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Joustabout - Outback Odyssey: Part 1

The Great Australian Bite, overlooking the Southern Ocean
Some of the Lord’s best work: looking back east along the Great Australian Bite from the edge of the Nullabor, the Southern Ocean beyond. Photo: Virginia Knight
Joustabout with Virginia Knight
Catholic Outlook, June 2010

Sometimes we need to do something crazy in our lives. To drop everything, leave the world behind and set off on an adventure. Like embarking on an outback odyssey across Australia for no other reason than it is guaranteed to give you pleasure and recharge those well-depleted batteries.

It was not just the promise of freedom from the everyday turmoil and humdrum that made me abandon duty, but the lure of the beautiful Australian countryside we would pass through on our way.

And this was no ordinary trip. I was riding shotgun in the passenger seat of a prime mover, with almost a bird’s eye view of the world below me.

Leaving the city behind we would  pass through many towns, some so tiny if we had glanced away, they would have been missed, until soon there was nothing but the long straight road ahead and the land stretching out endlessly beside us, surprisingly green due to the recent rains. Our destination was Western Australia and we were travelling along the Nullabor.

Standing cliffside on the edge of the Great Australian Bite, midway across the vast plains of the Nullabor, I was blown away, not by the light breeze sweeping in from the ocean beyond, but by the majesty of the scenery surrounding me.

Trees and bushes clinging to life halfway down a harsh rocky face, battered at times by the waves crashing against the shore; they were a testament to both the fragility and strength of creation.

Above, the unremitting expanse of the sky was unbroken by even a cloud and it blended with the same bright blue of the ocean as they met on the horizon, the vastness highlighted only by the flickering sparkle of light on a cresting sunlit wave.

I admit it had taken some doing, but finally here in the middle of the Nullabor, happy with my company and delighted with the amazing canvas that is Australia laid out before me, I finally began to relax.

There are those who know me who would find this difficult to believe. This is the person who never fails to be doing something even if it is a tapestry or a crossword puzzle whilst watching TV.

Yet, here I was sitting back in the cab of a truck heading west, watching the world fly by through a bug-splattered windscreen without a care in the world and absolutely no inclination to engage in any activity (constructive or otherwise) other than the simple enjoyment of the world around me.

In the midst of all this staggering scenery, the real bonus of the adventure was all the great people we would meet on our travels. Our first encounter was on the Nullabor with an older couple who had set off (like many other grey nomads criss-crossing their way across the nation) in their Winnebago to experience Australia.

In the spirit of co-operative friendship, we did the touristy thing and exchanged cameras, each couple posing on the edge of the continent in turn to record the moment for posterity – or at the very least to share with family and friends.

While her husband, (who turned out to be a retired boat designer and builder for the navy) admired our cargo, a rather impressive vessel of definite sea-going proportions, his wife confided she hoped we had plenty of time up our sleeves, because she knew as soon as she saw what we were hauling that this was something he would really be interested in stopping to see.

Next stop was in one of those tiny towns. Driving this route regularly, my travelling companion chose to stop here to replenish our depleted food supplies and stretch our legs.

The main attraction was a tiny butcher’s shop where the owner cures his own meats, with ham so sweet it would melt in a non-vegetarian’s mouth. Making a purchase was almost like being admitted to the family, and we finally made our way out the door only to fall into the clutches of an ancient resident waiting to get a closer view of the other item we were transporting.

This was an antique tractor of rusting proportions, but recognisable markings, which he enthused with a delighted twinkle in his eye, he hadn’t seen the like of for years.

Darkness may have been upon us as we eventually headed out of town, but there was a lightness in our hearts put there by the simple charm of an old man reliving his memories.

Next month – Perth, Geraldton and back East...

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