Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Day 58: Going Home

January 11, 2011

Pat and Doug are the volunteer camp hosts at the Stirling Range campground. Looking not quite retirement age, they’ve been doing the rounds of Australian National Parks for the past four years. They live out of their caravan and do one and two month stints to relieve park rangers wherever they’re needed. It’s a lifestyle and they love it. “Don’t you miss having a home?” Johan enquires. They both shake their heads empathically. They have a house somewhere in New South Wales but it’s rented out and they’re happy to continue with their nomadic existence for as long as it feels right.

We contemplate the reality of this. Home beckons, but the nostalgia of our own nomadic life over the past two months leaves us fantasizing over a number of other detour alternatives before we head home. Nah, we sigh, it’s all got to end sometime. The party’s over – time to go home.

As we head up the Albany Highway we listen to the ABC news radio. The floods in Queensland have worsened. Toowoomba, just west of Brisbane, received massive flash floods yesterday and eight people have died, many more injured and thousands of homes evacuated. Thousands more are in danger of imminent floods in Ipswich and Brisbane – and the rain goes on. The whole southeast corner of Queensland down to the northeast corner of New South Wales – the areas we passed through only a few weeks ago – are in acute crisis. Some are calling it an inland tsunami.

Meanwhile back home, 30kms north of Pamelup, a raging bush fire has destroyed four homes and burned thousands of hectares. The drought in the West continues and rural areas are on red alert.

These foreboding reports only add to our pensive moods as we sieve through the memories of our trip. It’s a land of extreme contrasts, says one reporter and I couldn’t agree more. We got parched in the red centre, drenched in the lush eastern seaboard, struck by the awesome beauty of the land, stung by the environmental degradation imposed on it by the modern world, and captivated by the rich history of this island continent, as expressed in both geological time and the intuitive stories of our indigenous people – two opposing world views that often seemed to compliment and enrich each other. This was our trip around Australia.

Tonight we will sleep in rooms with solid walls, in beds with familiar smells and wake to the familiar warbles of our local birds. Our journey has come to an end. Someone recently called it an ‘epic journey’. That’s probably grander than I’d say, but then maybe once you’ve done something, it’s never as marvelous as it once seemed when you only dreamed of doing it. The ‘trip around Australia’ is an enduring dream in the hearts and minds of Australians, and even some hardy foreigners. Perhaps what made ours unique was that our ‘trip around’ was actually a ‘figure 8’, cutting twice through the heart of this intense red continent. This is where the Aboriginal Dreamtime comes most alive – and possibly where the western mind comes most unhinged. It’s an empty, lonely, beautiful space – not to be missed if you can handle the hardships.

We suspect that one day the Great Central Road will be paved and that long, lonely, dusty red route may possibly become just another overrun tourist attraction, with derelict roadhouses turning into suave coffee houses, air-conditioned resorts and holiday parks taking over from the bush camps that nowadays materialize wherever you want to create one. We’re glad we could do it when it was so rustic and tough and unregulated. Because the only way to know a land is to be on the land. Feeling the pulse of it in the still silence of a moonless, starlit night where the nearest point of modern civilization, with all its security and comforts, may be hundreds of miles away. It’s no wonder that it’s the Aboriginal people, with their curious way of seeing things, who are the only ones game enough to live out there.

As we turn into the winding dirt lane that leads to Pamelup, the place we’ve called home for thirteen years, we’re struck by conflicting emotions. So good to be home – especially this home, which we crafted with our own hands and imaginations. But we realize another journey, an even bigger adventure, lies ahead of us: moving to the USA. The next few months will be spent planning, packing and organizing ourselves for that big shift -- a journey that could well be of epic proportions.

And so our story continues…

The travelers back home again

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