Two hours into our journey the radio cut out. I checked my phone for reception. Nope. I looked out for other vehicles. Nothing.
Vultures drew black circles in a bright blue sky as we drove along straight, wide roads, over bone dry creeks and past dirt tracks that may or may not have led off to tiny villages or hundred acre farm settlements. We were leaving behind the spindly, pitchy trees of the Blackwood National Park, heading towards a hillier backdrop in the far distance.
Nerrell – our 1984 Mazda 323 – had thus far served us well on our Queensland road trip, but as we drove further away from civilisation and on into flat, barren lands and big, big skies, we acknowledged our vulnerability. If we were to break down now, I wondered, how long would our water last? Our food supplies? How long before someone found our shrivelled remains? Before the vultures moved in and made dinner of our weakened bodies?
Up ahead, something loomed on the horizon, visible movements. Someone? Where was their car? Their truck? Why were they on the road? Were they in need? Were we about to play out a scene from a terrifying road trip movie where the person in need pulls a knife and cable ties and wipes his blade clean after leaving us to bleed to death?
We got closer. The shape didn’t move from the centre of the opposite lane. It was an eagle chomping on road kill, a bulky, black horror film bird who didn’t even acknowledge us spluttering past.
We weren’t to be the victims of this bright, bleak environment, thankfully.
Trees thinned out to expose open planes and squat shrubs, and still the road cut a red line through the green brown fringe of the outback. These were good roads, maintained roads along which only the odd road train thundered by, infinity trucks with bully noses, vehicles that wouldn’t – couldn’t – easily stop.
On and on and on until finally the rising banks of a coal mine and the first turn off in nearly 400km. Don’t take it. Wrong turn would head us back up north somewhat, back to the coast, back to Mackay. Nope, we were heading south by the inland route.
The midday sun beat down on the car but now the fuel tank was full and our water supplies replenished. We’d be okay. Breathe. Absorb this isolation, suck in hot air. Breathe. We chased mirages on new, unpainted stretches of tarmac before eventually arriving at the mown grain fields surrounding Emerald. We didn’t stop. Call us small minded, but tractors and trailers held little appeal, so on we pushed, back to empty landscapes.
It was only after Rolleston that the scenery started to change significantly, shift from open expanses to windy up and down roads hugged by woodland lushness and grassy verges dotted with little purple flowers; leaves, petals and blades colour saturated in the late afternoon sun.
We pulled into Isla Gorge National Park campground some hours after nightfall. Once again, we were alone. This would be the last evening with my road trip crew, finishing as we started, just the three of us sitting around a camp fire, eating instant noodles, chatting the journey, sitting quietly looking up at the sparkling night sky through a gap in the tree canopy.
Still no phone reception, though. Ah, who cares? We were alright, just the three of us. Out of the outback yet still covered by the same star blanket. Tired, safe, content.
- The story of the Outback [vid] (matadornetwork.com)
- Outback QLD…on the road again… (wanderlusting.com.au)
Safe Outback Travel (www.flyingdoctor.org.au)
- The unbelievable sights and sounds of the Outback [VID] (matadornetwork.com)
- Road Trip! Heading up through Queensland, Australia (travelola.org)
- The issue of not being on time (travelola.org)
- Fluid definitions of friendliness (travelola.org)
- The need to budget for health whilst travelling (travelola.org)
- Going big (travelola.org)
- And the heat and beat build (travelola.org)
- Art, consciousness and a whole lot of doof at Eclipse 2012 festival (travelola.org)
- Total solar eclipse: the power of the universe puts things into perspective (travelola.org)
- Forty minutes, maybe, at Mossman Gorge (travelola.org)
- Queensland local legends (travelola.org)