Joustabout: Outback Odyssey Part 2
With Virginia Knight
Having completed our journey across Western Australia from the edge of the Nullabor in darkness, we made our descent into the outskirts of Perth as the first fingers of dawn’s light were clawing their way through a rain cloud-speckled skyline.
Whilst my companion sourced some minor repairs to our vehicle I fell into conversation with another fellow traveller, a truckie who drives back and forth betwixt Queensland and Western Australia, day after day, week after week, carting various cargos for a living.
There is something very enchanting about these gentlemen who, in many ways, live a solitary existence, the loneliness generally only relieved when they pull in to truck stops to refuel body and vehicle.
Now I have been told that I could undoubtedly talk underwater with a mouth full of marbles, but these fellows beat me by the proverbial country mile. With a wealth of issues burning to be discussed at length, we whiled away several hours on topics ranging from the care and feeding of children, with particular attention to the pitfalls of the teenage variety, to politics and the state of the nation.
There was great warmth in his voice as he expressed admiration for his wife holding house and home together in Queensland and wistfulness as he looked forward to again seeing her and their progeny, of whose achievements he was most proud to expound upon at length, at the end of the week.
So it was that we finally rumbled into Fremantle around mid-morning. We were here to unload the cruise vessel that had so fascinated our grey nomad friend on the Nullabor.
By most people’s standards it would have been considered large. I for one would have been most contented to have spent a day sunning myself on its capacious decks, that is until I saw its larger sibling.
As we pulled up to deliver and met the crew, the first mate informed us that this was only the pilot vessel. The main event was tucked up in dry-dock undergoing a facelift. He kindly showed us over this boat (or should I classify it as a ship?) and it has to be said, had they been advertising for extra crew I would even now be penning this article afloat on the ocean from the other side of the world.
That night we dislodged the trailer and joined them for dinner at the boat owner’s hotel, and it was still some feat finding parking in a tiny side street in the suburbs of Perth. I am sure the loading dock had never been quite so overloaded!
The company was charming and the food was good. Perched postcard-style, street-side outside the hotel I met members of the part-time bar staff when they alighted rotationally at our table as their work breaks dictated.
They included a young medical student who had just completed a number of years working in pharmaceutical research in a Third World country – enthralling!
From here we travelled up the West Australian coast to Geraldton, this time to drop off the antique tractor on a farming property.
Just as it had been built to do, the artefact had spent much of its life at rest in a paddock, and after a bit of TLC had been applied the new owner intended to display it proudly at the entrance to his property.
Like any dedicated city girl, I had never experienced ‘life on the farm’. Sure, I had been a regular devotee of McLeod’s Daughters, but you really don’t appreciate the incredible size of a farming property until you actually find yourself right in the middle of it or rather at that point, though I didn’t know it, the tip!
Framing a photo of the rusting relic against the backdrop of uncluttered rolling hills, property and tractor owner Tom Patience inquired if I was interested in seeing some old buildings erected in the 1800s, which were nestled about 15 minutes away (a mere handful of kilometres along dirt roads).
It seemed the original home of Edith Cowan, West Australian domestic and social rights for women pioneer, was still standing (albeit in disrepair) on what is now a part of John’s property.
We had the rare good fortune to wander cautiously through the ruin, which he is lobbying government heritage departments to assist him in restoring. A stone’s throw away was a set of whitewashed original stables, which were remarkably well preserved but no longer used on what is still a working farm.
To say I was fascinated would be to understate my delight; my envy of his ownership almost spilling over when John confided that sometimes he had a ‘sleepover’ on the rickety old camp bed beside the ancient open-range oven in the kitchen area when it was late and he couldn’t be bothered going home.
“You just ignore all the odd, unexplainable noises,” he added mischievously as the blood curdled appropriately in my receptive veins and, involuntarily, I looked over my shoulder to add some of the ghosts of the past to our growing list of friends.
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