Crossing the Continent: Day 3

I’m traveling with people who have this strange idea the world isn’t fucked yet. Or they’re aware that is it, but don’t want to go down without a fight. Or they’re holding on to some tiny glimmer of hope that if they keep pushing and improving things in small increments, a pinnacle will be reached, a tipping point, and everyone will stop and do it better. Or maybe they just don’t want to be complicit. As little as possible, anyway.

They see everything in terms of what’s wrong with the world; they see everything good in terms of the way it is being eaten away by the bad. Crucially though, they’re part of that small minority who can hold a perspective like that and somehow not become completely overwhelmed and give up on the spot. Instead, they dedicate most of what they are to trying to change what they don’t like, which could either be considered extremely admirable or extremely foolish, depending on how you look at it.

I’m careful around them, especially at first. They’re activists, the sort that wear their causes on badges on their backpacks and are careful with gendered language and spray-paint the Anarchist A around the place and base their food choices on their politics. The sort that drive me to generalisation. I knew groups of people like them when I was living in Melbourne, who I ended up having some serious run-ins with while I was editing the Melbourne Uni student paper Farrago, and who it turns out G and H both know.

My experience means I’m able to avoid that sort of conflict with G and H, though it also feeds into my uncertainty about the trip, especially at the beginning. I know to be careful of what I say, the viewpoints I express. Their viewpoints and the way these dictate their conduct are their most highly valued assets and disagreeing can make things difficult. The use of language is important, the implications in sentences. Their sense of humour does not include irony, or parody, or anything straying from the realms of political correctness. However, they are also extremely diplomatic – every decision is a decision of the whole, I am often asked if I am comfortable with this thing or that plan of action. By day three, we’ve relaxed around each other and get along well, but there’s a rift there that will never entirely be breached. Especially, I think to myself, when they get to Melbourne and talk to their Melbourne Uni mates about how we edited Farrago back in 2008.

The transition from desert to civilisation comes in stages. Ceduna is the first town we’ve seen that consists of more than a roadhouse in two days. The shift in density takes some adjusting to. We surrender up our apples and oranges to a bright quarantine guard who clips his sentences and checks our cooler but nothing else. He lets us keep our carrots, which we had been furiously trying to get through before the checkpoint. We drive through.

The town is sleepy and overcast. People watch us as we trawl through the place in search of a non-roadhouse breakfast. Down by the jetty, fisherman in waders stand waistdeep in the mudflats and I pull my jumper tighter, abandoning my intention to swim. It’s too early, I say to myself in justification, too cold. The tide’s too far out. We arm ourselves with sweet coffee and greasy food and keep going.

In Iron Knob we get reception for the first time. I get five messages. I remark on the beauty of the place – the stark red on green of it – and G mutters something about it only being beautiful if you don’t face in the direction of the knob itself, which has been gutted by mining.

By Port Augusta we’re dealing with speed limits and traffic lights and the exchange of distance for proximity. We stop at a service station to refuel and make phone calls. It’s raining as I pace the carpark. I call Geoff and we’re bantering from the first sentence, though we haven’t heard each others’ voices in more than a year. Sally is bubbly and disapproving as ever. Ryan, who lives in Adelaide, is surprised to hear from me and keen to catch up that night, despite the short notice, and I detect no sign of bad blood in his voice. It’s good to talk to them. I start really looking forward to getting to Melbourne.

Adelaide is low and unremarkable. It feels strange to be part of streams of traffic. H navigates but we miss the turnoff and get lost in suburbia for a while – house upon house, picket fences, driveways bristling out like bookmarks. Eventually, G’s friend’s place is identified and pulled into and we fall out of the van and into the rainy Adelaide evening. Soon we’re sitting eating homemade dahl in deckchairs in the kitchen, then drinking cold beer in the half-furnished living room. We take turns to shower. I wash and brush my hair, soap the sweat and desert and van smell from me, change my clothes. Melbourne’s so close now – just there. Tomorrow.


3 Responses to “Crossing the Continent: Day 3”

  1. 1 Hilary April 8, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Great writing man.

  2. 2 Gerry April 8, 2011 at 11:28 am

    Beautifully written. I could hardly tear my eyes away, even as my boss wandered in.

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