A year ago and a few months pre-Covid, I had started crossing Australia starting on the West Coast and traveling from Western Australia along the Great Central Road straight into the Northern Territory. Travelling through no-mans land and along dirt roads felt liberating yet a bit exhausting, which is why I cut south and to Melbourne. Little did I know that Covid would hit and hold up my further travel plans, and facilitated by a global pandemic, I’d still be dwelling in Australia one year later. Once possible and after the interstate restrictions had lifted, I was keen to continue the journey from West to East via the inland and the Outback.
After a few days around South Australia’s Barossa Valley and in Flinders Ranges National Park, which proved great for camping and hiking, I entered New-South Wales from the west. I passed an interstate checkpoint during a time where travel was still limited in between Australian states. Leaving Victoria and then South Australia during these days felt like taking off a white jacket. New-South Wales had recently seen a couple new cases of Covid and once entered, there would be no way back at least for a month and given the experience of a Melbourne lockdown, maybe longer. But why would I want to go back?
Following a railway and after a few hundred kilometres through desert land, I reached one of Australia’s few larger towns away from the coast, Broken Hill. Australia has had a 200-year history of European settlements and throughout the 19th century, mining for national resources has been established. It feels romantically melancholic to find places in the middle of nowhere which are pointing to another era of possibility and a lush social life and now seem quite abandoned.
Broken Hill does carry this spirit. My impression of it might have been exaggerated by the summer-holiday season where people usually flee to the cooler coast. Nevertheless, the city seems very well maintained and is said to have a few events throughout the year. There is a viewing platform on top of the hill displaying the remainders of former mining activities.
About 30 kms away from Broken Hill is Silverton, which is a smaller, former mining town that has been host for a lot of pictures and movies thanks to its iconic look and atmosphere. There is an art gallery, a pub and an own museum for Mad Max, a movie that had been shot there.
Freecamping outside of Silverton wasn’t the most comfortable experience as the first half of the night was still hot and bright from a full moon and once the moon had set, it got very stormy. It took me a long time to fall asleep and was woken short after from the wind blowing the tent down. Getting out of the tent, the view of the milky way made more than up for it.
When on the road, there is no real routine. Many small decisions are keeping my mind busy. Where will I sleep? Where should I stop and visit? Which road to take? Am I on track, moving too fast, too slow? On some days, I feel like I am mostly living in my head, and my experience is just pierced with brief moments of reality.
It is these moments that make me question what I am doing all this for. Isn’t it an utterly futile practice to travel, plan, think, and do it over again? Am I doing this right? And sure enough, in these very moments there would be a random encounter that shows me that at the core, a travel experience doesn’t have to be, cannot be planned. It is made up by chance and personal encounters which are pretty random.
I meet a group of motorcyclists at a gas station who have been roaming around my bike in awe for a while. They seem delighted about meeting me and finding out about my journey. They say that they find my story inspiring and looking at them, I see that they mean it. I am glad if I can convey that inspiration and make them consider traveling more of Australia themselves. The other day, I am running out of daylight in an area with no phone reception. I reach a roadhouse run by a lovely couple, with a free campsite behind the roadhouse. The owner tells me about his passion for BMWs and points out a few backroads I could take the next day. He says he is happy to see me traveling around on an Airhead. The list of chance encounters goes on and on. It becomes apparent that the question whether I’m on track becomes redundant. More and more, I have the feeling of being at the right place, in the right time.
Traversing New-South Wales, I decide to follow along dirt roads where I could. From Broken Hill, I am detouring via Menindee, from where it’s all dirt via Wilcannia and Tilpa until Bourke. Dirt roads are a bit of a surprise as the ease of travel vastly depends on their level of maintenance and whether there has been rain. It can take a few days for dirt roads to become passable after a rainfall. A storm in the Outback can feel huge and there is one at night, bringing some some heavy and unseasonal rainfalls, passing just north of where I was going to travel.
Tales of a Traveller
It is more the rule than the exception to draw some curiosity when traveling alone on a motorcycle. And it usually leaves me with something positive, which can be anything from “good on ya, mate!” to invitations to people’s homes. Sometimes I ask myself why people would invite a stranger to their home. It might be something that has shaped our cultures during pre-digital times: travelers bring new information and perspectives from elsewhere, and in return you give them shelter and food. And it could be something deeper too. Without pride, I feel like I am appealing to something deep inside people, something that most people can relate to and identify with. They might have had a similar experience. They might have had a dream of traveling around, now seeing it turned into reality.
In Tilpa and before heading off after a stormy night, I am talking to a family from the Gold Coast. They have been traveling themselves a fair bit and when I tell them I am headed towards Queensland, they invite me to their home. This is a tiny pub in the middle of nowhere with few people coming through. What are the chances?
The dirt roads further east prove just as enjoyable and the surroundings turn from red back to green. It doesn’t take me long to make my way towards Sydney. Having reached Australia’s East coast is another milestone. I am feeling not rushed at all as the rest of the world seems quite busy still.