Monday, October 21st, 2019 – Mercure Hotel, Perth, WA to Widgiemooltha Roadhouse, WA.
Distance traveled 658 km (the longest of all)
Once again, we woke early. Our body clocks were in synchronisation with the sun, which, perversely, meant they were out of synchronisation with the time in Perth.
We went early to breakfast, which in the Mercure was most pleasant and realised as we ate it, that we were at the “high-water mark” of our trip. A strange thought, maybe, but a true one. We grabbed our stuff and left. Lucie strapped our red bag to the backrest and carefully inserted a thick brochure from the Mercure between it and the number plate. Watching, I knew that when I threw my leg over the saddle, every centimetre we then moved would, effectively, take us a centimetre closer to our home. We started up and moved off, threading through the early-morning “rush-hour” traffic. As we crossed the Swan river, I caught my final glimpse of the WACA and then we turned north-east towards the outback.
From relatively luxurious accommodation, we were now “on the road again“, but to continue that musical reference, the heat was anything but canned.
In the warm sunshine, we carved our way past an unusually high number of trucks and caravans. Travelling with a caravan is almost as much the Australian national sport as cricket. I estimated that about a third of the traffic on this road was normal cars and SUVs, a third was trucks and lorries and the remaining third was cars or utes (utility vehicles or pickups) with various caravans and camper attachments of all types. Some were professionally constructed but others were of far more obscure provenance. Parking for caravans at roadhouses, in pull-offs and in nature camps was everywhere.
We would be retracing our steps for the next 2,500 kilometres. Because we had seen it all once, we had decided that, if we stepped up our pace slightly, we could probably cut a day off of the trip. We had booked roadhouses accordingly and aimed to be in Port Germein, south of Adelaide, by Thursday evening,
It was not our intention to go faster, that was a sure way to more rapid tiredness with all that could entail. However, we estimated that a prompt start and maybe a bit longer in the saddle so as to do a little over 600 kilometres a day would work. By our calculation, this fitted well with the accommodation we had pre-booked what already seemed like years previously.
It was an uneventful day of fairly pleasant riding. Not much was new. Although one or two places of historical interest were signposted, principally to do with the water pipeline, we did not really have time to stop. Lucie, ever a botanist, did point out that, in less than 48 hours, a lot of the roadside shrubs had sprouted bright orange flowers. Some stretches were indeed very pretty, Spring comes fast in those areas. One thing I did notice, that had escaped my attention on the way west, were the two lines of what were once called “rabbit-proof fences”. These were both over a thousand kilometres long and were constructed in the early 1900s. The intention was to protect the crops from the predations of the, then estimated, 600 million wild rabbits and a few hungry emus. Kangaroos would, of course, have hopped over it without breaking sweat. They still work to a point. The kindly authorities, no doubt out of respect for the feelings of activist rabbits, having renamed the barriers as “pest control fences”. In any case, the powers that be these days introduce viruses to keep rabbit numbers down. How kind !
Once again following our regime of stretching and fuel stops, we continued east. Not long after our very sedate transit back through Merredin, the moister influence of the coast finally dwindled to nothing and the outback began again in earnest. In the harsher landscape, we did notice one or two more trees with the bright blue trunks. That reminded us we had forgotten to look up what it signified.
Our early start and keeping our noses to the proverbial grindstone meant we actually arrived at the Widgiemooltha Roadhouse just before four in the afternoon. The sun, behind us now as we headed east, was already low in the sky.
Not long after six in the evening, it was quite dark. This tended to prove my assertion that it was our bodies that were right and the Western Australian Authorities that were off kilter. It would change, yet again, the following day anyway.
There was a grainy satellite television in the roadhouse café. On screen was a big report that a dead body had been discovered in a house close to the Shenton Park station, in Perth. Not just that, but it had been a murder. We were surprised to see that we had more or less stood outside the gate (presumably while the corpse was still lying there) while Lucie smoked her final pre-train cigarette. We hoped that our sudden, early morning, departure from the city had not put us on some “sought-after” Police list.
Widgiemooltha, which is such a complicated name that even the locals call it Widgie, is a tiny place with a big history. In 1931, a prospector, called Jim Larcombe found a gigantic, irregularly shaped nugget of gold just laying on the ground, It weighed an astonishing 1136 ounces which is over 32 kilograms. Shaped a bit like a raptor with its wings spread, it was called the “Golden Eagle” and, at today’s prices would be worth at least two million U.S. Dollars. I poked around myself, but found nothing other than a scarily large (and luckily dead) spider.
I had booked the accommodation by ‘phone and they had told me straight away that it was very “basic“. They were not wrong. Our “room” appeared to be half of a converted shipping container and was very tiny. The bed filled 90% of it but, it had a bathroom and it had a kettle and we did not really need anything more. It even had air conditioning, which was useful, when we arrived because the small space was stifling in the thirty degree heat. It turned out to be also equally useful the following morning, when it was rather chilly.
Somehow, during our brief stop at Widgie on the outward journey, Lucie had discovered there was a pool table. While the children running the place prepared a simple, yet surprisingly good supper, she insisted we play. I did vaguely remember having played with her before, but at least 15 years previously. At first, she was not good, but, as is her way, she picked it up, or maybe back up, really quickly ! After being slaughtered in the first game, she fought long and hard in the second and I only won by a whisker ! Luckily for me, I had only paid for two games or I might have been embarrassingly defeated in the third !