*jack kerouac, on the road
I spent my last night on the farm sleeping on a mattress under the stars. The sun set and the full moon rose simultaneously that evening. The yard was radiant with soft blue moon light. Birds chattered away all night, like a school girl slumber party. I was woken rather abruptly the next morning when Otje, the spitfire kelpie puppy, vaulted herself onto my chest and dropped her soccer ball on my face. After buckwheat pancakes, coffee and home made orange syrup, we all piled into the car and spent the day at the beach in Esperance. Then, I took a bus to Kalgoorlie where I caught the train to Adelaide.
The train feels fragile as we rattle across the Nullarbor Plain, as though the great Never Never is going to eat it. I think I’m beginning to grasp the term “Never Never” – another Australian colloquialism for the outback. They say you never want to go there, but once you’re there you never want to leave. It’s pull is strangely and inexplicably intoxicating. As I’ve said before, there is something really beautiful about all that empty space.
Signs of life are few and far between. Two wedge tailed eagles dance their swooping dance. Someone points out a dingo running in the distance. There is nothing but desert and scrub and impossible blue sky as far as the eye can see. The train conductor comes on the PA system occasionally, perhaps as an antidote to his boredom, and shares little factoids. He tells us that the section we are currently hurtling through is called the Forest. Not ironically, but after a former Prime Minister.
A backpacker around my age strikes up conversation. He is a Russian Jewish Canadian, in Australia for the second time. He gives me a Paulo Coelho book. Over the course of our lazy and looping conversation – the kind that only happens when you’re trapped in travel – I notice a streak of vitriol in his overall casualness. He calls himself an asshole three times. I decide to take his word for it, give him the book I’ve just finished reading and make my excuses.
The only stop in our thirty hour journey is an abandoned railway station. The conductor tells us as we approach that there used to be forty people living here but now there is only a family of five and a few condemned buildings. It doesn’t feel like a ghost town, it feels like a void.
In Adelaide I set about finding an opal for my mother’s birthday. The opal is the Australian national stone and a symbol of endurance. How apt. Adelaide was the starting point of Charles Stuart’s expedition to traverse the country bottom to top and find an inland sea. There was no sea to be found and he nearly died, but he was the first European explorer to successfully bisect the country. To me he epitomizes that fascinating quality in some people where extreme challenge ignites a fierce devotion, a single minded near lunacy. I’m tempted to put off my Melbourne plans and head up the Charles Stuart Highway, or The Track, but I don’t. I’ve had it in my head for months that I want to be in Melbourne; it’s become one of those travel benchmarks. So, I accept a lift offer from an ad on gumtree (Australia’s answer to Craigslist), a sort of virtual hitching for the girl with no hitchhiking buddy, and hit the road in an air conditioned sedan driven by a young Aussie ski bum. A drifter-looking character sleeps in the back the entire way. He buys us a round of beer when we get there and tells us about the yacht he owns in Bali.
A random Aussie I met in Esperance offered up the couch in his share house, the Happy House, if I ever came to Melbourne. In actual fact I’m sleeping in the closet, which I’ve dubbed Narnia. The Happy House is a shifting haven for students, travelers, musicians, drifters and hippies. The turnover isn’t as high as a hostel but it’s got that transient quality. It’s conducive to quick new friendships and sleep deprivation. The door is always open, quite literally. Half the time the front door is left flung wide open and the draft curls through the hallway, rattling doors. The front verandah is littered with drunken and hangover relics: empty beer bottles, pizza boxes, cigarette butts, a squashed sombrero and a stolen street sign that reads: PEDESTRIANS WATCH YOUR STEP. The house rules are thus: Remember that there is a reason for every season – there is a time to party, a time to sleep, a time to chill and a time to crack the doof. Oh, and if you leave dirty dishes in the sink, they will be smashed by “Ramsey” – the drunken alter ego of the lease holder. I am welcomed graciously and prescribed Australian pop culture films and TV series (the castle; summer heights high), which elucidate the charming Aussie penchant for taking the piss out of themselves.
The house mates and I emerge out of the club where we danced and sweat and lost ourselves for hours into the trembling grey morning and wander into a nearby park. Tall purple hibiscus shudder in the early light. It smells of rain. We have twisty conversations about Catholic guilt, poverty, travel and violence. Trendy people glide by on single gear bicycles, looking unaffected. Pedestrians pour from everywhere, coffee shops and boutiques seethe, tram lines crisscross over head like unlit Christmas lights. I’m under dressed and under accessorized; I don’t have my city armor anymore. I feel hemmed in.
By the time we return to the Happy House, I’ve caught a chill so I tuck myself into Narnia and try to find sleep as electronic music pulses through the walls. I wake with the urge to move on, to return to open spaces. The road is singing to me again. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about intuition and trusting myself. So I decide to let my relentlessly itchy feet point the way. I’m grateful for this lifestyle, even though it has its ups and downs. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to follow your feet.
“I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rich with possibility”
~ Into The Wild