Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019 – Madura, WA to Penong, SA
Distance travelled 637 km. (Over 9,000 km in total)
When we woke up, we had no real idea what the time was and without an Optus ‘phone signal or the internet there was nothing to help us. We remembered that, in Madura you can choose for yourself, so we picked 10:00 and pretended we had slept late. We knew that, whatever happened, we would lose some more time later that day when we crossed into South Australia, so what did it matter. It was certainly ten o’clock somewhere. Whatever time it was, the wind was blowing quite hard and the sun was already scorching.
The journey back across the Nullarbor had already, perhaps inevitably, turned into a social affair. As we had discovered on our outward journey, the folks you meet at your overnight stops are either going the same way as you are, or they are not. In the former case, the paucity of places where you can refuel and get refreshments means that you continuously encounter the same people all day and frequently at the evening rest stop as well. The first people we met that morning were the couple with the vintage Armstrong-Siddely car on the trailer. It was a beauty, a real limousine from the late 1940s. Australia’s lack of salt in winter and a lot of love and wax had been very kind to it. They were driving it to a rally in the east. Our neighbours with the Land-Rover gave us a cheery wave as we pulled out and the wife called out a cheery “See ya later !”, implausible elsewhere, but not so on the Nullarbor. Finally, as we left Madura, we spotted the two BACA bikers, now joined by a third, parked on the petrol forecourt. It seemed they too would be “with us” for the third day. Although they were my age, which meant their bones just had to be creaky, they had camped outside. When we met them again later, we found they had an accompanying “support” vehicle with them. It was driven by lady member of their group and was a jeep with a trailer, in case of breakdown. A large steel case was bolted onto the bed of the trailer and we also discovered that this was electrically refrigerated and was full of ice and cold drinks, including beer. In the heat of the sun, we quietly envied them, particularly during our stretching stops. It was so hot that even lukewarm water from the saddlebags was wonderful and chilled water would have tasted like a divine nectar.
The only bad thing about retracing your steps is that although you may not have seen it all, you probably have seen most of what you wanted to. In a way that is sad. As a consequence, we kept to our stretching and drink/refuelling pattern which meant visiting the roadhouses at Mundrabilla and Eucla but made no “unplanned” stops. A couple of times we passed or were passed by, our Land-Rover friends and the couple with the Armstrong-Siddely, but it was fairly uneventful. We did see two, obviously recently, dead, wombats. Lucie was still perplexed as to what this largish mammal was called in Czech (She would find out in Melbourne). We had long since given up any hope of spotting a live one. I was still poking in the undergrowth during our stretching stops but, apart from one lizard, had yet to encounter anything living at all.
At Eucla, we did have a slightly worrying moment. At the pumps, they said at first that they had no petrol. We were not empty, we were still refuelling at every opportunity, but the next petrol station, at the Nullarbor Roadhouse would have been way out of range. Then, when pressed, the attendant admitted it was a problem with the equipment and, fortunately, it was fixed after a few moments. Phew ! Even the Western Australia to South Australia border crossing was a breeze, which was a pity, almost, because at least there was some shade there.
Retrospectively, I think I may have been a little “road crazy“. Back on the featureless wastes of the Nullarbor, I ignored at least three skinks that crossed our path and frolicked in plain sight. One place we did stop was at “Lookout Number One” which was the last one, in the easterly direction, before the Nullarbor Roadhouse. On our way west, the position of the early morning sun had made taking a good picture towards the east, where the view was completely spectacular, completely impossible. With the sun now behind us, the photos were well worth the second trip up the stony track.
Quite a few bikers, many of them on big Japanese sports-bikes had passed us, that morning, heading east at a rate of knots. A single light, or group of them kept appearing in my mirrors and was usually past us seconds later. There was a group of bikers at the lookout and during our chat they asked if we, too, were going to Melbourne for the Australian GP. We said we were not, but at least that explained the increase in two wheeled traffic which, to me, had previously seemed a bit scarce overall.
There were also a lot of really huge wasp/hornet like insects flying around the lookout. A lot of the scrubby gorse-like bushes had sprouted yellow flowers in the few days since we had last been there and this had attracted bees. It was hard to see, because insects move so quickly, but it appeared the wasps were actively robbing the smaller bees that were visiting the flowers. We photographed one, resting on a post, it was several centimetres long and a bit scary.
As we pulled back onto the main road, one of these monsters alighted on the Harley’s windscreen. It was not going fast enough to join my “collection” but the air pressure did prevent it from taking off again. It was wedged there all the way to our refuelling stop at the Nullarbor Roadhouse, glaring malevolently at me through its huge eyes from about a metre away. Luckily, when I stopped at the pump, I flicked my hand at it and it just flew away.
But, maybe, vengeful insects have their own communication system. Late in the afternoon, with Penong rapidly nearing, I felt a sudden dreadful pain in my left arm. It is easy to over dramatise, but it was sharp enough to cause a flash of light across my vision. I do not think I am a a wimp, but it hurt terribly. I was wearing only riding mittens and my first thought was that some stinging insect had somehow made its way up my sleeve. I hurriedly pulled over and, to Lucie’s amazement, began pulling my jacket off. There was an obvious sting mark just below my elbow and my whole left arm, from just above the wrist almost to the shoulder was already an angry red. Although the pain of the sting faded quite quickly, the inflammation was still discernible three or four days later. No “culprit” could be detected and it was Lucie who wondered whether I might have been stung right through my jacket (which is fairly thin), by some vengeful hornet. Of course, while we were stopped in what was the middle of nowhere, the convoy of the three BACA bikers came into view and immediately slowed to help a fellow biker in need. We gestured furiously with our thumbs up that we were fine and they (and their cold beer) passed by with a friendly wave.
I have said before that the big changes in local flora seem to take place almost in a straight line and this happened again as we approached Penong. The “softening” was almost instantaneous. Our hotel was still very “basic”, but a veritable “Hilton” compared to our shack in Widgiemooltha two nights before ! The door of our room was a bit rickety on its hinges, but it did not fall off at least. We did not have our own bathroom, but there were both men’s and women’s showers, a bit like a campsite. As there seemed to be no other guests we actually each had our own bathroom. Lucie quickly washed our stinky clothes, we showered, I shaved properly for the first time since Perth and we felt a little more civilised. Not quite factory fresh, but not the bug-eyed zombies we had been when we arrived. There were tea making facilities. I borrowed some cold milk from the perplexed owner and made a nice cup of tea and a properly strong coffee for Lucie. My arm was throbbing a bit, but life was good.
The hotel had a small restaurant and we both had fish for dinner. Lucie’s was in sauce, but mine was “conventional” fish and chips again (if I ever tire of it, I will be dead). It was an above average meal and a number of “locals” were also dining there.
There was a pool table and “Hurricane” Lucie wanted to play again, so we did. As I feared, she had, by then, mastered it as she does most things. She edged our best of three tournament and I had to use all my skills to prevent a whitewash.
We still had two unsolved Australian mysteries.
The first was the blue painted tree trunks. We had seen quite a number, usually well away from settlements, so I believed it was something to do with the First Nations people. Nobody seemed to know and even the internet was not very informative.
The second was that, almost everywhere we had been to the west, we had seen in bars and restaurants a long sign bearing the letters YCWCYATDDFTRFDTY. Despite being two of the most curious people you will ever meet, we are also more keen to work things out ourselves than to enquire. We had long since guessed it was an acronym, but had been unable to come up with something that made sense. The barman was friendly, I popped the proverbial question.
With a big smile, he informed me that YCWCYATDDFTRFDTY means “Your Curiosity Will Cost You A Two Dollars Donation For The Flying Doctors, Thank You” and held out the collection tin. We gave him a ten dollar bill, happy to have supported such a vital medical link for those tiny outback communities.
We were momentarily tempted to ask about the blue trees, but that might have cost us another ten dollars. We would eventually find out for ourselves and, in the meantime our curiosity remained.
We retired to bed for our last night in the real outback. According to Lucie’s personal scale, where we were was supposed to still be Level Two outback. But it hardly felt like Level One. The next night we would be to the east beyond Adelaide. We were rapidly approaching civilisation.