Author DaQuaPart 4

Woomera and Roxy Downs – famous, infamous, however you wish to frame them, past or present – seeing these place names and the signposted prohibited areas the size of some small countries, that flank the track, opened a pit in my stomach that felt darker than the shafts that ran deep into the ground of the desert of Coober Pedy. I drove on.

My senses were singing again – a different song – the subtle changes in the landscape and skies, gathered pace, and were a sure sign that I was entering sand and salt bush country, no more the endless blue horizons, no more buffeting desert winds of the open plains. Borders of soft red sand hills, shrubs and trees framed the track as it wound its way ever further south.

A flock of budgerigars flew straight out from the bush directly towards the windscreen, turning sharply on a wing of perfect synchronisation, a fleeting flash of green prompting a flash of my own childhood memories of our pet budgerigar – Joey – he was green. In later years, I suspected that Joey was in fact reincarnated a few times as we grew up. As my younger brothers would attest, Joey would at times lose his voice and we would have to start to train him to talk all over again, and then there was the time he laid eggs – we were far too young to question this at the time. The story of the birds and the bees would come later…… and here he/she was again, flying free with family in Australia.

Flying free with family in Australia – a longing I have held for many a year but one that has been by curtailed by circumstance and now it would seem thwarted by Covid. It was difficult not to see the clock counting down but I remained grateful for the time had with my children and working in Alice Springs, a community close to my heart in so many ways. Little did we think that when they flew South that I too would find myself flying between hemispheres like some migratory bird – until now.

The first sight of Lake Hart was mesmerising. It was as if I had driven to the top of the sky and was looking down into a basin of brilliant white cloud shimmering in the sun. From here on, the landscape would reveal salt lakes and lagoons – the places of dreams and dreaming.

The sloping walk, down to Lake Hart, took a few minutes; the footprints and treads of shoes, that had gone before, imprinted in the layers of sand and salt – temporary fossils – leading the way ahead. Some probably belonging to those rare sighted humans, who had waved, going in the opposite direction, on the drive through the centre.

I was relieved that flies did not plague me on the walk down – in all the planning and packing I had neglected to pack a fly net – and my hat brim certainly wasn’t swinging with the corks of earlier conquests of the liquid kind.

The discovery that the Ghan railway line cut around the edge of the lake was a pure bonus, and a reminder that I had neglected to any research pre-trip. Yet here I was – two wonders within reach – one of the earth, the other of engineering. The Ghan line traverses the centre of Australia, almost 3,000 km from the South to the North. An extraordinary feat of engineering that took almost 120 years to complete – I am told, 100 years later than originally planned.

The Ghan has always conjured up a sense of romance in me – the pioneering exploration. The great silver passenger train, named after the Afghan traders who would ride the desert by camel to deliver supplies to the vast interior, slides into Alice Springs twice weekly for nine months of the year – well it did before Covid. It remains a wondrous sight as it stretches its way into town or sits in the station.

Back at the lake and a stark reminder stands at the edge of the natural wonder – a sign reminding people that this is within the Woomera Prohibited Area – one could climb the embankment and cross the rail tracks to get to the lake, or there was always the pipeway…..that I am sure had been laid under the embankment for some purpose other than access for explorers.

Here was a personal dilemma – do I proceed over, or under, the ground, or do I look at the lake from a distance? I opted for playing it safe (how predictable of me – maybe my 40 days in the desert would see me emerge as a little more willing to break some rules now and again – we will see). With the feeling that I had copped out somewhat I headed off back up the track for the final push of the day, the 202 km to Port Augusta, and my stop for the night in the Eco Motel with walls of rammed earth.

I could see the coast was getting closer by the changes in the skies – the horizons paled as if holding so much more moisture in the air but I couldn’t see the ocean. That last couple of hours felt longer than any previous stretch – mainly because the expanses became more hemmed in the closer I got to Port Augusta. Irrespective of this I heeded the warnings given to me by those more familiar with driving this route, and I stuck to the SA speed limit of 110 km/h – some 20 km/h less than the NT stretch of the track – where I could really kick up some dust.

When I, eventually, pulled up outside my motel room I laughed out loud – not only because I had made it this far – but because of the vehicle parked next to mine. Maybe not breaking the rules was just as well……

I have never had a Bucket List – just a pocketful of dreams – reaching the coast from the Red Centre was one of those dreams. However, seeing the ocean, and dipping in those toes, that had played footsie in the rain of the desert, as I left Alice Springs 1,228 kilometres behind me, could wait until tomorrow. Dreams of another sort were calling. Sleep.

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