Almanac Roadtrips – To Uluru: Part 4. Compelled

This is the fourth part of E.regnans’ five-part story about their family’s trip to Uluru.
Read Part 1. Melbourne to Bordertown
Read Part 2. Bordertown to Port Augusta
Read Part 3. Port Augusta to Cadney Park Roadhouse


Day 4. Cadney Park Roadhouse to Alice Springs. 534km


We wake in the desert; pretty close to the geographical centre of Australia. Textbooks tell us that we are in the driest State of the driest permanently inhabited continent on Earth. Our eyes, our senses, tell us that this is no country to be taken lightly. We’re parked at Cadney Park Roadhouse, Stuart Highway, South Australia. Sunrise will arrive in an hour.


Outside this motorhome the air is still hot. Conditions of yesterday’s 47oC bake linger in the pre-dawn. Before our sun peeks over the flat, almost featureless horizon, before her first rays stab at saltbush, at red-orange ground, ambient air temperature already sits at 31oC. It is a summer heatwave in Australia. We head further into the Dead Heart.


Everyone is up. Last night we’d planned this.


“We’ll need to act like kangaroos. Get up early. Rest when it gets too hot.”


And click-clack-click, a double bed becomes a dining table. And switch-plug-switch, a tiny air-conditioner fitted to the motorhome roof and powered by alternating current is deactivated; replaced by an even tinier air-conditioner powered by direct current blowing through vents in the cabin dashboard. No breakfast, no grumbling. This is now a matter of awesome scale. The world feels as if it is baking. We are baking. The air is hot to breathe. Earthly comforts, earthly wants fall away.

Trinity is inspired by the hypnotic SBS TV “Slow Train” to record some of our progress. We are almost in the geographic centre of the continent; heading north. And watching closely for animals, for wandering cattle, in the stifling light of day. Even at the oblique, carving through a relatively thick band of atmosphere, these rays of sun pack a punch.



It astounds me to think that more heed is not paid to our environment. By politicians, sure. But by all people. Everyone.



“I am compelled into this country.”
Patrick White, Voss



Prior to our trip, back in Melbourne, we had joked about the expected heat. No one is joking now.

Sunrise over the Stuart Highway is glorious.

Around sunrise, extra attention needs to be paid to the driving. For at this time of day, we are much more likely to meet animals on the unfenced road; animals wandering around in the relative cool of the day. Roadkill litters the margins of the Stuart Highway. Indeed, today we rumble past several head of roadside cattle. Thankfully these cattle run away from the road.

Breakfast at Marla today, a roadhouse at the junction of Oodnadatta Track and Stuart Highway, where are served by a young European woman.

“What is she doing here?”


Our next landmark looms as the South Australia/ Northern Territory border.

“How about the flies?!”



And horses are found dead at a dried up central Australian waterhole and Tasmania experiences conditions and subsequent bushfires reserved usually for Victoria and enormous flooding rains drown far north Queensland and yet another massive fish death event occurs in the stagnant Darling River and Melbourne’s water supply catchments are aflame and the driest January on record is seen in Hobart and the hottest January on record occurs for Australia. And all of this follows the hottest December on record for Australia.




And it’s hot, yes it’s hot and we’re into the Northern Territory as 2000km clicks over on the trip meter and we’re stopped now at Kulgera for fuel at the first/last place in the Territory. This is the desert heatwave. The dead heart feels close. Soils reddening in this centre of our continent.

And it’s with glad minds that after a further few hours of grinding to the north that we clock the MacDonnell Ranges. Milk that we stored in the motorhome fridge is no longer fit for human consumption. And like the abrupt arrival of a slap in the face, we now are treated to topographic relief. Hills rise. We even see cliffs. This after half a continent of seabed flats. We’re into Alice Springs for a caravan park afternoon of drinking much water and swimming in much water and dreaming of much water.


“Dad, I feel dizzy. My head hurts.”

Alas, Bud Yum crashes with heatstroke. Thankfully we are off the road; we have access to everything that we need. We ply her with water, we lay her down, we keep her well out of the killer sun.

This will be our last night in the motorhome.



Day 7

We are maybe 30 metres into our walk; walking on a track which will take us right around the base of Uluru.
The track is 10km long.

National Parks advice is to carry water and to allow several hours.
Advice is also to be off the track before 11am. Heat exposure can be fatal.

So after months of anticipation, days of driving across this furnace of a continent and after being woken by alarm in order to reach the starting point at dawn (giving us the coolest possible conditions), we can Uluru is right there.

“Wow! She’s bigger than I remember.”

“Is she a she?”

“Good question. Hey there’s the old track up the rock. That’s where people used to climb Uluru.”

“Why would you climb it?”



Day 4

I’m at the Alice Springs caravan park camp kitchen, where the sun of early evening on my back feels like punishment. I’m joined here by a bloke who spent the afternoon with some difficult parenting (“I said GET DOWN!”). Here’s another bloke wearing the lightly burnt fair skin of a European visitor (Germany? Sweden?). We three each cooking meals in this prohibitive heat (pasta, pasta, snags). And keeping to ourselves.


It’s tough.
But soon our tribes will be fed.
Soon there will be dishes in the sink.


2321km in four days.

Trinity, Bud Oon and I walk up a small hill to observe sunset over the West MacDonnells. Sunset in this environment seems to uniquely offer a view both of the past and of the future. The very idea of time seems to break here in central Australia.

Upon our return to the van, under purple skies, Bud Yum abruptly bursts back to full and welcome health.




“Everything was normal and right. There were dishes in the sink and the sound of kids playing in the street and the trains passing smutty wind. Something had settled over the kitchen. Rose kept the colours inside the lines and all the patterns were proper, sensible and neat. Happiness. That’s what it was.”
Tim Winton, Cloudstreet


Marsupials cook in their own skins on days like this. I wonder about habitable days. What would happen if we were forced to endure an uninhabitable day? I guess just one would be enough.



Four wheels scare the cockatoos
From Kintore East to Yuendemu
The western desert lives and breathes
In forty five degrees

Midnight Oil, Beds are burning



Read Part 5. Right here.

About David Wilson

David Wilson is a hydrologist, climate reporter and writer of fiction & observational stories. He writes under the name “E.regnans” at The Footy Almanac and has stories in several books. One of his stories was judged as a finalist in the Tasmanian Writers’ Prize 2021. He shares the care of two daughters and likes to walk around feeling generally amazed. Favourite tree: Eucalyptus regnans.


  1. Terrific David.

    I reckon 43 degrees is the magic, or terrible number. Up to then it’s hot, but bearable. Once we hit 43 it goes up a gear and you can really start to taste the heat and it seriously affects your lifestyle. Back in February during a heatwave the forecast for Port Augusta was 49 and it got to the mid-forties by mid-morning. Checking the BOM website during the day I was silently and peversely urging it to 50, thinking I know this isn’t good, but if it’s going to get close we might as well see the bat waved at the crowd. It reached 49.5.

    The motorhome you used is up there with the Griswold’s Wagon Queen Family Truckster as my favourite road trip vehicles.

    In a novel bursting with great imagery, “the trains passing smutty wind” is a good ‘un.

  2. E.regnans says

    Thanks very much Mickey.

    Hells bells.
    Nothing good comes from a day of 49.5 degrees C.
    I think you can legitimately claim that as a half century (with rounding).

    As pissweak as it was, our air-conditioning was priceless.
    I’m about to settle in for another viewing of that meditative Stuart Highway footage.
    The lumbering cow always surprises me (as it did on the day of filming).

  3. Dunno about this Regnans bloke. Rambles a bit. But Jeez he’s got a good eye and ear and memory for a quote. For a lyric. Guess life is persisting through the boring bits to get to the quotes.

  4. Rulebook says

    OBP got to laugh re above,41.5 feels like,37.8 interesting to see who decides that.How crook was your colt ?
    Feels bloody hot reading !

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