There is nothing like a 500 year old Red Gum to make you appreciate your relative significance. There aren’t many left if this age and size. This one stands alone, spared from the loggers saw by who knows what twist of luck.
If trees think, this one probably wonders “Where has everyone gone?” Our small twittering is probably a blur of destructive activity between the slow beats of the heartwood and the infinitesimal bend of a 10.89 round trunk.
In another 500 years we will all be recycled fertilizer, but perhaps this Giant Red Gum will still stand. Assuming of course we have not managed to turn everything into a globe wide bowl of silent sterility.
A rare radio signal found us listening to The Herd’s remix of Redgum’s I Was Only 19, the iconic and powerful song about the Vietnam war. As the signal blew behind us to static we swapped to the iPod and listened to a long ago recorded podcast that told the story of the original version by John Schuman, together with the story of The Herd’s revisiting and reworking of the lyrics.
Redgum was a soundtrack to many roadtrips back when I was nineteen or so. Now I’m not. The nineteen year old soldiers are still dying though for conflicted, confused and constructed reasons in lands they would have struggled to find on a High School geography lesson map. The whump of the Huey’s blades have been replaced by the thunderous scream of an F-16, and the ladders of falling explosives by laser guided missiles. Agent Orange might not be needed in the already defoliated hills of Afghanistan and the sands of Iraq, but we are still blowing up wedding parties and creating one legged orphans.
In the back the kids are bored and have lost interest for now in looking out the window. May they remain so, with all their limbs attached.
Leaving behind Western Australia after four days of driving we hit South Australia and headed for our first night in the Central Australian time zone. Fowlers Bay is a small and sleepy township situated under the gritty shadow of an extensive dune field. The wind was thumping through the town’s wind generator blades and covering the car in a fine layer of grit by morning.
The sand of the dune field is so fine, dry and loose that it flows down the slope of the dunes like liquid when disturbed by your passing footprints. Each step is tiresome as your feet sink deeply in – a stark reminder of some of the reasons why the efforts of early European explorers just ended in bones and a lonely, torturous death.
The dune field quickly turns cold as the falling sun turns the sky an eerie blood red. Under the corpuscular skies your gritted eyes begin playing tricks, and soon you begin to see strange silhouettes stalking the dune lip as the wind blows the fine sand up and off into the sky.
Between Eucla and the South Australian state border lies the Head of the Bight. In the protected waters of the Bight are ancient whale carving and nursing areas. Here the mothers stay with the calves until they are strong enough to manage the migration South to the waters of Antarctica, where they can check out how much of the ice-field has melted this year. This mother whale is teaching her calf the correct way to float upside down and wave your fins in the air. Perhaps they are looking at the shells on the bottom and watching the fish swim by.
Unfortunately it was a hazy day when we passed through and the otherwise spectacular views of the sheer cliffs of the Bight were somewhat limited by the poor visibility. Nevertheless, the cliff faces are a suicide-by-jumping person’s idea of Heaven.
The wind blows relentlessly across the edges of the cliff. On the day we visited the wind was blowing in from the Southern Ocean. This was a good thing from the perspective of being able to get fairly close to the edges of the cliff. When the wind is blowing in from the desert you can unexpectedly find yourself airborne. This is not a good thing at all. Beware, keep young children close, and make sure that the person who has the car keys leaves you a spare if they plan to go close to the cliff edge.
The searing wind leaves only stubby and hardy bushes growing on the open plain leading up to the land’s end. Many of the gnarled shrubs have died under the hot sun and stand in mute and dramatic knots, their wood crisply dried.