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Soul Scrubbing Across The Nullarbor. Nullarbor Desert, Australia

We have crossed the Nullarbor. 

Like a dangerous dog it lay curled in my imagination.  Now it stirred, shivered.  It bared its teeth, licked its long, black tongue, then slept again.  My presence didn’t disturb it, yet its bewitched me.

With open hearts and eyes we eased west into long distance.  Penong saw the last store for a thousand kilometres; how far is that?  How long-sighted is my imagination?  

Two hundred on, at Nundroo, settlers abandoned bush-clearing.  In the wilderness beyond, Yalata lands, silken shrubs, fanned trees shivering, quivering.  Is this shimmying green the colour of chlorophyll?

Then the treeless plain, Nullus Arbor, infinitely flat, unfolding like unrolling canvas.  What a misnomer.  Strewn with bluebush, salt bush, wind-bent shrubs, the Southern Ocean biting chunks from its limestone edge.

Now I know the meaning of ‘the blasted heath’ in Macbeth, the Wyrd Sisters’ home.  Know the nature of the blasting, of their other-worldliness.   At the Nullarbor sign we’re almost blasted off, like tumbleweed.  We’re not relevant here.  This is too vast, too strong, too arid for small man.  We’re weak, water-dependant, shelter-needy.  This is too much sky and wind, too much sun; too wyrd. 

You need imagination or blind faith to believe it will end.  Here, you become your fate, as the Wyrd Sisters knew.  You are your expectation; how receptive and open is your mind’s eye? 

Hovering in haze then vanishing like magic, the shimmering road disappears at a crest.  Blind faith to continue.   A rise, a fall, a rise, as the greens of the flats shimmer by; lime green, blue green, silver- grey- gold- green.  Sunlight sizzles through low clouds rolled like sausages.      

Night seeps grey, and gauzy sea fret veils a modest sun.  A place to sleep on limestone shoulders, smooth yet stippled with saltbush, like sacred symbols.  We sleep in a caravan cradle, rocked by a night-nursing wind, sheltering from winds that whistle through fly-mesh windows.  This wilderness of spiny shrubs scrubs our souls; wind-washed, sun-showered, sky-drenched, shrub-scoured we shall be. 

Natural energy; endless sky and space.  Horizon moving as we do.  Limitless.  No beginning.  No end.  Only journeying, movement, transition.  Sky and land put man-time in perspective.  Winds rise and fall as sun chases moon and moon teases sun.

The Nullarbor’s wildness invites us to open our eyes, to listen for its echoes in our hearts.  Perhaps that’s why so few do… It scares.  It’s untamed, its mysterious strength endures, connecting us to an older time and spirit, to wyrd and dreaming, myth and magic.

An opalescent sunrise as we cross time zones, repeating morning.  Telegraph station ruins at Eucla with a motel and caravan park import a sense of futility in an enclosed tourist fence.

At Eucla Pass, the limestone faults and we sweep down to follow its line inland.  Onwards, onwards, west. 

Subtly, the road adolesces into gentle curves.  At Caiguna, it matures into a serious rind of dead-straight road peeling away to infinity: the Ninety Mile Straight. 

Shimmering, mercury road; blurry, heat-haze road; black rubber melting road.  Eye-watering, face-creasing, squinting road.  Dappled-cloud blue-sky-white-light road.  Wind-banging road.  Relentless road, road, road.

Does it pull us?  Do we drive it?  Driving straight.  What else matters?  Onwards, alive to difference and distance, essence and meaning.  The future, anticipation of arrival, expectation of destination, all erased by a dark rubber road. 

My life is now, here and now.  Who am I?  A driver on an endless plain.  An infinite traveller.  A writer chewing words like gum as white lines tick off time. An artist painting pictures with alphabet brushes.

The land heaves and retches up the Fraser Ranges from its anorexic belly.  Hills flesh out, woods bloom.  It is over, yet not done.  We must travel the between lands, crawl back to cultivation round eucalyptus bends, and straights where circus trees spin leafy plates on sappy stems.  Late day, driving west, the sun bakes us. 

We have crossed the Nullarbor, gone through time and space. 

Soul-scrubbed, still, we sit in evening shadows sipping ice-cold beer, serenaded by birds, feted by lizards, our sun-strained eyes refreshed by star-strewn skies.

 A camper arrives with a journeying couple.  Tomorrow they cross the Nullarbor. 

‘I’m so scared,’ confides Elise, ‘everyone says it’s flat and boring.’

As the Nullarbor dog stirs I say how it was for us.  The dog sleeps.  Elise’s eyes open.

Yes.  We have crossed the Nullarbor.

copyright © 2024 Christine Cooke
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