Friday, March 30, 2007

THE LOST HORSES OF THE CAPE RANGE

Alas, avid reader, you are once again stuck in front of an episode of In The Wild With The Art Director ...

I wake early, gazing silently at the sublime, rugged beauty that is the Cape Range, before urinating on it and heading off. Once on the highway, i realise the big game-fishing tournament in Exmouth must have already passed its bloodthirsty climax, an asinine apogee of aquatic annihilation, as there are more boats on the road than cars. As i head north along the long straight road into Exmouth, one after the other of these large four-wheel-drives passes me, southbound, each towing a Pleasure Craft.

A baseball-capped, sunglassed driver raises one hand from the wheel, the traditional salute of the grey nomad. I am hunched forward, my hands gripping the inside of my steering wheel, my knuckles facing outward toward the windscreen, my teeth embedded, just slightly, in the top of the wheel as i face the harsh reality of a morning without coffee. As his vast ensemble of destruction rolls by, i raise both my quivering middle fingers in a silent salutation.

We publish them in the newspaper. Week after week. Insanely grinning fishermen with their grisly trophies. To hell with it, i think. I will replace the "Fishing" page with something else. "Hunting", perhaps. Publish a picture of Raoul, blunderbuss in hand, standing next to a freshly-killed Bengal tiger. Or perhaps an albino rhinoceros. Or maybe even a giant numbat. See if anybody really notices, or cares.

I stop in Exmouth for two coffees and a toothbrush. Are we all really, i wonder, as i stare ruefully at the toothbrush display, are we really just passive, innocent victims of a monstrous international rort, an dire price-fixing scam, an evil collusion between all the toothbrush manufacturers of this world - or am i just crazy? A small stick of plastic with nylon bristles sticking out the end. Five dollars. Five frigging dollars ... i hunt around in vain for the Black-and-Gold Toothbrush, but alas ... it's all overdesigned, overadvertised, overpackaged and overpriced and probably produced in some third world toothbrush sweatshop where workers are paid peanuts and toothpaste is tested on monkeys and who cares if they've got flexible heads and bristles at slightly different angles. I resign myself to the monotonous monopoly, and buy one with a green zigzag racing stripe.

Remember the supermarket scene in Repo Man? With Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton? The supermarket, where every single product on the shelves was a generic no-name brand? Where food came in basic packaging with "FOOD" written on it? Ah, heaven. Those were the days. Movies were better made then. And the toothbrushes were cheaper. And dialogue was just tremendous:

Lagarto Rodriguez: ...yeah, well that's not the only thing, Marlene. This car is hot.
Marlene: What do you mean? Stolen?
Lagarto Rodriguez: No, I mean it's hot. Really hot.
Marlene: Hot?
Lagarto Rodriguez: Yeah! We're sweating like pigs, man.

Ah, the good old days. Before Harry Dean Stanton went all hang-dog and started mooning over Nastassja Kinski in Paris, Texas. Poor bloke. Must have been those big, sensuous lips of hers. Nastassja's mother, Mrs Kinski, used to affix her to the window with them while she ducked into the supermarket for a pack of Black-And-Gold smokes, to save money on the 20 cent electric unicorn rides. Paris, Texas was called Motel Chronicles in Germany. I read this book by Sam Shepard once, the Paris,Texas screenwriter, and it was called Motel Chronicles, but i don't remember it bearing any relation to the Paris, Texas movie except in its mood... Motel Chronicles and Hawk Moon was the book's actual title, and it was two books in one really, and they were the best two books i ever read. Two for the price of one. You can't get better than that.

By this time I am driving the road between Vlamingh Head lighthouse and Yardie Creek Station, my mind wandering in a surreal and arid tableaux. And that's when i see them. The legendary Lost Horses of the North West Cape. I have heard stories about them, of course - everybody has - but always thought they were creatures of myth - the pegasus of the spinifex. Heard stories of how they would suddenly appear in the barren landscape, standing on the road, these four-legged x-rays, tragically undernourished, mournfully staring down drivers in the hope of a food handout, like some wandering troupe of equine understudies in a bizarre allegorical production of Oliver Twist. But i had also heard they had gone. Vanished.

I see them out toward the range, between the coast road and the rusty hills, three of them about five hundred yards distant. I walk out through the scrub for a better look. There is a big strawberry road mare, a brown gelding and a rather sick looking brown filly. They approach me and stare. When they realise i have no lettuce, they turn and walk away, sulking.

Stories of their origins vary wildly. Thoroughbred racehorses, abandoned after the Exmouth racetrack closed. Wild bush brumbies, anything up to a string of thirty. But the truth is perhaps more prosaic. When Yardie Creek Station was taken over by the government, years ago, Conservation and Land Management pronounced the area a National Park. Tremendous. Unfortunately all the stock horses on the station were simply left in limbo, left to wander a strip of unallocated crown land between the station and the lighthouse. Which, in times of drought, became a kind of Horse Ethiopia.

I drive a few more kilometres down the road, and come to a tollbooth at the Cape Range National Park. There is a sign that says ten dollars entry per vehicle per day. Ten dollars?! That's two new toothbrushes! I have just driven about fifty kilometres from Exmouth, around the Cape to the south again, with no idea that this was simply a no through road unless you are either cashed up or carrying a gun. "Everybody knows it's ten dollars to get in here," says the man in the Akubra hat.

Everybody knows this is nowhere.

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