Australia

Australia: The Overlanders Way

Sunday, 12/6: I leave Cairns and head back down to Townsville to the Townsville to Tennant Creek drive (aka The Overlanders Way). I will then zip up to Darwin and then back through the Northern Terriroty (aka NT). As I leave Townsville and begin The Overlanders Way on Flinder’s Highway I realize about 5 miles in that it should be renamed Dead Smelly Carcass Highway. It’s like playing a real life game of Mario Kart, instead of banana peels and oil spills, I dodge tire treads and dead animal carcasses. From Townsville to Hughenden, the highway is filled with dead carcasses in various stages from fresh to bones. I stopped counting the death toll after 10. Some are kangaroos, wallabies, birds, and I think I see what looks like the remains of a giant lizard of some sort. What I find the most surprising is a recently hit cow and horse. Neither of these creatures are small by nature and there they are dead on the side of the road. I ponder what the vehicle might look like as both animals are clearly identifiable and I think maybe the vehicles aren’t so much. There are few animals that look like they just curled up on the side of the road to die. It’s sad and disheartening to see the deaths of so many animals. It is also sad and disheartening to see a once prosperous land dried up to nothing but dirt and dry creek beds. Every sign I passed that named a creek was bone dry and filled with a lot of dirt and a plant here or there. It’s not barren by all means, there are trees growing to the left and right of me as I drive in some places and grazing animals in some places. There are fields of termite mounds that I imagine as the homes of gnomes or trolls. They remind me of the volcanic cairns I saw in Iceland. My drive is just me, Hailey the Hyundai, the music and my thoughts. An occasional vehicle passes by me going in the opposite direction, back towards civilization, as I seem to be running from it. The song lyrics from “Break Down Here” by Julie Roberts fills my head: “…it’s another 50 miles to the nearest town. Everything I own is in the back in a hefty bag. I’m out of cigarettes and I’m down to my last drag. I’d sure hate to break down here. Nothing up ahead or in the rear view mirror. Out in the middle of nowhere. I’m in trouble if the wheels stop rolling. God help keep me moving somehow…” Boy, would I hate to break down on The Overlanders Way. There is no cell phone reception. The little bars have turned into SOS Only. I don’t want to use SOS Only. If you wanted to disappear, you could do it out here. Japan has their “Suicide Forest” and Australia has the Queensland Outback. I imagine that if you got out of your car or off your bike and just started walking to your death or suicide, it would be days before anyone found your remains if they found you at all. I zip through community after sad community. The signs the government are fresh and exciting but the towns are not. I ponder what the local life is like and if they’re happy. Do they long for something more or are they content to be surviving in the Outback. I pass a giant boat that probably was once the life of the lake and it’s now up on blocks and on it is painted: LAKE WANTED, BOAT NOT HAPPY. At least I know how the boat feels, “Not happy, stuck.” As I cover the distance between Townsville to Hughenden, my head is as empty as the road most of the time, but there are times when it’s thinking, “what if I can’t stay in Australia?” or “what if I can’t get a job here, then what?” or “what if I can’t get a job back in the States?” I silence most of the what ifs, but in the back of my mind they do linger. Some will see the pictures on social media and think, “she just quite her life in the States to travel Australia,” and you know if you see and think that, then that is your opinion and you are allowed it. I don’t judge you for your opinion or thought. It makes me think of the quote, “I am under no obligation to make sense to you.” That is the truth. My life doesn’t have to make sense to you. It is my life and I will not live an unlived life.
Written: 12/06 | Posted 12/08

Monday, 12/07: I leave Hughenden in Queensland at 6 am and drive towards the NT. The scenery is not much different than yesterday’s expect I see alive animals like sheep, emus, cows, and some sort of bird I don’t recognize. This time they’re alive. There’s a reason they suggest driving these nowhere highways between 8 am and 4 pm, during the other hours everything with a pulse is up and on the road since it’s not roasting hot yet. When I arrive in Cloncurry, I finally get life back on my cell phone and make a pit stop in the town to check in with family and friends and to post a few social media posts. I’m not sure when I’ll drop or pick up reception again so I make it quick and continue my way to Mount Isa. I stop at Mount Isa and briefly consider doing the tour there but it’s so dang hot that I pick up my maps and send a final message to family to let them know where my next destination will be. When I finally enter the Northern Territory, I notice that it’s immediately 1001 degrees hotter, but then I notice clouds up ahead and beg for rain or at least cloud coverage to cover my way. It’s funny how instantly cool you can feel when you’re driving under a cloud vs direct sunlight. It drizzles here and there and the entire NT smells like wet hay. It so far flat, fields of drying grass with a smattering of trees here and there. I feel like I’m even further in the middle of nowhere (which I am). There’s nothing much to tell or see. I realize the Queensland tour website is a crock of shit and it shouldn’t take you 6 days to get through The Overlanders Way in the Queensland side of the drive. Sure it wants you to stop in the communities along the way, but let me save you the heartache or pain from having to suffer through that. Full up in Townsville and if you need to stop, for the night, do so in Hughhenden, drive to Mount Isa, refuel and drive all the way to Tennant Creek if you can. I could not so I’m crashing in the homestead of Barkly. Blink and you’ll drive right through it. It’s a gas station, caravan park, campsite, motel, bar, and restaurant all rolled into one. If I had the energy and day light hours to keep driving I would have drove on through. If you can’t, it’s a place to rest tired eyes and a tired mind. As the sun sets, I watch magpies sitting on my rental car, staring at their reflection in the windshield and picking dead bugs out of the wipers. I guess we all do what we need to survive. For me, I will sleep. I have 8-10 hours to drive tomorrow so I can reach Darwin by Wednesday at a reasonable time.
Written: 12/07 | Posted 12/08

Tuesday, 12/08: I have officially completed The Overlanders Way: 1550 kilometers (963 miles) from Townsville in Queensland to Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. The scenery isn’t much difference now that I’m further into the NT. Just more sparse in colors. Blue skies, red dirt, sun-bleached flora with the occasional green. A lot of termite mounds. At one point, I felt like I was in a real life Calvin & Hobbes cartoon strip but instead of snowmen, it was termite mounds. The mounds just kept creeping closer and closer to the road. I also want to know why some had clothes on. For fun? For giggles? Australia, why are you clothing your termite mounds? It’s so weird!! My sister asked if I had stopped and explored along the way and the answer was no. Not a lot to see in the communities I plowed through and those that had something, I had no interest in. I know, roll your eyes if you want, but after the 700th WWII airstrip, I just stopped reading the signs. My drive from Barkly Homestead to Tennant Creek was easy as was the drive from Tennant Creek to Katherine. I also go reception again. Wooooo. Mainly I use it to check in and post on social media for those that might worry about me or even care what the fuck I’m at. I am tempted to stay in Katherine for the night, but Darwin is only 3 hours. So close!! Decision made. Later Katherine, hello Darwin. I can’t quite decide if I like Darwin yet. It’s greener and seems more like a real town/city vs the community, but there’s nothing special screaming at me. I’ll explore a little more and see if I like it. Either way, I’m trekking across the NT to Uluru.
Written: 12/08 | Posted 12/08