As well as the potplant, Blossom, for a constant supply of very hot chillies, we carried an assortment of provisions, as one can when on a road trip. Our big wicker basket was full of Pimm s-making ingredients as well as coffee bags, bread, eggs and cheese and tomatoes
And off we went, skimming south in the Toyota Rav my grandies like to call "The Red Beeper" because of her various beeping reprimands. This was her first road trip and she seemed to be enjoying it as much as we were.
There is nothing like that sensation of sublime freedom and curiosity one realises on the long, open road with huge skies and ever-changing landscapes and vegetation.
First stop, Arno Bay. It's a humble sort of old fishing town which has seen busier times. These days its glorious beaches attract holidaymakers and it has a splendid beachside caravan park on one side of its coastal core and a row of wonderful old shacks on the other. In the middle is a large turning and parking circle and an expanse of lawn on which a loo block takes proud prominence. I used that loo block and am here to report that it was the cleanest and best-kept public loo I have ever encountered. Its stainless steel sinks were spotless and its terrazzo floor shone with polish.
This was something I was to observe throughout this Australia Day pilgrimage. One country town after another had proudly-maintained and inviting public conveniences. Not only but also, a lot of them have been turned into works of art, covered in lavish murals. It is quite a phenomenon - and this was my first experience. I was so impressed that I took a photo. I took a photo of the loo floor.
We parked the Rav on the foreshore, the chilli plant on its bonnet to get the sun, while we wandered onto the beach for a while. There was a slow feeling. A couple of women sat under a pergola talking. They did not so much as turn to note our coming or going. We read the huge sign, topped by a sculptured king fish. It described today's Arno Bay fishing industry - a fabulous fish farm breeding kingfish and mulloway. Sustainable seafood. Yes. A couple of kilometres out to sea one could just spot signs of its location.
A pleasant retired couple came out of their shack when we went to read the sign on the long strip of green which stood between the shacks and the sand. "Used to be a running track," said the woman. "They had races here. And the loo block stands where the old captain's house used to be. We were sad when they bulldozed the captain's house. Sad to see history going. The older you get, the more you value history." The woman explained that she had a local background but that her husband was a Queenslander. They had bought the shack 40 years ago for $3000 and, had holidayed there with their 7 children. It had been built for the second captain, so they had never changed its appearance. But now retired and living there, they were working on doing up the interior while loving the life. How do they fill their days in this tiny settlement? "Don't know. They seem to go so fast." They invited us in for a cuppa - but we declined. More miles to cover.
The road south is a classic ribbon, made rather pleasant by surfaces striped in pink and charcoal hues. A pretty ribbon. And it just goes and goes straight ahead, an undulating single lane traversing bush and mallee, swamp and farmland. Now and then there's a bend. Then another straight ribbon, as far as the eye can see. These are dangerous roads. People tend to put the foot down. Others pop the car onto cruise control at the 110k limit and steer. A drowsy moment or an in-car distraction, and the car can drift into the path of oncoming traffic. Three people, a Port Augusta father and his twin sons, were killed by that very thing - drifting into the path of an oncoming road train- just an hour or so after we left Whyalla.
Next stop, Tumby Bay.
Everyone loves Tumby Bay. We did, too. Glorious sweeping white beach, wonderful for walking and good for swimming.
A massive sheltered bay. Calm waters. A pontoon close to shore near the populated area was rocking with a happy holidaying family. Someone was cruising about in a kayak. A pelican watched from a lamp post. It was not busy.
We settled in the lovely little Ritz Cafe on the foreshore for lunch. I had grilled yellowfin whiting, a local fish. I'd not had it before. It was fresh and good. Not in the class of King George Whiting but good by its absolute freshness. Bruce had a toasted sandwich. He is not on a mission to eat local seafood for every meal. I am.
We stream down more ribbons of road. Cleared land becomes more common beyond verges of scrub. And then, there is our day's destination: vivid aquamarine sea, islands, signs of occupation, and suddenly here we are in Port Lincoln. The Port Lincoln Hotel was not hard to find. It is the biggest building in the town, if you don't count the massive white Viterra grain silos which feed wheat out along the jetty onto waiting cargo boats. The Port Lincoln Hotel is the top place in town, owned by one of Lincoln's tuna barons, a man named Sarin. The hotel restaurant is named after him.
The hotel licensees are Peter Hurley and a former footballer called Mark Riccuittio. They are not just hotel folk but Crows people. That is a South Australian football team. "The" football team, if you ask me. There is a fair bit of acrimonious competition between the Crows and a team called Port Power. And that explains the negative reports I had heard about the hotel. it is a gorgeous, classy place. We were in a corner room on the 4th floor with a corner balcony giving us a dream view of Boston Bay in two directions - one towards the town and the other along the coast. The chilli plant took the best real estate, right in the corner of the little balcony. Fresh air, sunshine, fresh water and a view. What more can a chilli plant want?
The downside of this marvellous hotel and this heavenly room was the internet service. We could not get online. The free wireless simply did not download anything. We tried and tried, called the desk and soon became the mission of a staffer called Sarah. A bright girl from Perth, she has become the hotel tech trouble-shooter and our iPads not to mention my MacBook Air were weird casualties of a not-great wireless facility. Dear girl worked like fury on every logical solution. She even brought us a bottle of complimentary red wine for our disappointments - but could not get us working properly. I managed to download some email - but only by placing my iPad on the floor at a weird angle leaning into the door to the adjoining suite. Even then, the email came sans content. I knew who it was from but not what they were saying.
I had some pressure things on the go from Women In Media. I attempted, laboriously, to iPad out some responses and communications, but next morning I discovered that they had not managed to send and were sitting in limbo. Unaware of this, thinking I had at least kept the communications show on the road, I hit the lovely swimming pool. Ooh, cold. But, despite some pretty boorish teenage girls hogging the water, I had a divine swim, pleasantly interrupted by the arrival of an African American fellow who had flown from Sydney especially to swim with the sharks in Port Lincoln. It's a big attraction here. He was excited but very nervous about this booking first thing in the morning. He was glad to find American conversation but not perhaps as glad as Bruce whose devotion to the New England Patriots along with the hours dedicated to watching their victories on American football telecasts have been frustrated by the absolute lack of people with whom to share the love of the games and the results therein. At last he had someone who knew what he was on about.
For me, there was the sheer bliss of an outdoor pool with a view of the sea and boats - not just the cargo boats loading at the grain dock, but, look, the One and All under full sail! A taste of another era on the sea. One can rest one's elbows on the side of the pool and gaze through the glass windbreaks at this vista. Now there is a tug boat leading a cargo boat back to the ocean. This has to be one of the most interestingly-located swimming pools in the country. Pity it has such awkward sunbeds. We lolled for a while, but the mattresses on the sunbeds just slither about. Oh well. I loved it anyway.
Bruce and I dined in the Sarin restaurant in the hotel. I had oysters, of course. Half a dozen natural and half in a quandong/ tomato treatment.
I fell into a food coma the moment I hit the bed. Dinner had been just a bit rich. It was, consequently, a rather broken night.