Friday, January 7, 2011

Day 54: Norseman

January 7, 2011

The wind has died and the silence is all-pervasive. Not even a chorus of birds to hail the rising sun. I swing my legs over the edge of the bed and glance at my watch: 5am, W.A. time. That’s better. It was worrying me that I’d been sleeping in until 7:30 every day since arriving in South Australia.

Over breakfast we speculate about the origins of the ruins that lie around us. An old rusty gas fridge sits near a bush twenty meters away. Johan explores and finds a row of 2x1.5 meter concrete pads but there’s no evidence of building materials or household contents that could give clues about who used to live here. An old Aboriginal settlement? A turn-of-the-century mission? An abandoned station? We saw plenty of these deserted settlements in the goldfields around Kalgoorlie. Perhaps it was an old gold-mining camp? Strange about the concrete pads though; they seem too modern.

As we drive over the dilapidated fence wire back to the highway, it suddenly dawns on Johan what it could be: a settlement for the road crew that paved the road 35 years ago. In the early ‘70s, Johan and his first wife travelled across the Nullabor on a year-long trip around Australia. Three hundred kilometers of the Eyre Highway had yet to be paved and prominent signs warned travelers of the potential hazards of making a trip through such remote desert lands. In 1976 the road was paved making it the first transcontinental highway accessible to all vehicles. Last night’s camp would have been somewhere in the middle of that last section to be paved. The ten little pads could have accommodated portable dwellings for the roadworkers to retire to during the three months it took to complete the job. Sounds as good a theory as any.

Heading west again, another giant front looms on the horizon. The morning sun just slips under it, providing striking contrast between the yellow lit fields and the showering dark grey clouds above.

We stop for lunch at Balladonia, not much more than a roadhouse and caravan park. But Balladonia had its day, as told in the Cultural Heritage Museum accessed through the shop. Among its sheep station, gold-mining and cameleering history the small settlement has a singularly spectacular claim to fame: the location of the crashed Skylab space station launched by NASA in 1979. Apparently the discovery of sections of Skylab coincided with the Miss Universe contest, held in Perth that year. Spotting a good publicity stunt, the organizers had the reclaimed section of Skylab sent to Perth where it was exhibited alongside Miss USA. Unfortunately, the weight of the twisted piece of metal was so great the stage collapsed, sending Miss USA and the pinnacle of the US space program into a jumbled mess below. I guess Miss USA didn’t win Miss Universe that year.

It’s a long straight drive to Norseman, the end of the Eyre Highway across the Nullabor. We’re grumpy and hot when we pull into the ramshackle town – half the shops on main street are shut down, the other half need a face lift. We stock up on fruit and veggies after having our supply confiscated at the W.A. border quarantine station. We could drive on, south towards Esperence and find a nice bush camp. But we could also use a shower and wash our bag full of dirty laundry. We opt for the lone caravan park on the edge of town.

 The Eyre Highway has the longest straight stretch of road in Australia: 146.6 kilometers (90 miles)

Storm clouds looming

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