Author DaQuaPart 3

White Fella in a Hole

Pulling out of Coober Pedy there were two options – turn right and it would be 689 km back to Alice Springs – turn left and I would be (eventually), rewarded with the sights, sounds and smells of the salt, from the great salt lakes, I had only ever seen from the air, to the salt water of the Spencer Gulf and so much more besides.

A final rear-view mirror glance back to the town with thoughts of the prospectors who had, over one hundred years, trekked in earnest to this desolate place, rich in the minerals of mother earth, seeking their fortune, their gem, their treasure, their future. Of course the custodians of this ‘country’ the Antakirinja people, had known of the presence of the opal for thousands of years – they knew the stories of and for the land – they just had no need of it.

I had read somewhere that the town name of Coober Pedy had derived from kupa piti – an Aboriginal phrase often translated as “White fella hole,” or “White fella in a hole” and that made me laugh out loud, it was so literal and yet so descriptive – it was enough – no more was needed – and there is a life lesson in there if you look.

It about summed it up – White fellas – either getting themselves into a hole or trying to get out of one. I drove out of Coober chuckling.

It was some time before I left the sights of the mining operations behind and the vistas opened up again and seemed to roll into eternity (or rather neighbouring states and the territory). This was the desert…. at first glance it is easy to see why people may assume that it is desolate and devoid of life –but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In spite of the temperatures that can be reached out here – the highest reliably recorded temperature in any location in Australia was out here – at Oodnadatta in 1960 when it reached 50.7°C ( 123 fahrenheit) – the desert is rich in life and I had learned to appreciate this and so much more, on my visit to the Alice Springs Desert Park, it opened my eyes to the extraordinary habitats of the desert and all that they supported.

The Sounds of Silence Come Alive

Periodically along the route I passed other vehicles travelling north but it was not uncommon to drive for over an hour without seeing another human being. There was always a nod and a wave as if we understood where the other was going – the camaraderie of crossing the centre. It was in those hours that the true sense of being at one with the environment took root. Pulling over into a rest stop I cut the engine and stepping down from the ute would seem to be plunged into silence at first – but that was just an adjustment from the sounds of the aircon wind-tunnel that had kept me cool on the drive.

A little bit like smelling the rain long before it arrives, when you stand in the desert and silence your own thoughts and just listen – the sounds of silence come alive. I would test myself – starting with listening for the sounds closest to me – maybe the drone of the flies, the rustle in the plants, the scurrying over sand. Having checked that I wasn’t standing on an ant run (have you seen the size of those ants!), or too close to rocks or plants, no snake trail or other obvious fresh tracks, I would close my eyes and let my hearing drift across the desert and my breath settle on the winds – tapping into deeper primal senses – feeling and listening to country….at one. It is surprising what you can hear….

Encounters of the Wild Kind for a Woman from Wales

I really don’t know who had more of a shock, me, or the huge Red Roo at the side of the road as I took the bend. I had almost passed him – catching him in my peripheral vision. Nothing behind me for a few hundred kilometres, the brakes screeched the ute to a stop and all the gear sitting on the passenger seat ended up in the foot-well.

I didn’t dare move a muscle – I couldn’t reach for the camera, it was on the floor – I didn’t want to miss a moment. Startled – he didn’t react immediately – but calmly he turned his back to me and gracefully bounded, almost in slow motion, sure and steady across the bush. I watched him until I could no longer see him across the vast distance he had covered. He was lean and athletic, unlike the roos I had seen in the conservation parks, he was tall and red, unlike the regular rock wallabies and brown roos that frequent my yard in Alice. Here was a master of manoeuvers, majestic, measured and magnificent. Here was a moment that would be etched forever in time. It was the epitome of Australia and telescoped me back to the televised Australia of my youth. It was at least 50 kms before I had stopped humming the signature tune to Skippy the Bush Kangaroo 😉 This wasn’t going to be the last encounter of a rare kind whilst driving south.

Two more encounters that defined this section of the road trip were not long in revealing themselves – I was more tuned into my peripheral vision by now. Bringing the ute to a standstill I was held in the gaze of an almost black wedge tailed eagle – eye contact is so primal; its meaning extends across the animal kingdom – he wasn’t alone. Five eagles were focussed, heads down, feasting on road kill just on the verge. He continued to hold my gaze; his vision was a lot sharper than mine. It wasn’t a moment to photograph from such close quarters – it felt like an intrusion. He continued to hold my gaze as if analysing what my next move might be – I moved off slowly in silent gratitude for having witnessed such a sight in the desert, as did the trio of gangly legged emus, who stalked off into the bush just meters down the road.

This image of a lone eagle was taken much further north outside Tennant Creek in 2020, but illustrates the sheer size of the largest bird of prey in Australia – set against roadkill – a full sized kangaroo.

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