Sunday, 19 December 1971
It was another brittle morning, one of those summer daybreaks that brings a gentle roar from the horizon like distant thunder. The last cool breeze had long gone.
Eight in the morning, and I was dripping sweat onto the back seat of a 1967 Valiant that had already been laboring for two hours. People collect them these days, but then it was just a car with green vinyl seats and an AM radio and no headrests and windup windows.
We were heading directly west and it felt like the home straight, if any home straight was ever 600 kilometres long. Earlier the sun, rising behind, had made a long shadow of the car on the road ahead. Now it was rampaging across the sky. Like so often before, I dozed. If you happen to doze because you are trapped in a stifling car driving across an endless lanscape, you start dreaming the heat. First I was standing too close to a campfire; then I was shovelling coal into the firebox of a 4-6-4 steam engine; then I was a steelworker in a blast furnace. Then I woke up with an vertical indent in the left of my forehead from leaning against the window pillar.
No air conditioning, only the quarter vents ahead of the front window. You twist the chrome thumb handle and angle the glass to direct a torrent of hot air into the car. Of course, we had had to keep them shut earlier when the road was fine dust. Won’t need to worry about that again until the return journey. Oh. The return journey.
The plain had paled from the strident red that I had seen too much of, to a soft yellow. The car had moved through measureless desert and across a lifeless mining plateau, emerging at last into the West Australian wheat belt, on a ribbon-smooth road where even the faintest curve gave respite from the inexorable straightness of what lay behind. A white pipeline – built in the gold rush to save miners from death and drought – snaked alongside the road to the horizon.
It got to 100 degrees in the middle of the afternoon; but hotter in the car. I was drowsy again, hummed into sleep by the singing tyres, dreaming dreams of everything in the future. When you're a teenager, everything is exciting and in the future. One day it changes. Not for a long time, but eventually. Towns drew up and receded. Southern Cross. Merredin. Northam. We had travelled 2700 kilometres without a map. It was hardly needed.
Shimmering in the distant haze. Lying there like a lost diamond, sparkling in the mid-summer sun on a golden Sunday afternoon. Beyond it, the Indian Ocean. Blue, demure, silent, endless, and as impossible as a mirage.
But it was real.