Western Australia Roadtrip

Outback Drive

Posted by on 20/11/2010 at 12:24 pm

Hey there fellows!

We left Kalgoorlie at about 8, after having had a modern, continental breakfast at the hotel. The morning road was quite smooth, except a deviation that we took to go see an important nature / artistic site: a vast, flat salt lake (Lake Ballard), where 51 “primitive” metal statues have been scattered all over. Would have been very interesting in principle, but it was deadly hot and there were too many flies to actually enjoy it. We climbed on a tiny hill to check the view out and then went back to the car, also because the statues were truly horrible.

Ah, there’s a great entry today for the “New Animal of the Post” category. Just after the lunch stop, an odd lizard crossed our way. Its body was so stubby and the head moved jerkishly. And its legs were so tiny and they practically didn’t bend, so that the funny lizard was SO slow that we had all the time to go back, get down the car and take pictures. From an evolutionary point of view, I believe this animal was just one step above the aquatic life and I wondered when it actually stopped evolving. Crocodiles and turtles are said to be among the oldest creatures on Earth; I’m pretty sure that when they played at the kindergarten, this lizard had already applied for retirement.

The drive to the next destination was the toughest so far, 175 happy kilometers on a red, desert gravel road. True outback drive.

The night was probably the funniest part of the day. We arrived to Meekatharra, which is a true outback town: 4 buildings of which 3 saloons and a fuel station. We had quite a few drinks in one of them, and got to meet a representative slice of population, which there switches significantly to Aboriginal. There were at least 15 of them in the bar, most of whom part of the same family. Here you can see the father of many at the bar.

It was interested to chat with them. Unfortunately, most of them stinked of alcool, and generally looked pretty wasted and poor. I made the bug mistake of give up and buy one of them a drink, and from that point on they would ask for another one every time that they would come next to me. At least I also got told that I have a “very lovely ass”.

Exhibitions of “traditional art” and museums about Aboriginal life are everywhere, but statistics about their present conditions are awful. Every city has some Aboriginal museum, they describe what their life was before the colonization, they admit that they destroyed all of it and they can’t say sorry enough. There are pictures of ministers shaking hands with black, big nose people, upon recognition of their rights with a delay of some 200+ years.

My cynical feeling so far is that Australian people tend to cling to the Aboriginal culture to showcase a past that they don’t really have.

Personally, I found it unusual when I first traveled to the US. Being Italian and grown up in Rome, surrounded by the most majestic ruins and history in the world, I’ve always had a past to look back at, be kind of proud of and to use to understand my present. But in these “new” countries, what’s the past they should look at to understand their present? English history, probably, a country at the other end of the world that, in this case, used Australia as a penal colony. I reckon that is not very exciting.

In no Australian museum you will see “life in London in the late 1700”. It’s not very poetic, that’s probably why they show old Aboriginal graffiti and boomerangs instead. But the English lifestyle and weapons, that’s what they should show. Because in nowadays Australia there is NO TRACE AT ALL of Aboriginal culture, except when they are quoted as drunken troublemakers. Outside the museums, of course. Does this remind you of Native Americans, anyone?

We decided that the rooms in the hotel were too expensive so we went for camping at a nearby Caravan Park: dirt sites and water facilities. I slept great in the tent and this is the image as I opened it the next morning, with my 3.99$ flip-flops waiting for me.

Golden Skimpies

Posted by on 16/11/2010 at 10:42 am

Heeey, how ya going?

We left Esperance in the late morning, for another leg of the roadtrip. Today’s distance is shorter than the first day (described in The Road to a Roadtrip), “only” 4 hours and a half, so no before-dawn departures.

Driving on these highways is very different than any European cruising experience. Roads are straight till the horizon most of the time and there is nothing next to them, except road signs here and there. No lights, no gas stations, no phones for emergencies and no guardrail.

At about 14:30 we reached our destination, Kalgoorlie, the most important of the mining centers of Western Australia up to date. Everything is about gold mining here, an activity which never stopped since the gold rush started in the 1890s – the oldest buildings in town look like the saloons & co. that we see in Western movies!

We visited the local museum, where I could finally see real Gold Nuggets – I’d read about them Uncle Scrooge’s comics since I was a tiny kid!

We then jumped in the car again and went to the lookout on the Super Pit: the biggest open air gold mine in Australia, 3.8 km wide. It really is an impressive sight. Especially the machineries that are used, those building-sized trucks which carry 250 tons of rocks out of the mine. They are 6.5 meter tall and any human being could stand in the middle of the wheel! It costs some 2000 bucks to learn how to drive them and then all you get to do is go up and down the mine at soporific speed.

At that point it was about six, and we decided to begin a sort of “saloon crawl” through the local bars. Which introduced me to a unique feature I’d never seen before.

Being this a mining town, the market has developed around a very gender-unbalanced population where miner men are the absolute majority. There are plenty of strip clubs and brothels as usual, which is common in places built around typical male jobs (Amsterdam, anyone?), but here the phenomenon reaches such epic dimensions that a different form of entertainment has developed: the Skimpies.

They are basically waitress who only wear lingerie, and once the tip jar has been filled up by customers, take their bras off and work for 45 minutes topless, after which they go back to collecting tips till the jar is full again. It’s as simple as that.

I was totally impressed. I had visited a proper strip club in the US, and there you find a lot of security, the atmosphere is kinda trashy and you are surrounded by frustrated, rich men in their 50ies. The situation here is the perfect tradeoff between that and your most relaxed local bar. No entrance fees, nothing: imagine places like Coco’s in Amsterdam or La Ragnatela in Rome, with a very normal crowd, and topless girls that walk around and chat to everybody. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed, otherwise I would have taken heaps!

There were mostly miners there, all just back from work in their fluorescent jackets. We shared drinks with a few of them, all obviously totally used to the nudity and amused by seeing myself so amazed! I was listening to their stories about working in a mine and they actually confirmed my feeling that driving such a giant machine is only fun for the first hours, then it becomes a slow mammoth.

After that we went back to our hotel for a final drink and then to bed as many, many kilometers of paved and unpaved road were ahead of us the next day…

Esperance Hopes

Posted by on 14/11/2010 at 8:08 am

Hey all!

We spent two days in Esperance, on the shores of the Southern Ocean. Hard to believe before you go there, even though outside is sunny and very hot, the water will always be ice cold. Maybe because the other shore is Antarctica!

Here we stayed with some absolutely lovely people, some family of Becky. The husband of her sister is a truck driver, and one of the best experiences in town was to join him for a run! I had never been on such a truck nor really had an understanding of that kind of life, and I found the experience very fascinating.

The view is already different: it’s high, and kind of “panoramic”. Check this shot taken while waiting for that long train to pass! The little fence that you see is to protect the screen from stones.

It’s harvest season down here, so our destination was a farm not far from town. At some point we took an unpaved road (here they say “unsealed”) and drove through fields till we reached ours. Here, we found a few “harvesters”, big machines that collect the stuff (sorry, I don’t remember what it was) and put it into a big silos, where it’ll wait for a truck to come. Once our track was parked next to the silos, the loading process could begin, and if you want you can climb the truck and see what’s going on in the trailer!

Once the beast was fully loaded we took the way back towards Esperance. We were now carrying about 25 tons of stuff (if I remember correctly), and God you feel it! The initial acceleration was now so slow that it makes you wonder whether you’ll be able to move or not.

The next step is to take the load to a sampling centre, where they decide if it’s clean enough (stones or dirt might be in it) and the quality of the product, which ultimately sets the price. There, we had to go through a long queue of trucks as one of the sampling station was broken (“This is when the day turns like shit”, was the initial comment of our friend! Luckily it wasn’t too bad in the end.) If the samplers detect too much impurity, you need to go to a cleaning station and then come back to sample again. Fortunately this wasn’t our case, so that we could proceed immediately to the collect point. The unloading was surprisingly quick: the truck stops on a special platform and the load is taken from below! The trailer opens and puff!, the load falls into its next container.

The whole thing was really fascinating as it gave me more awareness on what’s going on before a product (cooking oil, in this case) hits the supermarket shelves, which we generally do know nothing about. This experience teamed up with the goat sacrifice I attended in Nepal: both cases were about seeing what our food was before becoming food. There, the process couldn’t have been more basic: kill the goat, chop it, cook it. Here in our part of the world, there are so many sophisticated layers in between, advanced technology and a huge number of intermediaries. And I’ve only seen the beginning! Imagine the processing that would come after, then the packaging and the shipping!

That evening we went for a walk on the beach, which rewarded us with a beautiful sunset. I don’t know why our star looks so big in the picture!

The next day we went for the Great Ocean Drive, which touches several different beaches where you can descend. The first one had a huge rock next to it.

On another one, I took the usual “new animal” photo: a very big red ant with proper “clamps”. The whole thing was 3 cm long!

Then we ventured into a national park nearby, and the most interesting thing we visited was the little Lucky Bay, also called “squeaky beach” as the sand is very fine and really does squeak when you walk on it! The water displayed a previously unseen blue color, which reminded me of the “Colgate Junior” toothpaste – hence my personal name, Toothpaste Beach.

I loved the days in Esperance, and I felt very lucky to meet these lovely people and their hospitality. I would like to close the post with what I called “Road Art” – which differs from “street art” as this one here is really about the road itself! I such a town there is not much to do after all, and every kid has some kind of big car. The result is what you see very often while driving around: drawings and patterns left by overdriven tyres. There were also circles and more complex ones. I regarded them as proper signatures on the road, left by the people who spend the most time on it.

The Road to a Roadtrip

Posted by on 12/11/2010 at 9:07 am

Yo mates!

One evening, in Sydney, I packed my stuff and took the train to the airport. Destination Perth, Western Australia – the other end of the continent, that is! Back in Europe, any flight takes some 2-hour-ish, I said to myself, ha!, this is going to be easy. What I didn’t take into account was the hugeness of the country. It turned out that the flight would cross three time zones and take 5 hours to do so. Not only that: positive that we’d receive a meal on the plane, I hadn’t eaten anything before, not remembering that I was flying with cheap-ass company Jet Star, which is the equivalent of the European Ryanair: food was sold at Apple Store prices. I chewed a mint gum for 5 hours.

…which also had another purpose, actually: during my last days in Sydney, maybe due to the bad weather, my right ear began to feel funky. I went to a doctor and he gave me some anti-sinus spray, and advised me to chew on the plane to avoid pain.

Once arrived in Perth, I met my friend Becky again! She was living in Amsterdam in 2007, when we shared many happy hours at Coco’s, many hours with my band in a mouldy basement, many parties and one single dinner at a Thai resturant as I found that I don’t like Thai cuisine.

I stayed a couple of nights at her place: she would work during the day, which I would use to go around the city. On the first day I followed a suggested walk in the center and, for the first time in Australia, I felt like I was walking in a relaxed town! The streets were quiet and little was going on. Here, check this funny statue in the middle of a shopping street!

Finally the weather was good with a lot of sun and just a touch of humidity, and I even had a fantastic nap on the grass in front of the Swan River!

Once Becs was finished with work we went to eat something at the Swan Festival Of Lights, next to the fascinating Swan Tower, a very modern and slim structure that contains very old, heavy church bells from the 14th century. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a most random coupling, but ok.

The next day I walked up to Kings Park, or actually I ran to make it for the free walking tour. I hoped it would be more about the nature, instead I learned that it’s the only park with more war memorials than trees, and we had to visit them all.

At least I was able to spot some interesting new plants on my own (this is becoming a tradition of Australian blog posts!) and a fantastic view on downtown Perth.

On my third day, Becky’s holiday began, and we spent the entire day on a wine tasting tour, organized by one of her friends for her friends (complicated sentence I know, but it does make sense). Some twenty people loaded on a mini-bus which took us around to three different wineries in the Swan Valley around Perth! It was really a jovial atmosphere and I was impressed to see the endless vineyards: maybe only the Cantine di Tollo, next to where I was born in Italy, would compare.

We managed to go to bed early, motivated by what is going to be the leitmotif of the next two weeks: an epic roadtrip! Becky has a 4WD van, Fez, which will take us all around in Western Australia! You are going to read heaps of adventures, guaranteed! The first leg of the journey took us to Esperance, in the South, and included a stop at the Wave Rock, which is something I have been wanting to see since Becky put some pictures of it on Facebook!

Very cool what water erosion can create – but I’m not sure all those flies were mentioned in the package I purchased. Becky was indeed worried that bugs & heat might be central in my posts, and I actually can see why, now: these fu**ing flies are there all the time as soon as you leave the cities, they come in swarms and fly around your face to the point that even standing still for a picture becomes a challenge!

One of the stops was at the gas station of a little town that holds the “Dog in a Ute” queue record. Basically, these guys are crazy about carrying dogs in their utes (from “utilitarian cars”), so in 1998 they put together 699 cars and 699 dogs and drove all together to the next town, 7 km away. Just when you believed that such things would only happen in the US!

We drove on highways, which sometimes narrow down to a single lane, involving some dusty driving if another car is coming across!

At the end of the first day we reached Esperance, on the southern coast. When I arrived I had no idea of Australian distances and spaces. Well, such a roadtrip is the ultimate way to gain a proper awareness of what it’s all about. A car is the only way to travel around: you cruise through kilometers and kilometers of bushes and desert zones and some places are simply impossible to reach otherwise.

I always say that walking is the best way to “make the territory yours”, kind of  becoming part of it. Cruising on a car is indeed different and the feeling you get is more of “estabilished dominance”, nature has been modified to meet our needs. And seen the dimensions, here this is the one and only way to be able to hear the breath of the land.