We were leaving the centre to head back to the edge. Leaving a bit to the right of centre, if I’m being particular. The centre was a town called Kimba. The most important thing about Kimba is that it’s on the vertical central line of the country, the lower middle. It also has a big galah. We got chips and coffee. The roadhouse had old metal kettles and bike wheels hanging off the walls. The toilets were fine.
You always know that Australia is big. I didn’t understand the seriousness of this until we drove along the Eyre highway for four days to get halfway across. Most of the view is made up of twiggy shrubs encrusted into the dry dirt; that’s all you can see as far as your eyes will let you. The ground is flat most of the time, until you get further towards the edge, the shrubs are replaced by mammoth trees with orange bark and the flat ground rises and falls. You can’t pass the road trains in case someone is coming over the hill.
I can’t remember the names of every town we stayed at. The first was Port Augusta, which had no internet so I watched Meet Me in St Louis on the TV. The blankets were heated. Next was a little town closer to the border, where the only thing open past 8 was the drive-through Bottle-O. We stopped to look at the Bight and I turned my head so that I didn’t have to see the dingo rotting in the bushes. I hadn’t smelt a dead thing before. When we got to the border they checked to see if we had any honey. I wondered how long I would go to jail if I did have honey. I did not have honey, so I was not a lawbreaker that day. We did have to throw out our banana peels.
There is a little town near the border called Eucla. 86 people live there. It doesn’t have much there except for the ruins of the old telegraph station. It also has the museum for the old telegraph station. It has a big whale, which is smaller than a real whale. The restaurant at the motel had a mock Japanese garden. The bathroom in our room had no shower curtain so we had to dry off the toilet seat, or you would sit in a little ring-shaped puddle. In the morning I found a spider on the window the size of my hand.
Our final town towards home started with an N. The hotel was an old art deco building that had been repainted mustard yellow and terracotta. We were the only ones staying there, so we were given the Honeymoon Suite which consisted of two bedrooms with four king-sized beds. The bathroom had a Jacuzzi tub, and some of the pink tiles were taped to the floor. I opened a door in our bedroom to see that it was connected to a ginormous empty common area, with all the furniture pushed to the edges of the room. We walked to the pub for dinner. Fish and chips are always the safest bet at a pub, even when you’re 800 km from the sea. It was tasty and the vinegar was the brown stuff. Beers were $4. There were flyers on the pin-up board for a missing old man and a community youth theatre production of As You Like It in a nearby town two hours away.
In the morning we came downstairs for the included buffet breakfast, which was two big glass dispensers of cornflakes and rice bubbles, a bottle of milk and a carton of apple juice all placed on the empty reception desk. We sat at a table and I watched a kelpie lying on the brown grass outside. On the drive home we stopped in Coolgardie and I got a Kitkat and a bottle of solo. There was a dead rabbit next to the toilets.
The Perth hills have lots of sheep and the air always smells smoky. I counted three signs that said “STRAWBERRIES AT THE NEXT LEFT TURN”. When you begin your descent into the city your ears start to pop, and then you start driving past Chicken Treat and Stratco and a lawnmower shop with a big lawnmower on the roof. Then you recognise the turns that the car is taking and you can guess how many minutes you are from your house. When you get inside all the curtains are closed and there are lots of messages on the phone. One of the posters in my room had fallen down.
Words by Hannah Cockroft, illustration by Marney Anderson