Author DaQuaPart 5

Good Morning Port Augusta – a former port, now a major road and rail junction commonly described as being at the crossroads of the country. For those heading North, this was the gateway to the outback 2,722 km up the Stuart Highway to Darwin – the Top End of Australia. (I had just driven 1,230 km of that). A turn East, 1,561 km, would lead to Sydney, NSW, via Broken Hill, the town where my son in law’s mother was born. West, I could follow the Eyre Highway and the lure of ‘no –tree,’ land – the Nullarbor Plains, the largest exposed single limestone bedrock on the planet, covering an area of 200,000 sq km, and part of the drive of 2,390 km to reach Perth. The distances are dizzying, and so is the expanse of the Nullarbor; the area of the whole of Wales is a mere 20,779 sq kms. Head South some 310 km down the Princes Highway, another Australian capital city stands – Adelaide, City of Churches. A city where my love affair with Australia had begun, over three decades ago.

Those who know me, know my hopeless sense of direction, and indeed, even left from right was a challenge in my childhood, and following the points of a compass took more than a few orienteering club outings, to get right. But here, in Port Augusta, pouring over the map of Australia, many an adventurer (with a better sense of direction than mine), would have noted, that from this point, it appears that the capital cities, of Darwin, Sydney, Perth and Adelaide, all lie on the direct points of the compass – North, East, West and South. Serendipity perhaps, or the hand of some cosmic conscious cartographer. It was clearly time to bring my musing down to earth.

After the expanses of the Centre, the traffic, people, and the reminder that in highly populated places, Covid awareness, was ever present. Masks were advised when entering the local petrol station – although I didn’t see anyone wearing them, and QSR code check ins were encouraged, even for the briefest of visits.

This was South Australia, and like the Northern Territory, efforts made towards controlling the contagion of Covid, had payed dividends – numbers were low and the borders were open, and would remain so – for now. This was in sharp and painful contrast to the evolving challenges back in Wales, where the country had gone into further lockdown and the numbers of contraction, and worse, deaths, were chilling and confronting. People I cared about deeply had been diagnosed, others awaiting the vaccinations that were beginning to be rolled out. Such a huge contrast to my daily existence and experience here; Wales, was never far from my thoughts.

Salt was on the air – it was calling – time to see the coast. No need of a map or compass, I allowed instincts to lead the way and in minutes I was parked up, and looking out over sparkling blue waters at the head of the Spencer Gulf. Salt flats and salt bush stretched out towards the snaking inlet, the shout of sea birds on the wind, and the huge shoulders of Mount Brown and the Flinders’ Ranges on the horizon. We had made it (my daughter’s ute and I) from the Red Centre of Australia to the coast.

Ten minutes later I had navigated, joggers, trucks (with no one waving), traffic lights, roundabouts, the bridge over the inlet, and enough billboard signage to bog my brain, and was parked up alongside the waters’ edge. It had to be done – off came the thongs – damp sand and sharp shells under my feet – it was time to dip those toes into the great salt water expanse of the Spencer Gulf.

Port Augusta this was the place, where those driving from Alice to Adelaide, would naturally make a pit stop – for many that’s all it would ever be – a night in a motel and then the last sprint into the city of Adelaide or beyond. I was as guilty as the next, having booked my onward accommodation in Auburn for that night, I had put myself on a time scale of sorts. But like the experience of Coober, I would come to treat this as the initial ‘scout,’ of the area, leave with a promise to spend more time exploring on my return drive to the Centre – a visit to the Arid Lands Botanic Gardens, that I had passed, on the drive in, the previous evening, and the Wadlata Outback Centre, a nationally accredited visitor centre, were a must; at the very least.

The architecture was alluring and hinted at the colonial past when this was a bustling port. A time when heaving Clipper ships would have sailed into the inlet, bringing much needed supplies, to the coast and beyond; a far cry from the pleasure craft and sailing boats moored today. Nevertheless, I would venture on – I had promised myself a trip to the seaside. Next stop and the only stop before turning inland to the golden fields of agricultural Auburn, would be Port Germein.

Moon through the Gum Tree – A Sense before ‘this’ time. With a final glance, up through the swaying boughs of the gum trees, shading the earth, from the searing sun, the moon still evident, glinted against the cobalt blue of the skies, and I would leave Port Augusta with the sense, of the time before ‘this,’ time, when all there was, was the trees and the skies and the seas, and its people.

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