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

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