Chapter 1 – Hattah
We leave Castlemaine on the last day of July, heading for Darwin and beyond. We don’t see anything to write home about on the first day. Inglewood seems like a thriving little town, plenty of locals out in the street, until you notice they are actually shop dummies dressed up in old clothes. Good ploy though, you’ve got to have a gimmick these days if you want to stay ahead of the pack. After that we don’t see many real people, but there are flox and flox of sheeps. But they are really dirty. I am not impressed. After a few hours we come across a farmer outstanding in her field. I wind down the window and give her a piece of my mind:
“Your sheep are filthy.” I say.
“It’s a disgrace. You should be ashamed of yourself. When we go to the country we like to see nice white sheep surrounded by nice green grass.”
She ambles up to the fence, gives the vehicle the once over like it’s a mangy dog that should be shot, fondly pats the dead fox hanging off the barbed wire, wipes the sweat from her weary brow, takes off her Akubra, swats a blowfly, scratched her crotch laconically, sticks her thumbs in her braces, spits out her chewing tobacco, assumes a nonchalant air and launches into a long and sibilant soliloquy. (due to her missing teeth, no doubt) Something about the drought, the wool price, the wheat board, the water board, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority the Government, the mouse plague, the locust plague, the dust storms…………
“That’s all very well,” I say,
“But what about our visual amenity, have you taken that into consideration?”
She just lets out a loud fart and wanders off shaking her head.
We get as far as Hattah Lakes on the first night, where we camp with a flock of wild emus. Emus can be very curious. They scare the living daylights out of our poor old deaf dog Gunyarr. I don’t complain to management, it is a National Park after all.
It’s great to sit by a log fire again, I haven’t done that since last night.
(Did you know that the television was invented just after the introduction of the electric radiator. It was designed to replace the trance-like state induced by starring into the flickering flames of the open fire.)
Next day we get sprung with a shit load of fruit and vegetables on the South Australian border. I am talking top shelf, organic, free range, biodegradable produce here. Goods we paid good money for. Such a shame to see it chucked in the bin, but there is only so many raw vegetable one can eat in one sitting. It’s all a big scam of course: We are meant to restock the larder at the next town. Very good for business. The Victorians do the same thing in the opposite direction, so I guess it’s all fair enough, but a terrible waste of fine food none the less.
I politely suggest the confiscated items could be given away to the poor. The officer replies:
“That is a matter for the Welfare Department, not Border Security.”
We cross the Murray at the cute little town of Morgan, our cute little car on the cutest little barge, like something out of yesteryear. It’s really hard to find a camp on the river. In the socialist enclave of Victoria, you can camp pretty well anywhere on any bloody river you bloody well like: The rivers and the beaches belong to the people. (Make that ‘Communist enclave’.) Not here in the Fascist State of South Australia, private property extends right through the river and up the other side.
Of course we camp there anyway, ready to tell any belligerent land holder that it actually belongs to the blackfellas, who are traditionally in favor of camping.
Morgan is the point on the river where it takes a left hand turn and heads South. That is why there is a massive pump that pumps water all the way to Whyallah on the Eyre Peninsula, some 360 kilometre to the West. Unbelievable, isn’t it? So some of the water cooling those giant smelters has come all the way from Queensland.
Being skeptical by nature, we decide to follow that pipeline and see if it really does go all the way to Whyallah. As soon as we leave the river it gets rather arid. Nothing but salt bush, dotted with stone ruins. We have crossed the famous Goyder Line. For those who didn’t pay attention in Form 2 Geography: Some time back in the late 18 hundreds, there was a wet period in South Australia. This happened to coincide with an influx of Prussian refugees. (presumably from the losing side in The Crimean War) The naive immigrants were sent North, with their goat herds in tow, on a quest to tame the wilderness and quell the restless natives. Their first mistake, one of many it appears, was to eradicate the natives before asking them probing questions about the prevailing climate in the area: A subject the local natives knew well, I might add, having studied it studiously for countless generations.
(Shoot first and ask questions later, as they say)
As you can guess, the good times didn’t last. As luck would have it, their halcyon days were an aberration, a blip on the flatline of semi-endless drought that we so quaintly refer to as ‘life in the outback’. The hapless pioneers scuttled back to Prussia, with their tales between their legs, leaving behind a treasure trove of quaint stone ruins to add to the rustic charm of the bucolic countryside.
Having failed to learn their lesson from the locals, nature set about teaching them anyway, with the help of George W. Goyder, agrarian visionary extraordinaire. George W. traversed the land with a pointy stick, drawing a long and meandering line, delineating the arable land from the wasteland. Henceforth all lands falling to the North of the Goyder line were to be referred to as ‘The Badlands’. It was decreed that no foolhardy farmer should ever sow a single seed outside that line, no matter how deceptively fecund the land appeared, for, as sure as night follows day, they would all be ruined. This maxim was strictly adhered to for as long as the latest drought persisted, but irrepressible optimists that we humans are, as soon as the heavens opened, the happy peasants forgot about Mr. Goyder and his pointy stick. (The downpour had washed away his markings anyway.) They rushed North again with gay abandon, (if you will pardon the expression) astonished to find perfectly good homes to inhabit, complete with barns and weather veins, just waiting to be filled with ‘hard working families’.
What a Godsend!
We can all see where this is heading, can’t we? Let’s leave the story here before it gets too grim.
Suffice to say, it doesn’t have a happy ending.
…so that is why the name George W. Goyder – agrarian hero, has been passed down from generation to generation of Form 3 Geography students, making sure he will go down in the annuls of history alongside the late, great Richard Bowyer Smith, fellow South Australian and inventor of the stump jump plough no less.
Now where were we? Ah yes we are passing through endless waistlands dotted with rustic stone ruins, surrounded by hills dotted with those ghastly wind turbines. They are everywhere. Such an eyesore. So glad to get to Whyallah and see the lofty chimneys on the steelworks, choofing out black smoke, just like Puffing Billy, so much prettier!
I ask a local why it is called Whyallah. He tells me an Afghan Cameleer once built a statue of the Muslim God up on the hill here and everyone would ask: “Why Allah?”. It is apparently the only statue of Allah in the whole world because whenever anyone else built one they got their head chopped off. Thank God the Taliban never got as far as the Eyre Peninsula.
Chapter 2 Whyallah and the incredible Giant Cuddle-fish
Just went for a swim with 250,000 cuttlefish. Awesome!.
For reasons best known to themselves, they have chosen to spend their most intimate moments before they die, between an LPG refinery and a steel smelter.
But I suspect the cuttlefish were there first.
They have chosen this unlikely spot because it is shallow and protected and has lots of rocks and seaweed to lay eggs under. They don’t seem to mind us swimming around about 2 metres above them while they do their thing. It is one of the most beautiful things I have ever encountered.
The Australian Giant Cuttlefish can grow up to a metre long. They live a solitary life roaming the seas for a year growing big and beautiful till they all suddenly get that urge to return to the place of their birth to perform one of the world’s greatest orgies.Having 5 long slippery tentacles this involves a lot of groping, as you can well imagine.
Then they all die together. Isn’t that romantic?
Lamentably, the rapacious fishing squads were the first to discover this unique event, but they did not see a great natural wonder, all they saw was floating wads of cash!
In the late ’90s, at the height of the pillage, over 30 boats extracted 270 tons of cuttlefish in the space of a few weeks, sending cuttlefish numbers plummeting towards extinction. Luckily, some bright spark realized they were much more valuable as a spectacle than as a piece of mock crabstick at the fish and chip shop.
So now the cuddlefish flourish unconcerned by the toxic activities all around them.
One can only assume that smelting metal pollutes the air far more than the sea.
The locals claim the air is perfectly fit to breath, even though the entire town and it’s residents are covered with a dusting of soft grey soot. Roaming the streets I couldn’t help but notice the hospital is unusually large for such a small town, and the cemetery is vast!
I searched in vein for the mythological statue of Allah, but alas I was too late. It had been reduced to a pile of rubble, like so much of our cultural heritage: