Saturday, 22 November 2014

Stuart Highway

The Stuart Highway is a sealed road transecting Australia from Darwin in the north to Adelaide on the south coast. The road maps closely the route taken by John McDouall Stuart in 1862. This explorer was the first white man to find a route across the continent. It took him three attempts, and he showed unparalleled leadership, as astoundingly he didn’t lose anyone on any of his explorations. Once a path across the land was found an Overland Telegraph was laid which joined Adelaide up to Darwin, then Singapore and back to Great Britain.

For the main part, our journey has followed this artery, often called the Explorers Way. It is often partnered by the railway line for long sections as the two man made lines intertwine across the landscape.

The road is straight and just goes on and on and on. Generally the scenery was flat and the road continues into the horizon as far as the eye can see, like some perspective drawing for a GCSE Arts course. The horizon shimmered under the blazing sun and mirages were a common sight. Sometimes we’d be caught by an unexpected strong gust of wind that would buffer us sideways. Sporadically dust devils would whip up over the plains and spin the dust into a vortex reaching up to the heavens.

We shared the driving, taking turns at the wheel. Due to the remoteness we would hail other drivers and always slow down to check things were okay if a vehicle had pulled off the road. We often saw only a dozen vehicles in an hour, often no one for twenty minutes and then a mini succession of three vehicles strung together. These were campervans like ours, locals in utes and road trains. These multi load lorries have to be seen to be believed; consisting of four or five artic-sized trailers these are magnificent transport machines.

In the Northern Territory the landscape was dotted with termite mounds, some of these giant obelisks towered high above the ground. In some areas these human-sized obelisks were clothed with t-shirts and hats, some even had stick arms and held beer bottles, a sort of dirtman. Our favourite was a termite mound bride, complete with wedding dress, veil and bouquet.

Often marked by a simple wooden cross we passed graves along the side of the road. Once in a blue moon dirt roads branched off to a cattle station, mine or redundant WWII airfield, but for the most part the bush was miles upon miles of gasping savannahs.

Diamond yellow road signs warned drivers of Kangaroos, Horses and Cattle.
Occasionally we caught glimpses of wildlife, soaring Wedge Tailed Eagles, Running Eagles and crows looking for carrion, often unlucky flattened Roos or reptiles. As we ventured closer into the red centre wandering steers became the road kill of choice. The cattle ranches are so large they don’t fence them. These beasts blow up with decaying gas under the hot sun and then explode. If the bodies are not dispersed by the Dingos the bones and hide remain visible for many months. Once we spotted a lone Emu crossing the road (I don’t know why…ha ha!).

Sarah had downloaded a copy of the international best seller ‘101 Campervan Tips’. Using this as our Bible we followed its common-sense advice. One tip we heeded was to refuel whenever there was the option. It was regularly 250km plus between points of interest, and you never knew if the next garage had fuel, so we kept our tank full. Unleaded petrol ranged from $1.54 to $2.20 per litre. Blue road signs encourage drivers to take a break with punchy slogans such as “Rest, Revive & Survive”, “Drowsy Drivers Die”, “Survive this Drive” and “Take a Spell”.

Our seclusion meant that the radio didn’t pick up any stations. To pass the hours we would read to each other. Sarah provided entertainment in the form of newly invented games and over-enthusiastic singing. Chris was grateful that she’d also thoughtfully downloaded from Radio 4 episodes of “Great Lives”. Our knowledge of Dylan Thomas, Rasputin, Oscar Wilde, Dr Livingston, George Orwell, Kristy McColl, Gerald Durrell and Winston Churchill was significantly enhanced.

Looks like this guy overshot a little

....and on and on and on.....

The explorer John McDouall Stuart is presumed to have carved the initial S on this tree on 25th May 1862 during his successful journey from Adelaide to Darwin 1861-2

...and on and on and on...

Its amazing what you find in the middle of the desert

Just a tiddler this road-train - only 3 trailers

One of the many telegraph stations established by the British in the 1860s following John McDouall Stuart's overland route, finally linking South Australia to the UK via Darwin and Singapore

Sarah's turn at the wheel

Livestock crossing

Maybe Sarah should have swerved for this one?!

There are apparently over a million wild camels in Australia, introduced by the first explorers to cross huge expanse of desert some escaped and have now thrived. They have started selling them back to the middle east but generally they also cull them as they do a lot of damage and have no natural predators

The iconic sight of an Australian windmill, used all over the country for pumping groundwater into storage tanks

 Why did the Emu cross the road...?....and make us brake!

The Ghan railway line intertwines with the highway and runs parallel for hundred of kilometres at times

Chris's turn at the wheel

It's amazing what animals they do have in Australia!!

A wild kangaroo bounds out of the bushes

Tiny these termites...apparently!