In less than a day of driving, we left behind the high country and relative green for the red soils of the inland. For me, the knowledge that you can get to desert country in only 24 hours is exhilarating. Our previous desert trips have not taken us on this direct north-west trajectory, so when I started spotting desert vegetation late on our first day on the road, my excitement began to mount.
At times, in spite of the beauty of our mountain home, I yearn for the vastness of the arid interior. Love of the desert runs deep in our family, since the time my grandparents made their separate journeys as young people (by camel) to take up positions west of Alice Springs. The desert has since played a prominent role in my own individual, as well as in my family history.
In Australia, 89% of our population live in urban areas, and only 15% of us live beyond the costal fringe (mostly around the southern coast). Head inland for no more than a day, and these well-known statistics ring true. The towns grow more and more marginal, the roads empty. Australians use the phrase ‘back of Bourke’ (Bourke was just off our Day 1 route) to refer to anything that is ‘remote’, ‘inconvenient’, or ‘in the middle of nowhere’. Whilst the bush of the interior, beyond the cities and the coast, is the subject of much of our national character, folklore and imaginings, very few Australians actually have a real relationship with this part of the country.
For us, that’s what this road trip is about. It is to both to maintain our own connections to parts of the bush that are significant to us, as well as making sure our children continue these relationships, and forge connections of their own.
Our first night’s camp, at Willandra National Park about a day’s drive north west, was situated on a rare lush billabong in the middle of massive saltbush plains. Willandra Homestead (1918) was one of the country’s greatest merino sheep stations before its demise. Exploring the open rooms and extensive grounds of the restored homestead complex, with everything from maids and shearers quarters, schoolhouse, weir, formal gardens, and wrap-around verandahs, we could easily imagine the grandeur and grace of Willandra in its heyday.