Across the Nullarbor
Saturday 25 October
After being glued to the Caulfield Cup on the TV, we needed some exercise. So we took every dog we could find for a walk - Holly, Humphrey, little Dick (sheep-dog puppy) and four sheepdogs. Across the other side of the valley and up the hill. Great views back across Pylara, looking very green after all the rain. The dogs reasonably well behaved until they set off after a kangaroo, with Holly barking hysterically until it got away across the creek.
Katie had organised a farewell party - invites were 3pm for a walk or 5pm for barbecue. Only Pip Pockley arrived for the walk, so he and I did the stiff climb up to the trig point, with just Holly and Humphrey this time. He was just back from Gove in Arnhem Land as part of his medical training so we chatted about his experiences of medical care in some very remote communities. Our other friends duly arrived for the barbecue (wimps). Just about time to catch up with everyone - a mixture of Canberra and Braidwood, diplomats, artists and lots of others.
Started the morning by re-packing the car - it seemed impossible to fit everything in but we somehow managed. Katie had rather feeble excuses for why she hadn't sent on in advance her golf clubs and a huge ceramic sculpture. The packing had to be organised around providing a suitable bed for Holly from which she could see everything - three dog beds piled on top of two sleeping bags!
Our first day's drive was only to Katie's mother at West Wylong - about 300 kilometres. It started bucketing down with rain as we got near: should be a good year for farmers in this part of New South Wales. Katie's mother cooked us roast lamb, before a snatched game of bridge with her and Katie's sister-in-law afterwards - they are keen but lack many other players in West Wyalong.
An early start, initially in driving rain and with flocks of suicidal galahs on the road. We head west, soon reaching wine-growing country along the banks of the Murray River. Katie loves vineyards, and we see plenty as we cross from New South Wales briefly into Northern Victoria and then into South Australia.
Katie has been studying a book on motels that accept dogs and when we've worked out how far we're likely to get we ring ahead to book at a motel that sounds promising. We turn off just before the Barossa Valley and head up the Clare Valley, to the Tarlee Antique Shop Motel. It is just that: an antique shop with a motel out the back. The owners are originally from England and make trips back buying antiques - luckily we don't have room in the car for Katie to be tempted! Holly is made welcome, and we take her for a walk around the village: pretty stone houses with tin verandas, but with rather a busy road running through. A huge dinner before an early night.
We've decided to head for Ceduna, just before the start of the Nullarbor Plain, which shouldn't be a long day. So we meander up the Clare Valley into the southern end of the Flinders ranges. We bump up a dirt track to a lookout over the Spencer Gulf - over rolling hills looking rather like Devon.
We planned to get petrol at Port Augusta but the pumps we pass are on the other side of the road so we decide to push on the Iron Knob (as the name implies, home to one of the first iron ore mines). Panic. When we get there the only petrol station has no petrol. We are nearly empty but decide we should just be able to drive the 80 kilometres to the next town, Kimba. When we get there, the garage owner tells us there hasn't been any petrol at Iron Knob for three months - the owners are in dispute with the suppliers over credit - and he regularly has to send out cans of petrol to stranded caravans.
On to Ceduna, where we try to find a cabin in a caravan site that will admit Holly. The first one says she would have to stay in the car or outside on a chain, so I ring another. He explains that health regulations mean they can't allow dogs in cabins but if I don't ask, neither will he. Phew. Otherwise I think Katie would have insisted on sleeping in the car with Holly.
We walk down the beach and out along the jetty. We think we'll buy a beer and sit on the beach and watch the sunset, but find signs banning the consumption of alcohol in public places, evidence of the aboriginal drinking problem - not something I remember in Ceduna when we camped here on our drive across in the 80s. So we buy fish and chips and repair back to our cabin.
A long slog across the Nullarbor - 1200 kilometres with not much except roadhouses along the way. We set off at 6am and just keep going, apart from some brief stops to look at the cliffs at the head of the Great Australian Bight and to give Holly some exercise. Later on in the day (after a 90 mile stretch of straight road with no bends) we stop in a roadhouse and chat to the girl behind the bar while waiting for sandwiches. It sounds a strange life: the nearest town is 500 kilometres away and there seems very little by way of entertainment.
We have to stop at the quarantine station at the border into West Australia - you aren't allowed to take fruit into WA. The girl doing the inspection surprises us by asking to inspect Holly as well - looking at her tummy for grass seeds!
We finally get to Norseman and find a cabin in a caravan park. By now we've learnt enough to say firmly that Holly will sleep in the car even though no one seems to notice when she sneaks into the cabin. We buy some beer and sit in the step unwinding.
We head off to the TAB to watch some of the races in the lead-up to the Melbourne Cup. But the pub is really grotty and smoky, so we give it a miss and have a meal in a local motel.
A leisurely drive to Esperance in the morning. The only previous time we'd been there was in 1984 when we drove across from Sydney and camped almost on the water's edge. It's an idyllic spot, with a bay full of islands. We take Holly for a run along the beach, before heading off to an internet café to pick up emails.
Then a drive along the coast to Albany in the afternoon, where we're staying with Jack and Di Baxter - as we did in 1984. They've got a great house right on the harbour's edge next to the Sailing Club. It's windy and the sailboards are out in the bay - very tempting. We go to the Sailing Club for dinner and catch up on news.
Up for a pre-breakfast walk with Jack and Di and their daughter Pip along a nearby beach. It's almost deserted except for a few others out running or walking their dogs - and it's definitely beginning to warm up at last.
We have to plan our drive so that we can get to a TAB to watch the Cox Plate being run in Melbourne. So we meander along the south coast to Walpole - past the tree-top walk and through some of the Kari and Jarrah forests. We watch Sunline winning in style, as she did last year when we were there at Mooney Valley.
We get to Pip and John's vineyard near Margaret River in the late afternoon. It's a warm day and Pip shows us the dam and the foundations of their planned house while John keeps going spraying the vines. Katie had been there before but it the first time I've seen it. It's attractive country backing onto a State forest, with about 13 acres of vines planted so far.
A lazy day in and around the vineyard. We help Pip train vines in the morning until it starts to rain and we're driven inside. They're living in the corner of a huge shed until they've built the house - though that makes it sound far rougher than it actually is. We read and chat, with bits of the Paralympic Closing Ceremony on in the background - including kangaroos on bicycles.
I finally get to see our new house. We've made an appointment to meet the agent and the owner at 11am and they show us round while we ask intelligent questions about utilities etc. It's looking good - pretty much as I imagined it from the pictures and plans. Lot's of shady verandas - Holly seems at home already.
The only sad thing is someone has poisoned one of the deciduous trees in the front: we fear it's someone who lives opposite and is fed up with leaves blowing into their yard. The house has been empty for a month so it would have been easy to do.
We measure up and set off to buy a bed and a fridge, the two essentials. Almost everything else can be sorted out later when our stuff has arrived from England and Canberra and we see what fits in where.
Then finally time to catch up with some old friends before we move in properly on Wednesday.
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