Friday, November 26, 2010

Day 8: Warburton and a Dead Battery

November 22, 2010

The heat has become intense, unforgiving. The sun feels like an iron on my red skin. Nature walks or any outdoor activity during the day quickly become too difficult. Our search for caches continues, but if we can’t find one within ten or fifteen minutes, we give up, conceding defeat to the relentless, grueling sun.

It’s 39˚ (102˚F) when we pull into Warburton. Our mobile phone registers three bars so we pull under the shade of a River Gum by a dried up creek bed and spend an hour internetting and checking emails – first time in three days. The Tjulyuru Art Gallery on the edge of town is the regional centre of the local indigenous Ngaanyatjarra culture. The floor-to-ceiling dot paintings on unframed canvas are stunning – and not for sale (though you can buy prints of them). The exhibition notes from the artists state that their paintings are like “second skins”, and parting with them is too difficult.

Inside the gallery shop, you can buy less stunning, but still beautiful paintings from artists in the local Warburton community. Their price-tags are more reasonable than what we’ve seen in W.A. city galleries (up to $4,000 for an indigenous painting) and we decide to buy one as a memento, not only of our Outback trip, but our love of Australia and the rich, expansive land. The colours in the painting are similar to those we’ve been seeing in the desert panorama we’re passing through. It will look nice on a wall in our new home in Port Townsend. The lady behind the counter says she’ll talk to the artist about the ‘story’ within the painting and send it to us in an email.

After lunch in a sheltered spot of the Gallery, we head into town. The car thermometer registers 42˚ (107˚F). The friendly attendant at the Roadhouse directs us to the Service Centre in town where hopefully we can find a piece of PVC pipe to protect our new painting. Our Melbournian friends from yesterday said tourists aren’t welcome in the town (aside from the roadhouse) as the Aboriginal people like their privacy and probably don’t appreciate being gawked at. But we drive through anyway, assuming our mission to find packaging for our newly acquired indigenous painting justifies our presence in the town.

The man in the Service Centre juts out his hand when he sees Johan and says, “Hi, I’m Peter.” Most of the white men we’ve met en route so far have been fair-skinned, thick and burly, like the characters of Aussie bushman you see on film, and very friendly. Peter’s no different. He offers to drive down to the warehouse to find us a piece of PVC, and then cuts it to size when he brings a two-metre piece back. No charge.

While we’re waiting, I type on the computer, the sun streaming through the front window. “Could you turn the car around?” I ask Johan, hoping to get it facing away from the sun while we wait so my fingers don’t sweat on the keyboard so much. Johan turns the key and an abrasive rattling noise cackles from the engine. Another couple of tries suggests we’ve got serious problems.

When Peter returns and listens to the sound, he immediately diagnoses it as a dead battery (we’re not used to modern high tech cars; old cars always just sound dead when the battery dies). Apparently our demands on it have been too much: air conditioner, fridge, computer, battery charging. It simply had enough and gave up the ghost. Peter jump-starts us and we drive back to the Roadhouse to pick up a new battery: $120. 

On the way we have one of those typical conversations between a Believe and a Non-Believer: was it Fate? Chance? Divine Intervention? that we landed with our first car problem in the middle of a town full of friendly, helpful people? How would our day have ended differently if we’d discovered a dead battery stuck in the middle of a remote desert, miles away from the nearest friendly face?

Picnic under a lone roadside tree - nice to have the shade!

A not-so-native animal roaming the desert.

Wild flowers galore!

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