Joined: Nov 2007
Location: Hamilton, New Zealand
Birtles vs Australia
Lincoln National Park to Broken Hill
In which we Leave Signs, see Socrates’ dad, meet an Angel and stay two Nights,
muse on Mr Horrock’s sad Demise, walk with Alligators, almost see the
Emperor’s New Clothes in Broken Hill.
Last night's clouds turn to rain in the early morning. It is gone by sunrise and
I have a million dollar view from the long-drop.
Signs are left for anthropologists to interpret: “In the Long Ago, a magic
starfish came from down south. Here he came out of the sea and walked
onto the land. In one hand he carried a fire stick, in the other, a 2.75x17
Shin Cheng tyre ….”
Leaving our fire stick behind, we set off to the main reason for coming here,
stromatolites, which are found in another part of the park. At Sleaford Mere
we get directions from a couple of ancients who are out for a stroll. One is
clean-shaven, the other has a beard fit to thatch a gazebo. At the word
stromatolites, they both start to beam. Stromatolites seem to be their reason
for living there - possibly for living itself.
"They are right next to where we live," boasts Gillette, taking credit for
their location, "just by the cottages at the lake".
Methuselah, beard rising and falling in the breeze like a semaphore flag,
looks dreamily into the distance and says
"Stromatolites….. Ahhh ... from the dawn of time, the dawn of time.”
(Wistful pause) “Stromatolites. You know, we wouldn't be here without them".
Appearances suggest he knows their history from personal experience.
I agree they are indeed venerable objects. I wish them no harm, just want
to pay my respects. Gillette likes this idea so much he tells me to go through
his cottage garden where I’ll find a path that will lead me to some of
the better ones.
They are there, ancient and crumbling, mere shadows of their former selves
and more like mounds of rock than once-living formations, some left high by
earth movements and sea level changes, some still in the water.
It is unlikely that any of the ones here are still active, but their kind once pumped
the first oxygen into the atmosphere, enabling all other life to follow.
Methuselah is right, without these ugly buggers there would be no human life.
I see one that may have helped fuel Socrates’ lungs, others that might have
fed da Vinci, Dickens or Lenin. I thank them for their aeons of toil on our behalf.
But, just wait until I find the one responsible for Justin Bieber - it’s going to
get a right old kicking.
Fish enclosures in Boston Bay.
Cowell sees us join Ben and Linda’s Revolutionary Movement and raise barricades
against the disparity of camp charges. It's "No thanks" to the lady at the camp
who offers a $29 tent spot, the same paid by two people with a 4WD and caravan.
She's not bothered, there's a stream of caravans lining up to check in.
The second camp does little better.
We push on to Whyalla.
Where, at the Whyalla Foreshore Caravan Park it's even worse. There’s a Butlin’s
holiday-at-the-seaside atmosphere and $36 for an unpowered tent site - $46 if it
has a view of the sea. It's hot, I'm grumpy and want to get settled for the night,
but I'm not paying two times the usual rate, whether I can see the sea or not.
It feels wrong to patronize this mob and confirm their right of extortion by
agreeing to it.
A final sweep turns up the Whyalla Caravan Park a few kilometres south, off the
main road and passed un-noticed on the way into town. It’s a quiet haven after
the hoopla of sites with sea views, and Kerry is a real gem.
She has a tent site for me for just $10, and …. since you look so hot after your
ride, here's the key to caravan 13 so you can use the air conditioning to cool
down before pitching your tent. No, hang on, number thirteen isn't booked tonight.
It's only small, but you can stay there if you like - save you putting up the tent.
I ask how much, not wanting to spend an expected $70 for a caravan when a
cheap tent site is available . "Just the ten will do", she says.
Here is a photograph of Kerry to prove she is real. Again, I manage to time it
perfectly to capture a blink.
The caravan is great, the air conditioning is a boon, the camp area is so much
better than Butlin’s, and Kerry restores my faith in whatever it was that I had
lost faith in.
After a shower and some housekeeping, I return to reception to check that I
had it right. Yes, $10, and since it's not booked tomorrow I can have it then,
too. "Give you time to see the sights. Don't worry about paying now, do it when
you hand the key in".
This is Ross River over again. When I do the shopping, I buy Kerry a box of chocolates.
While working on Birtles, there is a visit from an elder statesman of the caravan
world, eager to share his travel knowledge. He rolls out a long list of colour-coded
warnings. Opal petrol will rot your motor, they put stuff in it so the Abos can't sniff it;
don't stop near black marks on the roads, they are squashed Abos who were
sleeping on the road; always lock up your gear when there are Abos about, they'll
nick everything; never stop for an Abo, there will be a dozen more waiting in the
bushes for you.
How he knows all these things? “Take it from me, mate, straight from the horse's
mouth. Done a bit of travelling, me. Even went to Queensland once!"
Sounds like it's coming from the opposite end of the horse to me. After a sermon on
road safety peppered with dark dangers, my advisor ambles off to his caravan.
It is on blocks and looks like it has been that way for years - it’s too dangerous to
travel these days, what with all those Abos out there.
It's cold and misty as I leave No.13, my sanctuary from the rain last night. Past the
Coromals, Viscounts, Wayfarers, Jaycos and Supremes, leaving the key in the box
and Kerry’s chocolates in the fridge of Lucky No.13.
Point Lowly lighthouse, a proper one. None of your angle iron towers with a pathetic
LED on top. The sandflies like it too, and are so thick that I leave the helmet on.
Horrock’s Pass. A very nice ride - well done Mr Horrock !
Sadly, Horrock joined that proud elite of explorers who were shot and killed by their
own camels. The naughty camel gets no mention on the memorial plaque and the
fatal shooting is sanitized to Horrock being accidentally wounded. Even hardy
explorers have their pride.
Then, to Alligator Gorge by a very steeply undulating road.
Not an alligator in sight - fossilised sand patterns are what give the gorge its name.
Walks up and down the gorge and then Birtles is harassed out of there in first
gear and full throttle for most of the climbs. Across the road from the Alligator
Gorge turnoff is the Wilmington Beautiful Valley CP where I meet another long
distance Japanese cyclist. This one has come from Perth and is heading for
Adelaide - no problems so far other than a broken spoke. Unusually for a lone
rider, this one prefers silence to conversation.
We are in SA’s early wheat growing area, established after a run of high rainfall
years. The many ruins testify to the determination with which settlers battled,
believing that they could overcome Nature.
Good pub-quiz question -
What seven letter town name uses only two different letters ?
Peterborough uses the full Scrabble set.
I had expected the road to Broken Hill to be flat and straight, but it is constantly
rising and falling as it passes through the many ranges. There are plenty of
roadside rest areas - few of them with toilets. In this area travelers have to
toughen up, exercise control over their bodies and rise above basic human
functions … or just make do. Consequently, there are rest areas littered with
tissues where the weak and un-self-controlled had to make do, just had to make do.
Heeding The Horse’s Mouth at Whyalla, we try not to look at black marks on
the road, yet those I do notice are remarkably like skid marks - could this be
a flaw in Mr Ed’s advice?
Petrol at Yunta, where three riders on dirt bikes ask about Birtles and are not
easily convinced that I am travelling alone. Every few sentences the conversation l
oops back with phrases like "On your own?" "Without backup?" "No-one else
with you?" They remain disbelieving. As I ride off they watch closely, probably
expecting to see a dozen others (who, just as Mr Ed predicted, were waiting
in the bushes) rush out to join me.
The village of Cockburn, which I modestly pronounce as Coburn, straddles the
SA/NSW border: the Border Gate pub is in NSW, the rest - a police station and
a half dozen residences - is in SA. A beef and gravy roll at the pub proves that
not all my meals come from a can or a bread packet, and is as close to a
Famous Mrs Mac Pie as I dare get.
Broken Hill is chock-a-block. The caravan park is more so, but there is room
for one small tent. Unlike Mr Murphy, the town is making hay with its dual
attractions, the artist communities with their endless galleries that range from
sophisticated to tacky, and the mining with its … mining.
You wouldn’t go to Paris and miss seeing the Eiffel Tower, would you? In Broken Hill,
the Pro Hart Gallery is the equivalent of Mr Eiffel’s erection. It is much more than
the gallery you want to see, it’s the gallery that you have to see as a patriotic
duty - miss it and Homeland Security will be taking an interest in you. It is in all the
brochures, a place of pilgrimage for those who fancy they know about art.
All of which makes me more than a little cautious.
Outside the gallery, devotees stand in respectful silence. One group has just finished
its long hadj across the desert and is preparing to enter the Holy of Holies, shuffling
in nervous anticipation, hopeful that they will be worthy of what awaits them.
Another group has completed the holy journey. They have partaken of Pro’s bread
and drunk of his wine. After the experience of Murphy’s Haystacks I can empathise
with their far-away eyes, their lightened steps and radiant faces: they have seen …
and they believe.
Me, I have never knowingly seen a Pro Hart painting before now. I see the works
here for the first time, without opinions to defend, sanction or champion.
The paintings do not appeal. They are either fiddly figures in a childlike mediaeval
style, or crude abstractions. To some it does make glorious sense - or at least they
imagine it does. Watching the self appointed experts and listening to their lofty
interpretations makes better entertainment than what hangs on the walls.
There’s spindle-shanked woman in a long floral dress, Roman sandals and grey
wool socks, giving a run-down of a mural to her friend. I move closer and listen
in to gain some insider knowledge. The dozens of small scenes in the mural
represent, she says, all the important events in Australian history. There
are sailing ships, the robbery of a Cobb coach, the Sovereign stockade.
Nowhere in the interwoven scenes can I see anything that took place before
14th February 1779, but before I can ask about this oversight she moves her
friend on to the next work ….
… which leaves me with Cynth and Dahl who are studying a painting at the far
end of the room. Dahl is giving Cynth the length and breadth of his knowledge
vis-a-vis art appreciation. Between the audible snippets of Dahl’s wisdom, I fill in the gaps -
“Marvellous picture, Cynth. It talks to me".
"What’s it saying, Dahl?"
"It’s ART, Cynth, not just a picture. The bank, there - whaddya see?"
"A bank with green doors".
"Yeah, a bank with green doors, but look at the doors, what are they?"
"Big ...? Wooden ...?
"Yeah, but what else they are? CLOSED. That's what Pro is saying - the bank has
CLOSED doors. Symbolic, see? The guy on the pavement with the ciggy - the
doors are CLOSED to him. He’s symbolic of poor people - you know, the poor
buggers not in mining. He's CLOSED outa the bank and outa what money can buy.
Bet you thought his ciggy was just a ciggy? Nah, that's symbolic too, Cynth,
symbolic of his long-term repressed ambition and schizophrenic internal conflict
if I’m any judge of the matter. And look how short that ash is! Very symbolic, that
is, very symbolic".
"What about that axe there, Dahl, looks like it’s got blood on it. What's it symbolic of?"
"Jezz, Cynth. Ya can’t just go around assuming that EVERYTHING is symbolic -
that’s just a bloody axe someone left laying around while Pro was doing his painting."
Somewhere in the gallery I suspect there will be a painting called
"The Emperor's New Clothes".
I’m not looking for it. I’m getting out of here …
(and as Dahl would say, that’s symbolic of leaving).
To be continued …
BigZoner #096 (English Chapter)
"Keep brotherhood till die"