In his 1966 book, The Tyranny of Distance, Geoffrey Blainey explains how Australia’s destiny has been shaped by its remoteness from Britain and Europe. The book’s name is now liberally applied to describe the vast distances between almost anywhere in this colossal landmass.
Heading “out west” from Brisbane the suburban sprawl and satellite towns peter out quite rapidly. Farming and other land management activities congregate around road intersections, and a rail track runs alongside the road for a while.
" Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
You'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me.
He sang as he watched and waited 'til his billy boiled,
you'll come a-Waltzing Matilda, with me."
The long-legged, stocky and well fleeced Merino sheep are the breed of choice here, with the larger stations being dominated by beef cattle; Brangus and Charbray cross breeds. Seven years of drought has evidently taken its toll. But it was the sheep shearers strike, and hard times that followed, which inspired Banjo Paterson to write “Waltzing Matilda” out here in Winton in 1895. It’s lyrics are sad, and end in death, but that has not stopped it becoming Australia’s unofficial national anthem.
Kangaroos line the roads in the dry season to lick early morning moisture from the bitumen. The unfortunate consequence, when startled by traffic, is that they leap in any direction and frequently in to oncoming traffic. Local vehicles all have kangaroo bars fitted, but motorcyclists are given stern warnings. Some sections are heavily littered with carcasses - it’s kangaroo carnage! Emus, and wandering cattle pose a similar danger, but all make a welcome feast for the birds. Buzzards take the first pickings, then Crows, Thornbills and Spinifex pigeons follow. Further along, dead possums, wombats, boar and the odd koala add to my fascination for road-kill.
Road Trains are 53 metres long.
Road Trains pull three articulated trailers. They seem to carry anything and everything needed for life in the outback, as well as sheep and cattle to abattoirs. They weren’t the unstoppable menace that I had been warned about. Overtaking was easy enough as the roads had so little traffic.
It is taller than the Eiffel Tower.
Il est plus grand quest la Tour Eiffel.
The Red Centre of Australia spans four states. It is an ancient landscape whose soil has worn fine, but supports diverse fauna. In an engaging conversation with an Anangu Aborigine named Leroy, I learnt to source and selects fruits such as wild fig and bush plum, as well as bake with wattleseed. I also leant how to source water from small pools at the base of trees with roots in cracks in the rock, as signposted by birds circling above. Handy tip.
Visiting Uluru, also known as Ayres Rock, named after a British Chief Secretary of South Australia, was the prime motivation for my journey through the Outback. It’s a very big sandstone rock, and looks very red at sunrise and sunset. It is also an important feature of the creation according to the Anangu, traditional owners of the region.
Walking up Uluru is now officially discouraged.
With so few people in the outback I found that many welcomed the opportunity of conversation. One lady who I met briefly with a smile at a fuel station, later stopped down the road in a lay-by. When explaining to each other why we were out here, she told me that after a long and happy marriage her husband passed away. She described it as “very inconvenient of him”. We both cried together.
At another stop I met a small group who were on an overland trip by bus from London to Sydney. There were two Chelsea Football Club supporters amongst them! I also met a newly arrived young lady from Maryland, USA, who had just left home to travel Australia and ended up in Coober Pedy. This is Australia’s Opal mining town, but also the most remote and bizarre location on my route. Her self confidence was remarkable.
On the southern edge of the outback I rode through South Australia’s vast wineries. Each one felt like grape farming on a massive scale, far surpassing the size of anything in Europe.
Don’t let anyone tell you that the outback is empty. It couldn’t be further from the truth, and I cant wait to go back one day. The prospect of becoming a so-called ‘Grey Nomad” is very appealing……