Stalking the edge: life and death in the Australian Outback

2년 전

Outback Australia Road

The maps lay whisper still as I scan them by torchlight. An occasional dingo howl breaks the silence. Danger stalking the periphery. It is time to move, but where? Both directions a deadly highway. North leads to things I dream of seeing and desolate campgrounds. Reduced safety. Less likelihood anyone will hear me scream. Less chance of crossing paths with someone like Michael.

I look across at his camp. I had promised to say goodbye. It is too early to wake him and I’m awkward with sentimentality anyway. I tip toe over and leave a note containing gratitude and contact details that he will not use. The relationships of nomadic life form quickly and are forgotten with the same speed. After a month on the road this series of collected liaisons no longer sustains me. The spaces of this Outback Australian desert have revealed my truth. I need to escape from people with the same ferocity as I need to be known by them. It is time to return to my clan.

Dawn brings enough light to make the chaos of kangaroos and emus visible. I roll the maps and head out, gravel crunching beneath the tires. Choosing South. A repeat of covered ground. It is the fastest long way home. In Alice Springs the streets are still sleeping. I find an open petrol pump and fill up. Hundreds of kilometres will pass before I see another. I am moving toward relentless hours of paper flat plains.

It is impossible to believe that the earth is curved out here. The only evidence of movement is red sand shifting to red dirt shifting to brown dirt. Rolled abandoned cars lie by the road in decay. Warnings that darting animals, fifty-metre-long trucks and swaying caravans are inevitable and deadly. It is a battle of boredom and fatigue against ever present threat. Decisions on petrol, water provisions and food intake are essential. Poor choices cannot be reversed in the Outback. I lose mobile reception and turn on to the Stuart Highway. The only road home. Google gives her last instruction, “Turn left in 1,212 kilometres.” She falls silent.

Red dirt highway in Outback Australia

The rolling red dirt roads of Outback Australia


Five hundred of those kilometres pass in a haze of heat. A days’ work spent on the road. On the map Marla is a town. That means a pub filled with men who stare and a petrol station. The road signs have been harsh. “Tired people die,” they read. The message has seeped into my skin. In the last hour the horizon has started to reveal things that are not there. The twists of True Crime podcasts are no longer breaking this line of tarmac. My playlist is exhausted. The radio spits static. Silence and illusion lie ahead. The light will be fading if I continue to Coober Pedy. Dodging roadkill difficult, never mind the living beasts. Camels, roos, cattle, emus, sheep, goats, dingoes. In the order of damage they’ll do to my car. I won’t make it. Marla is to be my stop tonight.

A storm of patriarchal power strikes as I enter the bar. This isn’t a place where you want to feel like the only woman in the world. The Friday horde throw their attention my way. I curse myself for choosing shorts over jeans. Feminism is a luxury, safety is my cause. I keep my smart mouth shut, lower my head and move to the bar. The attendant points to the campground as answer to whether they have accommodation.

An expanse of bitumen and dirt. A man in the corner glares with a coarse smirk. I’ll have to run his gauntlet, my camper offers little in the way of a barrier. I consider taking a chance on an empty roadside stop. The attendant watches these things move through my mind. He suggests I take a room. Money is dwindling, there will be none coming in until I make it back. The smirking man begins his approach. A long-haul tomorrow will get me to my turn and take out a night’s camp fees. I hand over my fifty-dollar bills, lock the door three times and bunker down.

The morning brings resolve, I will not spend another night at a roadhouse. Port Augusta and the navigator’s left turn lie eight hours South. Ten hours with stops. Waiting for the sun to rise I throw back two double-shots of coffee. Then walk to the rusted bin and toss in a handful of pink pills. Anti-anxiety meds. By midday nausea and shaking hands will fill the space where the medication is supposed to be. But I will be wired awake.

Seven hours later I am lodged in brown dirt territory, fighting off autopilot and feeling the effects of withdrawal. The horizon morphs into a convoy of caravans lead by a three-trailer-long truck. The famous grey nomads and road trains of this track lined up. Rolling along at twenty kilometres below the speed limit. I glance at the clock. Sitting behind them means a dance with the dark. Another night on the road.

Wild emus Outback Australia

Emus roaming the edge


With a flick of their indicator each van tells me it is safe to push past. There’s no view around the seventy metres between this convoy and my goal. We nod in passing. I slot in behind the truck. His indicator flashes. I pull out, hit the accelerator and am head to head with the bloated carcass of a red roo. I glance in the rear mirror. The caravan has closed the gap. There’s no way back. I aim for the tail, threading between roo and truck. I miss. Catch the edge of the roo. Impact throws my body and car to the left. Over correction means the ditch. No correction means the side of the truck. I look ahead and see an oncoming car. My breath stops. It doesn’t start again. I step off the gas. Correct my course. Gun it to the front of the truck. Horns blare as I slide between the truck and oncoming car.

This is the way of the Outback. Nothing for miles and everything in a moment. The adrenaline forces whoops and hollers from a guttural place. My heart thunders a long time before I settle back into the road. Port Augusta creeps closer. The navigator awakens. "Turn left in 300 metres". The sun begins its descent as I ease in to the turn. Relief runs bone deep. The campground is an oasis of families and friendly faces. I sweep up a bottle of wine and wander my spent soul to the shoreline. A sunset made from fireballs tumbles over the horizon. My phone rings, I see my son’s face light up its screen. “Hey Mum,” his voice a balm, marking the way home. Only 1,546 kilometres to go.

Sunset sky at Port Augusta, South Australia

Port Augusta's volcanic sunset


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You've received an upvote from #TheUnmentionables - a SteemIt community full of members who like to kick ass, take names, and occasionally do it wearing (or forgetting to wear) our unmentionables...

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Thank you! I am super appreciative of that <3

That is a nice last picture you have. Sounds like a grand adventure. Glad that you didn't get squashed into the truck and didn't have to spend another night out in the wild. Sounds like driving in Australia might be long and boring...perhaps worse than driving through West Texas! Great post. #theunmentionables

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Thank you. It can get a bit monotonous in the middle. The bits on the edges are fabulous though :)

Your article it's amazing ! ! You've got really talent ! !

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Thank you so much. That's lovely of you to say.

I love your writing style, @onethousandwords!

True art!

There's a lot I can learn from you to improve my own creative writing. I'm following you now, and am looking forward to reading and learning from you.

I found the link to this article in the #Unmentionables daily digest. I've upvoted and resteemed this great post.

I'm hoping that many of the English language learners I have curated in my project will follow, and study your writing, too.

Cheers!
@mitneb

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Thank you so much for the support. I am still learning and only recently decided to focus on writing. As such your words mean a great deal and inspire me to keep at it.

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You're kidding, @onethousandwords! You are a natural then. Keep true to yourself, and don't try to imitate anyone. You've got a very unique writing voice, and you should let it grow and mature without losing your flavor.
Cheers!
@mitneb

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Thank you so much. That is a beautiful thing to say <3

  ·  2년 전

I'm now really looking forward visiting Australia. Great pictures and writing. Can't wait for the next adventure!

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Thanks so much. That is such lovely feedback <3

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Wow great capture of the outback!!! I didn't get a chance to go there while I was in Australia. You make me want to go back!

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ha ha if this makes you want to go to the Outback then you are a true adventurer!

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Haha I do! But I also heard though that the massive black flys in AU are crazy out there !

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I thought they were quite well behaved and subdued. That said I did notice quite a lot of overseas tourists who had a very different opinion 😮

WOW!! Just wow! A place I long to visit and your photography is amazing.
Sheila

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Thank you so much Sheila. I hope you get here one day <3

This post received a 20% vote by @mrsquiggle courtesy of @choogirl from the Minnow Support Project ( @minnowsupport ). Join us in Discord.

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Thank you @mrsquiggle and @choohirl you're all kinds of awesome :)

Beautiful photography. love how you describe the outback, gave me an overwhelming feeling of isolation.

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ha ha yep that pretty much is what's out there - isolation. Traveling solo at least. I am sure that with company it wouldn't feel as much like that.

Great writing as usual @onethousandwords. You have a real talent for storytelling.

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Thank you my dear. You are so kind.

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Awesome. Thanks guys and thanks for the work to get it up and running again ❤

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Glad to be back up and running!!!

Beautiful photos and brilliant writing that really gives a feeling of how overwhelming to the senses the place must really be.

Really cute emus too!

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Thank you. I really appreciate that feedback :)

Lovely pic there

Oh man, I'm following you now! Why only 2,74$? Steemit is still a lottery!
I hope I will be able to visit Australia during my around-the-world trip in 2018/2019 :)

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Oooh do come visit. Since I'm very much learning the craft og writing I'm just grateful that Steemit provides a place I can practice ❤

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