The Nullarbor is a vast desert plain that separates Western Australia from the rest of the country, and the road that cuts through it is called the Eyre Highway, after the first European to manage the crossing – Edward John Eyre.
An Englishman who sailed to Sydney to make his fortune, and succeeded, Edward was only 24 when he set off across the unknown. Departing from Streaky Bay on 3rd November 1840, with three Aboriginal guides and his friend John Baxter, they reached the head of the Great Australian Bight on 2nd March the following year. Not even half way through the journey however, and they were already running out of water. Food was in short supply, and before long they had to eat one of their horses.
Still, worse was to come when two of the guides killed Baxter, and ran off with the supplies. Edward and his Aboriginal mate, Wylie, struggled on, having to eat their one remaining horse along the way.
Eventually they crawled into Esperance, and were lucky enough to sight a French whaling ship. They were taken on board to recuperate, and finished their trek at King George’s Sound, on 7th July 1841. Almost 2,000kms from beginning to end. Phew.
In a Landcruiser, with my family, 100 litres of water and food for a week, I was hoping the journey would be a little less arduous. In fact now that we’re on bitumen all the time, there’s no real challenge to the driving at all. On the other hand, I’ve never really crossed a desert before, and it’s still very remote. So, we’ll see how it goes.
Instead of heading straight along from Esperance, we drove two hours up the road to Norseman, and stayed the night there first. That meant it was about 1,200 km’s to Ceduna, which is generally considered as the other side of the Nullarbor.
Up early, quick breakfast, and off we go. Finally the weather was nice again. Back to the 30 degrees we’d gotten so used to up north. But it wasn’t like a desert, at all.
At this end of the highway you’re in the Great Western Woodland, which is the largest temperate forest in the world! Another part of the country I never even knew existed, until I was right in the middle of it.
An hour or so in, and we arrived at the longest straight in Australia. Not that the other stretches were exactly full of twists, but hey. The entire highway is so straight that the Royal Flying Doctors use it as a runway, on four or five occasions along its length.
We stopped and made lunch at a roadhouse in Balladonia, which purports to have a population of about 9, depending on whether you’re coming or going 😀
They had a wee museum out the back, including remnants of the US space station, Skylab, that fell to earth here in 1979. Nothing that exciting has ever happened before, or since. I can guarantee it.
Another long stint, and we arrived at the Mandura Hotel. We’d held out a bit longer for this place as it had a pool. Katie and I jumped into the reception, got the keys for a room and discovered the pool was out of order. Katie was gutted, but when I saw it, I wasn’t so disappointed.
The room was disgusting too. I had a beer after dinner and was in bed as early as I could manage. Not wanting to spend a minute longer in the place, we were up at the crack of dawn and offski, as soon as was humanly possible.
Five minutes on we flew past a guy who was walking down the road, pushing a trolley! One of those you see removal men picking up filing cabinets with, but this fella had all his gear on it instead. I couldn’t actually believe what I was seeing, so by the time I thought of pulling over to talk to him, we were too far past.
The Bunda Cliffs were next, which is where the Australian continent begins to lift out of the ocean, and for the next couple of hundred kilometres, we would periodically turn off the highway, reach the edge of the country and gaze in awe at thundering waves far below.
Well I would. The girls only got out of the car once, and the walk was too far for Erin sometimes.
That night we stayed in a slightly nicer, shitey motel room, and the next morning Skye grabbed me by the face, looked earnestly into my eyes, and said “Daddy. Daddy daddy daddy, can you please, not ever, stop to take a photo ever again?”
Ha! Sorry sweatheart, can’t promise you that.
We weren’t far from crossing into South Australia now, and shortly after that, we’d reach Ceduna. Woo hoo!
The Nullarbor crossed without a hitch. Just a few crappy motel rooms, long hours in the car, but not really that bad at all. And not really that much of a desert either.
Despite the name, derived from the Latin for ‘No Trees’, there was actually quite a lot of trees along the route too. It was a more interesting drive, I thought, than the long stretch from Cairns to Karumba, across the bottom of the Cape York Peninsula, or the drive through the Barkley Tablelands.
Anyway, almost done, when I noticed a few flashing lights approaching. They eventually morphed into a Police car that tore past, turned around and pulled me over. Fuck.
Ten km’s over the speed limit. $200 fine. Two points on the licence that fortunately won’t apply, because I have a NSW licence. Fuck, sake. One of the longest, straightest roads in the world, with hardly a soul on it, and I get done for speeding. Which I’ve hardly ever done on the whole freakin’ trip!
WA has not been kind on the old fine front.
Anyway, another stop at the border, a quick photo in-front of the Welcome to SA sign (sorry Skye) and in two shakes of a lambs tail, cruising along at exactly the speed limit, we pulled into the first place we saw in Ceduna – the Oyster Shack. Yippee! We’ve done it!
“Half a dozen oysters please. Two baby chino’s and a plate of chips.”