Almanac Roadtrips – To Uluru: Part 1. “It’s working!”

This is the first part of E.regnans’ five-part story about his family trip to Uluru.

Continues at:
Part 2 – Bordertown to Port Augusta: “Does it have a pool?”
Part 3 – Port Augusta to Cadney Park Roadhouse: Fried egg
Part 4 – Cadney Park Roadhouse to Alice Springs: Compelled
Part 5 – Alice Springs to Yulara; around Uluru: Right here

==

 

 

“…the past is in us, and not behind us. Things are never over.”
Tim Winton, The Turning

 

==

Day 7.

Sunrise. We arrive at the carpark built to access the Mala walk at sunrise. Red gravel crunches under tyres; tyres alongside this mighty rock known as Uluru. So close we could touch her. We touch her.

 

“Whoah.”

 

“So many flies!”

 

Flies crawl and buzz all over us. Into ears, into nostrils. Desert oaks stand sentry across the plain; dull grey, thirsty. Dry soil the colour of rust lies in every direction.

 

Six days ago we drove out of Melbourne. Today we walk the base of Uluru.

 

“Let’s go.”

 

==

 

There is something magical about Uluru. And there is something magical about a wide open road. Big ideas and small jostle, pop, grow. Others fall away. In the absence of traffic, in the absence of smartphones, of conversation, of inputs, the human mind is free to wander. Brexit. Toxic masculinity. Populist politics. The miracle of oyster sauce. Warne or MacGill? Thoughts spread tendrils. Climate change. Ocean pollution. Deforestation. Where to stop for lunch. Education. Indigenous Australians. The Lorax.

 

==

 

In bygone eras, Trinity and I each twice made the epic drive from Melbourne to Uluru. In the beginning, during the prehistoric Unencumbered Era of youth and independence, each of us chose to drive it with mates. In those days Trinity and I were yet to meet (“Mum, who did you go with? What was he like? Did you like him more than you like Dad?”) My first visit occurred in the opening gasps of January 1995. I was one of three uni students to have optimistically planned to drive a 1969 HK Kingswood from Melbourne to Darwin – up the guts and down the east coast. We naively believed that the trip would take the best part of our three-month summer holidays. (It’s a big country).

 

We pitched our tent at Uluru that early January, having earlier pitched it in the back paddock of the Jervis Bay pub, the Wilpena Pound camp ground (for Christmas) and alongside Streaky Bay (for New Year’s Eve). We were 19, 20 and 20 years old. And despite written and polite requests to do the contrary, we were each sufficiently both ignorant and entitled to willingly join the throng and climb Uluru one sunny morning; rudely climbing the rock with our privileged whitefella feet.

 

Nine years later, in September 2004, Trinity and I visited Uluru together in our brief Double-Income-No-Kids Era; en route to spending a year in Darwin; driving up with whatever possessions we could stuff into (or onto) our 1993 Subaru Liberty wagon. Including a TV. And two bicycles. In the Top End, we eventually rented a flat in Fannie Bay; where on any given trip to the toilet one could never rule out a (very) close encounter with green tree frogs. At Uluru we camped.

 

Uluru holds memories and Uluru and holds spirit. How that can be I’m not sure. But I’m sure that it does. Purely as a physical specimen, devoid of overlaid meaning, the size, the colour, the shape, the bulk, the sheer unlikelihood of the rock are staggering. As a landmark she defies easy description.

 

Now deep within our Raising Children Era, all these years and these growing of buds later, Trinity and I each maintain and share a sense of wonder for Uluru. We also share an unspoken and solemn respect for the path of driving to Uluru; a path of both hope and of fear; a path of both encounter and of loneliness; a path of external yawning expanse and of internal echoing questions; a path of past and a path of future. A path of present. On the Stuart Highway, the road from Port Augusta to Darwin, there is nothing and there is everything.

 

“Beauty! Let’s go!”

 

==

 

My place is Melbourne. I was born in Fitzroy as a white-skinned Australian, whose four grandparents lived in Melbourne, Australia. Today I live less than 5km from the place of my birth; each work day I pass within 250m of it. And while I have travelled and lived briefly elsewhere, each time it has been by choice. Melbourne is my home. Australia is my home.

 

 

==

 

This trip will be traversed in two vehicles; first a motorhome, a Winnebago, powered by Mercedes Benz. We collect the truck from a rental outlet in Tullamarine at 10am Saturday, agreeing to deposit her in Alice Springs by 10am Wednesday. That is roughly 2,300km to the north west. The second vehicle will be a small car; a Toyota Corolla; a one way hire from Alice Springs to Yulara. Flights out of Yulara are booked for the following Saturday morning.

 

Parameters are set.

 

==

 

Day 1. Melbourne to Bordertown. 459km.

A motorhome is a tin shed on wheels. It is no sportscar. Indeed, this motorhome manoeuvres much like a tin shed on wheels. We are about three kilometres into our trip, on Bell Street, Pascoe Vale (“watch out for the pole!”), when it emerges that this brick is too wide for comfortable city driving. Only after a hair-raising tour around Melbourne’s Western Ringroad, do we locate and settle in to a regular breathing pattern on the Western Highway towards Bacchus Marsh.

 

The diesel engine whirrs.

 

None of us suffer any illusion that we sit in anything other than a tin shed on wheels, powered by a spectacular internal combustion engine. She roars. Four of us sit in this obnoxiously large, loud, high van; more truck than car. Two in the cab, two sitting across from one another at a folding dinner table-cum-double-bed. Playing cards slide across the table.

 

==

 

Somehow, significance of place takes hold of us. What does childhood summer mean to you? Where do your memories land? What is the backdrop to your important moments in your life? Without realising it, this trip with our buds is a tour of something important to Trinity; something important to me. What that thing is remains unclear. Maybe it is place. Maybe it is the time spent together. Maybe it is being able to later look back on this time together.
As Trinity says of camping: “the preparation is shit, the packing up is shit, being there is alright… but the memories are brilliant.”

 

==

 

Dull grey basalt plains of western Victoria roll under us. We’re finding our groove after a late getaway. And we’re remembering our shared history along the track.
“Remember when we stayed at Ballarat and Bud Yum you had a broken arm?”
“Remember when we camped at Mt Buangor and you tied Frankie in a tree, Bud Oon?”
“Remember camping at the Grampians?”

 

And there they are; the Grampians; rising out of the plain. I’m momentarily awash with memories: Year 8 school camp, family holidays as a child, family holidays as a parent. A field camp with as a Geography and Botany undergrad, sampling transects of banksia-dominated bushland, identifying species composition and changes to that composition in landscapes burned at various times in the past. Identifying my best way forward through the social milieu; of young men on the tear, of fiercely independent young women. All of those experiences loom in my mind as the mountains themselves loom on the western horizon. What did I know? What did I miss? Will we ever know?

 

Here is the turn-off to Stawell. Stawell and the Gift; the legendary footrace. I have no first-hand connection to the Stawell Gift. But I’m aware of it. Awareness has grown through Dips O’Donnell and through The Footy Almanac community. So we pull in to Stawell for a break (chocky milk, toilet paper). And we visit the oval, talking Easter, talking The Gift, and we park the truck and we walk onto the oval and we talk racing and next logical step is to each enact the parts of Stawell Gift runners. We make it up. We dial up Cathy Freeman’s astonishing handicap race from 1996 on YouTube; we watch it sitting next to the oval. We talk about Cathy Freeman.

 

 

 

“Here she comes!”

 

“Incredible!”

 

Building meaning.

 

Pushing west, a warning light appears on the dash about 40km out of Nhill. Reserves in our fuel tank are dwindling. Tension theatrically builds (“I hope we make it”) until we come across a servo, where we top up with 70 litres. We press on (Here’s the state border! Let’s stop for a photo!”) to Bordertown for the night.

 

==

 

“Do you guys have plans for summer?” A conversation stone kicked along the ground in the lead up to Christmas. Usually it’s asked in a spirit of curious friendship.

 

“Oh yeah! We’re driving a motorhome to Uluru.”

 

“In summer?!?” Usually that part is said in utter incomprehension.

 

“Ha. Yeah… we tried to find the very hottest and most uncomfortable conditions possible.”

 

[Laughs all round]

 

“You might find them.”

 

==

 

We used to be regular summer beach campers. Regular campers at a regular beach. Until this year. Until the dissolving of previous arrangements. And a large part of me misses that arrangement. Maybe I mourn the loss of summer camping. Summer camping was an annual staple of my childhood. And until now, it has been a staple for my children, too. Maybe I want it back. Maybe I don’t know how to get it back. Maybe I don’t want it back. Maybe the only way is forward.

 

On we go; making up a life.

 

==

 

We’re into it. Trinity is into it, playing to her strengths. Booking a motorhome, accommodation, a flight. We’re (roughly) mapping it out. “What do you reckon? Five days? Ten? Howabout a week?”

 

==

 

We’re into Bordertown caravan park after office hours and we’re setting up home. We will repeat this exercise three more times at three distant locations. And here on Night One, we have a problem: the roof-mounted air-conditioner simply will not work. We cannot turn it on. Tension rises like a tide as we struggle with the electricals (“Is something wrong with the remote?”). Why do the lights and TV work, but not the microwave? (“Something must be wrong with the remote.”) What is wrong this air conditioner? (“Did you check the switchboard?”) For of all the appliances thought necessary for our drive into the desert, air-conditioner tops the list.

 

In caravan park life, help (and hindrance) is never far away. I explain the situation to Old Mate set up next to us. He’s from the Adelaide Hills, returning home following a trip to Melbourne (“We stay in the Coburg caravan park when we travel to Melbourne”). He graciously agrees to look over things.

 

“I’m not much chop at these things, but maybe we can work it out together.”

 

We’re at Step One (“let’s start at the start”), plugging in the power cord to the power pole.

 

“Ahh. Are you sure that the power is turned on? Perhaps try flicking that switch.”

 

I flick the switch. From inside the van, Trinity calls: “It’s working!”

 

Old mate and I share a knowing look.

 

“I won’t mention this to anyone, if you don’t.” he laughs.

 

We barbecue on the camp facilities, we drink cups of tea, we sit in camp chairs. There is nothing wrong in the world. Conversation leads logically to a game of musical chairs.
We are away. We are in Bordertown.

 


 

Continues at:
Part 2 – “Does it have a pool?”
Part 3 – Fried egg
Part 4 – Compelled
Part 5 – Right here

To read more David Wilson (aka E regnans), CLICK HERE:

 

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About David Wilson

Living is easy with eyes closed. Noodling away at The Footy Almanac since 2013. Twitter: @e_regnans

Comments

  1. E.r.- Have been looking forward to this now for some time and was most pleased when I saw the link appear in my inbox this morning. Such a great combination of road-trip, memoir, and family story. All qualities I enjoy in a piece. The sense of distillation is superb.

    A big yes to: As Trinity says of camping: “the preparation is shit, the packing up is shit, being there is alright… but the memories are brilliant.”

    I’ve done countless driving trips to Melbourne and a few to Sydney and Queensland but not one through the middle. I’m again inspired to do this as well as one from Chicago down to New Orleans via Nashville and Memphis. Thanks to you I’m now more alert to the limitations of the motor-home!

    Really anticipating the next parts. Thanks so much.

  2. Brought back lots of memories, David. My own road trips around Australia: across the Nullabor when still a dirt road; up the west coast to Broome and then Darwin; down from Darwin to Alice but unable to get to Uluru because of blocked roads; across to the top end of Qld; down the east cost to Melbourne, and so on. Still not been to Uluru. Look forward to the next reading.

  3. E.regnans says

    Hi Mickey, hi Jan.
    Thanks for writing.

    All hail the mighty road trip.
    The motorhome was fine but like all hybrid devices suffered from the legacy of the Swiss Army knife in that it is probably unreasonable to expect functional excellence in more than one function.
    As a family car it made a great hotel room.
    As a hotel room it made a great family car.

    But I’m at the “memory” stage of this trip- so the motorhome was totally brilliant.

    The experience and novelty of it were wonderful.
    “Where shall we park it? Who can find the flattest site in the Bordertown caravan park?

    Pretty happy to make it to Bordertown without major incident.

  4. Superb ER. Looking forward to the next chapters. Uluru is special. Very special. As special as any cathedral I’ve ever been in. Both portray that incredible feeling of enormity and power (a natural power rather than a destructive power), and both also exude humility and spirituality. There are definitely voices and spirits in the rock.

    Don’t beat yourself up for past indiscretions (like climbing the rock). Its too easy to judge actions from different times and different perspectives. Back then things were different. Not worse, just different.

    Glad you got to stroll (sorry, run!) down the Gift track. Love your high knee lift. I also love the old grandstand as the back drop for the photo. She’s a piece of my childhood. Rusted into my memories.

    I was there when Cathy Freeman ran that amazing race. It was unbelievable. And I don’t mean unbelievable in the modern sense (like a cheap phone deal), I mean UNBELIEVABLE. I remember when she ran across the line I was gasping for breath too. I reckon the whole crowd held their breath and felt a little bit of her exhaustion. It was quite something to see. An American bloke called John Smith did the same thing in the 70s (if not off scratch he was very close to it?). I was a very young boy. I sticks with me to this day. superb athlete. The belief these athletes have! How they conquer exhaustion! Incredible.

    What’s around the next corner?

  5. By the way I hate to break it to you but I think you may have missed the actual track. There is a mistaken belief that the Stawell Gift is run up the middle of the ground, but it actually cuts across from, say, fullback to the half forward flank, finishing close to the grandstand boundary line. You’d better go back and do it again.

  6. E.regnans says

    Dips – you WERE THERE for C Freeman’s run?
    What an experience that must have been.

    Thanks for setting me right on my stroll.
    I was surprised to spot semi-permanent signage at the “START end” and the “FINISH end”.
    Maybe there’s scope for an Almanac Lunch and associated handicap sprint in Stawell.
    Or at the Brunswick Street Oval.

  7. I love a road trip. Have done too many to count,
    but none quite like this one, e.r.
    Looking forward to you sharing the rest of this journey.

    “On we go, making up a life”
    Yes, indeed.

  8. ER – happy to dash around the Brunswick Street oval. That’s where my old man did most of his training.

    Then lunch at the NFA

  9. Rulebook says

    OBP love the line did you like him more than dad ! Yes I would have been v nervous that initial drive still in
    Melbourne looking forward to reading re the whole adventure

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