The Nullarbor receded as the plane entered the Indian Ocean and beyond to Adelaide.
Chief Editor was tracking my flight.
I text her when the plane lands.
‘Great tail winds, and left 40 minutes early.’
She texts me again. ‘Meet you in arrival hall.’
She’s an expert at tracking flights.
It’s suppose to be hot outside.
‘A cool forty degrees outside,’ she says
The last time we met, was in Asia, where we were finishing off Garuda’s Travels.
‘Before it finished you off.’
I know, it was a very close call.
She’s talking about the bomb.
This would be the first time we’d meet on Australian soil.
‘Far Side does Australia?’
Something like that.
Either this airport has changed or I’m hallucinating.
‘Both,’ says Chief Editor.
I come clean and hand over the tramadols
‘In the bin with them,’ she says. She’s looking pretty good. I last met her two years ago as we gave birth to Garuda’s Travels.
‘More like Garuda’s Troubles.’
She has just the place for me to regroup my sanity.
‘It’s an Indian-managed hotel. But no smoking inside, it has smoke detectors that actually work.’
She says it use to be a run down hotel, ‘but when Indians take anything over, they always do better.’
They had a Chinese menu too.
‘They are outsourcing it.’
I was picked up by Chief Editor in her Range Rover. She rode the roads like a captain of the high seas. She had two Indian dishes she picked up a servo between Desert Town and Adelaide.
‘Thought you might be hungry.’
Her seat is pushed far forward as possible. And it looks like she lives out of the car.
‘It’s Far Side Head Quarters,’ she says. And tramadol is good for watching puffy cloud formations, 35 000 feet up in the sky.
I had to admit, I got some great cloud shots. But if only I could take the same cloud shot from the ground.
Chief Editor is glad she has tossed the last of my Tramadol stash.
‘You’ll have every junkie in Adelaide rummaging through the airport bins.’
Before the next 24 hours is over, I’ll regret her tossing out my pills.
I have a rotten Tramadol hangover. She doesn’t care.
Knock knock. It’s time to check out. I’ll just have to ride this one out.
She has a surprise for me.
I did. Nothing like a morbid start to a road trip. I also googled the weather.
‘Rain on the horizon, but not too heavy.’
We have enough cigarettes and coffee and supplies for the 4-hour journey.
‘But first, we need to visit Bunnings and get bamboo curtains.’
And a bed and pillows, I said. I don’t want to sleep on a hard floor.
‘Did you enjoy the shopping trip into the heart of Suburbia?’ she asked me.
I enjoyed the snags. But I questioned our ability to hang up the bamboo curtains and to install the water heater.
‘I’ve rigged up a Kangaroo tail as a radiator belt.’
And now we are on the open road.She’s going to show me her world. I’ve got my camera out and now we are hunting for stories.I can’t keep up with her narrative, but she’s giving me pro tips, whether I want them or not.
Sheep. More sheep. A windmill. Broken down. Wheat. More wheat.
‘It’s harvest time,’ says my guide of South Australia. She points at the rolling hills.
‘Wheat as far as you can see. But that will soon stop when the Flinder Ranges starts.’
She says we are the crossroads.
‘Everything passes through here. It’s a song line. Listen carefully, and you’ll tap into past dialogues.’
I’m having problems tapping into current dialogues.
But she’s going easy on me.
We have pulled into a servo, which is a few kilometers past a salt lake that has taken on pink hues from the algae.
‘Now don’t forget to get a snapshot of the Lochness Monster.’
It’s three tyres, formed as Loch Ness Monster, ‘and a striking resemblance.’
Thrilling I said, as we pulled into the gas station.
‘Not as thrilling as the female toilets,’ she says. The window is broken.
‘It should be, I broke it.’
She says someone locked her in the toilet which is to the side of the servo.
‘An hour later, after tapping the bars with a toilet plunger, someone eventually opened the door.’
She regrets not having her phone on her.
And the Indian run servo regrets her being locked in the toilets.
‘No one can hear you.’
I bet. Not with the loud Bollywood movie playing inside the servo.
‘Yeah, it drains out everything, even the shrieks of an old lady in distress.’
That bin over there, that’s where they kept the bodies in the barrel.
Snowtown is probably a separate story in its own right, says Chief Editor.
She’d like a day to wander around and dig deep, and ‘ see what the town was like before the people from Salisbury bought the bank and buried the bodies in barrels in the vault.’
I said there was no time for that. I was more interested in the animal faces hanging off the fences. Mickey Mouse, Porky Pig. We spotted two houses with cute Walt Disney animals.
‘The town people really want to distance themselves from the serial murders,’ she says. ‘So much so that the town wants to even change its name.’
I spotted large windmills in the distance. I said we’d only get upset if dug any deeper in this town.
‘We might find a few more dead bodies,’ she says.
‘They were all imports,’ I replied, having just wiki’d the info. ‘One from Sydney, I can’t remember where the other two were from.’
‘Snowtown is dead.’
A dead town. A victim of imports, I said.
‘Outsiders you mean?’
We both agreed the locals of Snowtown were short changed. And where’s the fucking snow? The town deserves a new name.
Wheat and Windmills, must a story here, I said, as we drove up a dirt road so I could get a better view.
‘And sheep, plenty of them.’
They were eating the stumps off the recently harvested wheat.
In Western Australia, I never saw a sheep.
‘But you never went to the wheat belt,’ said the Garden Gnome who turned back onto the highway.
‘You haven’t seen the Tin Man either,’ she says. I looked in the rearview mirror as the Alien windmills gently blew in the wind.
‘They power 40 percent of South Australia,’ says the walking Almanac.
I could feel she was in need of a pick me up.
She pulled up into the Tin Man servo, and behind that the Flinders Rangers began its 600-kilometer distance up the coast, separating coastal and desert fauna.
‘The oldest mountain ranges in Australian.’ My guide knows her stuff. She orders us two banana cakes with yellow icing. Behind the counter, blue tiles.
‘Better get a shot of that,’ she says.
It’s a giant Tin Man. But Dorothy was missing.
‘No, I mean the blue tiles.’ Chief Editor is being passive so I take the shot.
It’s the best coffee and cakes and the only Tin Man in Australia. We have hit about 50 percent of the servos that serve travelers of the Nullarbor plains.
But Chief Editor still favors the Indian servo.
‘We have history there.’
We are back in the car and moving west again, into desert country. The eucalyptus trees are replaced by Arcadia scrubs and the wheat fields replaced by Salt Scrub.
She knows all the servos.’I fucking well should. I know all the servos on the way to Alice Springs too.’
‘I fucking well should. I know all the servos on the way to Alice Springs too.’
‘ Some of them are shockers,’ she says. ‘If you don’t see any trucks parked near the restaurant, basically the food is crap.’
Another servo is offering Camel milk and Kangaroo burger. I’ll pass. We have reached the gulf.
‘Semi-tropical, the water is warmer. No seals, so no Great Whites.’
The Flinders are getting higher.
‘Up to one-kilometer high. And the other side of the mountain ranges, much wetter.’
Then desert. Lots of it.
And the desert towers on the gulf?
‘It’s closed down now. The town lost 500 jobs. But the tomato solar tower is now active ‘
‘But the other one is still open.’
Yes the BHP one is still open.
I’m losing track of the towers in the desert.
‘Still around and full of radioactive waste.’
And an army base?
‘They have banished us from the tablelands. And when they come into town practicing urban warfare, we just laugh and think what a waste of space.’
Either way, the towers are eyesores.
And a great photographic shoot.
‘See the pipeline?’
‘It’s water pumped from the Murray River.’
And the silver Arcadia trees and Salt Bush, and a dim day from light rain.
‘Gives it a silver appearance.’
There’s beauty in it for sure. I can’t deny that.
Beyond was the desert. For another 3000 kilometers, the desert road went ahead.
‘Only bushes as high as my knees,’ she says, as she lights up another cigarette. The smoke inside is clouding us out.
Luckily we aren’t crossing the Nullarbor.
She points to a hill.
‘That’s where a CIA operative was with Von Braun, looking for a spot to land the Apollo on the moon.’
But surely they’d be noticed.
‘It wasn’t so covert. CIA was landing helicopters up on Brown’s Hill while looking for a landing site.’
Is it credible?
‘The Flinders Rangers also have remains of the oldest possum remains.’
Were they giant possums?
She isn’t sure. But I’m sure the giant kangaroos were killed off by nomads.
As the Land Cruiser cruises into Desert Town, Garden Gnome says she has some choirs for me. ‘And perhaps I’ll introduce you to some characters.
But first, she wants me to paint her new premises. It’s going to be called Far Side Cafe.
I’ve stepped on a nail. I’m out of action and I’ve not even picked up a paint brush. I’m crying, where is my tramadol.
‘Just toughen up Princess. This isn’t God’s Garbage country anymore.’
It was either wait five hours at the Desert Hospital or try and treat the scratch by myself. One lady had been stabbed in the finger the night before, another guy had a leaking knee.
‘A superbug from an Adelaide hospital,’ said Chief Editor.
I told the lady with the stabbed finger that I stubbed my toe on a nail on the floor board. I was leaking blood. It could go either way.
‘More like grazed it.’ I was leaking blood. It could go either way.
It was leaking blood, I protested. It could go either way.
I told her I
She looked at my scratch, and said, ‘The worst that can happen is have your toe amputated.’
I had peeled it with a nail. It sliced my skin like a potato peeler.
‘All the signs of a travel writer,’she said. Her sympathy levels were low.
She wasn’t impressed. I had to either act up for my actions or be reduced to a cry baby.
‘You haven’t stopped moaning since.’
The desert people have a homegrown humor. It’s a swearing paradise.
But should we inform the public of our whereabouts?
‘If you want to know where we are, how to get here, and the prices? Buy the fucking Lonely Planet.’
Chief Editor is at her biting best. Tomorrow I’m mopping more floors and scrubbing benches.
‘It could be worse,’she says. ‘You could be with the brain dead drunk in Perth.’
Or in a shallow hole.
She suggests I tune into the stories from the desert.
‘Like Snowtown? ‘ I ask. The Garden Gnome raises an eyebrow.
‘No,’ she says, reflectively, ‘maybe being locked in a toilet, only a five-minute drive to Snowtown.’
‘Now there’s a story,’ I say.
‘You covered it,’ she says. ‘But there’s more desert stories.’
She’s gone silent as a tropical storm runs through the desert.
Far Side Out.
‘Not just yet,’ she says.
She wants to tell me about the Qantas Flight attendant who had three kidneys.
I met him before I flew out. We were in the smoking section. He told me his brother gave him a kidney.
‘They didn’t’ take out the other two. It would have caused too much bleeding.’
So what is your brother’s name?
So I looked down at his kidneys. Which side is Paul on, left or right.
Well hello Paul, I said as I looked at his right kidney.
‘It gets much worse than that doesn’t it?’
He was a nice guy. He told me his roommates in Melbourne asked him if he could buy some of his medication.
Does it get you high, I asked?
‘Apparently,’ he says. ‘But I’m so tired when I wake up, the pills just drain the life out of me.
We both left the smoking section outside to catch our flights to Adelaide.
He was a decent guy and I told him about my escape from God’s Garbage.
‘I took a tramadol too.’
He could understand. Well, I hope he could.
‘Shame I’m not on your Qantas flight,’ I yelled out. ‘I could have had free booze on the flight.’
‘It would have sloshed well with the Tramadol already in your system,’ says Chief Editor who is trying to explain that Sydney and Melbourne both have separate train lines.
I’m not paying her much attention.
‘But you should. From here it’s north to Northern Territory, West to Western Australia… ‘
And East to Sydney and Melbourne, I butt in.
‘Now you are cottoning on.’
Desert Town began with the train line.
‘It’s since become a strategic area for the military. It use to be where Baxter detention was. Now it’s been taken over by the military.’
‘It’s another place of death and destruction. First nuclear testing, now an army facility for the Americans to test whatever they test.’
The cleaning is going well. Chief Editor has recruited a few other garden gnomes.
They think it’s better we run a sex shop than a cafe. A young man walks by. One of the upsized ladies yells out to him. ‘Get in here, we are going to sell you.’
The place use to be a brothel.
‘So a sex shop wouldn’t be totally out of place, historically,’ says the Garden Gnome.
Whatever she is opening up, we have got until the end of January.
Sounds a plan. I’m starting to walk better. My scratch is healing up.
The town was flooded just today.
‘The drain pipes weren’t designed for tropical thunderstorms.’
Nor was the roof of the local supermarket.
I have a feeling before the day is out, there’s going to be a few more stories popping up.
‘You haven’t even scratched the service.’
Tonight’s my first night as caretaker. I’m just hoping the electricity cables don’t get wet and start a fire. The front door lock refuses to open and the broken window out the back is perfect for lobbying a Molotov cocktail.
‘I doubt the idiot would even know how to design one.’
I’m hoping so too. She’s talking about the last tenant, ‘another one from hell.’
“Besides, you are between two banks and the cop station is a two-minute drive away. So I don’t think you’ll be getting any irate trash inviting themselves like you had in Perth.’
I’m feeling better already. I could always smash the front door if a fire breaks out and I can’t get out of the back door.
‘You have my permission to smash the window.’
I said just get the front door fixed up.
‘And we’ll be both a lot happier. ‘
Just not enough hours in the day says Chief Editor.
She’s tuned out and I’m manning Far Side Head Quarters from Desert Town.
She says not to get paranoid.
‘God’s Garbage aren’t coming to look for you. But I’d worry about the strays from the Lands. The worse they can do is break the front window.Then your exit out of the building should be a little be easy. But if worse comes to worse, just dial triple zero. You’ll have the help of men in blue uniforms in about two minutes.’
That’s my job, to take care of the premises. I’ve been given another pro tip.
She’s not done.
‘Tell us about the atheist chauffeur driver you met at Perth Airport.
He said there was so much suffering in this world. And if there was a God, ‘then why isn’t he stopping all the killing in Syria.’ The driver, who looked like Santa Claus, ‘more like someone who likes of beer’ is on his way to Thailand in a few days.
I only travel on Christmas day, ‘just to escape the bullshit.’ He had finished my sentence and he wished me a safe travel.
I was escaping the madness. Leaving it was the best gift Santa could give to me. I do believe in Christmas. It’s called an escape route.
‘It’s called an escape route,’ said Chief Editor. ‘Always put some money aside for such emergencies.’
Her house is flooded. I give her an update. Only a few leaks. Must be drains upstairs.
Desert Town is quiet. I’m locked up like Fort Knox. I’m calling it a night.
‘I have my phone on, maximum volume, if you need anything.’
Reassuring. As I said, I’m not scared of Desert Town.
Tell us the real reason why you didn’t want to see the doctor?
Ok, I’m coming clean. I just didn’t want to pay them.
‘You can get better attention at home,’ says the Garden Gnome.
I told her I’ve had blood spurting out from rusty fence fire stabbing me.
This is nothing. And the nail had no rust on it.
If I can save some money where I can, I’ll toughen up and treat myself.
‘You don’t get to travel without being thrifty,’ says Chief Editor, who nearly got flooded in her garden tonight after a gale blew off the gulf.
She knows I need to save every penny for the next trip.
‘This is your next trip,’ she says. ‘Keep on writing. Many more stories to tap into. It’s fertile ground.’
The mountains surround the Desert Town. It’s been protected by mountains from another act of creation. I look at the mountains and think where the fuck am I. I could be in Indonesia. It’s that alien from most of Australia.
‘It’s definitely not the Blue Mountains, ‘ she says. ‘And wait till I show you my property in the mountains.’
More work for me, I think.
‘We need to secure the fruit trees from the kangaroos. And if you are lucky, I might find you a few more stories.’
It’s an offer too hard to refuse.
‘You’re going round and round in circles,’ says the Gnome.
I can still hear that tap tap on my wall. It was the genesis of Sweet Smelling Water. And she ruined everything.
Was it the bitch?
‘She’s been fucking tapping all night,’ says Bernhard. ‘She broke the front door, and a few windows.’
I suspect Bernhard enjoys a walk on the wild side with the bad girls.
‘It’s smoothing his mid-life crisis,” says the Garden Gnome.
‘Bernhard is back from New Zealand and is at the courthouse with the bitch.’
‘It’s only going to end in misery,’ she says.
She’s conned him again, I said. Her X will be waiting for Bernhard, sooner than later.
‘He’ll try and stitch him up. Bikies don’t like competition, even if it’s for garbage drunks. They are a dime a dozen.’
The streets are full of black fellas from the Lands.
‘Better off we shoot them,’ said one local.
I said they were well behaved compared to the ones roaming the streets of Perth.
‘Better off we shoot them.’
The power plant is shutdown and business has died in Desert Town and this local is bitter.
‘Roo and boong shooting might pick up the economy.’
He’s doubly bitter and I’m not going there.
‘Better not,’ said Garden Gnome.
She needs to duck off and get something from the house.
I’ve done the mopping today.
‘And that black screen over the front windows will keep everyone guessing.’
I’ve heard people comment.
‘Some have commented on the rates group announcement you put up,’ I said to Chief Editor, who had been attending to her grand kids. ‘And I heard them ask, I wonder what is going to open after the old cafe.’
‘Keep em guessing,’ she says. ‘Nothing like a bit of mystery to our enterprise.’
Trees have fallen all over the place.
‘A bad storm and planting the wrong trees for desert conditions, a recipe for falling trees.’
She takes me out to the bush meat store.
‘Fresh kangaroo tail. It’s so fatty. But it was the only decent fat the locals could get before we introduced sheep and cattle.’
My job is basically to keep the roaming kids out of the premises.
‘They are monkeys and love climbing roofs.’
That’s a nice way of saying breaking and entry.
‘And I’ve seen them do tens of thousands of dollars damage.’
I haven’t done much today. A bit of mopping.
Chief Editor has just done a paint run
She hands me a paint brush.
‘I think a silver green will look good for outside.’