Sunday, December 30, 2018

Ceduna - Australia Day Road Trip 2018

Heat wave. They say it may be 45 in Port Augusta. Oh, well.

The open road emerges onto the Adelaide Plains. From here, the traffic starts to thin out.By the time one reaches Dublin, it is country driving.Salt lakes, wheat and sheep, farms, ruins.

We stop at Port Wakefield for fuel and lunch. Its traditional. It’s remarkably cool as we step out of the car.

A cool change has blown in. But Pope’s Roadhouse is not what it used to be. It is scruffy and the old gals inside are humourless. The worst cup of tea and the worst toasted ham, tomato and cheese sandwich ever prove the point.

Green tomatoes? What’s that erky flavour? I toss most of my tough little toastie to a couple of optimistic seagulls which have been waiting patiently on a post. The unisex loo is pretty whiffy. B says his chicken wrap was lousy too. We do a lot of burping as we drive northwards.

Past Snowtown which can’t shake off the bodies-in-barrels reputation in B’s world view. There is much pondering the whys of that awful crime. Past Crystal Brook. Past Port Pirie. A distant glimpse of the Gulf.

The Flinders Ranges are beginning to rise. Saltbush. I love its blue. The car thermometer has been tracking changing temperatures. Hot again. Cool. Warming up again.

Mambray Creek. The hills keep rising. The road to Mt Remarkable. Horrocks Pass is over there. But what’s that bright light on the horizon? So bright. It looks like a floating flame. The closer we get, the brighter it glares, blinding. It is on the outskirts of Port Augusta. Bruce has decided it must be a mirrored solar power plant. We find a road leading in towards it and sure enough, he is correct. Sundrop. It’s a massive desalination market garden for Coles vegetables. Acreages of white hothouses. Incredible. Veggies in the desert. We are thrilled.

Dear old Port Augusta is quiet on a Saturday afternoon. It is hot.

Receptionist Rachel is efficient but not exactly fun. We are given Room 7 in the Joy Baluch section. It has a water view. Nice. We pop Chrissie, the chili plant, on the little patio. There are Aboriginal kids surging around on the wharf path. Going up and down. Noisy. Some with scooters. Every so often one of the lads darts over and conceals something in one of the plants beyond the spiked fence outside our room.

The Internet is slow but ok. We log in our various devices and unpack. We are very impressed by the breakfast menu. For $30 for two, they bring all the makings of a giant breakfast: eggs, bacon, tomatoes, toast, marmalade, yoghurt, milk, cereal, and even baked beans. We will have to do the preparation ourselves.

But they have run out of pool towels. The pool is so popular in the heat. The room is so cool my urge for a swim in a kid-busy pool drops away.

We go for a walk. The air is hot and heavy. The wharf path is wonderful, old sleepers and rusty rail lines interlaced like an art work. We come upon a little bay, with a beach muddy in the receding tide. Aboriginal kids are playing here. And we find a pink paved path which leads on and on and on along the narrow watercourse up here at the head of the Gulf.

We walk a while beside mangrove swamps and then cut across some prickly land to join the town streets and walk back to our Majestic Oasis hotel. The streets are very quiet. Music blasts from a hall where calisthenics seem to be happening. It is pretty much the only sign of life . We pop into Woolies. Here are the people. Shopping in the air conditioning. It is a fabulously well-provided store. I buy antiseptic mouth wash.

Back at the hotel we read for a while and snack with a glass of wine and then head to the Standpipe Hotel for an Indian dinner. It is absolutely superb. Dorber saltbush lamb slow-cooked curry, chicken vindaloo, vegetable sabti, salad, raita…

Contented we return to our Oasis and sit on our little patio watching the Aboriginal promenade and the lovely blue water before turning on the telly and repairing to our computers.

Day 2

I hear a noise in the night and get up to check if something fell. TV is softly still playing ABC News24. I pull the curtain back a bit and look outside. All is still. I return to bed,

Waking refreshed with Bruce fussing over the Oasis’s breakfast provisions - 4 large eggs, 2 tomatoes, a packet of bacon, small tin baked beans, toasting bread, cereal, juice, yoghurt - I head for the pool and do a bit of early aqua. It is lovely, although the water could be cleaner.

After a while two Aboriginal girls appear and ask me how to find room 23, then they are staying in room 23 then ask me if they can swim. I know they are not guests but I am riven about letting them swim. I mean, I don’t mind. Is it my place to kick them out? I am uncomfortable about that and they are cheeky darling girls, albeit talking to each other in their own tongue so I can’t understand. Anyway, I decide to call them my guests and to share the water with them as their host. They say they are up from Adelaide and they live in both Port Augusta and Adelaide. They say they often come to the pool.

They point out the security camera. They say that they swim until management turns up and then they run for it and jump the fence. Oh, the spiked security fence? No, it is really easy to get over, they laugh. All the kids do it. Some motel guests roll up for a swim and I decide it’s time for breakfast. The girls hop out and scarper.

I have a wonderful shower and sit down for a superb Bruce-cooked breakfast, feeling invigorated and refreshed and at one with the world. The paper has been left at the door and I sit on the patio a while reading it and talking to my friend Peter on the phone, watching the locals out dog walking and a man with a dog on the pontoon in the water.

Then I start packing for departure.

I reach for my backpack to get $5 to leave for the room girl.


No backpack.

It is gone.

My Calvin Klein backpack is not in the room. The car? Rising panic. Feeling sick in the stomach. Perhaps last night’s restaurant? Not likely for me, but there must be an explanation. They don’t answer the phone so we gun over there in the car. I go in with the manager and look around. Not there. It has been stolen. There is no other answer.

Return to Oasis and tell reception and ask to call the police. The girl says oh, that’s no good and gets the police on the phone.

The police are at our door in minutes. Brilliant. Tall, willowy and very beautiful female called Courtney and a charming fellow called Daniel. They examine the door and ask lots of questions. They say it is common. The local kids go up and down the rooms trying all the doors at night. They got ours open.

It had been tricky to lock. We had fiddled quite a bit getting it locked. It was loose and hard. There is a mark outside where a screwdriver could have been put.

They say I should have slept with the backpack beside me. Er, yes. But I thought we were locked in. Security fence. Gated by night. Door locked. Curtain drawn. The police said the backpack and wallet would be thrown away. The thieves were only interested in money. I had about $700 cash in the wallet; just heading off on a trip and all.

I also had all my credit cards, driver's license, health cards, seniors card, RAA card etc etc etc. Everything. My world in that wallet. The wallet I had dreamed of owning and which cost me far too much, not to mention the backpack of which I was so ridiculously proud. Oh, and all my keys. All the necessities. They could have had the bloody money…. I am in shock. I am devastated. I am furious. Bruce is cancelling my credit cards on the phone. Not easy on a Sunday. The police give me a report number and say they will be in touch.

I go back to Reception where there are now two receptionists who seem unsurprised and unmoved by my drama. Regrettable, it is regrettable. Things have been tough this month with a big mob of Aboriginals down from the north, they say. Turns out there have been three other burglaries. The girls are fatalistic. Almost ho hum. I note they have processed the credit card payment already. I note also that they make no offer on behalf of the hotel, no discount or free breakfast, not even an apology, come to think of it. We have loved this hotel. It is our third visit. We are appalled. Deeply distressed we make out way out of town abandoning our plans to pop in on the shops. We just want to be gone from here.

The drive south helps us to calm down.

This is one of the great drives of the country. Glorious saltbush country. Lovely scrubland. Long undulating straight roads. Surprising geological formations from time to time. We skip past Whyalla, although we have enjoyed visiting it in the past. We are not in a mood to be repeat tourists. We do stop in Cowell, however. I thought I was too upset and tense to eat but it is now late lunchtime and we are hungry. We buy petrol at a service station which sports a sign warning that snakes are out and about. Bruce wonders if this also means in the men’s room. He finds it snake free.

We drive into dear little Cowell and find no cafes but people eating at the pub. The old Hotel Franklin. I order fish and salad and a cup of tea. Bruce has a chicken Caesar salad. The food is lovely. We are watched by a seagull which seems to be panting in the heat.

Back on the great long road.

It’s a three and a half hour drive. No passing lanes. It is a dangerous road. Fortunately, it is not too busy. And it is so beautiful.

I set the cruise control and we just go for it. No stops. Just pace it all the way, loving the changing vegetation and the lush native shrubs. Very dry. Towards Port Lincoln it becomes cleared land, wheat crops. This is not so beautiful. We can see the sea and sandhills on the horizon before Lincoln wends into view.

We head straight to the Port Lincoln Hotel which is bopping with a band and happy hour. I explain to the receptionist that we have to use a different credit card. I have none any more. He is utterly shocked that this theft happened while we were in the room. He assigns us Room 603 and assures us we will be safe there.

Oh my, it is the best suite in the hotel with wonderful views. It is an expansive corner suite with dining and living area and also bed and bathroom area. A giant spa bath is behind a window. The outside windows look both ways down the bay and out to sea. And whichever way you look, there is the sea. Swoon.

We unpack and sit a while on our fabulous balcony before taking a walk around the town, stopping at Woolies to get a couple of provisions and a bottle of Turkey Flat rose which we open and drink on the balcony. We’ve decided on room service.

I order oysters to be told that because of the oyster shortage, I can’t get a dozen but have to have two half dozens which make the dozen $6 dearer. Huh? How does that work? Just give me oysters, please. I have come to eat Coffin Bay oysters in Port Lincoln. I also order a Caesar salad with prawns. The oysters are minuscule. Never saw such tiny oysters. But they are gorgeous and I wolf them down. There are no prawns in the prawn Caesar, just lots of chunky bacon which the dish description said was “bacon powder”. Hmm. I wolf it down anyway. Bruce has a big hamburger with the lot.

There is a massive TV which pivots to be watched from living room or bed. We nest in the living room and watch British crime then pivot the telly and watch tennis in bed. I can’t sleep no matter what I do. My head is wound up in the traumas of Invasion Day. I am still stewing with emotions.

Day 3

I’ve found restless sleep in the early hours but B is up with the TV turned to the living room for a big day of American football. He brings me coffee and I grope my way to wakefulness. This day was planned as a South Australian tourism sampler, a holiday day in gorgeous Lincoln. But I am sidelined with problems. Dammit.

I struggle with the lousy Internet trying to find our ways of replacing cards and then at 9 I get on the phone to have new credit cards sent out. B is a fixture when his footy is on. I go down alone to Sarin and have two perfect poached eggs and read the Tiser. Then I regroup, take B’s Visa card and head for the shops. Port Lincoln is a good town for shopping - and it has a lovely seafront main street. I buy a replacement wallet as if it is the most important thing in the world and then realise I have nothing to put in it.

I buy a cheap backpack. Then, when I find myself outside the DMV I queue for replacement driving licence paperwork and queue again to hand it in. A long wait twice but it is an efficient DMV and the two staff are gracious and attentive to everyone. I get a temp licence from them at a cost of $17.

Then I take B’s Visa card to the frock shop and try on a lot of clothes in some sort of pathological retail therapy attack. I buy several garments and later wonder if I will ever wear them.

I wander back to the hotel, loving the street art.

Bruce is still engrossed in the American football and snacking on nuts when I return to the hotel.I take my book and go down to Sarin’s where I have a rather offbeat Thai beef salad. Wait staff in Sarin’s is charming.

I love this hotel. I love it even more when we go down to the pool. It is deserted so I have the water all to myself for a good, long aquarobics workout. Bruce reads and sunbakes. So do I. Swim some more. Revel in the beauty of the bay. The blues, the blues… It is a wonderful pool. Later we walk down to the Chinese Peacock restaurant for its Eyre Peninsula Seafood special menu. It is really not a bit special. Prawns and kingfish drear. Lincoln is not a foodie town. We walk back around the shops. I’m in love with the statue of Matthew Flinders and his cat which has materialised in the main street.

Lincoln is a terrific town on many levels.

I try to shun the churning upset from my mind to get to sleep. I am underslept and extremely exercised. Tired. But tonight it is Bruce who is going over and over the details of the theft, what was wrong with the door that they got in ... The theft has been traumatic for both of us, as well as inconvenient. We reflect that, had Bruce not brought the spare car key, we would have been stranded...

But Port Lincoln and this lovely hotel are soothing us - and then, come misty sunset, there is a rainbow, a double one. Good omen.

Day 4

The wonderful Lincoln has given us late checkout for an added fee. We breakfast in Sarins and then make more phone calls about credit cards which have not quite worked out. They seem to have cancelled Bruce’s debit card in all the confusion and we have no card for cash.

We do a bit of basking on the balcony in the soft sun. I don’t want to leave this hotel. This room. It has been the tonic, the salve for the wound of Port Augusta.

But we have to keep moving. I am an Australia Day Ambassador and we have an important date in Ceduna - Australia Day.

We roll the luggage cart down the hall and head

out of town.

Past Coffin Bay turnoff, and north, north through a magnificent changing landscape. We’ve travelled it before and perhaps admire it even more on this new expedition. Salt lakes and coastline. Long straight undulating roads. We turn off at Cummin’s Memorial, left towards the dramatic cliffs and intense crashing sea. It is spectacular. There is even an “apostle” rock. B says it is every bit as good if not better than the Great Ocean Road seascape. And it is. This is stunning coastline. But it is also amazing

lakes…salty inland lakes. And fascinating earthscapes, little arid plants on rocky ground. Tiny wildflowers. Stubborn little shrubs.

We drive on through lovely native vegetation and farmland and find the little whitewashed cottage which was the Lake Hamilton Easting House in the 1850s, beautifully restored by the Caledonian Society. It is open for the public to wander though and admire. Geraniums flourish at the front door.

We’re ravenous by the time we hit Elliston where I performed my Australia Day duties three years ago. We remember that trip and the wonderful mayor Kym Callaghan. I’m wondering why I did not make contact with him. Kicking myself. Nowhere to eat in Elliston except the Saltwater cafe at the roadhouse now run by an Indian fellow who
manages to fry a couple of pieces of flake for us. We sit under a tree outside and picnic with our fish and a ready-to-eat salad I had bought in Lincoln. Onwards north on the long, rolling straight road.

Oh, there's Port Kenny, a settlement we hated on our last trip. We stopped there for lunch. It was a

dump and it was stinky like a sewer plant. The hotel only seemed to serve schnitzels and the smell put us right off. We drove away making jokes about how awful it was and, indeed, it has been a bit of a running joke ever since. This time we drove in and explored. Yes. It still stinks. It has a slightly sulphurous smell from the strange low-tide muddy, seaweedy flats. But these flats have
the most beautiful and rare colours. Ritzy Venus Bay is across the water in the distance. Port Kenny is the contrast, very humble but rather exotic. And it had fantastic bird life, silver and pac gulls soaring around us as we stopped the car by the boat ramp, fearless pelicans padding on the weedy sand…

We won't be joking about it any more. We rather like it.

Finally, we make it to Streaky Bay and roll in to the Motel and Villas where we loved staying before. Ingrid, the owner welcomes us and checks us in - to a motel room. No, No. I booked a villa. No, has it as a motel.

No no, I am sure. Do you have a villa? No. All gone. I am devastated. The motel room is tiny and stuffy and not where I want to spend two nights. I am despairing when Ingrid calls me back and says the woman who followed me into her office has offered to swap. She has a villa booked but is travelling alone and really does not need it. I am delirious with surprise and relief and delight and rush to meet the woman, Belinda, a tall and beautiful woman who seems to be a travelling salesperson dealing with baby products. I smother her in adoration and place Chrissie the chili plant on the patio table as we move into villa 5, which is just what I had thought I had booked.

We dash down to the shops and I buy wine and chocolate for Belinda and some provisions for us.

While B cooks his famous travelling spag bol, I have a sumptuous swim. Then we drink wine on our patio and have the trad spag with fresh chillis dinner followed by the Golden North Giant Twin bar which is provided free for guests. What a hospitable South Australians touch. Golden North is one of the prides of this state and its Giant Twin with dark chocolate is arguably the best ice cream bar in the world.

Thus content with sugar hit, we watch some tennis and go to bed - B to the twin room and me to the double which only has a queen. We like this arrangement. I can have telly on without worrying him. It’s a crummy telly but I love it and it seems to be playing old romance movies all night. I see one and then bits of several in another restless, weird and fretful night.

Day 5

A text from our cat-sitter, Deb,

wakens me just in time to see the most glorious blazing sunrise. She and the cat love each other. This is such a wonderful thing. We text chat a lot and swap photos. B cooks fried eggs and muffins and then I have a mighty swim at which I meet Don, Ingrid’s husband and a Scotsman and former chef. Theirs is a wonderful story. They met in Bulla and she brought him back to her home town where with a lot of hard work they have made a wonderful life. They ran the petrol station next door for years and bought this run-down motel
and built it up with villas and pool. They own quite a bit of property around the place in Streaky and have raised four children here, one in the services, one travelling, one helping here, and a last one still a kid. After much chatting over the chilli plant about the world and food and our lives, Don asked if we liked Gummy shark. The next thing, he brings us frozen fish that his son caught
plus curry sauce and rice and veg curry AND frozen local prawns. Suddenly we have Streaky Special dinner.

It is a lovely day, albeit B has been feeling a bit off with a roiling tummy.

We drive to the local foreshore for a walk in the

sun. It is not a great beach. The tide is out revealing an expanse of gritty quasi mudflats. Pelicans, ducks and gulls seem to like it. We walk its length and then out onto a spur around the mangrove swamps where a lovely clean stream runs into the sea. It is alive with tiny fish. We examine mangroves and their air roots, samphire and some sort of old wreck and commune with the
flock of pelicans, huge old birds which are not too afraid of us. They are used to camp ground fishermen and whenever one of the fishermen goes to the fish cleaning stand at the campground, the pellies congregate expectantly.

We sit for a while in the sun on our camp chairs contemplating the broad shallow waters, their

pale hues, the tidal patterns, the exoticism of this piece of coast...

Then, as good travellers, we had off to look at some other beaches and then pop into the shop for wine etc.

Finally, I hit the fish shop across the road from

the motel where the fishmonger cheerfully shucks half a dozen fresh local oysters for me. Heaven. This is what it is all about on the East Coast of SA - the best oysters in the world. Cowell, Coffin Bay, Streaky... These, oh, so fresh oysters are sublime.I pity Bruce that he is not an oyster soul.

The pool comes free of visiting children and I grab a second swim. We have a long, lingering dinner of gorgeous gummy shark. Watch tennis…

Day of 6

We beg late checkout but Ingrid and Don have to go to Port Lincoln and are hustling through the cleaning to get away.

We hustle, too. I grab a quick swim. We pack the car and are waving fond goodbyes by 10.

We head off to The Granites to see the still pool about which Don had told me. The drive is on dirt roads. The Rav4 is quite at home albeit this driver does not love the corrugations.

We meet a stumpy tail lizard crossing the road and stop to photograph it. Lots of vigorous hissing from said interrupted lizard exposing gawping gullet and long black tongue. A few klicks on we see another one crossing the road and then another one. This place is silly with stumpies crossing the road.

Then, suddenly a rail crossing, where there was no rail crossing. Turns out to be eccentric house out there in the wilds. What a view, though. It looked over the high cliff which is one of the coastal vantage points. Stunning deep drop to glorious blue yonder and rolling surf onto rocks and sandy bay.

The Granites is just around the corner, so to speak. We are surprised to find the parking area really busy. But it is a hot day and there are stairs onto this lovely beach. Surfers are out on the glorious blue sea getting really good rides on lovely even waves. And there is the still water - a lovely shallow valley amid the smooth rocks of the beach. There’s a family playing in it with a dog,
a golden lab, who is beyond dog happiness swimming and climbing rocks and swimming, his tail never stropping. It is a gorgeous sight.

On the road north, humming along the beautiful countryside, long scrub-lined roads straight but undulating, safe but treacherous, no passing lanes, then again not a lotof traffic.Caravans and boats. No road trains here today.

I reject the cruise control which Bruce so loves and recommends. I have never really liked it. I like to feel the car, to be in touch with it, to be touching it, to be one with it, to “drive” it. Hence, I can go into corners at sensible speeds and, when no one is looking on the wide open road, let the car fly. So I’m enjoying the drive. I’ve always loved to drive.

A turnoff to Perlubie. We have never been here. Into a sort of settlement and then off behind the houses to a dirt road and sandhills protecting a beach. There’s a trail onto the beach. We don’t take it. We park and walk. Then an untidy man with a huge caravan and a big touring ute there with its bonnet propped open calls to me. "Just a mouse, he calls. A little tiny mouse. A tiny mouse has destroyed my electrics. I can’t fix it. I can’t move.” He’s distraught. He’s broken down. I utter noises of sympathy. “This is an Aboriginal sacred site,” he announces.

Bruce has walked on to the beach but the man regales me. And what a heart-breaking story he tells. Poor man. He has come down from Ceduna. He was beaten up there. Not by Aborigines. But there is a bad methamphetamine issue there. Beware. He was in the hospital. Now this. Ceduna. They don’t have the Flying Doctor there. Did you know? His wife. She got sick. Kidneys. He took her to Ceduna for treatment but they needed to fly her out to Adelaide and there was no Flying Doctor. Six hours it took to get a plane. They got her to hospital. Oh, good, I say. How is she? She died, says the untidy man. She’s dead. I am on my own. Here. Me and the dog. And now this.

Bruce is calling to me to follow him. I am riven. Poor man. He says other people at Perlubie have been kind.

I am sad I can’t help. Go to your husband, he says. I apologise and follow Bruce on to a very beautiful beach. There are lots of shade shelters along the sand, some of them occupied by campers with set-ups like whole houses. Permanent campgrounds the lucky locals can use for fishing and partying. Another world.

We reach Ceduna relatively early thanks to the early checkout. Grateful, though, since we are hungry.

We find a nice cafe which serves exotic salads and sit among the rather ample women of the district. Bruce has a hot dog which came on a plate with a design of tomato sauce smeared upon it a la chic cuisine.

Since I want to talk about the Ceduna Art Centre in my speech, we zeroe in on it for our

first activity. But it is dead, dead, dead. Shut and barred.It looked almost abandoned. My head spins with confusion. It is the first thing I ask the staff as we check into the Ceduna Foreshore Hotel and Motel. No one seems to know. But a helpful worker called Sharon goes the extra distance and gets on her phone to find out. She discovers that "it has packed up
and gone south for the long weekend". Ironically, this disappointment is to give me a good, hearty laugh line in my speech the next morning.

We are allocated room 51 which is one of the hotel’s prime executive rooms. It has a sumptuous balcony with table and four comfy wicker armchairs and a splendid view of the Ceduna foreshore. In one direction there's a line of Norfolk Island pines behind which is a little swimming beach. In the other is the jetty and the waters of the bay.

One could not miss the very, very inebriated Aboriginal woman swearing and lurching up and down on the foreshore lawns. She is teetering like an old-style comedian doing an exaggerated vaudevillian drunk act. I am sure she is about to fall on her face but somehow she lurches about just short of crashing down. It is rather suspenseful watching her although her profanities and invective are a bit on the shocking side. Various other Aboriginals come and go seemingly oblivious to her. Some sit about in animated groups. An old bearded man wearing what seemed to be winter clothes totters along in the direction of the bottle shop.

We leave Chrissie, the chili plant on the lovely balcony, unpack and relish the room. Free WiFi is bloody Nomadnet again. They have a stranglehold on country accommodation. They are an irritating service which requires repeated logins and which only give limited access until they charge. The logging in and waiting has been driving us mad. In some places, it is agonisingly slow. It is not consistent. And, for people who live online, being cut off is terribly frustrating. So we are not thrilled to find we are using it again.

Bruce reads his NY Times and I edit my Australia Day speech. Katrina Blum of the Ceduna Council had said 15 minutes was my time frame and they expected to keep the event snappy, so I am keen to ensure that I run to time.

It is very hot. Bruce does not want to go outside so I meander off alone on an exploratory, coming upon the chemist/gift shop which is open and happening. I roam about looking for gifts for the kids and find a charming and very annoying cheeping electronic bird toy for both girls plus some silly glasses for Ry and Sam to clown around in. Chat to the friendly local women. The husband’s credit card is a good intro and they are shocked at my Port Augusta story.

I stop for a bottle of rose en route back to the hotel only to have the bottle brusquely withdrawn when the only ID I can produce is a police report and a duplicate driving license. "No photo ID, no sale. That’s the liquor law,” snaps the young bottle-shop man. In my tender emotions following the theft, this struck hard.

Bruce and I wander down to the end of the jetty. Oddly, the inviting bench at the end is set to look back down the jetty towards town and not out to sea, which is where one wants to look when one walks down a jetty. We lean on the back of it and gaze at the bay. There’s quite a strong hot wind, more forceful out on the end of the jetty. We examine the fishing chart and all the sorts of fish they catch in this seafood town. Gummy shark. We had that beautiful gummy shark from Don in Streaky Bay. Lovely fish. Wonder why it’s called gummy. I reckon it is because it has no teeth. Then again, it could not live on plankton. Bruce thinks it may have flat teeth. We pause and ask a fisherman, He has no idea. We ask another one. Nope. Never thought about it. And yet another one. No one knows. Bruce looks it up. Flat teeth for crushing shellfish and grinding.
Back at the hotel we go in for dinner. I have oysters every way - a dozen oysters, three each natural, balsamic, soy and ginger and with lime and sweet chili. Gorgeous. I wash them down with some nice savvy and follow them up with fried whiting and salad. I feel properly “Ceduna-ed”. Bruce has steak and kidney pie on mash and is in his own form of gustatory heaven.

And so to our room.

The wind has really whipped up outside. We can hear it roaring in the Norfolk Island pines along the shoreline. We watch tennis. I check my Australia Day speech and try to sleep.

It is a fantastic bed. Despite my nerves, I succumb to a very pleasant repose.

Day 7


Up at 6 making our own filter coffee and reading. Check the speech.

Oh, it is raining. The hot weather has turned. It is grey with a very cool wind. Bother!

Wardrobe crisis.

I had brought my pretty Hawaiian handkerchief dress to wear for the Australia Day ceremony. I would die of cold in it. Luckily I have some smart fashion jeans and a cheerfully vivid new long floaty jacket I bought in Lincoln. I add my elegant green sandals which

match my green toes with their sparkling yellow wattle motif and off we go to the Ceduna Sailing Club.

It’s a good location. The sailing club’s broad porch set up with sound system and lectern looks down on a gentle slope of an impeccably cared-for green lawn. It makes a mild amphitheatre.

Lots of early-bird people are streaming onto the lawns outside the clubrooms, carrying their own chairs. Several rows are already set up and occupied. A gigantic Aussie flag waves from their midst.

I am greeted by the MC and Katrina Blum from the council. The Mayor, Allan Suter, introduces himself. He is not feeling at all well, he says. He asks me to check the bio of me which he is using as my intro. It is dauntingly comprehensive.

Then, suddenly, he runs off into the crowd. Turns out there's an emergency. A boat has slipped its anchor and will hit the jetty if Sea Rescue is not informed. They mayor sorts it out and returns to the proceedings.

Everything starts very smoothly. The National Anthem is roundly sung by one and all. The flag is raised on its tall pole beside the clubhouse.

The mayor wastes no time.

I’m on.

The sound system works well and the lectern is excellent. There are a good 200 people down there now. Maybe more. A lot now are standing along the back.

They’re a wonderful audience, interested and responsive. I talk about Ceduna and its community, about the arts

centre and the football team and then about the town’s impressive outreach in terms of its online presence. Few locals realised that Ceduna tourism had such a snappy web presence with live webmasters ready to answer questions at all hours. It's a fresh point of pride for a community. Indeed, Ceduna makes up for its remote location with excellent online tourism outreach. It's a bit of a role model. The audience laughs at my funnies and concentrates on my serious commentary on the history of Australia Day and why and how we love our country.

After me, the Citizen of the Year is introduced and she reads a comprehensive report on the work at the local aged care facility wherein she had liaised significant improvements. Interestingly, her mother had been a Ceduna Citizen of the Year some years before. Best Event was a Muster. Dean Heyne, a lay Lutheran pastor, makes a welcome to country of
sorts and offers up an extremely wise and thoughtful prayer. He covers the indigenous issues with immense compassion and understanding.

Two local girls sing my favourite Aussie anthem, We are One. Very beautifully. It rings out across

the lawns and down the promenade of pines, out across the bay where a couple of boats are bobbing. It is lovely.

And then the Mayor wraps it up and invites everyone inside the sailing club for free Australia Day breakfast.

I am very late getting in there. Photos have to be taken with the Australia Day Award recipients to mark the occasion. There's an air of general excitement. Afterwards quite a few people

come up and say enthusiastic things about the speech, a number of them saying they would have enjoyed more.

We enthuse about Ceduna. They love their community and their stunning coastal; location - rightly so. They are pleased that I come as such a passionate oyster aficionado. They're proud of those oysters. Oh, yes. Oysters are worth a pilgrimage. I shall definitely come back some time.

I tell the pastor how much I loved his thoughts. It was a very special speech/prayer. He is very self-effacing. He wants to tell me all about the famous Kinooba football team. Playing for that unique enduring Aboriginal team had been a highlight of his life, he says. He was the only white man, he declares proudly.

Lyn Beattie a pastoralist’s wife, a retired nurse and aged care worker and general fine community volunteer and good spirit makes it her cause to fill me in on much of the district’s local character and issues. She’s old Ceduna blood from a family which long has owned and farmed extensive properties in the district.

I meet an old Bush Bash pal, a clutch of gorgeous oldies who gun around Ceduna in fancy gophers, have good chats with Luca Cetta, the young journo from the West Coast Sentinel who has kindly agreed to share photos with us...

The breakfast is massive, the biggest I have experienced in my years as an Australia Day Ambassador. They load my plate with sausages and lashings of gorgeous country bacon, scrambled egg, baked beans, grilled tomatoes and toast.

The chatting among the community continues in a relaxed vein for a long time, the day outside cool, cloudy and windy but showing signs of warming up.

After this event, Bruce and I follow the directions of the locals to locate Ceduna’s Big Oyster. It is just on the edge of town where the road heads off towards the Nullarbor - and opposite, oh deary me, a huge OTR service station, those monsters which are killing independent petrol and service station businesses throughout the state.

The Big Oyster is by an oyster bar which, sadly, is closed on this public holiday.

It’s not a very big Big Oyster but we play with and around it and enjoy the salty marshes stretching away beside the road.

Oh, but it is getting hot.

We contemplate choices of driving here or there to see more coast but we have driven a lot. We opt for the cool of our lovely hotel room with our books and computers.

Of course, I’m hungry by lunchtime. We trot downstairs so I can wolf down another half a dozen fresh oysters.

It is too hot to sit on the balcony now. It is too hot to touch anything on the balcony. The world outside is barely moving. We stretch out on the beaut big bed, watch tennis and read. For dinner I order more heavenly Ceduna oysters... cooked as well, just to ensure that I have tried all the options. They are gorgeous.

Spinach style and mornay stand out. I let B have the Kilpatrick since that is about the only way he likes oysters. I’m keen to try the barramundi which is farmed here by the local school. But it is school hols and the kitchen has no stock. They do have flake, however, which is shark, which is gummy (and yummy). I ask if they can cook it to the same light, spice-rubbed Asian recipe with which the menu offers the barra. Sure, smiles the chef.

Oh, my. I’m not sure I have ever had fish which was fresher, sweeter, moister or more perfectly cooked and seasoned. I sigh and swoon and wish the dish would go on for ever.

This tops off my coastal seafood odyssey very nicely indeed.

Day 8

It’s back on the road.

Firstly, we tidy up our travelling pantry and make a good scratch breakfast of fruit and yoghurt and then pack the car. It is still in the 40s, hot, hot, hot.

We head inland to Wudinna. There aren’t many towns along the way. Mainly they are silo bases. This is wheat country. But it is also lovely country. The great expanse of rural Australia, long straight roads, narrow, undulating, fairly smooth surfaces, … Verges of bushland, stubble fields, dirt tracks, a railway line over there, tiny settlements, silos…

We see few other vehicles until suddenly we find ourselves stuck behind an oversized vehicle convoy. Between two outrider safety cars is a massive mining machine on a massive transporter. It takes up most of the road most of the time. The few oncoming cars are forced into the dirt as it does its best to liberate space for them. There is no question of overtaking. We adopt the convoy pace glad that we are in no rush. The miles go by and we enjoy the landscape. No places to stop. Eventually, the lead outrider safety vehicle messages the rear safety vehicle which signals us that it sees a big enough stretch of visible clear road ahead and it is now safe to pass. The huge swaying transporter makes as much space as it can. It’s not a lot, actually. It is quite scary getting past it.

And then the open road is all ours again.

We reach Wudinna hoping to return to the lovely cafe in which we dined on our last visit but woe, it is closed for the Australia Day long weekend. We drive around the wide open roads and everything is shut. Nothing is moving moving. It’s 44 deg.

The roadhouse is the only place for lunch. But, as it turns out, it’s a lovely place for lunch. Clean and fresh and all home-made and home comforts. We have burgers and tea. After a while, the oversize transporter chugs along. The convoy pulls in to another big roomy garage.

We go looking for our Gawler Ranges Gateway motel, just a hop down the road. It is deserted. A sprawling big dusty arrangement of motel rooms and camp sites. A sign on the main door says to ring the manager. I do so. Suzie answers and says she is at the laundry. Be there in a tick. We sit in the shade of the front verandah and wait. Soon she pulls up and signs us in. We have the whole
place to ourselves, she says. Do I want to use the pool? Sure do. She’ll leave the door open for me.

So there sits our red car all alone in the heat outside the strip of motel rooms while, inside room 7, we start up the little air conditioner and it chugs and wheezes valiantly to cool the room. I find the pool inside a sprawling sunroom. It is like

a sauna on this heatwave day. But the pool water is icy cold. Amazing. It takes me courage to submerge in it but then, ah, the pleasure. It is not sterilised with chlorine. They use bromine. It feels and smells a bit different. I’ve not encountered it before.

It is surreal being in cold water in a deserted motel in a deserted outback town on a fiercely hot day. I can hear road trains rumbling by in the distance outside.

Susie has recommended the pub as the only place to eat dinner so we drive over and find it relatively busy with its own motel guests. There’s an old school salad bar in the middle of the dining room. A barman serves drinks from a bar and a women through a kitchen hatch takes dinner orders. We choose the special of the night, local pork chops on mash. They come
out as smallish meat sections wedged between a splay of bones and drenched in gravy. One has to chew the meat off the bones but it is tasty enough.

The temperature has softened in the fading light.

We take the dirt road out of town and drive to Polda Rock. It is one of three magnificent monoliths around Wudinna. Mt. Wudinna is the biggest monolith after Ayers Rock.

Turtle Rock is probably the most mystical and beautiful sacred rock in Australia but the idiot powers-that-be have allowed the

native vegetation to overwhelm the view of and access to it, thus ignoring one of the great tourist sites of Australia.

But Polda Rock makes up for a lot. It is a grand granite mountain of a rock, softly contoured so one may easily climb it. It is patterned with wonderful lichens and has rock pools here and there, even in

this brutal heatwave. Water rivulets have carved little paths down its form. It has been an ancient water-gathering place and white settlers expanded this usefulness by damming a pond at the base.

The dusky light makes it dreamily beautiful as we climb up the rock and look at the landscape stretching around. The colours of the rock itself are like an artwork.

We sit on the rock and feel beneath us the memory of the heat of the day.

Ancient beauty. We are in awe.

But the light is dimming now and, for safety’s sake, we climb down and return to the car. En route back to the motel we notice a sign for Granite Sculpture Park. We pull in and behold a massive towering sculpture in honor of agriculture and the area. It has taken years to carve, sponsored by the community. It shows wonderful sheep carved around the base and an abstract figure of life and labour on the land. It is breathtaking.

We spend some time exploring its details and marvelling at the workmanship.

The shadows grow long around the statue and the outback sky blazes bright in sunset

reds and oranges, flame red sky over the red outback earth.

A bath of beauty in the hot night air.

As darkness falls, we return to our deserted motel’s little brown room where the air conditioner has kept working promising us a decent night’s sleep.

Day 9

Suzie serves us a fine breakfast in the motel dining room. We are the only diners but we learn that a couple of other overnighters have turned up in the night and the motel is not entirely empty any more.

Suzie says it was good to have a day off. The place is booked out through March with Telstra contractors and assorted work forces. She has had the place only about seven months and is trying to revamp it and bring new life and class. She is doing well so far. The dining room is very spruce. We have loved her hospitality - and, indeed, wonderful Wudinna in general. It's a South Australian gem which really needs a higher profile on the world tourism market.

Take your time leaving, says sweet Suzie. No maid coming in today. Just make sure the aircon is off.

I grab the opportunity to have another swim before we hit the road. Another very hot day. It’s not a big drive, just back to Port Augusta. We like to keep the driving down to no more than 3 or 4 hours a day and immerse ourselves in the landscape.

Once again, we are loving the environment. Once again the road is not too busy.

We purr across the landscape. Gradually the mallee country gives way to bluebush. The colours of green and blue are utterly gorgeous. The temperatures outside is steadily about 45 deg C. It is oddly scary. Everything is so hot. The air, the roads, the cars... What if something went wrong? One would not last long out there.

We stop at the rugged little working town of Kimba for lunch.

To our surprise, when we enter the rather run-down roadhouse with its sad abandoned motel units falling down beside it, we are met by the delicious scent of curry. The place has been taken over by Sikhs. An array of tantalising curries sits steaming in bain maries. If only we weren’t scheduled to have curry for dinner. I order a toasted sandwich and a cup of tea.

Before we leave Kimba, I want to reconnect with the Big Galah. We drive around the broad, deserted streets not finding it. The town is dead quiet. Then sirens. The fire brigade screams out of town. Must be a fire out there. We keep futzing around and come upon an amazing new piece of silo art. A serene agricultural scene of a child in
the wheat crops beneath dramatic stormy skies. Breathtaking. We stop and admire it. This transformation of silos around the countryside is just a joy to the soul.

Then we find the old Galah, just as big as ever and just a bit tattier. It is up for sale along with its little cafe and souvenir shop. We briefly fantasise about giving up city life and coming to Kimba to run the Big Galah.

Back on the open road. Here the roads are mallee-lined and undulating on and on and on. Dangerous for lack of forward visibility but beautiful for their contours. A police car wails up and past us. Oh dear. Must be an accident rather than a fire out there. Eventually we come upon it just before the crest of one of the hills. One car a complete mess at the roadside. Traffic backed up on either side. Lots of emergency vehicles, police and CFS, with signs. We wait patiently. We are in no rush. It must be so hot for the workers out there.

Back on road again and the temp outside is up to 46.

I just want to get to Port Augusta and off these hot roads. As we pass Iron Knob, the temp rises to 47.

The landscape is marvellous as the Flinders Ranges start to appear. Lots of bluebush. But it is a relief to get to Port Augusta. After our horror experience at the Majestic Oasis I have cancelled out booking there and reserved in the Standpipe motel on the edge of town. It is run by Indians. We are received by a charming Indian matron and directed to a fairly far-flung room which is of the executive level.

We turn on the air con. It’s hot. The air con sighs and struggles and slowly, slowly the room becomes habitable. It has a nice big bed but is otherwise rather peculiar. Nowhere to put anything down in the bathroom. You have to leave everything outside on top of the mini-fridge, which is where the motel’s shampoo etc is waiting. Never seen a more mini
mini-fridge; it is almost toy. We take their minibar drinks out to pop our milk in.

There’s a soft sofa squeezed in alongside the bed. Hmm. Hard to sit on. But there are slippers and a bathrobe.

To get a swim, I have to go back to the reception for a key and key code. The pool is behind a high

fence. But, ouch, the bricks are too hot to walk on. I could fry a steak on them. I lie my towel down to get to the pool steps.

The water is gorgeous and so is the view of the golf course and gum trees. The birds are shrieking. And a wind is kicking up. Indeed, it is really kicking up. By the time B comes to visit me in the pool, it is getting wild. My towel blows into the water.

A big dusty outback change is blowing in.

We retreat to the room until dinner time when we walk across to the marvellous Indian restaurant for a spicy feast on the last night of our road trip.

Back to Adelaide in the morning.