There are rumours the driver is mad - we are all being trucked
To the abattoirs somewhere - the signals are jammed and unknowing
We aim through the night full speed at a wrecked viaduct.
But I do not believe them. The future is rumour and drivel;
Only the past is assured. From the observation car
I stand looking back and watching the landscape shrivel,
Wondering where we are going and just where the hell we are
- A.D. Hope
(Collected Poems 1930-1970, Sydney 1972)
Sunday morning, and The Germans are up early. We throw some gear in the car and head off into the sunrise. For one last fling up the Ningaloo Coast. Rebekah, Marcus, me, and Mira the dog.
The wipers don't work in the Pajero. Marcus is not used to changing gears with his left hand. Mira is not used to sitting still. The windows are misted up, and Mira is running rampant. The 4WD zigzags across Robinson Street towards the North West Coastal Highway with a grinding of gears and a gnashing of teeth. I lie on the back deck of the Pajero, between the backpacks and the water drum, and fall into a fitful doze, happy in the knowledge that if i die, i might at least die in my sleep.
I've been up very late, throwing my few remaining worldly goods into cardboard boxes. Tomorrow is my last edition of The Newspaper. Then i'll tie my bags to the motorcycle and try to make Northampton by midnight. On Tuesday I am to due for reincarnation as the official photographer at Sculpture by the Sea. For two weeks i will be shooting art on the beach, and then it's off to the Southern Ocean to work on The New Newspaper.
The Southern Ocean. Cold waters, granite boulders, giant trees. And no friends.
Compare and contrast. Still, you've got to do what you've got to do. By definition, i suppose. And you've got to get out of your comfort zone. Like my French photographer friend Florence Alien says. Florence does not believe i am cursed, despite all the evidence to the contrary. She thinks that if you don't get out of your comfort zone and do things, then of course nothing can go wrong.
"Zees people, zey go to zair jobs, zey work, zey go home, zey eat, watch a beet of tee vee and zey sleep," Florence says, although i can't do her accent very well. "Zen zey get up and zey do eet all over again, Muck. What can go wrong for zees people, Muck?"
Ah, i love a French accent. French girls. Don't you just want to throw them on the ground and jump on them? So she thinks the reason why my life is such a shambles and why things keep fucking up is not because i have actually had a curse placed upon me by The Ex, or because my brain cells have been destroyed by drink, but simply because i choose not to spend my life on my sofa.
Florence. Her reasoning makes all the crap somehow seem worthwhile.
The Pajero grinds to a halt at the Blowholes, on the barren Quobba coast. Marcus is slowly getting a handle on the gear changes. We clamber out and look around. Lots of rocks. Quite obviously, this is the set where NASA shot all those fake Viking photos, allegedly taken on the surface of Mars.
Photo of Viking 1 Lander on Quobba coast courtesy of NASA
I didn't know a soul in Carnarvon when i landed here, other than my mentor and driver, Mr Safari Bob. Not a living soul. But now i am sad to be leaving this town and my slightly sun crazed friends. I climb back into the vehicle with The Germans and the dog and we drive a little way south to the Fishbowl. We climb down the cliff and wade out into the shallow, rocky water. The Fishbowl and the Blowholes Beach is protected from the killer King Waves by an island and a stretch of reef. Otherwise i would be nowhere near the water. Three people a year, on average, are lost off the Quobba coast. Most of them are Japanese tourists, who are somehow predisposed to spectacular deaths in the Australian outback. But i am taking no chances.
I take a piece of roast beef and pickle sandwich and hand-feed some fish. Just like Melinda Mayhem did for our article on the Blowholes for the Coral Coast Happenings magazine, all those months ago. Except Mayhem looked much better in a swimsuit. And her rubber booties. That girl! I can't get her out of my head.
What is the point of The Nerve without Mayhem? Where is its raison d'etre? Alas, my prose has degenerated, without my Muse, into meaningless lists of random events.
Marcus takes some pictures of the parrot fish snacking on the Starmart sandwiches, and then it's on, on, up past the Quobba homestead and along the dirt tracks to Red Bluff, with its castaway shacks and eco tents. A true surfers' paradise, with its huge, regular lefthanders peeling off around the headland. We take a swim in the bay.
Well, i use the word 'swim' loosely, as Marcus and i are relentlessly pounded by the breakers as Rebi shouts at us in horror. Get out of the water, she yells. What, and miss all the fun? Eventually it becomes too much for my weary bones and i catch one last wave, propelled up onto the sand beach amidst a flurry of foam. The sun is warm on our backs, Mira is chasing the seabirds, and it is a beautiful day. I pick up a small, dotted, orange cowry shell from the beach at Red Bluff.
Further up the coast we come to Gnaraloo. Dr Case and Louis are purportedly camped around here somewhere, at least according to a drunken conversation i had with them at the Gassy on Friday night. I suspect they might be at Three Mile Camp. But the intrepid Germans are heading further north to Gnaraloo Bay, where, without those bone-crunching dumpers, we can all take a leisurely swim.
Wandering the bay, the salt drying on my skin, i pick up another shell, a serrated geometric spiral. As much as i rail against both sentimentality and the plundering of natural resources, i can't help but pocket this small keepsake from the Gascoyne coast.
By tomorrow i'll be showering off the road grime in a cheap motel in Northampton, as the 650 clicks and cools outside the door.
So long to Dr Case, Richard the Oyster Farmer, Louis Weston, concrete Chrisso, Kristy, Colby the shark hunter, Dewse, Crusty, Nurse Nikki and punkrock Sean, Ant, CJ, Burke "Boomer" Maslen, Ray Edney, Leslie Lee, KJ, David Skene, Scott Brain, Wayne, Kristal Lange, Ryan, Kevin & Kevin at the Gassy, the unflappable Noel from Noel's Bar, Roxy, Pippa, and Olivia, Tony and Merome Beard from the Port Hotel, Branwen, Mel Meeks, Ken Young, Teressa Miller, Elliot, Bones, Paul Minnear and Liz in Exmouth, the neighbours Bruce, Brickie Dave and Yute Bannattee, photographers Christian Byrt and Karl Monaghan, Simon Moore, Paul Kelly (the bank manager, not the singer/songwriter), Gary Larson (the engineer, not the cartoonist), Ted Shultz and the rest of the Dash crew, Graeme Murphy, Hippy, Doug Hunt and Joe in Coral Bay, Brenton Baker, Rachellarella, Colin Andreoli, Darlene, Sammy, Paquita and Chris Boston, Saxon, Jennifer P, Westy, Sue, Lauren, Tracey, and Sharon, Vince Catania, Lionel Quartermaine, Constables Rob and Jordan, the crusty demon rider Fungi Furniss, Pompy, Jenny and David Walsh, Chris 'n' Amy, artist Bonnie Ingram, Kudzy, Damo the chef, Fully, President Dudley and Graeme from the Shire of Carnarvon, Eric at Boodalia, Eric Warren, the singing gem Ashleigh Rodier, Peter King and Lulu, and Downunda Thunda DJ "Nana" Mex, and Bluey.
And of course Mickey T, who gave me soul food, shelter, and the best possible company.
Shine on, my friends.