Destination: Elliston on Australia's Eyre Peninsula.
The red Rav hummed north up the Port Wakefield Road out of Adelaide. Dense traffic gave way to a steady flow of road trains and oversized trucks carrying mysterious construction objects. It had been a fast and frazzling time clearing the desk of last-minute bills and Women In Media communications to take the long-scheduled break away from the city. The thinning traffic heralded that relief of freedom - but the true spirit of getaway has to be expressed by a stop at a Port Wakefield Roadhouse.
There amid the lineup of truckstops was Pope's, as it always had been, a simple Aussie cafe: pies and pasties, fish and chips, sandwiches. We sat at outside tables under the expectant gaze of a solitary seagull. Bruce chomped a succulent chicken pie and I had a cheese, tomato and mustard sandwich toasted thin, crisp and gorgeous. Oh, and a nice cup of tea as the trucks, caravans, boats, horse trailers, and cars streamed steadily north.
Our destination was Port Augusta, a large town at the head of Spencer Gulf whence comes South Australia's coal-fired power. These days, the aesthetic of long strands of hilltop windmills symbolises the change in power generation.
From market gardens, past the spectacular pink lakes of Lochiel, the road narrows to a single lane interspersed with passing lanes. An hour or so north, the ridges of the Flinders Ranges rise to the right. Beautiful.
Entering Port Augusta, one crosses bridges, swampy and a bit sulphurous on one side, but blue and deep on the other. We are crossing the upper reaches of Spencer Gulf. We swiftly found our Majestic Oasis motel beside its grassy shores. The high security of the motel compound surprised us - high fences and high electric gates. But the staff was chirpy and welcoming. Palm trees and murals adorned the parking areas and the two-story accommodation units were named after Aboriginal Elders.
Our room 15, with a nice little outside deck, looked out onto the water and a bridge, the view interrupted by fences and palms. The pool was a couple of metres away. I put our travelling chilli plant outside for some fresh air and made us glorious happy-hour welcome-to-Port-Augusta Pimms cups.
My old colleague Paul Lloyd and wife Roseanne rocked up to take us out to dinner. "Mostly pub food in Port Augusta," said Paul - and then they drove us to the Standpipe Hotel wherein, belying everything they had said about P.A. cuisine, we were served a range of authentic curries of exquisite quality. And we drank a little wine and exchanged accounts of where life had taken us. Paul, an erudite and talented writer in his era as a journalist, now calls himself a hermit immersed in botany and music while his magistrate wife is engaged in Aboriginal life and welfare. They are both interesting and engaging individuals, and it was an enriching time.
Roseanne presented me with a tub of eremophila hand cream, a traditional Aboriginal unguent made by an Aboriginal friend of hers. It is pea-soup green and oddly pungent, almost repulsive at first, but once rubbed into the hands its aroma mellows out while the skin turns utterly silky. Roseanne told of how the unguent, believed to have healing properties, used always to be made with emu oil and hence could only be made by the women when the men had killed an emu. These days, the men no longer are hunters and processed emu oil is expensive, so the women pop into the supermarket and buy olive or canola oil as the cream's base. The loss of men's roles as hunters has been a root issue beneath the disintegration of Aboriginal society, Roseanne lamented.
Later Roseanne took us on an interesting night tour of the back blocks of P.A. along a dirt road which touches on the very top of Spencer Gulf meaning that one second one is on York Peninsula and then next, Eyre Peninsula. It was a moonless, black night and it was a surreal tour.