Even out here, several hundred miles from a state capital, the major highways pulse twenty-four hours. The big trucks go overnight and the ones that run by day stalk the campervanning grey nomads who check the speed limit then halve it. You may as well save your money and drive up and down the Maroondah Highway all day and then sleep in your own bed. I turned off the Sturt Highway just out of Paringa and pointed the car south towards Pinnaroo, which sounds like a party game involving native fauna.
I was spellbound by the landscape but alert to the dangers. A kind of hypnotic vigilance. Or entranced caution. I don’t know. You have to relax but expect a kangaroo through the windscreen any second. It almost happened to me once. I was driving towards Melbourne at six in the morning about ten years ago on the Northern Highway just before Heathcote. A large eastern grey came out of the scrub just as a ute was overtaking my car. We were abreast, me on the left at 100, the ute on my right at about 130. The kangaroo shot out. I hit the brake. The ute swerved left, into my space, and the kangaroo overshot us both by inches and disappeared into the bush on the other side. Mornings are worst but you have to be vigilant all day.
This was early afternoon, on a Saturday. The radio was trying to drag an AFL football broadcast out of the white noise of some distant country station on relay from 3AW. We were in the middle of a piece of real estate called the Ngarkat Conservation Park which incorporates the Mount Shaugh, Mount Rescue and Scorpion Springs Conservation Parks; and lies alongside the Big Desert Wilderness Park, which in turn adjoins the Wyperfeld National Park to its east and has the Murray-Sunset National Park to its north.
So there's nothing to look at, according to some. Nothing but several million beautiful untouched square acres in which to admire the wonder of nature, and die from thirst when you get lost.
You comprehend the vastness of this place when you drive for hours and the children think you're going past the same tree or shrub over and over again. But this is a just postage stamp compared to the real inland - the Simpson Desert or the 'Little' Sandy Desert.
After a few hours of pristine, primeval, flat, majestic, unspoiled scenery that hadn't changed for millions of years, small localities and towns started to appear. The first was just a silo with a name, the next was a general store with a name, the following had a hotel next to the general store, and finally, one with a football ground. Civilisation! The oval was circled by cars like cattle at a dam in a heat wave and the game had just finished, the scoreboard showing Kybybolite 12.17.89, visitors 11.21.87.
Destination summary: Naracoorte is home to the World Heritage-listed fossil caves into which prehistoric animals fell, their bones collecting across millions of years and several ice ages, the cave acting as a kind of primeval Westinghouse deep freeze.
Accommodation summary: William McIntosh Motor Lodge. A Scottish-themed hotel in the outback? Our room looked through a floor to ceiling window onto a lawn sweeping away to a forest. You can sit outside this with a Scotch and imagine you're in the Highlands. Four stars.
Phrase of the day: Watch your step.