Book: Kangaroo Dreams

When I was a kid I questioned God’s existence, and asked my mother about it. Always a woman too tired for words, she reflected, and said, as if trying to convince herself, “…even the Big Bang had to start somewhere.” By blogging these books, bit by bit, they’ll get done. A dream has to start somewhere, where it ends, no one knows.

Coondambo

The original settlers cabin at Coondambo, 1988

A dust devil column of coiled, red-orange dirt whirled past our car, spinning ahead as if to point the way. The homestead at Coondambo Station came into view.

I peeled sticky thighs off the blistering hot, red vinyl of the front seat of our 1971 Ford Falcon. Canadians, and known for our snow, when we bought the car in Sydney at the start of our trip, we’d affectionately, and prophetically named her Snowball, or Snowie, because of her white hide.

We knew she had a propensity for overheating when we got her, so we hoped the name might inspire her to keep her cool. It had been a tense few hours nursing the gasping, steaming engine along an endless track. But at the sight of the sheep station gate, all fear of dying, stranded in the searing Australian outback fled—showers and beer were not far away.

Seeing that gate was a moment I’d waited for since the second grade.Reaching sideways to shake my snoring husband Dave awake, something up ahead didn’t make sense.

I leaned forward over the wheel at an undulating lake of pink water shimmering across the road. Snowie slowed up. The mirage lifted in a cloud of rosey pinks with flashes of white. Galahs! Lifting upwards in flowing, mingling confetti splendour, Snowie passed harmlessly beneath them, our arrival baptized in all those pastel petals of pink.

We pulled up to the homestead fence at Coondambo soon after, and I got out of the burning vinyl furnace, stretching my arms up, and slowly taking it all in. This was my first look at an Australian station (as their enormous ranches are called).

It was love at first sight.

The homestead, Coondambo, 1988

The main buildings of Coondambo clustered in a tiny village around a large corrugated steel water tower. A tidy brick path branched to the left towards a charmingly traditional settler’s cabin, and to the right to a modern, wide, low brick home. Behind the tower lay several outbuildings, a large barn, and as I’d find out later, a kitchen garden, and a chicken coop.

Delighted, I turned to share this incredible sight with my partner, but he had his head in the boot, fussing over his gear. The moment passed, as so many did, and I turned back to enjoy entering heaven on my own.

The cabin draws your attention right away. Its walls were formed of large, carefully hewed stones in warm, golden tones of sepia and clay. They seemed gathered from the bones of the land around us, and held together by sinews of mortar in soft peach. A long porch roof of the same corrugated tin on all the buildings protects the front door. It’s set on top of whitewashed poles, cut and sanded from little trees. The low farmhouse is formed of bricks mingled with the same peach, and a bit of the red in the sand edging the compound. The wide, dry wilderness that is the Outback was held back on all sides by a green lawn, incongruent in its intensity, and edged by the same warm toned rocks of the cabin. Large planters overflowed with blossoms, and the air was filled with the pleasant, ubiquitous Australian aroma of eucalyptus.

Gazing at that little cottage, taking it all in, I had again that bewildering, sublime, serene sensation of returning home. When I was eight years old, I’d drawn a cabin just like it in Crayola crayons, never doubting it existed, and vowing to go to Oz to find it—just as soon as I was old enough to be allowed to the end of the block on my own.

As I opened the gate, a young woman came out of the cabin door. She raised a hand against the sun, and smiling, waved and strode towards us. We had met Tina on the train from Perth to Sydney, and she’d invited us to drop in on our way through the Australian centre. She was about my height, “tall for a girl” as they say, with intense, contemplative eyes beneath short, soft brown hair. Three very tall men came up behind her, and she introduced them as her brother Rick, their cousin Charlie, and a station hand named Bruce.

After the fantasized-about cool showers, and even colder drinks, Dave settled in with the men, and the farmhouse telly. Tina had a large supper, or ‘tea’ planned for us, so I joined her in the kitchen. I wanted to experience every facet of her life, including picking up some Aussie slang along the way. And so it was that an hour after arriving, I jumped into station life as if I’d always lived there, which began with her late afternoon chores.

Tina with her pals.

We collected eggs warm from chook (chicken) bottoms, and I watched Tina expertly carve up a freshly slaughtered sheep’s quarter for chops and roasts. With a chunk of mutton in the oven, we got going on the rest of the meal. In easy conversation, and the timeless rhythm of women cooking, we rolled out pastry, and cut up crisp green apples for a pie, scrubbed potatoes for the pot, tore lettuce, and set the table. After dinner we talked some more, over washing up, and went for a walk so I could meet her horses: Tamini, a palomino, Ninja, a lovely grey, and a retired pinto of a friend named Pandy. Stroking Tamini’s velvety nose, with my face pressed to her face, breathing in her horsey cologne, I thought how in just a short while, it was as if there was no other world out there beyond the long red road.

We were up at dawn, and sitting down to a huge breakfast. At Coondambo every breakfast was a feast—and while eating at dawn was a novelty in my experience, and never a breakfast person, there was something about that place…as if starved, I tucked into mutton chops, bacon, eggs, licked honey from their own bees off my fingers, they had hives on another property near Adelaide, and drank from bottomless pots of coffee, or black, sugary tea.

Dave and I would go with Tina that day; the others were headed for Pimba to collect water. Australia lay rigid from a drought of Old Testament proportions, and many stations had been forced to give up. It was heart wrenching to see. Coondambo hoped to get through by hauling water for the 20,000 sheep the 500,000 acre Station supported. For animals and people alike, everything in a desert revolves around water and watering holes.

Travelling in the “Ute” (a kind of flatbed pickup truck) we scrubbed out fifteen water troughs, and covered about 200 kms. We passed through town twice so, naturally, had a drink in the Glendambo hotel pub each time (to hydrate the humans).

Access to water is powered by wind, and Coondambo owned the largest windmill in South Australia. While passing by it, Tina noticed the historic giant wasn’t working properly. She said we’d have to come back the next day to repair it.

At the base of each steel water tank were long water troughs.

On approach to one, my welcoming committee, that cloud of pink and grey galahs, blanketed the edges of the water, like brightly coloured tourists at the beach. At the noise from the Ute, they took off in that characteristic and glittering formation, settling on the bared branches of a nearby eucalyptus to wait for us to be gone.

Galahs on a Gum

We climbed up the ladders, and from inside each of the silos pulled out a depressing succession of crows, parrots, galah’s, and even a hawk. The birds get into the tower and can’t get out. With nothing to cling to, they drown, and unless the corpses are removed daily they quickly make the water toxic. As I handled the sad, soggy bodies, it felt tragic, but not repugnant, and I wondered why I had no sensation of a city girl’s disgust. Everything here in the Outback had logic behind it, there were no games being played with rules someone forgot to tell me about. With a sudden shock, I realized I’d fallen in love with the lifestyle.

The heat made sense. The dust stinging my eyes, filling my nose and ears was only what was brought on the wind. I’d adjusted quickly to the flies. At the sheep shearing sheds, silent now until February, the ghosts of men shifting the piles of wool away from the shearers worked the empty room. It was my job to hop out at each gate, slip the wire hoop off, swing the long steel structures wide and wait until the Ute passed through before carefully closing it up behind us. This duty filled me with something akin to a sacred pride.

And after so long in illness before we’d come to Australia, I could feel the same vibrancy I saw in Tina begin to course through me. I could grow old with thislife.

That evening after tea (supper), we headed out to the pub at Glendambo again. Perched on stools at the bar, Tina introduced me to Bundaberg rum, and we closed the place down, setting a pattern for the next three nights.

Snowie outside Tina’s house.

Never one to sleep well, I sank gratefully onto the bed each night, falling quickly into a deep, restorative coma. Outside temps dropped at night, in the cool air common to desserts after sundown, but we nested, warm under thick, homemade quilts. At midnight, the station shut off the generators to save on diesel, wrapping us in total silence. Out my bedroom window, an indigo sky as clear as a glass marble filled with a million stars was the last things I saw before closing my eyes.

The second morning, after another break-feast, we all set out together in the Ute to fix the windmill. Three of us faced backwards, me in the middle, bouncing around on a torn, once-teal vinyl truck seat, wedged up against the cabin window on the flat bed. I braced my feet against the gear, a mixed inventory of thick chains, coils of rope, and the “Esky”, the cooler containing our lunch. There was also a water jug, a large canister of grease, a beaten up metal box of tools, and a couple of flakes of hay for a neighbour’s lost horse Tina had an idea of where to locate.

While the men kept at it with the goliath windmill, Tina and I got the food together. Pulling the esky, and other picnic stuff out of the back of the Ute, we got a fire crackling, and hot coals were quick to follow. Tina filled a blackened coffee tin, called a billy, with water for the tea, and pushed it into the campfire coals. We laid out cold meat sandwiches stuffed with slices hacked from the breakfast haunch of roasted mutton, farm cheeses, crunchy lettuce, and sun-drenched tomatoes from the kitchen garden. Tina called, lunch!

Me and my first Billy, 1988

The truck seat was slid off the Ute onto the ground, and soon we were all arranged, biting into sammies, and slathering fresh-baked bread with butter, and homemade condiments, and oh, that sweet honey–washing it all down with strong, sweetened tea; we finished off with green apples for dessert.

Afterwards, drowsy, and facing an afternoon of work but too stuffed to move, we logically switched from tea to Fosters. Lingering with the dying coals, we swapped stories for a happy hour, sipping our beer, before groaning up onto our feet, we waddled off, back to work.

As we were finishing for the day, the sky darkened, and sprinkled us with a light rain. On the way back, the wind picked up; the plops became a torrent, and within minutes the tracks in the road became rivers.

“Bloody hell, you brought the rain with yer!” Someone yelled, laughing.

We laughed too, but not really understanding. We’d never experienced a drought because rain is something we have a lot of on the westcoast of Canada, but happy to be their lucky charm.

This time, I rode inside, and getting out of the cab to open the gates, plunged calf-deep into blood-red muddy water. Sloshing back and forth with the gate before climbing back into the truck, I laughed, shivering and basically completely enjoying myself. Rumbling along, the truck plunged into ever-deepening pools while with each lunging jerk, small geysers of ochre mud squeezed upwards through gaps in the floor.

After one gusher, and sputtering from mud dripping from my nose, I looked out the passenger window–and sucked in water at the sight of three large kangaroos, coming at us from out of the downpour.

Time slowed. It was only me inside those eerie, detached expressions, just like on the train from the Perth. They cut right, in formation, veering right up beside my side of the truck, and in suspended, ground gaining, gliding bounds, kept pace alongside us for a few yards before sheering off to the right again, into the mist. I stared, astonished and turned to see if the others had noticed, but they were focused on the road ahead. Had my Australian spirit animal visited me, again? He’d brought the family to meet me this time.

Drawing ready for Kangaroo Dreams, Coondambo. P Jean Oliver

That night the next day loomed, and I held onto every minute of it; the red road waited, time had begun to flow again, as it must. Dave had a flight to catch to in Melbourne in a few days.

In the morning, our last, I delayed every step, grieving over the rim of a closely held cup of tea. After hugs, some tears, and mutton sandwiches for the road, while images of the past four days played in my head. Out beside Snowie, Tina gave me a long hug.

“We don’t say goodbye, goodbye means forever.” She said.

“What do you say, then?” I asked.

“Catch y’later, mate.” She said, and gave me a final squeeze.

“Catchya later, friend.” I said.

Opening Snowie’s door, I slid in behind the wheel, onto an already scorching red seat. My thoughts were desperate. I’d taken to the life easily, had embraced it as it entered me, in a way nothing ever had before.

We were both quiet as I put the car in gear; normally chatty after one of our adventures, I couldn’t process this one; a new sadness rode with me that hadn’t been there when Snowie had wheezed her way to the gate a few days ago. Everything in me said it was a mistake to leave. Stop, do something. But my gut, as always, was powerless before my sense of duty. A smouldering exhaustion settled in that would dog me for the rest of my life.

Careful not to look in the rearview mirror lest I turn into a pillar of salt, and writing now through eyes as rose-tinted as a flock of Galahs, I raised a hand to wipe tears the heat dried before they fell. My course was set.

Those childhood days of a home in Oz may be long gone—but as I pause to relive enigmatic, deep kangaroo eyes, and remember that lovely hold at the end of a long strip of red road, my eyes are drawn across the room where a picture of the little stone cabin at Coondambo hangs. In a whatsapp call recently, Tina told me Coondambo has passed to other hands, as ranches and farms are want to do; that the Glendambo pub is still there; and the little stone house was pulled down long ago.

But when we saw it in 1988 the little cabin lived, glowing from within, gentle and content, protected by a corrugated tin roof supported on raised arms of hand-carved poles, hugged close by a wide, shaded verandah, and tied to the earth by a tidy path that lead to a long red strip of road.

And it stands there still, in the forever of memory, because we didn’t say goodbye.

Be it Ever so Humble

" 'Mid pleasures and palaces, though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home;
A charm from the skies, seems to hallow us there,
Which, seek through the world, is ne'er met with elsewhere."
(John Howard Payne, 1791)

****

Lake Placid, Queensland, 1988

The first camping morning of our trip found me in the mouth of our little tent writing in my journal. My husband Dave’s snores behind me reduced to morning mumbles, a cup of tea snugged-down into a curve of Tahitian sand. We were on the island of Bora Bora, and from where I sat, my legs wrapped in a shawl, I had an unobstructed view of the beach, the open ocean beyond evidenced by the jettisoned spouts of surf on a far-off reef. Overhead, coconut palms swept the sky; and dotted all around us, like a drunken golf course, baseball-sized land holes were home to the island’s basement tenants. Only luck prevented an enormous land crab digging its way upwards right through the bottom of your tent.

Our view from the tent, Bora Bora, 1988

And so it went, in our little turtle tent.

In the next few months, from that zippered door, we waded through white sand to jump on boogie boards in the surf off the Gold Coast. In the near gale-force winds at Broom’s Head, I watched that green baby playfully swing around Dave’s head, as he gripped hard on a pole, shaking out the sand inside. In a crooked circle around Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand, we watched the sun rise and set from that doorway. It zipped up tight inside against a zombie herd of flies and mosquitoes, and all manner of crawling, assorted deadly snakes, spiders, toads, a few thieving gulls, and even a curious Kia. We popped that tent up in some of the sweetest and the worst campsites it was to my everlasting great joy to stay in.

 The year before, while preparing for our ten-month tour of the South Pacific, aside from the best flights and airfare by far the most time, attention and money we spent was on finding the various homes we would use while away, and the tent was top of the list. My husband Dave, being a brand-is-best guy, found it at Mountain Equipment Co-op, and in those days we had more money than God, so fortunately we had the budget for it.

Apparently, according to him, the only good tent was a dome with a front and rear door,

“No trying to ram pegs into rocks, and if we get snowed in, we can escape out the back!” He said.

Ignoring the mad excitement in his eyes, I gave him some room. Even after seven years of marriage, he hadn’t cottoned on that I was a glamour camper at heart—rocks? My God, no, and definitely never in snow (he got his wish in New Zealand). I kept my thoughts to myself, marriage being if nothing else, a series of compromises.

His search eventually led us to a little green sweetheart he announced perfect in every way. On the drive back to Victoria from MEC in Seattle, I remember he went on a bit about the brand, and what the poles were made of, but like many common place details this is not in my journals. I do remember we paid $800A for it—in 1988, can you imagine?

But I can tell you it had a flysheet a soft shade of moss green, and underneath the tent’s skin was a diffusing, translucent yellow, just dense enough to allow for a softly lit afternoon nap. The screen mesh was so tight nothing was getting through those holes, and the fly covered right to the ground (a point Dave made more than a few times, he worried about snakes), and it had collapsible poles—basically a miracle of set-up and striking that took minutes that weighed less than our cat. And of course, it had that all-important sticking point, a rear door for escaping in snow.

There were so many places our little homely turtle tent sheltered us in, I could go on, but two deserve special mention.

The first was on Hook Island, one of a group of islands in the Whitsunday archipelago off Australia’s eastern, Queensland coast. A phenomenon of stunning beaches, bonza hikes, really skookum snorkelling, and, as we discovered, home to a diehard group of partiers, the infamous fruit bat, better known as Flying Foxes.

We left Snowie our intrepid Ford Falcon squatted down in a parking lot on the mainland, and boarded a small, open-sided ferry to the island. It would be good three days for our Snowball, give the ol’ gal time to cool down, let her oil-burning bloat settle.

Climbing off the boat, hauling our loaded backpacks, we stood and looked around for a campsite. There was nothing organized or officially built at the time. We noticed a cluster of tents crammed at one end of the thin, short beach, in the full sun. Scornfully, we viewed the others as herding, better suited for an RV Park, not intrepid campers like us. We chose a place far from the group at the opposite end of the strip. The little tent looked as smug as we felt, squatting low under the wide spreading branches of a lovely shading tree.

Hook Island

That evening we commandeered two snack-shop lawn chairs, and with our toes in saltwater, watched as hundreds of bats woke up in the trees above our tent. They rose and dipped, fluttered and soared as if to some inner music. Behind us, the torches at the snack shop glowed orange on our skin, while the moonlight mingled over the surface of the water. The bats rose ever higher until they disappeared, fluttering off under a concave sky, an amphitheatre of navy, ultramarine, and periwinkle, the horizon below lingering in muted streaks of turquoise, mauve and crimson.

“I can’t understand why you don’t pitch your tent with ours here.” I said to one of the other campers watching the show. We were all drunk by now, and best friends, in the way only travelers can be. She and her partner shared a look, but she only smiled. Puzzled, I let it pass.

The night was one of those perfect paradise endings, we wanted to hold onto it, and turned in just before dawn. Just as we were snug, and dropping off, the bats returned to their trees. Their low chitters grew louder as more arrived, and inside we were utterly charmed—until the first clunk hit the tent. More bats, more excited chattering and more,

Clunk! Chitter, screeeee, wooooo, clack, clack, clack–thunk!

A downpour of thuds and glitchy squishy splats landed on us, and slid down those superbly designed domed sides. We cowered now, not knowing what the hell was going on, by now the bats sounded like a screaming hoard of your worse nightmare. We tried to guess. Were they mad at us for being there, throwing stuff or themselves at us? Were we to be torn to bits, were they dying and dropping in droves? What?

It went on all night, in an ever-increasing level of screaming and pelting. We couldn’t sleep; the noise inside was deafening, and our dark imaginings worse. We couldn’t escape out that damn backdoor either, unless we wanted a head full of bat guano, or who knows what all? Dave kept saying, thinking to reassure me, we were safer staying put because one drop of bat shit could easily make us go insane by Darwin.

By dawn, as the noise and pounding subsided, I had another problem.

“I gotta pee.”

In a pause in the drama, I scrambled through the front door, and ran down the beach to the cantina. Walking back in the rising light, I stopped a few feet away from our tent, to take in what had pelted us for those interminable hours–peels from fruit piled right up against the tent, mixed in with what looked like poured black tar splattered down the sides, and over the whole area.

Queensland government, Google Images

The bats had only been partying. They’d arrived home to their trees laden with fruit, like Canadian’s bearing cases of Molson’s to a family weekend, whooping and hollering their bat jokes and songs, gorging themselves. The crime scene included the sticky pudding evidence of the quick trip of all that through their bowels.

Dave ejected himself from the tent like a pregnant woman’s sixth child. We stood, silent, aghast at our once pristine green turtle—gaping at a mass of red, orange and green pulp, torn skins dark, the smears, the smell—all of it dotted by the feces pellet raisins topping a horror story pudding.

Gradually, wings furled, and not-so-little furry bat heads tucked under skinny armpits, the bats dropped off to sleep one by one. Not a care in the world. When all was quiet—and verrryy delicately, we each grabbed a pole, and dragged the whole mess down the beach into the ocean. Trying not to gag, heads down and scrubbing, as we worked we could hear our friends emerging from their tents.

“Sveep vell?” I heard a heavily accented German voice ask innocently.

We looked around. Scruffy heads stuck out of some tents, others campers stood with coffee, all watching us, heads tilted, faces wide in big grins of anticipation like a bunch of Monkey Mia dolphins waiting for a treat.

“You a-holes, you knew!” I laughed.

They’d drunk with us and not one had cracked. We were all laughing now, admittedly for a few minutes Dave’s and mine bordered on hysteria. And with the stress gone, the love and vitality that is the young, and carefree brimmed up, flooding every cell of my being. Not too long ago, I’d been lying near death in a hospital, and told by a string of doctors not to make any long-term plans. It was a perfect, single moment, that one, exhausted from our sleepless night, up to our knees in cold water, a soggy green turtle tent covered in bat guano in my hands; a moment full of belonging and kinship–a memory I would keep close.

Later that day, after we had moved the turtle, we sat with the others, and watched the next boat let off a single backpacker. He looked our way, crowded as we were on the only corner of beach, then looked at the siren trees, and walked off in that direction, in the grove under the upside down, sleeping bats…

Another campsite adventure was outside of Darwin.

By now we were traveling with a young lad we had picked up on the way there, on the road outside of Mt. Isa. He was thumbing, but prone, lying down by the side of the road, his head propped on his pack, his hat down over his nose. His shirtless torso was baked a lobster red, he looked about twelve years old (he was eighteen), and about to pass out in the 40C degree heat. We knew we couldn’t leave him there; he had a mother somewhere, so we pulled over, and ecstatic (as you can imagine) he climbed in.  

Haulka’s tent was a short A-frame pup, I think it was red, like something a kid might set up in his backyard. The first night we watched him set it up, we felt obligated to offer him the car to sleep in. But he said he was fine, he was one of those traveler kids you meet who is all Tom Bombadil, the literal stuff of adventure and good cheer. He was very tall, so he slept with the door unzipped, his long legs stuck out the door. God knows what landed on him in the night but he never noticed. Haulka had set himself a budget of  “T’irty Ameriken doe-lars a day,” expenses goal. This lead to his showing us many ways to save money, and I hope he wrote a travelling on the cheap book about them.

On this one particular night, we’d been warned a tropical storm was coming, so again, we suggested he sleep in the car. But Haulka was sure he would be fine, besides, “dee legs need stretchving out”.

Dave tells me the wind and rain hit just after midnight, coming in out of the silence like a train, roaring overhead, blasting right through the grounds.

I wouldn’t know because I missed it. Storms have an odd effect on me, like Dave’s snores, I tend to sleep through them. My theory is that my brain realizes, unlike dealing with humans, a storm of nature is something so out of my control I can comfortably surrender to its superior power. If it’s going to kill me, I’m going to die, no sense getting uptight about it. Part way through the fury I was briefly awakened by lightening that cracked like a rifle shot, it blazed and lit up the sky, burning the tent in dark green behind Dave’s silhouetted head.

I leaned up on one elbow, and in a sudden gap in the noise, we heard,

“Oh shit!”

In English, followed presumably the same in German, some scrambling, and the slam of Snowie’s door. Dave’s face was lit up for a moment by a cosmic sized flash bulb going off outside, and he looked terrified. I took that in, the flapping, straining tent, the screaming storm, and groggy, and never happy to be wakened up, maybe I was a tad insensitive.

 “Wha’s wrong? I asked sleepily, annoyed, raising my voice as the din resumed.

“What’s wrong?! Are you kidding me?!”

 I took it all in some more, but could see nothing we could be doing differently.

“Hon, if the tent goes, it goes.” I said, and put my head down.

Dave said later he sat up all night, wisely concerned for both our sakes as flying debris hit, and the tent tried to do a Dorothy-in-Kansas routine. Our little darling home kept us enfolded, stuck in but yielding. Talk about your metaphor. You can bet that man was proud of his dome wisdom the next morning. His eyes awed and wide with shock, he described the sides bending flat to the ground, right on top of us, and springing back up. He told me about screams from other tenters, and debris bouncing off. I was miffed he hadn’t tried harder to wake me, and said as much.

“I tried.” His cheeks puffed in frustration, adding, “How could anyone sleep through that?”

Crawling out that morning I stood up, yawning, stood, and breathing deep of extraordinarily fresh air, I stretched my arms above my head, opened my eyes—and my arms froze in the air, slowly dropping to my sides.

The land had been scraped. I was standing in a field of debris. There were snapped branches, mangled tents, gear scattered like confetti, and ripped up trees everywhere. The campground had been a full, cheerful array of colourful shelters of every size, shape, and brand. We’d all watched the fabulous sunset together, drinks in hand. Now every single tent was collapsed, and twisted or shredded. Some had people struggling out of them, some still lay draped and slick in the shape of sleeping bodies in glistening, polyester, canvas and nylon cocoons.

But not the little turtle tent. He was already drying out in the warm rays of the rising sun. I looked at the centre of our universe, at our sanctuary, overnight a hero (apparently); this it had become he. He had taken us everywhere on his back, like the trusty turtle he was. Scenes from our months on the road, the moments we all shared are tumbling over each other as I write this some thirty years later.

At the time, I looked again at the devastation around me, and moved by the plight of so many soggy others, while I stood there dry, and er, well-rested, I went quickly to the Snowie’s trunk to dig out the coffee stuff. I set the percolator going, started a fire from our stock of dry wood, and set a huge billy to boil, spreading a ground-sheet over the wet ground for people to gather on, a place to orient themselves to.

There’s no place like home, the little green turtle tent, 1988

The feeling of home is a unique, one of kind thing, going home, returning to where or who that is, good or ill, is like finding a piece of yourself you didn’t know was missing. A good home is elusive, hard to find, and rare, a thing as precious as life itself. It isn’t always found in bricks and wood frames, and as homes go, that tent was one of my best. Little turtle would go on to shelter us for years, including camping with our then unknown of boys. Eventually he was lost, left behind by mistake somewhere. But he’s still here, in memory, sheltering me inside his vaulted back—and it must be said, be it ever so humble, there’s possibly no safer place than a dome, with a backdoor in case it snows.

Sailing the Nullarbor (draft)

Kangaroo Lover, Ink on paper, P Jean Oliver

Now I could spend my holidays on videos galore

Or lie on the beach gettin’ sorry and sore,

Or I could sail the ocean, see another foreign shore

Well I took my little Kelpie and I sailed the Nullarbor!

— John Williamson, “Sail the Nullarbor”

Australian folksinger John Williamson tells us if we want to have a real holiday, we should take our little dog, and go for a drive across his favourite desert. But if your car doesn’t like the heat, like our Snowie, a 1971 stunning white Ford Falcon (with a split grill and hooker red vinyl seats), that stalls at the sight of too much highway, and who wheezes and smokes oil out her backside if you go over 80 clicks, then driving across the Nullarbor, a desert in Australia that at full speed is about two days wide, could end up being at best, a very long, uncomfortable walk.

As an unforgettable alternative, I can recommend another mode of seeing this stunning red expanse: from a comfort of a birth with Trans-Australian Rail. In 1988, we set sail from Perth in Western Australia, heading east to Sydney, when the iconic train line was still called the Indian-Pacific Railway.

Extended journeys aboard a train can be cosmic experiences, a metaphor for life, a pilgrimage, changing your life in dangerous ways. We take our souls to the train station, step onboard, and are carried along towards the inevitability of journey’s end. Spiritually too. Train travel for those of us who crave it, is about surrendering to a higher power. You simply can’t travel by train without committing to the whole process.

But I said all that to say this: I left a piece of myself behind on the India-Pacific ride; a piece I ache to go back and find, pick it up like a found button, and sew it back in place.

Travel by train is also a lot like a marriage. Think about it. You’re encased in a destination a travel buddy who, after all, is really only someone you think you know; both rushing inexorably to the end. Trains teach us to be philosophical about our relationships. As each one ends I shrug it off, pick up my bags, and get on at the next station with someone else, or as I write this so many years later, deliberately by myself.

Not bothered by metaphors at the time, we boarded our train to Sydney late one evening at the station in Perth. The fact that it was dark I see is reflected in my journal in the missing details of what the train looked like on the outside. Once in our cabin, I was charmed by the perfectly arranged world we’d call home for the next four days. With my back to the door, to my left were, in succession, one tiny fold-down sink, a drinking water tap, and a small shelf. Along the wall beside these hung an upper berth, and underneath sat two wide, comfortable armchairs that transformed into the second bed. Across from me was our one large, shuttered window that covered the entire four-foot wall. To my right, inserted into the wall, I checked out a tiny sliver of a closet.

We settled in, stashing the mountain of luggage I had dubbed “The Pile” wherever we could find a hole, and got straight into our beds. Because once my husband Dave was asleep he was out for the night, I scored the bottom bunk, which meant the window too. Hubby was instantly asleep (how does he do that?) and snoring, but closing my eyes was not to be considered, not until I’d jotted the day down. Tucked in my cubby, with my journal on my knees, I watched the dots of light from the city streets pick up speed against the night sky.

My notes tell me from Perth to Sydney, we accumulated 65 hours, clocked 2,661 kms, travelled through two time zones, got off to look around twice, and ate nine meals. But all I cared about that night was the next 4 days.

I’ve never been able to sleep on trains, the racket and movement startle me awake every few minutes, and I don’t ever feel like I go into REM. This trip was the same, between the rickety-rackety of the train, and Dave breaking the sound barrier with his snores, I was philosophically nocturnal for the next few days. Between catnaps, time with my journal, and my books kept me company, and truth, I delighted in being alone. Sometimes I wobbled down the crooked, rocketing hallway to the lounge. And many hours were spent cocooned in my blankets, watching the darkness rush by outside. The train itself grew a personality, it was good company as it clattered, swayed and jostled about, the noise of metal wheels on steel tracks loud, continuous, and soothing. Deep sleep was impossible, it was all too different and exciting, but every night felt like Christmas Eve.

Perhaps sleep-deprivation explains what happened one morning, a vision I experienced somewhere on the Eastern edge of the Nullarbor Plain.

Lying wrapped in my bunk, awake and watching the colours in the sky change, the train appeared to race towards a beckoning sunrise. Out of the growing dawn, a kangaroo of astonishing proportions bounded up alongside the train, effortlessly keeping pace. Startled, I sat up and leaned into the window, the coolness of the glass telling me I wasn’t dreaming.

His indifferent expression touched my mind like that of a lover intent on pleasure. He was I, I was he, and his breath was on me. My heart pounded with his. The long bounces, like the strokes of a lover’s body, merged with the speed of the train and the gloom so that it seemed we glided together. The illusion held until his head turned towards me, just before he veered off to the south; leaping away to pursue his kangaroo day, uncaring of whether I followed or not. Craning up on my knees, I wanted to go with him, but my bare legs twisted in the sheets, and held me down.

Like the bindings of your marriage.

Stunned, I was plunked back on my bum amongst the blankets, the rising sun piercing the sky, Dave’s snores raining down on my head. A familiar, bewildering loneliness engulfed me, gone in a quickly clamped down sob on a moment of clarity. That animal had just looked right through me.

In the same way your husband does.

Stupid woman. I snapped the blinds shut. By the time the steward knocked at our door with my morning cup of tea, the blinkers of denial were firmly back in place.

It is easy on a train to imagine oneself suspended in time. Travellers you meet on board tend not to worry much about the world beyond the windows. The passing scenery is a curiosity, a backdrop, something to point out, or use to suspend the mind. Time becomes something achieved by organic, natural rhythms: waking up, a chapter in a book, a conversation, hunger or thirst, the sun rising, the moon waxing full. Time on a train flows like a river, the people on it flotsam pulled together by the same current. And those people become very important as the miles add up.

Will Rogers is credited with saying, “Strangers are just friends I haven’t met yet,” which has become a code I live by when travelling. The people I met on board the India-Pacific were a stream of personalities for me to pan for gold in. The getting acquainted process aided by the train people’s habit of assigning meal “sittings”. Our table companions as eager to get to know us, as we were to know them.

Another one of those traveler’s caveats are the unspoken rules of privacy between pilgrims. Information about family, where we all live and where we work is never shared outside the traveler’s circle of friends. Because of this code, trust is instantly and permanently established. And invitations to visit, if you are, “ever in the area”, are sincere and meant to be taken seriously, but with respect. The trust means, no matter how far in the future, whoever was included in the conversation is welcome. But you’re not meant to show up with extended family, your dog, or with your entire graduating class.

It was in one of the lounges on the India-Pacific that we met a woman who was headed home to work for her parents. They owned a historic sheep station called Coondambo, which lay deep in the Australian outback. When she heard that, after the train trip, we planned to continue by car on up the Gold Coast, over to Darwin and down through the red centre, she invited us to drop by on our way past Coober Pedy. Touring a sheep station was an item on my list, staying on one was beyond what I’d hoped for. We eventually did make it around to stay with her. The consequences of that intercession would ripple through my life for years, and are the details for another story.

The last day of the trip was tedious, as many endings are. We inched and fidgeted through the last few miles to Sydney. But suddenly, just like our divorce years later, it was all over. We were back amongst schedules and other unnatural limits that within minutes separated us; I wanted to tarry awhile; have a cup of tea together and reflect on the wonder of it all. But Dave wanted to nose through the gift shop, and with characteristic avoidance, I hid my need, said I was too tired and would watch the luggage. My lack of courage broke off another tiny thread in our unraveling bond.

Inside a train, time is suspended; once outside, it races to catch up. As I watched the man I married walk away, I had a sense of foreboding, confused again by how the distance between us lengthened with every intimate moment we shared. Waiting for him would become a signature of our relationship. Waiting, and wishing us back on the India-Pacific, where we could stop time, and everything made sense, and kangaroo lovers wooed me with promises of romance on the rippling red waves of the Nullarbor.

The Gathering Storm 

(This includes some rough poetry… my apologies to poets everywhere–but the place had that effect on me, and I’m moved to poetry in times of crisis.)     

We gathered at three beneath Rock Ubirr,

Water and cameras at hand—

Not a clear day, but hot, full of promises bought

With a ticket to Gaagudju land.        

The flies were up too, dodging Aussie salutes,

They crawled into eyes, ears, and shnozz.

And buzzed, tickled, flicked, and pooped,

Until madness seemed imminent in Oz.         (pJO “Ubirr, Gaagudju”)

Kangaroo Dreams, Storm over Ubirr, P Jean Oliver

A regular furnace-blaster of a day ahead, I thought, and dragged heated air into suffocated lungs. Squatting beside Dave my husband, on the low curb of the parking lot, we waited for our tour guide Susan. It was stinking hot. This morning’s hike was on the heals of a week of sleep deprived nights dozing, soaked in sweat, breezes or relief only a memory. I’d given up waving my hand across my face against the interminable flies, a useless move charmingly dubbed the “Aussie Salute”, and now just too much effort. The damn buzzers rejoiced, sipping freely from the dry pits of my tear ducts, and digging infuriatingly down into the inner reaches of my ears, and up my nose. I complain, but I sitting there, under my Tilley, I didn’t care, oddly comfortable; the inferno, the flies, and the fatigue were all part of it, I loved every bit of it, the human irritations nothing against the shielding, strong, magical force that is the Northern Territory of Australia.

We’d planned this moment, part of a six-month trip to Australia for years, or, I had, hubby was just a very good sport who was going along with my obsession. Getting here was so much a part of my DNA, I’d jokingly added it to our marriage vows: we go to Oz or you go marry someone else. Only I wasn’t joking, and didn’t know then what the driving need to do this was all about, a need that had sustained me through many a long, dark night of the soul.

The tour that day would be of the sacred Aboriginal rock art site of Ubirr, known also as Obiri Rock. We were in the world famous Kakadu Park, a misspelling of Gaagudju, a vast area of about 7,600 square miles. I’d waited my whole life for this day and wasn’t going to let a few flies ruin it. We’d driven in from Jabiru to the parking lot below Ubirr across 36 kms of dry, red dirt. Gaagudju was originally settled some 40,000 years ago, give or take, and named by a now extinct Aboriginal language, although remnants of that beleaguered People can still be found in the area.

The hike would climb steadily upwards to the summit, and my bossy self was glad to see everyone outfitted with hats, and good boots. There’s nothing worse in even a controlled environment like this one, than someone who thinks to traipse in and out as if it’s Sunday in the park. The bottled water snugged into packs was also a good sign of not having to carry anyone out. In a climate that was so hot we didn’t sweat or pee, staying hydrated was key to a good day.

A woman who was clearly our guide was climbing out of her park vehicle, and we walked over to meet her. Her name was Susan, who was maybe five feet in her boots, and every ounce of her charged with theatre. She gave us the usual low-down on the rules: respect the fragile environment by staying on the path, and no sticking our hands into dark crevices. Stopping only long enough to scratch down a few lines of poetry that bubbled up, then hurried to catch up with my companions. It was a relief to leave the crackling dry parking lot behind.

Our spunky guide Susan, 5 feet in her boots,

Rangerette under wide-brimming hat,

Gathered her gaggle of guests all agog,

Leading cheerily on at the chat.

Under gathering clouds, air wheezing in lungs,

We sip sun-heated water and pause

On red-dusted trails, by rainbow-streaked walls,

Like Dorothy’s looking for Oz.          (pJO “Ubirr, Gaagudju”)

From Susan’s resplendent brain, we learned how eons ago, the Aboriginal’s Creationist being, the Rainbow Serpent, Garranga’rreli, in her human form as the maiden Birriwilk, had walked past the same rocks we did that afternoon. She’d collected sweet roots and placed them in a basket, made from the same reeds Susan was showing us. She’d crushed powder into pigment, and painted on the walls of the rock caves, using the same red ochre Susan took from her pockets. And she’d sheltered from the same heat inside the many stone caverns, perhaps drinking from a gourd, just the way we sipped sun-heated water from our bottles.

At the top of the escarpment was an immense, ballroom-sized slab that created a natural cavern to shelter beneath. In spite of the grandeur of the site, with an expansive view that overlooked the valley, it felt like someone’s living room. Some muse was in the close air, as more of a little poem about Birriwilk came to mind. I sat scribbling in my notebook, seated on a rock bench polished by a millennium of resting bottoms. God, it was hot, I thought for the umpteenth time. Feeling a cool breath on the nape of my neck, I turned, expecting to see someone being cute behind me. But no one was there. Perhaps Birriwilk, nearby in her time, had been curious and tried to read over my shoulder.

We climbed to the top of the escarpment with an eye on an immense bank of storm clouds on the far side of the plateau. I stopped to snap a few photographs of it, and Susan came across the cliff to stand beside me. Together we watched the black, back-building towering plumes which suddenly veered east and came right at us. At Nourlangie Rock the day before, we’d heard about the mercurial lightening God, Namarrgon, who is joined by electricity from his head to his feet, and who makes lightening by swinging a large stone axe, his Garramalg, between the ground and the clouds. Looking at what was blowing up at us, he was also about to give himself a migraine.

“Namarrgon.” She said, reading my mind. Then, “That is the leading edge of the Wet. We need to get down.”

On the word, down, the fury hit. Something demonic hurled curses along the cliffs in a huge whirlwind that swept up the trail below us, carrying with it a mile high column of red sand. The clouds were thick and black; behind them the sky turned a jaundiced yellow. And the wind! It screamed with the pent up rage of someone who’s had to hold his tongue for far too long.

Unnoticed above, enraged by our trespass,

From the stars, Namarrgon man blows,

Shrieking his fury in hot whirlwinds,

Hurling wrath as we scurried below.

Fingers to ears, some cower, some thrill,

Where countless had sheltered before,

‘Til the old man sated, withdrew his protest

And we made our way back to earth’s floor.              (pJO “Ubirr, Gaagudju”)

We moved as fast as we could down the trail back to the massive shelter of the Ubirr overhang. Pink lightening shot at us in jagged spears that streaked and cracked like rifle shots, the bolts landing to the left and right of my electrified hair. Thunder boomed as if from inside the very rock beneath our feet. Pressed up against the farthest, innermost wall the rest of my group huddled in a silent, motionless tableau. The curve of the rock above our heads is thought to be the strong, protective arms of Birriwilk in her serpent form. Standing safely inside the cavern, everything looking the same way it did tens of thousands of years ago, the legends were real in a way I’d not appreciated before.

As always, I stood apart, and by choice as close to the edge as possible, I wanted to be alone for this, and thrilled to the release of tension in the air. Wet by spray, my skin cool to the touch, the flies blown to hell, I took off my hat, and let my hair have a good soaking. Rain came straight down in sheets; a solid curtain closed us off inside, I guessed only a fine, cool mist reaching those at the back of the cave. The valley beyond was grayed out, the wall of water plunging us all into intimacy. I reached one hand out to the waterfall. A shadow passed by on the other side—perhaps Namarrgon paced there, and jealous of my human form, hoped I would step outside so he could sweep me off the cliff.

Pink lightening blazons across skies of yellow,

Thunder pounding like heart-driven fear,

Breathless with joy, I stand at the edge,

Safe in the embrace of Ubirr.

            (pJO “Ubirr, Gaagudju”)

The storm raged on for close to four hours until sated, it dissolved as quickly as it had formed. In the near dark, we made a happy, exhausted retreat back to our cars.

The next day, some of us returned on our own, wanting more pictures, but this time under a clear, northern pale blue sky. Rounding the top once again, I was met with gentle, exploratory breezes that lifted my hair, and cooled my cheeks. Susan had said there was always a breeze on top of Ubirr. Seated on the edge of a pinnacle of rock shelf of indigo blues and deep purples, I closed my eyes, and imagined it was the soothing whispers of the spirit of Birriwilk’s cooling my warm neck.

Too soon, because there was ever only so much room in our dratted schedule, it was time to go. Reluctantly I stood up, eyes open in ways I would only understand much later in my life, my gaze trailing along the glimpses of the looping path climbing towards me.

There—I caught my breath—disappearing around that last bend, a tiny brown, bare foot, the swish of a colourful skirt, a hint of a green rush-woven basket against one hip. Was Birriwilk out collecting sweet herbs, easy to pull now from the well-soaked, red earth drenched in yesterday’s rain? The curtain of linear time twitches sometimes, allowing us to see into another’s; surrounded by her legacy, feeling what she felt on her skin, in her hair, in her heart in her time, in every particle of dust, in every fly, every gnarled tree and purple rock, it wasn’t hard to believe she was there too. Following the others down, I looked back one last time, and knew the paintings, those bum indentations on the rocks, the elements, and their spirits would go with me, sustaining me, as eternal as the breezes one can always find on top of Ubirr.

Seeking aloft, a girl Birriwilk,

Collecting sweet roots for her basket,

We rest together on a Manngarre walk,

On each side of the curtain, in the Wet.                       (pJO “Ubirr, Gaagudju”)

A SNOWBALL’S CHANCE IN OZ DRAFT


Snowball in Kings Canyon, Australia 1988

In 1988, Canadian urban legend had it you could buy a car in Australia, drive it around, and sell it for more than you paid for when your trip was over.   The legend part was true.  

Having a car to get around in suited my purposes, I wanted to see the real Oz, had ever since I was a kid. I wanted the whole experience; in essence, I wanted to be “just like” the Australians of “walkabout” legend. (my apologies to the first Ozzies)–only I’m lazy, so I would drive around, and see new places, not walk to them. It would be my own Canadian version of that infamous Aboriginal spiritual journey of old.  

Not to mention, the ultimate road trip.  

The six months we spent driving, flying, and training (?) around, over, and across Australia that year have never left me, not for a moment. It became a spiritual unravelling and restitching for me, and to this day, any time I need to, I can close my eyes, and I’m back at Uluru, or in the wet salt of a Gold Coast, or having my tea out of a blackened can over a campfire in the outback.   My travelling companion was my husband Dave, and a lovely car we named Snowball.  

We arrived in Sydney airport in high spirits, scooped up by a friend we’d met in Canada, and her fiancé.   “Cooooe-wheeeee!” Di’s voice rang across the foyer in the airport, as we walked through the sliding doors.  

For the next two weeks we arranged a bank, and our itineraries—the first task: to find the right car for our six-month-long journey. I knew exactly what I was looking for: she would be my loyal Ruth the white dragon, my Australia to Ann McCaffery’s Pern; Aladdin’s flying carpet and Mary Poppin’s umbrella all wrapped into one.  

I got the white part right, but the rest was a little more down to earth.  

We spent a frustrating week looking at some pretty awful options, but then one day we rounded a corner, and there, squatting against the curb behind a backyard in a forgettable back alley of Sydney, was our dragon.  

Her crystal eyes beamed a welcome. Her (shoulda been suspicious) fresh coat of white paint glistened on her hide like a new pearl. Giving off a tangible aura of “come hither”, she beckoned even as she played a little hard to get. She needed work, she was more than we had anticipate paying; she sat on a flat tire and there was patch of fresh oil in the shape of Australia spreading from under her silver bosom . . . I knew we’d found our ride.  

For the first and last time in my life I was experiencing love at first sight—and it was directed at a car.  

“She” was a 1971 Ford Falcon Sedan with classic “Cruisamatic” automatic transmission nestled inside a V6, 250 cubic inch engine. She had clocked 71,471 miles. Her comfortable, buxomly wide bench seats were surprisingly sporty in cherry-red vinyl. A pretty silver “smile” spread over a wide divided grill, the first of its kind, and a signature of her era. And as white as the snow from the far off peaks of our Canadian mountains.  

“Where have you been? I’ve been waiting for you.” She whispered.  

“I’m here.” I caught my breath on a lump in my throat.  

“Pardon me?” My husband asked.  

Startled I glanced down to touch one chrome door handle.  

“Nothing. Just thinking out loud.”  

My cheeks grew warm. I wanted her, badly. Please let her at least be drivable, I begged the traveler’s god.  

“Too right,” then, “Cri…key.” Came the muffled and worried Aussie observation from Randall. He was on his knees at the front, trying to find the source of the oil slick soaking into the dirt.  

“This is where I’m supposed to be because this is where you are.”  

“I know. I know.” I answered soothingly.  

“Know what?” Di asked.  

“Nothin,’ ” I hurried to catch up with the others before an angel choir descended on us.  

Dave wasn’t quite as smitten as I was, and jokingly named her Snowball—optimistically, as it turned out.  

“For luck.” He said. “Might keep her cool out there in the Outback.”  

“Snowball.” I smiled, my heart melting in the extreme heat of the day.  

A screen door on the back verandah of the house slammed open, and a very large man appeared. He slapped down a set of crooked stairs in flip-flops, and ambled towards us.  

“Can we take her for a drive?” I asked him, not quite able to keep the quiver out of my voice.

“Bloody oath ya can luv!” Came the booming reply.  

Snowball’s owner Ray was the size of two Rugby players and as sweaty. He hauled up, eyeing us, and scratched comfortably in the baggy regions of his pants before reaching to pump our limp hands in welcome. Resisting the urge to wipe my hand, I clasped the keys dropped from his paw and passed them to hubby.  

Ray then cheerfully changed Snowie’s flat tire with the spare in the truck, I watched, mesmerized, as the naked woman’s breasts on his biceps pulsed interestingly with each turn of the socket wrench.   “Cloymin!” Ray shouted.  

The Australians promptly opened a door each, then looked back at the Canadians still on the sidewalk.  

“ ‘Climb’ in.” Didee translated.  

“Oh.”  We all piled in.  

Then piled out.  

A spider the size of a tennis ball had dropped from the sun visor into Dave’s lap. Di said it was a Huntsman, and she moved it carefully from the backseat to the curb somehow. Collecting our wits, and tittering a little, we got back in.  

From the back seat I watched, enthralled, as Ray leaned over Dave and casually pushed the ignition column back into a hole from where it had hung by a few wires.  

“Crikey.” Randall whispered, again.  

Ray fired her up and smiled, presumably happy she had started. We chugged down the road, Snowie puffing grey smoke behind her like an old woman farting off the beans she’d had at dinner.  

“Isn’t this fun?” She breathed.  

By now I had figured out I was engaged in an active automobile-psychosis, and only smiled at her in response.  

Safely back to the same curb about ten minutes later, we paid Ray the $1500A he’d asked for, and after a surprised pause he took it. I noticed but ignored it. I had to have her. Snowie was a member of the family now.  

From beginning to end, she was our companion in arms. Not only did she get us to where we wanted to go, she enhanced our itinerary by breaking down in only the best places, and she saved our lives on one occasion.  

In Brisbane she stopped dead just before we drove into a busy intersection. A passing motorist helped us push her to the side of the road and asked,  

“American’s, hey?”  

“Noooo, Canadian’s.”  

“Ah, no worries then. Yah still in Canada then, Ayyy?” Exaggerating the Canadian “eh” and pushing his hat back with a thumb.  

“What d’ay mean?” I asked, puffing hard and leaning against Snowball’s steaming hood.

“We drive on the left side, the proper side of the road in the land down under. Dead give away, love.”  

Only then did we realize we’d blanked, and had been driving on the righthand side of the road. If Snowie hadn’t wheezed and collapsed, that could have been it for us, or someone else. Or maybe she was just saving herself.  

That sweet white Falcon made us slow down and savour the trip—not because Ford has a corner on the philosophical wiles of life, but because if we went over 80 clicks she overheated.  

If you’re in a car, or on a bike, or basically not in a tank in the Australian Outback, drive defensively if you want to live.   Monolithic Road Trains, huge tractor-trailer trucks pulling up to three pups or trailers behind them, barrel down the middle of the highway.   Unless you want to end up like the sun-bloated, road-kill kangaroos dotted along the Outback bitumen, pull over when you spot one coming. Snowy had a knack for picking her way delicately in and out of shallow ditches.  

That car was game for anything.  

She trundled over rock-strewn dirt roads without complaint, and always broke down near services, including giving us an unplanned three days in Adelaide.  She took us from Sydney, along the Gold Coast to Cairns, and every island we could get a boat to. We went west to Mt Isa, on up to Darwin, and into Kakadu Park. She chugged down through the red centre to pant in the shade of the great solid rock Uluru; then south to Coober Pedy, and a side trip to see a friend at the famous sheep station Coondamo, then on to wine in the Barrossa, a car rally in Adelaide, and along the edge of the Great Southern (road?), where I got my heart full of cockatiels and penguins.  Among others.  

In Melbourne, things changed.  Dave had scored work along tje way with the lottery folks in Kuala Lumpur, so Snowball and I put him on a plane for Malaysia, where I was due to meet him a month’s hence.   (We spent three months in M, before returning and visiting Tasmania, New Zealand, Fiji, Hawaii…)  

Snowie took me safe as houses, to a gallery (name) near Melbourne, through the Murray River, into the Snowy River country for a weekend horse back trip, (fuzzy here check journals for route to Sydney)  but I hated being alone. (Fill in this)  

She limped at last into Didee’s folks driveway, the end of the line for Snowie and me. Nothing would have got her back on the road, she’d burst her heart for us.   Still, I didn’t want her to end up at a wrecker’s, so I posted an ad, vacuumed and washed her carefully, polished her beautiful grill, and checked under the visers for spiders.   Happily a young couple, crazy for 1971 Ford Falcon’s, adopted our gallant girl for $650.00.  

The jotting in my journal the day after she left says:   “My lil’ Snowie, I miss you already…”  

After returning to Canada via Malaysia, New Zealand, and elsewhere, Dave and I raised a family together before continuing on into the second half of our lives apart.  I often wonder if sometimes in the middle of his day, he stops like I do, and sighing for what might have been, thinks,

“Oh my, wasn’t that trip somethin’, babe?”  

And I spare a thought for a brave little car named Snowball–a gal with a true blue heart, red vinyl seats, a silver grill, and a flat, spare tire in the boot.