A chronicle in 5 parts about traveling through Australia.
-Empty space and animals-
There are flies in Australia – mostly in the center and north – they can drive you nuts at times. And there are mosquitoes, of course, pretty much everywhere; Australians almost affectionately call them “mossies”. And you also get sandflies, tiny next-to-nothings, so small, one can hardly see them, and they come through any screen and bite. There are ants, billions of them, little ones, giant ones, brown, black, and green ones. They seem to be able to get even into watertight containers, and they bite, I tell you. Oh, I could go on: there are other venomous insects, plenty of dangerous snakes, deadly creatures in the water; it is a lively place, for sure.
More and more this huge country unfolded in front of us. What is a vast featureless space on the map became a rich picture book. What were meaningless lines, names, and marks on the map became amazing landscapes, roads, sometimes dry river beds, occasionally just our own dust-blown transient tire tracks on the red desert sand.
As dry as the land is, there are always springs, little pools, water places with precious vegetation around. They are called billabongs in Australia and in such a pretty hostile environment they are always magical places full of life and surprises.
It is so delightful to settle down at one of those billabongs at the end of a sizzling hot day out in the desert and relax, have a fire, and come back to your senses.
Somewhere past the center, heading east into Queensland we gradually got a feel for the enormous size of Australia. Some 2000 km beyond the beginning of the Stuart Hwy there was the first real junction, an inter-continental traffic intersection like I-5/I-70 turn off in the US or like the Frankfurter Kreuz in Germany; here it is a rather decrepit little gas station (sorry, petrol station), and a small sign: “Mackay 2000 km”, which can easily be overlooked. We turned east and from here on for the next 5 days the sun didn’t burn my left cheek in the afternoon anymore but was in my face in the morning in stead, that was all the difference.
This part of Australia is pure ‘cattle land‘, totally flat and treeless. Here only cows grow, but you don’t see many, the land is too vast. Here are the largest ranches of the world, many 100 km in either direction. Once we saw a huge herd of cattle being driven by two little helicopters instead of horsemen. It makes a lot of sense. It was so funny to see how their wild cowboy mentality even showed in their flying style. Cowboys stay cowboys, no matter what they ride.
Out there we see the first “roadtrains”. You better get out of their way when these monster trucks come barreling down the highway. And you better stop completely when they pass you on a dirt road; the dust is going to blind you for minutes.
It is so flat, just the dry grass “looms” over the horizon. In fact, it is the sky that makes up the landscape, the visible ground is negligible. We roll and roll, addicted to the magic of almost imperceptible progression on this ancient planet toward a never-changing elusive horizon. Soon, in order to not interrupt this hypnotic state, Parvin even does the cooking while rolling.
When the sun creeps closer to the horizon and the shadows grow longer we turn off and drive out into the open desert for a kilometer or two, stop and rest and let the day burn out and wait for the stars.
The nights out there in this emptiness are almost scary. It feels like floating right between the stars, our heads sticking out right into the abyss of the universe.
One night we see a huge meteor shooting down to earth, an enormous streak of glaring light all across the sky, lasting for more than 5 seconds, moving slower and slower, disintegrating and exploding to a cluster of separately burning masses – not the slightest sound. Suddenly again we sense for a flash of a moment that the universe is anything but still, anything but eternal, that we and other objects are blindly hurtling through space at inconceivable speeds, coming from or heading for incredibly violent events.
Up in the Northern Territory we marvel at these huge termite mounds. You can’t see the little creatures from the outside; they are mostly active at night.
We also see the first Goannas. I had never believed that dragons really exist. We were totally shocked when we saw them the first time. The blue tongue flickering out of its mouth looks like a sizzling flame. They are usually moving quite slowly but can run very fast when aggressive.
These Frilled Lizards also look like dragons.
Only rather close to the coast does it get green again. Bush at first, then forest, then agricultural land: cotton, vast fields of sunflowers, sugarcane directly on the coast.
We meet the coast at Mackay; it’s not really the tropics yet but we revel in the lush green.
We see Platypus and find the first giant butterflies, half a foot (15cm) across.
The Kookaburra can be found all over Australia. Kookaburras are best known for their unmistakable call, which sounds like loud, echoing human laughter.
This one is the Blue-winged Kookaburra.
There are many kinds of Cockatoos in Australia.
The Pelicans are quite big and look a bit different compared to our Mexican ones.
It’s Australia where you can find real Black Swans. (The Black Swan is a metaphor for a fascinating phenomenon of the psychological biases that make people individually and collectively blind to uncertainty and unaware of the massive role of extremely rare event in historical affairs.)
Frogs, of course, big ones, beautiful ones. Look at this one with its plastic feet sitting on Parvin’s arm.
We saw the highly unusual Eungella Frogs. They live here in some parts of the jungle; they give birth to their babies into their own stomach, feed them there for a while and spit them out through their mouth to live.
We also observe the big Flying Foxes. They have heads like rats; with their wings of skin they can fly very effectively. When they land in the fruit trees they hang upside down and look at us with sassy faces from up there.
Lots of crocodiles. These are “Freshies”, living in fresh water. They are said to be less dangerous.
The “Salties” live in the river mouths close to the ocean. They are clearly man-eaters and prove it all the time. Once you raise this subject when you talk to locals they all have horrible stories to tell of people being grabbed and in seconds drowned and torn to pieces and of whom the remains could only be found in the stomach of a finally shot croc.
Followed by Australia III
Klaus April 2012