Like Kerouac but with fewer hepcats


I started planning about three months ago by sticking blue-tac on a map and joining up the dots with ribbon. Up the centre and out a bit, through stretches of country I have known for years and others of thrilling mystery. It’s 5411 kilometers all told, providing I don’t get lost, double back or wander off the path. That’s 67 hours of driving, if I stick to the sedate pace my teeny car can keep up without burning through upsettingly large amounts of fuel.
I’m used to one stretch of this drive. I made the trek from Wangaratta to Casslis at least once a year between the ages of three and 21. Haven’t been back again since my grandmother died in 2009. Mum and I made that last journey alone, swinging off the Hume just north of Albury and following the Olympic Highway up to Canowindra, then to Cudal and on to the Mitchell at Mowlong before veering off on Goolma Road at Wellington and on to Gulgong. We always nearly hit a roo between Ulan and the Golden Highway, honking the horn twice as we pass the cousins’ property at Ingleburn. In the September school holidays the paddocks were patchworked yellow, green and purple with canola, lucerne and Patterson’s Curse. For years the only tape we could agree on was The Lion King soundtrack, played on repeat once the radio signal started to flicker out at Wagga Wagga.
That drive isn’t traced out on the purple ribbon map, but want to make it. I have been daydreaming about it for four years. There’s a scrubby patch near the Ulan coal mine where my grandmother grew up. Great-grandma Mini lurks in the dusk waiting for the kids to come down from the hills every time we pass the mining lights. I want to know who Mini is and where she came from, and what that makes my grandmother, mother and me. I want to know who the Loughery’s were before two smart-looking twins caught the eye of the Piper boys.
Other stretches of the trip include less soul, more general inquiry. I want to walk around Yorta Yorta country and head south to Gunditjamara lands at Lake Condah, before heading across to Ngarrindjeri country in South Australia and stopping by towns I haven’t seen since ’89. Then up through Mildura to Lightening Ridge, where I apparently have tenuous family connections, before heading across to Moree and down to Tamworth.
But really I’m not to fussed where I go so long as I talk to people and avoid the coast. I crave the changeless inland towns of New South Wales, frozen in 1983 when the Hawke-Keating government floated the dollar and the wheat price tumbled. The economic stagnation of Tasmania is nothing to the hollowing-out of the land west of the Great Dividing Range where the nearest supermarket can be hours away. I want to feel that space and live that pace before the last outposts close down.
This time next week I’ll be on the Spirit, that giant floating casino and car park as Anna Krien called it. I have four weeks. And I’m still not sure how the trip will work and whether I’ll follow the ribbon or the road. So I was after a few suggestions: where should I go, and what should I see? I am particularly interested in Aboriginal history, missions and migrant camps. I’ll also take recommendations for good pubs, bakeries and Big Things of local tourism fame.
Oh, and I’ll probably write a bit on the road. So if there is anything you want to know, just ask and I’ll try to find out.

2 thoughts on “Like Kerouac but with fewer hepcats

  1. I love the country north west of Horsham. Horshoe Bend on the Wimmera River outside of Dimboola. Lake Hindmarsh, empty or full. Tiny petrified towns like Jeparit and Rainbow. And it sounds like you’ll be driving the best-named Silver City Highway to Broken Hill and Silverton. Take a bird book. And read Peter Carey’s Illywhacker. The Conargo Pub north of Denni is great too. The land rises an inch a mile. The locals there say ‘the flatter the country the better the people’ and they might be right. Sounds like an amazing road trip. You’ll need some Sara Storer and some of the Mallee Boy’s best work for the cd collection.

  2. Sounds like you’ll have a great trip.

    If you drive close to Naracoorte, there’s an area called ‘Bool Lagoon’ you should stop off at either for a quiet place to stay (if camping?), or just to do the short walk around the reserve there (30-60 minutes).

    I’ll leave the rest up to your discovery!

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