Goodbye Northern Territory, hello Western Australia! Here are five highlights before crossing the border: from the ever impressive baobab trees (and one of great historical value in particular), to a soldier’s poem about the unbearable heat of the Northern Territory: ‘Somewhere in Australia where the sun is a curse, and each day is followed by another slightly worse…’ Getting warmed up?
1. Timber Creek – a heated poem
After our early rise we rediscover the joy of a cold shower – early morning is the only chance for nice and chilly water around here! Next stop: Timber Creek. According to Wikipedia, Timber Creek is ‘an isolated small town on the banks of the Victoria River in the Northern Territory of Australia.’ We don’t even realize it’s a town, that’s how small it is. It’s home to about 70 people, of which we saw exactly zero. In the meantime, the heat outside tempers my innate curiosity: anything that is not visible from the airconditioned car, it not worth seeing. Near Timber Creek, we make a turn and follow a photo opportunity sign. It leads up to a hill that hopefully provides a nice view over the area. The climb is disappointing at first because of the high trees that ruin any chance of a proper view of the village, but on the top of the hill, we discover beauty of different kind: a poem! Think we complain about the heat too much? Here’s to all you non-believers out there:
‘It was sheer hell’
Somewhere in Australia, where the sun is a curse,
And each day is followed by another slightly worse
And the brick red dust blows thicker, than the shifting desert sand;
And the men dream, and wish for, a fairer, greener land.
Somewhere in Australia, where the mail is always late,
And a Christmas card in April, is considered up to date;
Where we never have a payday, and we never pay the rent
But we never miss the money, cause we never get it spent.
Somewhere in Australia, where the ants and lizards play;
And a hundred fresh mosquitoes reinforce the ones you slay,
So take me back to good old Sydney where I can hear the tramway bell.
For this god-forsaken place is just a substitute for hell!
The poem describes how the Nackeroos, a military unit (nicknamed Curtin’s Cowboys) that was stationed here to protect Timber Creek from Japanese invasion during WWII, suffered from the heat. Close to the poem there’s another sign up on the hill, in memory of all the soldiers who had guarded Timber Creek. And another one underneath, dedicated to the local Aboriginal trackers who helped the Nackaroos survive in the harsh conditions. The second sign clearly was put there in a more recent period. I can’t help but suspect that the vital help of the aboriginals wasn’t acknowledged until much later in time…
2. Gregory’s tree: the explorer’s baobab
Along the Victoria Highway we set eyes on the first of many magnificent baobab trees here in the region. They are very easy to spot with their swollen white trunks and ghostly-like branches that rise above every other treetop around.
A sign along the highway catches our attention: ‘Gregory’s Tree’. Without knowing what it is, we decide to go have a look. Four or so kilometers down a cool dusty red road, there is another sign with a short walkway. Once again we are on the banks of the Victoria River and more intriguingly, on the exact spot where Augustus Charles Gregory, an Australian explorer, carved a date on a baobab tree during one of his expeditions, almost 160 years ago. You can still read the date today on the tree: July 2, 1856. Oh, and his expedition team survived, which cannot be said about a lot of other outback explorers! Book tip: Bill Bryson’s ‘Down Under’ is full of tragicomic stories of doomed Aussie explorers…
3. Road train ahead!
Before we took this trip, people kept warning us about the gigantic rulers of the road here in Australia: road trains. They are huge trucks that aren’t pulling just one trailer, but several of them. The largest one we saw pulled six trailers! When you’re behind a road train, you’re suddenly thankful that the Aussie roads are so damn straight because it makes the overtaking a lot more comfortable. It’s still an adventure though, every time you hit the accelerator to pass one of those big-wheeled monsters … If you make a stop along the road now and then – like we do – good chance you will be overtaking the same road train several times a day.
4. The landscape: dead to red
I can only speak for myself, but the landscape on this road never gets boring. The closer we get to the Kimberley, the more fascinating nature becomes. From dead, burnt trees, blackened earth and thousands of termite piles rising from the dried and prickly spinifex, to lively green flora eating up the scenery and red rocks coloring the horizon. Also fun: reading the names of the creeks that you pass when driving on the Victoria Highway. And there are p-l-e-n-t-y! Lost Creek, Skull Creek, Battle Creek, Alligator Creek, Snake Creek, Saddle Creek, Dingo Springs Creek, Big Horse Creek … I bet there’s no animal here that doesn’t have a creek named after it.
5. Quarantine: good to know
This fifth highlight is more of a ‘heads up’ than an actual highlight. It was a cashier back in Katherine that warned us about the quarantine, when she heard we were headed to Western Australia. “All vehicles entering Western Australia are inspected to ensure they are free from soil, seeds and plant material. Restrictions apply on basically all fruit and vegetables being brought into WA.” Good to know if you’re living in your car 24 hours a day, stacking it up with three days worth of food, like everyone advises you to! The border control itself wasn’t all that bad: we were asked if we had any fresh foods with us, had to open the fridge and lift a few cushions here and there. Five minutes and some lost cattle on the road later, we were good to go. Hello, Western Australia!