Translation: A paddock is the Australian word for field. When truck drivers say they are going for a run across the paddock, they mean they are driving across the Nullabor Plain, that vast area near the bottom of Australia called the Great Australian Bight, the bit which looks like someone has taken a bite out of it. Nullarbor means ‘treeless.’ It is.
I'll swear that in 2000 kms. there is only one hill and one bend.
The last time I did this trip, the road wasn't sealed and it was a long, death defying ordeal of dodging enormous pot holes, wild life and gigantic road trains which loomed out of clouds of red dust.You also had to carry in everything yourself – food, fuel, water and spare parts, as there wasn’t much in between – a lonely tank or a bore, if you were lucky.
It was a pleasant time of year to travel. T-shirt weather by day. No bugs or flies. I tried to get all this information from the web and even consulted the RAC so here it all is for free.
Where's the wildlife?
Whales in the Marine Park at the head of the Bight
At first I was reluctant to drive after dusk, remembering the damage a big Red or Grey (kangaroo) can do to cheap Japanese cars, but after a while I noticed that there wasn't even any road -kill here and that at night the wind stopped and the slow moving caravans were safely corralled in caravan parks, so I kept driving. It was very peaceful under the great bowl of the Milky Way with only a full moon in the rear -vision mirror for company.
The only drawback was, that places such as Crystal Brook in South Australia and Cocklebiddy in the west, marked as major transport hubs on my Road Atlas, were shut up tight after dark. This contributed to the debacle in Eucla. After that, instead of refuelling once a day, I filled up at every opportunity.
Caravanners dislike vans like mine. They call them "Whizzbangers" because of the noise their doors make when they are opened and shut. In mine the alarm sometimes goes off when I move around. Most caravan parks also want to charge the same for a single person as for a double, so I don't often stay in them. Rest areas with facilities are few and far between and often crowded when you get there. Others offer little more than a rubbish bin and a bare patch in the scrub and these can be very isolated.
Small towns on either side of the Bight are another endangered species, victims of changing transport patterns, new roads, trucks with greater fuel capacity, the same drink driving laws and long years of drought.
I mention to one of the farmers, that things aren’t looking too bad around here.
“Got to shut the gates to keep the crop in," he says in that dry country way.
They explain that it's because they have ground water here. The pros and cons of irrigation aside – salinity is a problem in some places and yes, the Murray doesn’t look too healthy in these parts either, you have to admire people who have the courage, foresight and skill to turn this desolate –looking country into orange groves, olive farms and vineyards.
Water remains a problem almost everywhere else. “Please do not ask for water as refusal often offends” is a common sign in many places, though I did manage to get a shower each day.
Fuel prices are another killer. Up around $168.88 in some places. BIG TIP: Don’t necessarily go for the big new service stations. The older ones, in small towns and a little way off the road, are often much cheaper, even if some of them do close at night.
And speaking of angels, I must mention those service stations, often the more modest ones, that offered free driver reviver coffees. With water and money running short by the time I got to the western end of the Plain, I was very pleased to see them.
The Shell in Norseman has free coffee, a laundrette and a little guide telling you where all the cheap fuel is if you are heading East. The BP just outside Boulder has my vote as the best shower ($3).
From the Mallee onwards there are tiny towns marked only by the presence of enormous wheat silos
Telegraph OfficeWarden's Office, Coolgardie
I’ve stopped taking pretty pictures. Now I am taking pictures of the things that make Australia tick. Behind them are stories of exploration, pioneers and miners, camel train drivers, woodcutters and fettlers, farmers and truckies. The routes that people took followed the old aboriginal trails where known water sources were located. The excitement of gold. The coming of the telegraph. The inevitable booms and busts and a few revivals. Little towns with fortress- like wheat silos. Fences to keep rabbits and wild dogs out- Cracked salt lakes. Burnt trees. Deserted buildings. Isolated farms. Beyond the cities, this is what most of Australia is about. A frontierland. I am shocked by how close that frontier comes to the city of Perth. It is the most isolated capital city in the world.
This fence was supposed to keep out the rabbits out which had become pests in the Eastern states. Today it keeps out exotic diseases
Now if we could just apply the same ingenuity and capture all that wind and sunshine we could power the whole of Australia. Western Australia and South Australia would be wealthy, even after the minerals ran out.