watchful eye of eagles, and snakes left only their tracks, and me wondering. I had slept in the womb of the earth in Coober Pedy and had been captivated by tales of its characterful corpses.

The brilliance of the stark salt lakes, sparkling in the sun, had sent my sight soaring from above. There were flocks in flight, and dragons in plight, dashing across the highway, ahead of the thundering road trains, whose wake would shake your world into the next, if you got too close. The songs, sounding across timeless plains and vistas that stretched beyond the horizon of any human eyes, had sung to my soul, carrying on the wind, the lessons of the land and life; its gentle nudge, the upwind flow, downwind draught, and the outright bold buffet, either challenging, or encouraging, me further and further across the deserts to the sight of the Flinders Ranges, and the sweeping Gulf; to a room with walls of rammed earth that would protect so much more than my dreams.

The knowing of the colonial history of this great southern land was laid bare in all its painful truths. Acknowledging this opens the path to a more peaceful land, people and purpose, and I carried this with me in my heart, with hope.

I had driven off the main highway by now, turning inland once more and heading for the valley of the vines, following my google map, or at least I thought I was. By the time I had realised, that the app wasn’t working, and neither was the car re-charge to my phone, I was totally lost amongst pastures of gold and brown, with gentle rising hills, that rolled on and on, just enough to obscure any point of reference that may have helped me get my bearings. My paper road map ended at the Gulf, where I had been so confronted, by all the Covid awareness advice, at the servo, that I had paid for my fuel and got out of there fast – neglecting to pick up the South Australian Road Map, sold out at the road houses en-route.

I drove on, kilometre after kilometre, hoping that I would eventually come across a small town or other point of reference. Perhaps at the rise of the next hill? But all I could see was dust rising in a plume, breaking the monotony of cloudless blue skies. I pulled the ute over to record the dust devil as it crossed the field, swirling in parallel to the road, gathering up all the debris from the fields, only to be dumped unceremoniously in some distant place (now, that did sound familiar). The story of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz sprang to mind – I checked my feet – no red shoes – just the familiar leather thongs (to clarify for my non-Aussie readers, thongs are flip flops, or jandals in NZ, not underwear – a mistake I made, many years ago, reading a sign at a bar door in Sydney….!). I wasn’t going to get out of the car in case it changed direction; a free full body exfoliation was not something that I wanted to experience at this moment in time – nevertheless, from the safety of the ute, it was astonishing to witness. Around the next bend, another dust devil tore across the fence and engulfed the car in confetti of hay and earth, before dissipating just as quickly once it was on the tarmac – this was extraordinary. Swathes of land that felt as if the very skin of mother earth had been scraped and scored from her body, lay drying in the sun, fair game to the winds, trees and vegetation were a rarity, and whilst some hinted at an earlier time, by their tenacity around some edges of the land, others looked forlorn. I was clearly in cultivated colonial Australia, that now serves the country and countries, with a major part of their wheat and cereal needs.

Dust devil as it crossed the field
Dust devil as it crossed the field, swirling in parallel to the road

The videoing, and photography, had plunged my phone battery into a tiny slither of yellow – not unlike the vista. I reassured myself that I had filled up with fuel, had enough water and food for four days or longer, and if darkness fell before I found my way I really could climb into the ute tray to sleep on my yoga mat, until morning. I laughed at myself – I had heard chilling stories of people being lost in the vastness of the red centre and the sprawling bush – but in cereal fields – come on – really?!

When I left Port Germein, I was less than two hours from my planned destination – it had been two and half hours and more, and I still had no idea which way to go. Realisation dawned. I recognised the occasional tree, and the particular-way the land lay – I knew where the sun was, and the ever-present companionship of the moon on this trip – there were points of reference after all – I had passed this way earlier. Having completed a full circuit of the roads that crisscross the bounty of, seemingly, at first glance, anonymous, cereal fields, a welcome signpost for Port Pirie, at a cross roads in the cereal, confirmed, I was in fact heading back to the coast and in the wrong direction.

Armed with this knowledge, and the deeper knowing, I soldiered on, or rather retreated, and was soon on track without panic – inwardly amused. Who had this woman from Wales become? Only a few years ago, she would barely have driven more than 100 kms from home alone, and if she did, she would have written down every town and road number on the motorway system that spread like a pumping circulatory system of capillaries moving cars and people across the country. It would have been an anxious drive through the tumult of traffic and towns, and the cities and their conurbations, that were confusing; the reward however, was always, in the destination, and therein was her motivation.

I mused how far this woman had come, as I approached the sign for Auburn and the homeward stretch. I had completed 16 hours of driving, and over 1,600 km, alone, across some of the most desolate and remote areas of Australia, and whilst, there was sure reward at my destination, a retreat in the gum trees and sheep fields of agricultural South Australia, it was without doubt, ‘the journey,’ itself with its reflections, recollections and revelations, that was the genuine reward, and the life lesson. On the eve of my 62nd Birthday I met the woman I was meant to be – me.

Arrival into Auburn – gateway to the Clare Valley.

I asked myself, had it been an audacious adventure from Alice to Auburn? Perhaps so, for that earlier version of the woman in Wales. But for this new woman from the desert, the call of the Nullarbor niggled, and Highway One (the longest national highway in the world, formed four years before my birth, in 1955, when local roads, tracks and state roads merged into a 14,500 km ring road around Australia), seem to settle tantalisingly onto the horizon of my thoughts.

Now that is audacious adventure………

Goodnight ‘my daughter’s ute’ – you did me proud.
Sunsetting on the journey.
Home amongst the gum trees
Henry Wylie Heritage Gardens - 1855 at Velvet & Willow - Auburn.
Henry Wylie Heritage Gardens – 1855 at Velvet & Willow – Auburn.
Henry Wylie Heritage Gardens - 1855 at Velvet & Willow - Auburn
Auburn streets lined with heritage cottages

This completes the series of seven postings into the first blog story written and photographed by Da Qua, “Alice to Auburn – the Audacity of Adventure.”

Alice to Auburn – the Audacity of Adventure | Day Two (Coober Pedy) | Coober to the Coast | One People One Country One Dreaming | Serendipity or Cosmic Cartographer? | A Seaside Sojourn of Stories | Auburn Awaits