Keep on driving

DSC_5515

Stevie Nicks saved my life.

That’s probably not something most people would say about the famous front woman who once mistook an arena stage for an airport. Nor of Fleetwood Mac, a band best known for film clips involving centurions and baton twirlers and tubas, for rumours and love triangles and cocaine. But it’s certainly true of her namesake: a cheeky white hatchback Toyota Corolla, a 2004 model with ABS and incredible fuel efficiency.

That Stevie Nicks was my first true automotive love.

I trucked her up to Darwin from the government car auctions in Canberra, and together we explored the Top End: from barely graded Gunlom roads to the Roper River in Mataranka. We went camping at Litchfield and Edith Falls, Kakadu and Umbrawarra Gorge, drove to bush doofs at East Point and mango farms near Batchelor. Stevie Nicks navigated wet season flash flooding on Ross Smith Avenue and Rapid Creek Road. She took me to parties where I kissed boys and parties where I didn’t.

Later, restless and ambitious, Stevie Nicks and I would travel further: to Larrimah where Fran sells her camel pies, and Daly Waters, where Frank Turton used to perform in the dry season for crowds of adoring grey nomads, capping his performance off each night with a live chicken perched upon his head. We drove to Tennant Creek, the Devil’s Marbles, Wycliffe Wells and Alice Springs. In Stevie, I learned to master the meditative art of long distance driving, to sit on 130 and run my eyes back and forth across the scrubby bushland and black tarmac. I’d play Stuart Highway Cricket to pass the time; as far as car games go, it’s far superior to “I spy” and you can play solo. A white oncoming car is one run, a road train gets you three, a boat south of Tennant Creek is a six. Pass a red car travelling in the opposite direction and you’re bowled out. A solid test series really will take you from one end of the Stuart Highway to the other.

IMG_5131

When I got a job in Broome, I drove Stevie Nicks out of Darwin and across the Great Northern Highway. When I arrived four days later, Stevie was a little out of place in the Broome Boulevard car park; the Kimberley favoured vehicles that drank diesel. The interesting paths were off road and required a 4WD, but still I gripped onto Stevie Nicks like a childhood teddy bear.

Broome was a small grid of streets that could be circumnavigated in the space of a 3 minute 30 second pop song. China Town is flanked by the airport. Old Broome nestles up to Roebuck Bay by way of Town Beach and then the housing estates swing out to Cable Beach and back towards the highway. Unhinged with humidity and loneliness, I did laps of the town so I could keep driving and listening to music.

I inhaled songs from the temperamental car stereo like lines of goey. The same songs, over and over, just trying to get enough of a hit to take me through another day at work, another panic attack, another dodgy date, another evening of being alone in my house. I went in for uppers and downers: Walking on a Dream by Empire of the Sun, Reckless by Australian Crawl. I tried hard to keep my manic moods confined to the driver’s seat, contained in this strange form of musical OCD.

One tear-drenched afternoon, I found myself driving out of town, along the Great Northern Highway. I could just keep going, I thought to myself. Over the bridge, past Willare Road House with its greasy bain marie. I could keep going until I hit Fitzroy Crossing and after that I could keep going some more. Instead, I hit the rural outskirts of town, better known as 12 Mile, and ground to a halt. I was double pumping the tears when a peacock walked across the black tarmac. The bird turned up its blue and green plumage like a middle finger and strutted back into the bush. The sky began to spit; splats of rain fell on my windscreen. Reluctantly, I did a three-point turn and headed back to Broome.

Things got darker for Stevie Nicks and me. Late one night, after a walk on Cable Beach and laps around the new housing developments that sat behind it, I found myself driving up the red dirt road to Gantheaume Point. The one solitary house beyond the cliffs was closed up and dark. I could only see as far as my headlights; the colours from the sunset had well and truly drained from the rocks. I was crying again and I couldn’t stop and I couldn’t see much reason to go on.

I could end it here, I thought. There was a tin of tennis balls in the back of the car, a few old towels. A combination of the two would stuff the exhaust pipe. I could listen to the Evening show on Local Radio and relax into a long, oblivious sleep.

Then I started to think about who would find me. The mysterious occupants of the house beyond Gantheaume Point. Maybe a solitary runner, a couple out for a cliff side pash. The cops. The senior sergeant, maybe. He wasn’t my biggest fan. The sergeant had a weekly slot on my radio show, all the news from the beat. I could have witnessed three domestic violence incidents, seen someone being bludgeoned with a broken wine bottle in the Woollies car park and overheard a riot on Anne St the night before, but he would still come on the airwaves and tell me that there wasn’t much to report. Just if people could make sure they locked their houses before they went out, that might be a good idea. It was important to discourage opportunistic thieves during the school holidays.

I didn’t really want the sergeant to find my body, though it was reassuring to think he wouldn’t mention it on the radio.

That last thought was enough to give me a jolt. I turned the car around, drove back down the pindan and away from Gantheaume Point. I went home and watched the news and cooked some dinner. I went to bed. I got up again the next morning, choked down a bowl of muesli and drove Stevie Nicks to work.

***

It gets better.

That’s what they tell teenagers who are coming out for the first time. It’s what we tell anyone who’s hurting, who’s grieving, who’s scratching loneliness from their eyeballs and lying awake in the dead of night.

This too shall pass.

It’s hard to think back to that night on Gantheaume Point, to other nights in other cars where ending seemed easier than beginning. But I’m still grateful to Stevie Nicks for pulling me through those darker days. For giving me respite on pindan roads and tarmac highways. For providing me with a passport to the North, free-wheeling me from the Kimberley to the desert and Darwin again. For taking me out of the dank corners of my mind, and back into the dirt-speckled light.

My life is certainly different now. These days, Stevie Nicks belongs to a bloke called Qasim who lives in Palmerston. I have Mr Tea, a spare bedroom for guests and a baby boy growing gram by gram in my belly. Broome is 1870 kilometres away. The sun keeps rising and setting, because that is what it does. Because I am just a cog, not the great, spinning machine. It does get better and then it doesn’t and then it does; everything gets better again.

DSC_5528

Death and renting in Broome

When I moved to the Kimberley, the mining boom was reaching its zenith. The airports were a sea of fluorescent vests and real estate agents were buying Moet. The baby journos in Karratha were paying $300 a week for a bedroom in a donga and Broome wasn’t far behind. The Global Financial Crisis was only a couple of months away, but I didn’t know that at the time.

I set about house hunting straight away, circling all four possibilities listed in the Broome Advertiser. I drove to look at a tiny flat just off Anne Street, not far from a notorious block of units where Bradley Murdoch, the convicted murderer of Peter Falconio, had lived for a period of time. My knuckles grazed against the door when I rapped and a skinny man in his 50s opened the fly screen. The lounge room stank of cigarettes and bong water. He showed me a bedroom the size of a pantry. I could share the flat with him for $250 a week.

The other frontrunner was a room in a sharehouse of seven people; one of them managed The Bungalow, Broome’s notorious (and only) nightclub. They had a pool and a BBQ, and thinking of the crack den I’d seen earlier, I said yes.

The next day a colleague at work passed me a contact.

“A woman called Krysti’s got a granny flat. It’s beautiful, used to be an artist studio. You should go and have a look.”

It was right in the middle of Old Broome, a stone’s throw away from the Courthouse Markets and Roebuck Bay.

broome hosue

I pulled up in the driveway and Krysti was pulling weeds out of the red dirt of her garden. Her daughter Polly was next to her, nude, painting on butcher’s paper.

“Are you much of a gardener?” she asked.

I surveyed the big granny flat: two dongas joined by a verandah. I took in the extensive garden, the towering mango trees and the notable absence of bongs on the outdoor table.

Yes, I lied.

Krysti offered the place to me for $360 a week and I agreed.

$360 a week in rent didn’t leave me with much small change, so my approach to interior design was minimal. I had a camp chair, a small box television and my swag in the lounge room; in the other donga, a bed and a single rack for my clothes. I used sheets and sarongs for curtains, and put up a hammock on the verandah.

The property had quite a history. Someone told me it had once been the second general store in Broome. Before Krysti, it was owned by the Durack family, first Elizabeth and then her daughter Perpetua.

Elizabeth Durack was famous for her place in that pioneering Kimberley pastoral family and also as an artist. She was infamous for painting under an Aboriginal name, Eddie Burrup. Elizabeth painted dreaming stories and Aboriginal children and Kimberley landscapes. She had turned the main house, an old Broome hut with cyclone shutters and an elevated verandah, into her gallery and lived in the pre-fab out the back.

durack signs 001

Broome was a hard place to live in many ways, but I loved the house. I loved the worn patina of eccentric lady artist. The party of green tree frogs in the toilet. The banana tree that groaned with purple flowers and hanging bunches of green fruit. The mango trees that gave shade over the native pindan garden.

Donnie, our next door neighbour, was a born and bred local and great friends with the Pigram Brothers. Of an evening, I’d hear them playing guitar around an oil drum fire. The singing would waft into my bedroom after dark.

I may have been Krysti's tennant but I was subletting to an army of green tree frogs who had a permanent party in my bathroom and toilet cistern.

I may have been Krysti’s tennant but I was subletting to an army of green tree frogs who had a permanent presence in my bathroom and toilet cistern.

While I was installed in the dongas out back, Krysti and Polly lived in the main house, the former Durack Gallery.

Krysti was intense and fiery. A lawyer and activist. After a miscarriage and years of wanting a child, she’d fallen pregnant at 38 and at 40 was a single mother.

She adored her daughter. Krysti told me she held a smoking ceremony when Polly was born and buried her placenta under the biggest eucalyptus tree in the front garden. At Polly’s second birthday party, I watched them unwrap presents together. One package held a collection of books, all inscribed to Polly with “kisses from Mummy, who loves you forever”.

Krysti was asset rich and cash poor, but I watched her give away money, food and other bits and pieces to anyone who asked. She smoked rollies on the back step. Sometimes she held court on the verandah with friends and a motley crew of small children, her opinions and chatter louder than everyone else. But often she was alone and I knew she hankered for company.

I was friendly but kept my distance: I had enough problems of my own. But when Christmas came around, I invited Krysti and her daughter and a few other mutual friends with their kids. I cooked for hours: baked fish, roast lamb, salads and pudding. I bought presents for the kids: little purses and plastic helicopters. I hid gold foil covered chocolate coins in the sand pit.

I was getting dessert out of the kitchen when I heard Krysti’s voice ricochet across the verandah.

“Polly Jean! Who gave you chocolate???”

I had inadvertently given Krysti’s daughter her first taste of the most dangerous white powder drug of all: sugar.

I never helped in the garden, but Krysti and I happily co-existed for my twelve month lease before I left Broome for good. We lost touch soon after.

A few years later I caught up with some old Broome mates in Melbourne. We were sitting at a rooftop bar, rugged up and drinking cocktails from jam jars.

Ryan suddenly turned to me.

“Oh my God. Did you hear that Krysti died?”

Krysti had neuro-endocrine cancer. She was only in her 40s, with a young daughter under the age of five. As a lawyer, she’d fought hard for Aboriginal people. She was needy and anxious and fierce and kind. I probably still owed her money for an electricity bill.

It struck me that I knew Krysti both intimately and not at all. Knowing and not knowing her made the news of her death a strange pain. Like the shock of a needle going into your arm. Then there’s nothing. And then, a dull ache that lingers after the nurse plugs the pin prick with cotton wool and medical tape.

My brain started reeling. I remembered the Christmas dinner I’d held on the verandah. The gold foil covered chocolate coins. The little ashtray of cigarette butts on the back step. The time Krysti lent me her swag and gave me a washing machine because I couldn’t afford one. I thought of the rotten mangoes that piled up on the driveway every October and the pindan garden she would never weed again.

I know that dying is the one constant. It’s the one event we’re all guaranteed to attend. The invite stands from the moment you’re born. But death before old age seems so arbitrary, so unfair. Like the reaper stood on a lazy susan in the middle of a packed Chinese restaurant and spun around drunkenly to choose his victims. You, you and you.

I thought about the collection of board books that Krysti had bought for Polly’s second birthday. The inscriptions she’d written; at the time I thought they were so over the top. Suddenly they were priceless.

I thought of the dust under the Eucalyptus tree where Polly’s placenta was buried.

I thought about the way we belong to a place, the way we carve ourselves into a piece of earth and make it our home. I thought about the way we share those homes, those patches of dirt, with people for a time.

Some of them we never see again.

I’m still thinking about that.

The odds are good, but the goods are odd

Ask anyone you like, Australia is in severe drought.

A man drought.

From Perth to Melbourne, Sydney right up to Brisbane, there’s many a single, smart, sassy, sexy woman who can’t find a man her equal. But in my neck of the woods, the roads are veritably paved with fellas: six to one, once you cross the Berrimah Line. Ringers, Army Jocks and diesel mechanics. Fitters, turners. Fitters and turners. FIFOs and fishermen. If you’re a lady looking for a bloke, this is the Holy Grail, especially if you like rough diamonds and men in high vis.

Yep. The odds are good, but the goods are odd.

That’s an expression that gets bandied about regularly by women up here. The dating world up north is rife with mercenaries, missionaries and misfits. I’ve dated many from their ranks: from aspiring politicians to helicopter pilots and professional gamblers with mother issues. I once went out with a guy who wore his bike helmet for our entire coffee date. Another time, I met up with a bloke who was about to get kicked off his mine site for three drug test fails in a row. When it comes to the odds being good and the goods being odd, believe me, I’ve done the leg work.

But the story I’m about to tell you was the oddest experience I ever had. And by odd, I mean freaking bat shit crazy.

His name was Rashid. And he was very good looking.

I met him in an ugly coffee club in the even uglier Broome Boulevard, in between K-Mart and half-price Sex and the City DVDs at Sanity. I wasn’t really a Broome Boulevard regular, but my friend Jen was up from Kununurra for an Internet date and she wanted a taste of the big smoke.

Jen was a character. She drove trucks at the Argyle diamond mine. Big trucks where she only came up to the hub cap by the scrape of her hard hat. All day, she’d drive back and forth, backward and forward, taking dust and rubble and miniscule flecks of diamonds from the pit.

Jen had done a bunch of outback jobs; working as a governess on a station and in a pub at Fitzroy Crossing. And it was from working in Fitzroy Crossing that she knew Rashid, who was trying on sunglasses across the Boulevard.

They waved and he raced over to give her a big hug.

“Jenny! Been a long time!”

They swapped gossip and tidbits from down the track, and when he left, I pumped her for details.

Who was that?

“He could be good for you!” she said. Jen didn’t remember too much about him, but he was a nice guy, she said. She hadn’t seen him for a few years, he had disappeared a bit suddenly after a goanna hunting trip with some of the local boys. I was intrigued.

Later that night, we went to Diver’s Tavern for drinks, gossip and to check out the local talent.

Rashid was there too, and he came over to talk. He sat right next to me and our thighs just barely touched. Later he came over to the bar when I was ordering a drink and lifted up my hair.

“Hello gorgeous,” he whispered.

A couple more hours, and a group of us moved on to the Roey, The Roebuck Hotel, made famous by wasters and wet T-shirt competitions. We hit the dance floor. Rashid performed the lawn mower, fed the chickens and imitated an eagle. He was the worst and best dancer I’d ever seen and I was smitten.

I didn’t expect to hear from him again but I did, the next day. We met at the Courthouse Markets. He said he missed me. I thought it was intense but thrilling.

Gas rallies and other things 034

That night we drove to Gantheaume Point and he spotted sting rays in the waves for me.

We watched the sun set over those red and ochre rocks. Rashid told me about how he used to be a paramedic, but one day he’d been handed a baby with barbed wire around its neck and he couldn’t do it anymore. So he moved up north, to the Kimberley.

We cuddled and he stroked my hair.

“You’re so beautiful, Bub”, he said.

A few days later, we walked on the beach, and his sister rang. He told her all about me.

“You’re going to love Miranda”, he said. “She’s the best girl I’ve ever met.”

Broome pics 044

Pretty soon, we started spending long afternoons and longer evenings in my Old Broome flat.

A couple of weeks later, my best friend was in town and she liked Rashid a lot too. Thought he was cute. Affectionate, sweet. We had a big night out together, dancing at Zee Bar, and they got on like a house on fire, although his hanger on mate didn’t do much for her.

After that, things started to go strange. One night, I asked Rashid to pick up some rice for dinner but he said his wallet had been stolen.

A few days later, he disappeared for hours to comfort a friend. It was past midnight when I got a knock on my screen door and he came in smelling of cigarettes and tinned rum. He got angry when I asked him to have a shower.

Rashid wouldn’t let me go over to his house.

He’d ask me to drop him off at the servo on the corner.

“I’m sorry, Bub”, he said.

“It’s just my housemates. And the house. That house is a mess. Pizza boxes, dirty dishes, the works. I don’t want to take you there. They won’t like it that you’re a white girl.”

Other times he’d tell me very bloody bedtime stories. Fights he’d seen, fights he’d been part of. The time they dug up his grandmother’s grave and found blood on her bones. And the cousin who lost his mind and cut off his penis. Rashid found him on the toilet, bleeding profusely with the dick still in his hand.

One day, I came home to find Rashid sitting on a fold out chair on my deck, head in his hands. He’d just got a phone call from home, Lightning Ridge, to say that his brother had committed suicide.

I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say so I just put my arms around him. We looked up flights on the Internet.

He disappeared to talk to a friend from work and packed a suitcase.

That night, we held eachother and didn’t sleep much.

I offered to take him to the airport.

“No Bub,” he said. “It’s OK. John from work will take me. I’ll be OK. I’ll call you as soon as I get there.”

He called me three hours later.

“I’m here, Bub, it’s pretty awful. I miss you already.”

Three hours seemed quick: Broome to Perth to Sydney and a train to Lightning Ridge. In fact, it didn’t seem possible.

“That was a quick flight”, I said.

“Yeah, yeah, they got me onto the best connections because of what happened, Bub.”

We got off the phone and I went for a walk on the beach with my friend Beth.

Rashid called me again, mid walk.

“Where are you?”

He sounded desperate.

Just on the beach, I said. The sand and wind were whirling around us, and the phone was cutting in and out.

I’ll call you when I get home. I hung up.

Beth suddenly launched into a story. She’d been living in the UK a few years ago, dating a girl who was a bit high maintenance. Big mood swings. Beth was just about ready to call it off when this girl’s grandmother died, and she flew back to Australia.

The next day, Beth walked into her local bar to find her girlfriend, sitting on a barstool.

“I don’t know why I just told you that story”, she said.

We looked at each other.

“He’s still in town”, she said.

He’s still in town.

The next day, after my radio show, I did a drive-by of Rashid’s workplace. And then I called their number.

Hi, there, I said…I’m looking for Rashid.

A voice that sounded very familiar said, “Who may I say is calling?”

I panicked and hung up.

Rashid rang me almost immediately.

His voice was hard. “Hey Bub, I haven’t heard from you for awhile. Don’t you like me anymore?”

Sure I do, I said. How are…how is….Lightning Ridge?

“My family are crazy,” he spat. “I’m going to come home.”

Don’t you think you should stay and help, with your brother and his family?

“Nup. Not after what they’ve said to me.”

Rashid, I’ve gotta go.

His voice got harder still. “Yeah? Go. You should go. The next time you see me, I’ll be hanging from a tree, I’ll be hanging from that mango tree outside your house. There’s nothing for me to live for anyway.”

That night, I could feel shadows creep around my pindan garden. My flat consisted of two dongas, with my bedroom in one and the bathroom in the other. I was too scared to cross the verandah.

The next day, I left the house to have dinner with a couple of other friends and told them the story.

“I know,” said Kate. “Tomorrow. I’ll ring his work. He won’t know my voice. I’ll ask to speak to him.”

She did it from work, from our blocked number.

“Hi, it’s Kate Matthews here. Can I please speak to Rashid?”

“Speaking!” replied a cheery voice.

She hung up. He was in Broome. He’d never left Broome.

Rashid rang me straight away.

“Hey Bub, what’s going on?”

I said he was lying. I said there was no Lightning Ridge and no brother and no one had died. I said he’d been watching me and hanging around the house and he should get some help.

He huffed and puffed.

“Actually…Actually, I just got in this morning. I was going to surprise you, But thanks a lot Miranda, thanks a lot. Thanks for nothing.”

He hung up.

I called the police and they promised to keep an eye out for me. I worried each time I reversed my car out from under the mango tree, worried that he’d be hanging from the branch. I still felt him around the house, at the end of missed calls and watching me from the car park when I went to work early in the morning.

Eventually I broke down and couldn’t leave my bedroom. I had to call in reinforcements. My friend Flic brought over a male friend one night, a solid station boy who had never told a violent bedtime story in his life. He shone the torch in every pindan crook and cranny. Nothing.

My friends Beth and Ryan put up security lights, triggered by human movement. In the meantime, I stayed in their spare bedroom. I was still scared of my house, of the shadows and especially of the mango tree in my front yard.

I felt like I was going crazy, so I ran away to Darwin for a few weeks. When I came back, I walked up and down Cable Beach, trying to decide whether I should stay. Eventually I found a trident shell the size of both my hands on the low tide watermark. I took it as a sign. I’d stick it out in Broome, at least until the end of my contract.

I never found out who Rashid really was. If he’d ever been a paramedic. If he was just a guy who liked to cheat on his girlfriend with gullible newcomers. If his housemates really hated white girls. If he had a drug problem. If he was a compulsive liar, or if he was mentally unstable.

It took me a long time to go on another date.

As they say, the odds are good but the goods are sometimes very odd.

Pimp my ride

Alice practices the all essential frisk or "pat down"

Alice practices the all essential frisk or “pat down”

The Northern Territory revels in its frontier image. There’s pride in the population make up, in the demographic break down of characters and chancers, bounders and bogans, misfits and miscreants. The newspaper is filled with stories of these people. They name their children Zyleem and Sequetia. They find brown snakes in the toilet and crocodiles in the backyard pool.  There are bikini clad girls dancing on crocodile traps and people having sex while they fill up at the service station. There are dildos thrown at engagement parties that cause hospitalisation. And if that wasn’t enough, there are still those special few who stick fireworks in unmentionable places (see my favourite NT News story of all time: “Why I stuck a Cracker up my Clacker”).

When I arrived in WA, I was disappointed to see that the Broome Advertiser had none of these hijinks. But just when I thought the Kimberley wasn’t nearly as renegade as the Territory, my friend Alice and I drove a paddy wagon all the way from Broome to Fitzroy Crossing.

We were at work when the cops first rang us up.

“Any of you girls going to the Rodeo?”

They were short staffed and needed a car taken over. Would we like to drive a police troopie to Fitzroy Crossing?

Why, yes. Yes, we would.

When Alice picked up our new ride, the on-desk constable reluctantly handed her the keys. And warned her against using the siren. Waterboarding may have been implied.

“DON’T you even THINK about it. We’ll know if you did, and there will be trouble.”

And so it begins. Alice and I get into the cop car, all denim mini skirts and cowboy boots, and start driving through Broome. From my new vantage point, I see a mate’s husband driving down Hammersley Street. He looks over and does a double take.

I wave.

We stop at Woollies first, and clamber out to get rodeo supplies – some wine, some meat for the BBQ. The car park goes silent.

As we head out of town along the Great Northern Highway, I pump the music up loud. We’re revelling in our new role as lady cops on a mission. I’m not sure what we’ll do if someone flags us down to solve an actual crime. We sing along to Creedence Clearwater, then The Travelling Wilburys. We get the finger from a couple of cars, a friendly wave from others. No one overtakes us.

Then Alice pulls off at the Willare Road House turn off and suddenly I hear woo-oooo woo-oo woo. I think it’s in the music; we’re listening to Daft Punk.

But I don’t remember that sound in the song. Tourists jolt up at picnic tables; everyone stops and stands to attention. What the fuck?

It takes me a second to realise. Alice has driven the car over some corrugations and it’s set off the siren.

What? Oh my God. We are gonna be in so much trouble.

There’s a button labelled CANCEL in the middle of the dashboard, and I punch it. The siren stops. Alice and I look at each other and laugh manically. And then tumble out of the car and grab a cheese and ham toastie from the roadhouse bain marie.

The tourists are confused.

Finally we get to Fitzroy Crossing three or four hours later. We meet our friends and drive to the campsite, start to put up some tents. The police are there quick as a flash. Four of them, it’s quite the welcome party.

“We’ll take it from here, girls.”

Alice offers to drive the car to the station but the lady copper says, “Oh no, no, no, that’s fine. We got it.”

One of the men takes his hat off, wipes his forehead, shakes his head.

“I can’t believe the boss let you do this.”

I can’t either.

Later that night we go to the Fitzroy Crossing Rodeo hoping to catch a cowboy, but all I get is some mid strength beer and a lot of Shania Twain.

Didn’t hear boo about the siren.

On duty

On duty

How to drive from Darwin to Broome

The Great Northern Highway, Kununurra to Broome

The Great Northern Highway, Kununurra to Broome

I broke up with my boyfriend, I needed to lose weight and I’d been in Darwin for at least 18 months so it seemed like a good time to move to Broome.

It was July, the year was 2008.

I was meant to start the job in six weeks and I was skint. On the facts, I decided that the best, most economic thing to do would be to drive 1800 kilometres in two or three days. I’d put my most precious possessions into the hatchback and start work the day after.

I told my Dad about this plan, driving from Darwin to Kununurra, and then through Halls Creek to Fitzroy Crossing and finally onto Broome. I’d never driven more than about three or four hours at a time before, but you’ve got to start somewhere, I thought.

Dad was less enthusiastic.

“On your own? That’s a stupid idea. What if you break down? Or hit a kangaroo? There’s a good chance you’ll get car jacked and raped in Halls Creek. And do you have enough insurance? You could get caught in a bushfire this time of year. Or an early cyclone. What if they run out of fuel at the roadhouse? And you’re going to CAMP along the way? No, no, no… I don’t think that’s a good idea at all.”

I suppose it wasn’t an unexpected response. We come from a longstanding family of fearmongers, and I can catastrophise with the best of them. I slept badly that night, dreaming of Halls Creek car jackers and rapists.*

The next day Dad rang me back.

“You know, I think a road trip from Darwin to Broome sounds like a great idea. I’ll come with you!”

And that’s how, at the age of 28, I ended up going on a five day driving holiday with my Dad.

On the face of it, a Yorkshire-born Canberra lawyer in sandals and the Australian outback aren’t natural bedfellows. But Dad wore his geek credentials with pride, and made friends along the way with everyone: surly petrol station owners, helicopter pilots, rural reporters, publicans and even the guys on the NT-WA border who frisk you for illicit carrots and cane toads.

He got excited about road trains and ate barramundi for dinner every night.

Plus he brought a good camera, a bunch of tools and spare parts I still don’t know how to use (give me a call if you need a spare fan belt sometime) and a credit card with a much higher limit.

Let it be said, travelling with Dad had many advantages over my original Go West Young Woman solo road trip.

But what he didn’t bring was music. Or rather, good taste in music. Or rather, my taste in music.

Turns out there are only three songs we both like –In My Life by The Beatles, Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash and Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears.

Mostly we compromised, but every so often our creative differences made the kilometres longer. It made me think of a song by Modest Mouse, sort of in the vein of the crowd pleasing “10 green bottles hanging on the wall…”:

100 miles is a long drive inside a car.

200 miles is a long drive inside a car.

300 miles is a long drive inside a car.

400 miles is a long drive inside a car.

500 miles is REAL long drive in a car.

 600 miles is a long drive inside a car.

700 miles is a long drive inside a car.

800 miles is a long drive inside a car.

900 miles is a long long long long wait in a car.

And a thousand miles is a LONG drive inside a car.

1100 miles is too far, inside a car.**

I would have played it, but it’s pretty shouty and Dad wasn’t really into Modest Mouse. Or music that was shouty.

We drove the Great Northern Highway in build up heat. It’s an intense and beautiful landscape; all boab trees and jilted car bodies. Termite mounds and red ragged ranges and bitumen. It drizzled with rain and the road smelled like burnt brown sugar.

We drove 1800 kilometres, and we didn’t get car jacked or raped. We didn’t run out of fuel. We didn’t get caught in a bushfire or an early cyclone. We didn’t break down, or hit a kangaroo, or any of the Brahmin bulls that liked to chew the cud best by the side of the road.

Just before we pulled into Broome, Dad remembered the only other song we both liked.

We crossed the town limits to Neil Murray.

Just in time to sit on the beach; stare at the moon.

*Having lived in the Kimberley now, I have many good things to say about the fine people of Halls Creek. And I reckon there are no more carjackers or rapists there than anywhere else in the world. We’re cool, right Halls Creek?

**Modest Mouse also wrote a great song called Talking Shit about a Pretty Sunset. I’ll get onto that another time.

Car bodies and boabs. Warmun, East Kimberley

Car bodies and boabs. Warmun, East Kimberley