Thursday, October 17th, 2019 – Nullarbor Roadhouse, SA to Cocklebiddy Roadhouse, WA.
Distance travelled exactly 500 km
Although the plain itself is as featureless as its name (Nullarbor is Latin for “No trees”) suggests, the proximity the Eyre Highway, in places, to the Southern Ocean, meant there were a number of spectacular lookout points for us to visit almost as soon as we set off. Three were marked and one was not – but we stopped at all four. They each offered a variation on the same theme of dramatic cliffs, endless dark blue sea and endless lighter blue sky. The wind was a tiny bit chilly, Antarctica was the next thing to the south, but the sun, although still low and causing a bit of a haze, was bright. The Great Australian Bight is, indeed, a thing of great beauty. The place labelled “Lookout Number 1” was, ironically, probably best of all. In the correct season, whales can be clearly spotted in those waters. Sadly it was the wrong time of year, so no cries of “Thar’ she blows !” were to be heard. Oddly, in all the expanse of visible ocean, there was not a single ship of any description to be seen.
The Eyre Highway only crosses the bottom part of the Nullarbor Plain, where a 200 kilometre wide part of it extends right to the sea. The “real” plain is vast. In places it is over 1,100 kilometres wide and, usually, between 100 and 200 kilometres deep. The total area is over 200,000 square kilometres. So, in truth, our “adventure” crossed only a tiny little part of the real treeless wasteland.
The western edge of the Nullarbor was also the eastern edge of our next state, Western Australia. As soon as we had dealt with the fruit quarantine palaver that crossing an Australian State border entails, we were quickly back amongst the trees again. We soon came to the next roadhouse, at Eucla which, unsurprisingly, perhaps, had a very “border” feel to it. It was quite spick and span, but had an odd “feel” to it. Someone had written on Trip Advisor that it was not a good place to sleep and that, pressing on west to Madura was advised. We would probably concur. It had another of those “How far to” signs, though – at least Perth, still 1435 kilometres away, was slowly getting nearer !
What Eucla did have, though, was a hidden gem. We somewhat gingerly followed an unpaved road from right behind the roadhouse for over 4 kilometres to the very shores of the Australian Bight. There, in the dunes and stunted scrubby pines, lay the ruins of an old telegraph station. Located as it was, at the border between two states, the station had two buildings. Telegraph messages, from the east, would arrive and be copied down at the South Australia office. The clerk would then walk to the window of the Western Australia office, a few short metres away, where the message would be transcribed into that state’s system for onward transmission. Obviously, this process worked both ways. There is not much left now but a more lonely and a more beautiful place to have worked, I cannot imagine. Already poking amongst the bushes, were our “golfers” from the previous evening. They introduced themselves as Richard and Heather and told us they were travelling from Sydney to Perth in order to give their car to their daughter.
We drove off along the highway. For most of the rest of that day’s journey, the thicker brush meant that long stretches of the highway were quite closely flanked by trees and brush. This meant a very high level of concentration against possible animal encroachment was required so I cannot really say much about it. I did at least, spot a few cows in ample time to make sure we did not become intimately acquainted. The stretching stops were especially welcome in such conditions although reptiles continued to evade my gaze. I did find a nice bird’s nest in a low tree. It was a impossible to work out what kind of bird as its “owner” departed low and fast before I could get a good look.
We stopped for petrol at the only places where we could, the Mundrabilla and Madura Roadhouses and we drank a lot of iced coffee as we pressed on. The Madura Roadhouse, in particular, was a very pleasant little place that easily lived up to its TA fanfare. We were booked to stay there on our return journey and I looked forward to that, it had a nice “atmosphere”. On the way out, we met Richard and Heather just coming in. They had been proceeding slightly more slowly than us as they had taken in a few “holes” along the way.
The first thing that we had noticed that morning was that the sun was rising a bit later. Our journey west had, by then, taken us far enough for it to be noticeable. We had been, by our standards, a little tardy in packing up and had not left the Nullarbor Roadhouse until almost half past eight. But, by evening, that did not matter at all because time shifted back towards us during the day. It was a bit confusing by how much it moved. South Australia was 30 minutes behind Uluru (in the Northern Territory), for example, despite being mostly longitudinally directly below it. Western Australia, where we then were, was a jolly 45 minutes ahead of South Australia (but, presumably, only 15 ahead of the Northern Territory, which it also abuts on the same line of Longitude). Perth, the capital of Western Australia has its very own laws and we were told that it was a yet another 45 minutes ahead of the time where we then were. Obviously, round hours mean nothing to the Australians. Of course, we have iPhones and they pick up the local time from the GSM towers, but they can suddenly change, unnoticed, whilst in your pocket !
The key reason we needed to know the time was that, in a roadhouse, dinner is served in a clearly defined window which can cover only a 2-3 hour period. It is important that you know the time, so you can go and eat. There was quite a crowd in front of the Cocklebiddy diner, mainly comprised of those who, like us, were heading west.
While we were waiting, I got into quite an interesting discussion/debate with two of the couples we had encountered periodically throughout that day, The trek is a bit like weaving, various threads, represented by the groupings, moving in and out as they wend along. Richard and Heather were there, they greeted us like old friends and we all dined at the same table. They were interesting people.
In our society, we are becoming increasingly fearful of actually saying what we think. An opinion, on almost any subject, can be a dangerous thing to hold. Practically everything anyone ever says can be (and frequently is) seized upon by some well-meaning do-gooder or strident minority group. Any opinion expressed that contradicts the view of these persons can be used as a sign that the speaker is biased, sexist, racist, ageist or some such largely imagined prejudice. A lot of people, in western Europe, are afraid to say anything, even to their friends in case they get overheard. The penalties for exhibiting any “ism” whether real or imagined, can be severe. If someone can be upset by it, someone will be and this often translates into criticism, ostracism and even dismissal. Political correctness rules the roost and a tiny vocal minority of people dictate the behaviour of all of us. Debate is, very effectively, stifled and free speech itself is in danger.
Not so in Australia. If you hear something that offends you there, they will suggest you move away out of earshot.
During our wait for dinner, we debated a number of then current issues in a lively and full-blooded way. Do not get me wrong, nobody was being an overt “ist” of any description. But, nonetheless, no-one was in the least bit concerned about whether everything they said was universally acceptable. Everyone said what they thought, not what they thought we would like them to think. We all said our piece and no-one got upset and no-one got offended, even if they disagreed with it. I can hardly describe how refreshing that was.
Yet again, thanks to our Optus card, we did not have the internet. It was almost like living in the 15th century. We were told that we would be able to get online the town of Norseman. This was still a mere 440 kilometres and a 4 hour drive away. That is farther than the distance between Prague and the Slovak capital, Bratislava. The distances in Australia continued to amaze us.
The sunset, over the western horizon, towards which we were still relentlessly headed, was truly spectacular !