After showers, some toast, tea and then country news (which is just as bad as city news) the final leg to Menindee was underway. The longest leg we were to face to this point (though, by far, short of the actual longest leg) was underway. Mr. Rabbit was driving and thankfully, as I had no clue where we were going, or how to handle driving behind a garbage truck (which we found ourselves behind) that one would naturally want to overtake, knowing full well the faster we drove the quicker we would get to our destination. Returning to not having a clue where we were going, I must admit that Mr. Rabbit is quite the researcher, and knew exactly which turns, which streets and what highways we were meant to take. Much credit to him on that front.
We put on the radio to break the silence (or at least to avoid having to converse with each other at such an early hour). Now, this was amusing for a few reasons. One, we had already watched the news back at our hotel room. Two, the radio station we were listening to didn’t exactly care for, well, world affairs. Thinking back, I can’t remember anyone past Sydney saying diddley about any war or other country other than myself, Mr. Rabbit and the Ombudsman. I wonder if people outside the metropolis even know that there is a war on terror.
Anyway, the radio did it’s thing, and I knew (again, from the T.V.) that the Dow Jones had fallen 624.8 points (is anyone surprised that I still remember that number?) over night, but had recovered to close at a loss of only 150 , and the Australian investors were anxiously waiting to see how the ASX reacted. In other news, there was scheduled to be a bru-ha-ha fight at Apex Oval in Dubbo that day, however arrests made by the police seem to have deterred the participants from acts of primitiveness. What else happened? Well, buyers from China and Japan had pushed up the price of wool of a certain type of micron. Oh, and there was a cattle sale back in Orange, something Mr. Rabbit and I were disappointed to miss.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, was the half-hourly news. It didn’t change, and it played every half an hour. For the four hours we listened to it. You wonder why I can remember the Dow Jones falling 624.8 points? Because I ended up hearing the number it nine times before lunch! And then Mr. Rabbit and I made our own running news updates, where we quoted the figure, and made up more absurd stories related to it and the price of X-micron wool. The ignorant, blind and sheltered city persons, in the both of us, shone bright.
We had lost the garbage truck in Orange, and were well on our way to Dubbo, passing Apex Park (and making more jokes about hanging around for the fight), and stopping for petrol. Then we were headed to Nyngan, after passing through Bogan. We stopped for a photo with The 18 Cup, at Bogan Street, then moved on, heading now for Cobar via the Barrier Highway (that sign, by the way, is one of the few that is free of bullet holes and shotgun blasts). Along the way (and for some time before I believe) we saw what looked to be lost fruit along the train tracks (or at least the sides of). I was so intrigued that, when I asked if we could pull over near to a tree to ‘take a break’, I made sure to mention that it be near to some of these fruits. Here is where we stopped, here is me running for the fruits, and here is the end result (of the taking of the fruit, not the other activity).
Later, upon returning home, I was talking about this adventure to my grandparents, and they remarked that when they (as a family, with my mother and aunt) drove to Adelaide (for fun and annually and in the 50s – 70s!) that they had seen fruit growing along the side of the road and train tracks. I was surprised and told them that I had seen the same thing, and not only that, had stolen one, cut it open and tasted it (we’ll get to that later). They said “Why would you do that? They’re called bitter-melons for a reason”, as if I were expected to know what they were. Of course, you don’t generally put things in your mouth not knowing what they are (and even when you do know, you don’t), so I expect they now wonder how I got into university.
Now, indulge me for a moment as I try and form the image for those unfamiliar with driving to Menindee (or to Perth). Get a piece of paper and, holding it vertically, draw a line, straight, down the middle. Then, put the paper at the tip of your nose, looking down the line, and imagine the very end is hundreds of kilometres away. That’s what the Barrier Highway is like. Here’s an example. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here, where it was remarkably green. They all start to look the same after many hours. And here’s The 18 Cup. There is little-to-no distractions either side of the road, other than the occasional flock of goat or shrub or tree. Well, plant-dead (I refuse to call it plant-life because it looked so dead) is abundant, but that gets repetitive quick, and ultimately you tend to not see it. However, saying that, as the passenger I thought that what I was looking at was quite beautiful. I’ve been around the world, and have neglected to see Australia, expecting to see exactly what I saw on this trip. But even though it was as expected, it wasn’t as ugly or boring or plain as I imagined. It was unique. It was interesting. It was baron. It was Australia.
We made Cobar, and stayed long enough for lunch. I was entertained (perhaps Mr. Rabbit was as well) that a car we had overtaken had then overtaken us as we filled up for petrol, who we then overtook again. On the second time however, the other car’s occupants waved to us, and we returned as we sped past. Sitting in Subway (though I had a pie (steak, bacon and cheese) from a store further down) we watched as the car that we had passed twice drove through, and went down the street we had parked. We wondered if they had pulled up beside our car, or perhaps we could say hello to them, but it was not to be. We got back in and strapped ourselves in for the final haul.
We regularly had to over take other drivers. We had no regard for our own lives, not our licenses. In fact, not once were we overtaken (on the road) going to Menindee, and achievement I am proud of. Intermittently we would push the car as fast as we could, then let it go back to a slower speed. I dozed for a period, but not because I was physically tired. Driving straight, staring straight ahead and concentrating on the danger of advancing wildlife was just mentally exhausting. Mr. Rabbit also slept for a time, though I may be confusing that with the drive home (I know for sure that he slept on that leg back).
Wilcannia. If they had an international cricket team, they would be banned on the same basis as South Africa, only in reverse. I present Thomas’ evidence exhibit A: the ‘welcoming’ sign. Mr. Rabbit how no intentions of stopping here (much to my disappointment) as he had heard bad things. We sped through, and made for Little Topar where we refueled the whole tank. You see, I had been driving for a long, and Mr. Rabbit adamant on not stopping in Wilcannia, we began to run low on petrol. So low that the bars on the gauge dropped off one-by-one to it was the last one flashing at me in red! I pushed the car as fat as I could, hoping to get momentum to roll us that bit further in the case that we needed to walk to the next petrol station (though we had a Gerry Can in the trunk). Thankfully we made it and filled up (though I found out later that there was a man I could have had do the labour for free (free isn’t exactly correct, as I think he would have expected a tip)). We paid some ridiculous amount, and headed for the last outpost of civilisation in this corner of New South Wales: Broken Hill.
And that’s how much we saw of Broken Hill as we passed through, and headed straight for Menindee. I suspect that we both wanted to escape the car for an extended period of time, see Menindee, and finally see our good friend after two months of not.
There is a stretch of road between Broken Hill and Menindee called … the Broken Hill-Menindee Road. It’s as crooked as Richard Nixon, and longer than I was expecting. It would have been, for any normal person, an hour and more trip. With me at the wheel, and Mr. Rabbit more interested in the local wildlife, I did it in less than an hour. We crossed a timezone somewhere, and with that factored in, we had made ridiculously good time. Without, we had made very good time.
I had been told by a regular visitor that there were great lakes of water out there, and had expected to see a scene reminiscent of driving towards Cronulla, and coming over a hill, just seeing water as far as the eye could see. That was not to be the case, as we saw dry creek beds, and hill-ish things on the horizon. Eventually we would find that it was these hills that held the water in … if the levels ever reached that high.
We had called the Ombudsman in Broken Hill to inform him of our imminent arrival (after receiving an SMS from him to do so) and found out the location of his palace. I originally had thought he would get a house similar to that of a 1950’s asbesto-ridden, “That’s not a window, it’s a hole in the wall”, “We don’t have a shower, but if it rains, there’s a hole in the roof” house, but he actually has a very nice house. A house I’d be very happy to have. Of course, that was after pulling up next to a house that was very reminiscent of what I had originally thought. In an attempt to get away, and find the Ombudsman, I had sped out of the driveway, knocked over an empty wheelie bin, and drove further down the street. You should know that no one picked up that bin for the three days we were there, and it was laying there as we left on the Sunday.
Anyway, yes, we found the right place, pulled in and stopped the car. We both let out a sigh (at least I know I did) and got out. Finally, we were able to set our feet down, not only in Menindee, but after an enduring and memorable (not to mention highly amusing and extremely interesting) drive. We were then welcomed by a familiar face …