Before setting off out
of Norseman I stopped by the local store and stocked up with
fresh fruit, bananas, apples, peaches, tomatoes, bread rolls and
a few onions. I then stopped into to a small service station
that advertised the cheapest petrol in Norseman. I filled up
with unleaded, added a squirt of lead
substitute, checked the
engine, gearbox and diff oil levels, crossed my fingers and
headed off onto the Eyre highway towards Adelaide.
no more than a few kilometres when an awful knocking sound came
from what at the time sounded like the gearbox. I let my foot
off the accelerator and dropped Hewie out of gear - the
sound stopped. I pulled over to the side of the road with my
heart in my mouth. I shook the gearstick back and forth then
slid Hewie into first and let the clutch out. Hewie
took off without incident; the strange sounding noise had
disappeared. I crossed my fingers – again, and kept going. About
six months after arriving home the same noise started to appear
again - but at more regular intervals. Finally that fateful day
came when the engine started knocking louder. It sounded like a
loose tappet, but much louder. I took the head off to find that
the top two piston rings were burned out. A small piece of the
piston was imbedded into the top of the piston. Thankfully this
didn’t happen in Norseman.
After a four hour drive I came to the first
roadhouse at Balladonia – 219 kimometres east of Norseman. I
filled up with petrol again, at the cost of $1.46 a litre. There
was the usual restaurant, but they baked their own cakes. Ah, if
they bake cakes they must also bake bread. Bad luck - all the
bread was trucked in. I was looking forward to a nice fresh
bread roll with tomato and onion for lunch. I had settled for a
fresh blueberry muffin. I made myself comfortable at a picnic
ground set aside for travellers, set up my camp stove and boiled
the billy for a cup of tea. As soon as I got the muffin, bananas
and apples out the local crows descended and sat around the
picnic table watching every
mouthful of food that I ate. I threw
them a couple of banana skins which they snapped up and fought
over. Even the apple core I threw them was eaten in one quick
gulp. It was hot and dry and not a blade of grass in sight. No
wonder they weren’t fussy. Different to the sea gulls that hang
around the picnic spots at popular seaside resorts. Now they’re
beginning to get fussy, won’t eat apple or tomato, in fact many
sit and wait for the wholly grail – warm salty chips.
Back on the
road again that afternoon the wind changed back into a
north-easterly – a warm to hot headwind. Fifty kilometres out of
Ballandra I passed a cyclist heading east, then another 100
kilometres I passed another. I pitied them pushing into the hot
headwind, it was bad enough for me and Hewie but I’d hate
to be on a bicycle in such conditions. It’d be very soul
destroying. I wondered to myself why the cyclist just didn’t
stop somewhere, set up camp and delve into a book and wait for
the wind to change direction? Just like the old sailors did.
I passed a
semi-trailer that had lost its load. It appeared to be a load of
cotton and paper. Fifty kilometres further on I passed a police
car. The officer was out of his car booking a motorist. That was
a real surprise - police all the way out here! I was over 500
kilometres from the nearest police station and here’s a copper
booking someone. That’s being keen to do your job!
easterly headwind blew harder and hotter as the day progressed.
The best speed I could get out of Hewie had dropped down
to 35 mph and that was with my foot almost flat to the floor. If
you own or have driven a sidevalve Morris you’ll probably
remember how they have a mind of their own. They seem to know
what speed they want to run at, no matter how far down you press
Cocklebiddy was the next roadhouse and fuel
stop. I set my tent in the campground here and settled on a
steak sandwich and cup of tea at the snack bar for dinner. I
also enquired about the police being so far out from any police
“They drive out
here and stay at the motel here. They go right through to the
border then turn back. So don’t think of going over the speed
limit. They’re out there” he said. No problems about Hewie
exceeding the 110 kph speed limit I thought to myself.
northeast wind blew so hard that it felt like it was going to
blow my tent across the dry, dusty and grassless camp ground.
Even when I pitched the tent around sunset the wind was still
gaining force. There was little shelter in the baron camp ground
apart from a few trees that had just been felled. I pitched my
tent in the lee of these tree stumps.
The next morning
the headwind had calmed to a light easterly breeze. I’d hoped
that it would blow itself out through the night but it was
persisting. I set out early
and reached and the next roadhouse, Madura pass, a distance of just 83 kilometers. I drove into the
service station and topped up with the most expensive fuel I’d
come across on the whole trip. Unleaded petrol was $1.49 a
litre. There was a sign near the petrol pump that read Please
do not ask for water as refusal may offend. I wondered how
the cyclists behind me get on when they arrived here. The sign
wasn’t exactly the most friendly welcome. I’d hate the thought
of landing at an oasis after two or three days out cycling in
the desert and being greeted with such a sign. I wondered why
they just didn’t charge for water. If it costs them 10 cents a
gallon to make using their desalination plant, why not just
meter it out like they do with petrol for say, 20 cents a
gallon. Madura pass was a change to the consistanly flat terrain
I’d passed through since leaving Norseman. The settlement was
built in a small hilly cutting. As I drove in I stopped at a
lookout just west of the town to overlook the Nullarbor to the
east. The word Nullarbor means “no trees” but there is a light
covering of scrub and saltbush. Occasionally I’d see an emu or a
kangaroo, usually early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
During the day they find some shade and spend their time
sleeping until the evening. All along the highway were dead
kangaroos killed by the passing cars and trucks. Since leaving
Norseman the smell of dead and rotting wildlife was constantly
in the air. I’d often spoken with drivers who told me that
they’d fitted roo whistles to their cars and trucks,
which emanate a high pitched scream that humans can’t hear. They
assured me that they work, one truck driver who crosses the
Nullarbor weekly told me that since fitting the whistles to his
truck, the kangaroos ran everywhere except into the front of his
truck. In some stretches of the Nullarbor the kangaroo
population is higher than other places. Even in the high
population areas they stayed well away, he said.
the next fuel stop was 115 kilometers away at Mundrabilla. Like
the rest of the stops, Mundrabilla was just a
roadhouse with a
restaurant. The difference with this one was that it was selling
petrol at $1.19 a litre. How one place can sell the same product
nearly a third cheaper than everyone else in the middle of
nowhere was baffling to me. I’d heard different stories, but the
one that fitted the situation the best was that a group of
accountants owned all the roadhouses across the Nullarbor and
put their own price on the petrol. The roadhouse at Mundrabilla
was evidently the black sheep of the Nullarbor roadhouses. I
filled up and tucked into a cheese and tomato sandwich and a pot
of tea in their restaurant. On leaving I confronted the cashier
and asked him why his price for petrol was much cheaper than the
roadhouse just 115 kilometers up the road. He looked at me with
a blank stare.
“I dunno mate,”
The wind had
started to blow hot from the north east again. I was again
battling a headwind. It was at times like this that I wished
that Hewie was just a normal saloon with a nice rounded
and wind resistant roof instead of the sail, which the
convertible hood behaves like when you’re pushing against the
continued to beat to windward. The next roadhouse was on the
border of South Australia and Western Australia at a town called
Eucla, just 50 kilometres further on from Mundrabilla. But it
was a tough 50 kilometers, the hardest since leaving Ballina.
The wind blew so hard that Hewie was down to 28 mph with
my foot flat to the floor. The northeasterly was blowing at gale
On arrival at
Eucla I found a camp ground and set up my tent. Not just for the
night but until the headwind died down. As I was paying the
caretaker for my camp site two European cyclists came to the
counter - a man and a woman, both in their thirties, tall, slim
and both as fit as fiddles.
“I hope you’re
not heading east in this wind,” I asked them
“We are, and
it’s really tough going out there on the road. We’ve just
finished lunch and not looking forward to pushing into the wind
for the rest of the afternoon”
“Why don’t you
just do as I’m doing and set up tent here until the wind
subsides or changes into a westerly which will push you along.
The wind doesn’t blow from the same direction all the time” They
both looked at each other as if they didn’t realize the wind
would change within the next day or two.
“Good idea” they
They then asked the caretaker could they fill up their water
bottles. He said that he couldn’t fill water bottles, but if
they went into the toilets they could fill their bottles from
Back at my tent
I gathered up my dirty clothes and went over to the campsite
laundry. There was a sign on the wall warning that the cold
water tap was ill tasting bore water, not suitable for drinking.
Obviously the management couldn’t run bore water through the hot
water system as the minerals would quickly destroy it so they
had to use expensive desalinated water for washing. I put my
washing on and filled up my fresh water bottle with hot
desalinated water. While the machine was turning I went into the
bathroom for a shower. Two Japanese cyclists were standing at
the basins both with plastic bottles trying to fill them with
fresh water. The plastic bottles were far too tall for the
shallow sink. They had the taps pouring out water but the
bottles were only catching half the water. The rest was running
down the drain. I suggested to them to use the taps over the
large sinks in the laundry – but fill up with hot desalinated
water. They were a little confused at first, but understood my
Australian English enough to understand what I was talking
required a dollar coin for 5 minutes of hot water rain water.
Once I dropped the coins in, the water started pouring out of
the shower rose. I soaped up quickly, washed my hair and rinsed
off as fast as I could as I only had a single one dollar coin.
But the shower didn’t stop, it just kept pouring out water. I
tried to turn the taps off but they didn’t work. I stepped out
of the shower and toweled myself over, the water was still
running – it was poring out! It appeared that the coin operated
water dispenser had a serious malfunction. I dressed, then
gathered my washing and headed back Hewie parked next to
my tent. I dropped off the washing and headed up to the
caretaker to tell him the problem over at the men’s showers. He
didn’t seem too perturbed, rather than jumping to attention and
getting someone to go over and try to rectify the problem he
stared to tell me the high costs the motel and campground had in
making desalinated water and the problems they had in people
trying to steal it or waste it washing cars.
Eucla is the largest town, or settlement,
on the Nullarbor boasting a service station, hotel, motel,
caravan park, camp ground, hospital, flying doctor, police
station and some government agencies. The town began back in
1877 as the site of a telegraph repeater station which lasted
through till 1929 when a new telegraph line was laid near the
railway line further to the north. The remains of the old
repeater station built from sandstone still stands just a short
walk from the camp ground where I was staying. I walked down and
found the old sun-bleached building half covered in fine
windblown sand. Even today it was a lonely windblown outpost in
the middle of what felt like nowhere. But the old building and
fine white sand created a beautiful setting. I took out my
Later I headed
back to a restaurant which was a part of the hotel, motel, camp
ground for dinner. After dinner I headed back to the tent.
During the night the wind continued to howl in from the east as
I lay there with the sides of the tent flapping away in the
wind. There was no grass in the camp ground, I was camped on a
hard clay like surface. The wind whipped up a fine white dust
which came into the tent through the insect screen. Next morning
I awoke before sunrise, the wind had calmed to a very light
easterly. It wasn’t the westerly gale I wanted but it was a
chance to get some miles under Hewie.
The first stop
was for a quick cup of tea at the BP roadhouse at the Western
Australian and South Australian border just 15 kilometers to the
east. It was appropriately named the BP Travellers Village.
I was now in
South Australia, the road ahead also passed through the
Nullarbor National Park and for the next 180 kilometers.
of the time I could see the sparkling blue ocean on my right
hand side and the dry dusty desert to my left. There were
numerous turnoffs down to the ocean where I stopped
and looked over the cliffs to the surf crashing on the rocks
below. The ocean right next to the desert gave me a sense of an
eerie loneliness. Like between a rock wall and a hard place, I
thought to myself as I looked down at the ocean and turned to
look at the barren land behind me. I reached Nullarbor just after
11am that morning and stopped at the solitary roadhouse there
for some petrol, another cheese and tomato sandwich and a cup of
tea. I filled up with petrol at the old Nullarbor price of $1.49
a litre. Back to reality as far as petrol prices go. Most major
service stations in Australia accept credit cards even for the
smallest of transactions, but not always on the Nullarbor. Many
of the restaurants in the roadhouses only accept cards for large
purchases. I rarely carry a lot of
cash and my supply was now
getting low. At the Nullarbor roadhouse I filled up with petrol
and paid the attendant. I then walked into the restaurant and
ordered a cheese sandwich and a cup of tea and tried to pay with
my credit card. There was instant refusal as the price of my
purchases came to less than the minimum which was ten dollars.
“I’m getting low
on cash” I told the waitress.
“That’s OK. What
we do here is, you can buy ten dollars in cash, or more if you
wish using your credit card. Then you can pay for your sandwich
and tea in cash”
“Tell me that
again?” She then repeated what she told me, with a straight
face. I then asked her.
“But wouldn’t it
be easier to just put the amount on the card rather than going
through all that rigmarole?”
“Your bill is
only seven dollars fifty and our limit is ten dollars” she said.
I gave up and
gave her my card. She took it away and came back with an old
fashioned credit card slip with ten dollars handwritten on it. I
signed it for her and she placed the change of two dollars fifty
on the counter.
I took a seat
next to an elderly man who was sipping on a cup of tea.
“You’re in the
Morris? Don’t tell me you’ve come all the way from Perth in that
Ballina via Darwin and Perth,” I said.
He then looked
out the window at Hewie again, shook his head a little
and changed the conversation.
Melbourne. We’re heading over to Perth, our car is about 40
kilometres further west from here. My wife and I are travelling
in tandem with some friends and we stopped for a few minutes in
a rest stop. We all stood around stretching and talking, and
when my wife and I got back into our car, I tried to start it,
nothing happened. I lifted the bonnet and went over everything.
There must be something wrong with the computer that controls
the ignition system I thought. I got a lift here to get a
mechanic to come out and have a look at it. I’ve just got off
the phone to the mechanic. He has to come out from Penong which
is about two hours drive away. He reckoned that I’d broken down
in probably the worst and most barren place on the main highway
around Australia. Anyway he’s on his way out here now. My
friends and my wife are out there.” he said.
As he spoke some
people were leaving the restaurant and he handed them a large
bottle of Coca Cola and asked him to drop it off out there to
his wife and friends and tell them that help was on the way.
in front of the roadhouse was a road-train carrying a load of
sheep. Sitting at the table opposite us appeared to
driver of the truck. I asked him if the sheep get thirsty on a
long trip across the Nullarbor, especially in this hot weather.
It must have been close to the mid thirties Celsius outside.
“Do you hose
them down along the way?” I asked.
“It’s three days
from the time I pick them up in South Australia and drop them
off in Western Australia and they go that time without a drink
of water,” he said.
survive it though. Very few die, in fact the ones that do are
probably sick or weak even before they get on the truck.”
they’d cook out there in that heat and being so close to each
“No they feel
just like us with clothes on.”
“I wouldn’t last
long out there in that heat without a hat and some water. And
those poor things battle it out for 3 days. They must be thirsty
when they get there!
“Which way are you headed?” he asked.
“East,” I said
heading down into the Eyre Peninsular, stop in Ceduna and try
the oysters there. They’re twice as big as the ones you buy over
on the east coast and they’re delicious!”
I was now well
over the hump of crossing the Nullarbor. Civilization was less
than a half day drive away. Civilisation to some people can only
be somewhere like New York, London or maybe even Sydney, but
when you’ve been out in the bush for a few days the word
civilization takes on a different meaning. For the moment it
simply meant an ice cold draught beer and a dozen oysters that I
could sit and open myself. Ah, if life could always be that
simple! As I drove off
down the Eyre Highway I pictured the glass of beer sitting on
the bar and the oysters sitting on a bed of salt on the plate.
The flat treeless Nullarbor Plain soon gave
way to trees again. After an hour and a half’s drive I arrived
at the Yalata roadhouse. I continued on for another two hours
and the trees soon gave way to wheat and grain country which
brought me into the small town of Penong where I pitched my
tent for the night on a grassy spot in the local camp ground and
caravan park. Numerous windmills that pump water from an
underground basin surround the town and supply it with water.
The town is also the junction where the road to the famous
surfing spot Cactus Beach meets the highway. The main industry
in the town is grain storage and wheat silos tower over the
town. Next morning I drove down to the silos where trucks were
arriving to discharge their cargoes of wheat. I got talking with
the workers there. None were born in the area, most had moved
there and got a job so they could surf at Cactus beach.
turn off? My map says there’s a turnoff close to town. I’ve not
found it,” I told them.
“You won’t. If
you go about a kilometre out of town you’ll see a signpost with
a big blotch of brown paint on it. Turn to your left there. The
locals don’t want great hoards of tourists and other surfers
heading down to Cactus Beach so they defaced the sign. Each time
the council comes along and repairs the sign the locals just
come back and paint it out again”
“What’s the road
like going down there” I asked.
“It’s not good.
It’s dirt all the way, but take it slow – you’ll make it.”
I set off down
the road which was not only rough but
had no sign posts. I got
to one T – intersection and sat there trying to work out which
route to take. Fortunately another car came along and gave me
directions. The road continued along through the middle of a
large salt pond. When I finally arrived, I found a lonely
outpost of a settlement. A
couple of houses and a very simple
camp ground with a few caravans. I stopped at the parking lot
and walked down to the quiet windswept beach. There was no one
around and the place seemed deserted. But
there were no waves, I
can image the place would become packed with cars and people
once the surf came up.
I continued on
the rough road past the simple campground with pit toilets and
bore water down to a small bay called Port le Hunte. Here a
jetty ran out into the bay that once served the ketches that
sailed around from the Spencer Gulf, to load and sail back with
cargoes of wheat. But that would have all finished in 1915 when
the railway came to Penong. But like so many other small ports
in South Australia the wharf is still there. There is an
enclosed area for swimming so I took quick dip and enjoyed the
loneliness and isolation before continuing back to Penong along
the rough unsealed road.
Half way back
the sound of the exhaust got louder. I stopped to inspect it and
found that the exhaust pipe had broken off just behind the
muffer. The noise wasn’t bad enough to attract police attention
but bad enough to annoy me. Hewie didn’t have that nice
back pressure sound that Morris’s have when you take your foot
off the accelerator and let the back pressure slow you down.
This was the first unsealed road which I’d ventured onto since
the start of the trip. I’ve always had it in mind that there
probably would be enough problems in driving a 50 year old car
around Australia on sealed roads so I’d avoided the dirt.
Back on the
highway at Penong I headed for Ceduna, two hours drive away. On
arrival at Ceduna I looked up at a sign post that read Norseman
1208 kilomtres. I had crossed the Nullarbor in 3 days at an
average of 400 kilometers a day and enjoyed every minute of the
Ceduna there was an overall sense of cleanliness, as if it was
too far away from the rest of the Australian population to have
any pollution problems. Norseman to the west is the nearest town
of any size and it isn’t too big. The next big city was Port
Lincoln on the southern tip of Eyre Peninsular. Both towns
seemed isolated from the rest of the country by the desert to
the west and the Spencer Gulf to the east. The main industry in
Ceduna is wheat. Large grain silos at the port at Thevenard a
few kilometres away from the centre of town, ship out up to a
third of the Eyre Peninsular’s wheat crop. The other industries
are salt, gypsum fishing and of course oyster farming. As I
drove into town I spotted a small shed on the side of the road
with a large sign overhead saying “OYSTERS”. I stopped by and
purchased a dozen unopened oysters from the woman running the
store, who told me that the store was organized by the local
oyster farmers and run by their wives and families. I then
stopped by the local pub for a couple of cans of beer, found a
cabin at the local camp ground, and sat on the verandah and
celebrated the crossing of the Nullarbor Plain.