The day I’ve been dreading has finally arrived. Today we have to put in 8 solid hours of driving before we can stop for the night. Including lunch and toilet breaks, our trip from Eucla to Norseman will take us 10 hours. Yes, 10 hours. If I take over the wheel at any point, which is likely, to give HRH a break, it’ll take us longer.
As we move further into Western Australia, you can see how arid the land is. You know how people love to joke about eating grass? As in, “I’ll live off grass and sunshine?” Well, you’d better ditch your plans to dine on the green stuff because there is close to none of it around. The only plants that thrive in this part of the world are those that are heat and drought-resistant.
HRH overtakes road-trains and campervans the way he overtakes cars playing that classic car-racing arcade game. Playing against him, I’ve only ever won once, by a very slight margin. He calls out to Amanda who’s awake for once, “You see that juicy deer in front? Our tiger is going to eat that deer.”
“Go tiger, go!” cheers Amanda from the back, well aware that our car is the tiger and every other car in front of us is a deer.
“They should have a Chinese village here,” says HRH to me. “Then we can stop for some Chinese food.”
“Sure,” I reply, somewhat amused. Yesterday, his road-driving-inspired idea was for all suicidal people to be shipped to Mars because if they are intent on ending their lives, they might as well contribute to humanity before doing so. Perhaps, suddenly having a purpose to live might make them change their minds.
“And who do you see as moving to this middle-of-nowhere Chinese village of yours?”
“People from China of course,” he says with a wry smile.
“And why would they want to live in the middle of nowhere, in a country where they can’t speak the local lingo, when they can always just move to China’s vast countryside? You’re forgetting that the average Chinese is a gregarious creature.”
We might moan about the traffic jams and the smog, and the noise and the price of housing and the cost of living, but given a choice between a big city and the countryside, most Chinese will choose the former. In fact, no one in my family can understand why we are undertaking this road-trip when there is absolutely no one to see for hundreds of kilometres on end!
HRH stops at a small roadside town called Baladonia to refuel the car. The price of petrol is $1.97 a litre. He pumps only enough to get us to Norseman – very many litres.
Why I’ll be damned! After so many hours of travelling, we still have another 191 km to go! Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, we swop seats and I drive for about an hour. It’s only my second time behind the wheel since this arduous road-trip, disguised as a “family holiday”, began but already my driving has improved. For a start, I don’t need any reminding to lift up the hand brake before taking off. HRH’s barking at me when I attempted to do that the last time has seen to that.
Oh Norseman, oh Norseman, where art thou? The endless straight road in front of me makes me think of Char Koay Teow and a nice big bowl of Chendol. Will I ever see either again or will this drive be the death of me?
Soon enough I see the outline of a vehicle, roughly 10 km ahead of mine. I am doing a steady 110 km/ph but I slow to 100 km/ph.
“What do you think you are doing?” asks HRH.
“Avoiding whatever it is in front.”
“If you can’t overtake here, where can you overtake?”
“Probably nowhere. Well, you did want me to drive. I’m not going to overtake,” I say, losing speed further. Now I’m doing 90 km/ph.
HRH shakes his head. We pass through a small town where there is a police vehicle hiding in the bushes.
“Good thing your mama is driving, Amanda,” says HRH. “If it was me, we’d have a speeding ticket.”
Afraid of overtaking, law-abiding citizen that I am, our tiger is only doing 60 km/ph at this point. I heave a sigh of relief when the vehicle ahead of me turns off into a caravan park. However it isn’t long before I come across other motorists. Wanting us to reach Norseman before nightfall, HRH gladly resumes driving once my hour is up.
“Oh no. Not another 9 to 10 hours on the road,” I wail as soon as we pile into the car.
By now, even HRH is over seeing Australia’s big backyard. Since we set off at 9 am, we hope to get into Perth before sun down.
Just like the last couple of days, the road stretches on into the horizon. On either side of us is scrubland, alternating in heights and density every hundred kilometres or so. There is a huge metal pipe running parallel to the road, carrying what we were told by the innkeeper at Norseman Railway Motel, is Norseman’s supply of water, coming directly from Perth. From Norseman, the water is transported by road to towns like Baladonia.
“You can tell that no vegetables will grow here,” I say, noting the hard, reddish soil.
“So now you are an expert on soil, are you?” asks HRH, teasing me.
“It’s only common sense. What farms have we seen since entering WA? You need rain to grow grass and grass to raise cattle; so no rain means, no cattle. No cattle means, no manure to fertilise crops. Even if there was manure, the ground looks just too hard to grow anything in it. Rich soil is always black in colour.”
“Yes, but I’m sure you can put a Chinese village on it.”
What’s with HRH and this Chinese village? “I’m not moving there,” I say. “You can move there if you like.”
As we near Perth, the road widens to two-lanes on either side and snakes downhill. Unbeknown to us, we are travelling through the Perth Hills.
“Oh look,” HRH says excitedly to me. “Petrol is only $1.32 a litre.” And five seconds later, “Oh look. This place is even cheaper. It’s only $1.26 a litre at our good friend Gull.”
After dragging our sorry arses through the Nullabor, any servo selling petrol for less than $1.50 is our good friend.
“Oh, this one is even cheaper,” says HRH. “I’ll come here to pump. Where are we on the map?”
We are somewhere on the Eastern Freeway rolling towards the Central Business District.
“And see what big shopping centres they have!” exclaims HRH, like one of those people from his proposed Chinese village. I imagine this is what mainland Chinese say when they see Hong Kong for the first time.
“It feels like Adelaide crossed with something else,” I say.
“You and your Adelaide,” he says then accuses me of having an unjustified fixation with the capital of a state that has foul tasting water.
Thanks to Tom Tom, we find our home for the next seven days, Perth’s Fraser Suites, without any difficulty. After our many days on the road, all I plan to do is veg out.