Moving on down from Broome. It’s about 620km down to Port Hedland – a pretty comfortable drive. Just as well, because there’s not much to see. We’re back to flat scrub as far as the eye can see. Round about the half way mark, we reach Sandfire Flats roadhouse. Gee, that brought back memories. I was there in 1975, just before Gough Whitlam was sacked (Australian politics, folks, please ignore if you don’t get the reference).
Back then, the road to Broome was unsealed. It was a wide, red-dirt track riddled with pot holes and the trip from Port Hedland was wearisome in the extreme, especially in a bog-basic land cruiser with roll-down windows air con in the breathlessly hot November days leading up to the Wet. Covered in red dust, we rolled into the road house about 6pm, intending to eat a hot meal and then go off to the Eighty Mile Beach to camp for the night. My companion, who I’ll call Steve (not his real name) and I staggered into the dining room, having dodged the (mainly black) locals in the rudimentary bar, where the air was blue with profanities, body odour and beer fumes.
We sat down and waited for a while, searching the walls for some sort of a menu. A girl aged maybe late teens appeared at the table and giggled at us.
“Um. Can we see the menu?” Steve asked.
She giggled. “There’s mutton. With vegetables.”
Steve and I exchanged a glance. This ‘waitress’ was either pissed, or flying high on dope. “Is there anything else?” I asked.
She giggled, shaking her head. “Nope.”
Well, what do you do? We ordered mutton and vegetables for two. After a short wait, two plates arrived, stacked high with greasy meat floating in congealing fat, soggy potatoes and overcooked frozen peas and carrots. Steve ate his and some of mine. But he couldn’t stomach the toilet. He came back to the table rolling his eyes. “It’s disgusting,” he said. “I’d rather risk a bush.”
Camping on the Eighty Mile Beach was very much better. I remember lying on my back counting satellites passing overhead in a magnificent Southern starscape. The stars fairly blazed in a mild night. The following morning we went out to the edge of the advancing tide. It lapped at our heels as we walked back to the beach.
Back to 2013, the toilet is clean, the sandwiches are a reasonable cost but (needless to say) the landscape is much the same. But now we’re heading South, you can see the blush of spring. . There’s been some rain here, too. The river beds contain large pools, which isn’t the norm up here at this time of year.
If anybody’s interested in what we do to amuse ourselves on these long hauls, we listen to news radio – when we can get a clear signal. Very often we can’t – another minus for the new car. An aerial in the back window is fine in the city – not so hot in the outback. We can listen to a CD, or plug in the iphone. But the iphone reception isn’t good. Many tracks jump. “I spy” isn’t a good option in these parts. But we do buy newspapers each day, and do the crosswords. I write and call out the clues while Pete drives. Keeps the mind busy.
So here we are at Port Hedland, which basically ships ore from the Pilbara iron mines to Japan, China and India. It’s red, industrial and not very picture-skew. So tonight is a shower and a bed. Tomorrow, I might have something a bit more interesting to show you. Stay tuned, Mouseketeers.