Friday, March 14, 2008

Esperance and the Nullarbor (Day 25 – 27)

Esperance in the south east of Western Australia is the launching pad for the Nullarbor Plain, the long drive into South Australia, so we drove for six hours and took the opportunity to rest up after Sydney. Esperance is another beautiful coastal town with history. The French landed at Observation Point in 1792 while charting the great south land. Unbeknownst to them their king was being beheaded at roughly the same time, putting a halt to their colonial pursuits. I was thinking of the French while looking back at the coast line, able to imagine the Cote d’Azur transplanted on the fabulous hillside stepping down to pristine beaches. The Esperance coast line, however has so many breath taking beaches and so little population that many of them don’t even have trails leading down to the sand. We also made friends with one of the resident sea lions at the old jetty, while munching on ice cream (Glennie) and Pluto Pup/Corn Dog (Kelly).

A full day’s drive took us right into the Nullarbor Plain, via Norseman. Kelly was sure that the town was named after Bjorn or Swen, the ‘Norse Man’, but it turns out that some explorer had a horse called Hardy Norseman who was tethered to the tree one night. The next morning the horse had uncovered a gold nugget with its hoof, thus starting a gold rush and the second largest gold mining boom in the state. By the looks of things, not much gold has stayed in the town ☺

At first glance a guy might think that Nullarbor is a word that comes from an ancient Aboriginal tongue meaning “Plains of Great Beauty and Abundance”, but really its bastardised Latin, arbor meaning “tree” and null “meaning not a single damn.” It boasts Australia’s longest straight road; 146.6 kilometres without a single curve, turn or even slight veer.

Armed with a multitude of warnings about how boring this drive would be, we prepared for the worst and were subsequently pleasantly surprised. The Nullarbor sits atop an ancient seabed and therefore occupies thousands of square kilometres of limestone covered buy a thin layer of top soil…I’m guessing this is why it is tree free…no where to put roots…but most of this must be inland. Although we did see some treelessness, most was still somewhat arboresque (new word I just invented…I hope it catches.) The beauty of the emptiness, was that the night sky was lit up so magnificently with stars visible to the naked eye that common features like Orion seemed to be drowned out by gazillions of other neighbours who were equally radiant when free from competition with terrestrial light. (message specially for Sam Copestick: Hey Sam, I drew my plan for the mosaic Aussie night sky here, with Orion on one end of the Milky Way and the Southern Cross on the other.)

Long story even longer…the Nullarbor is still an interesting place to be. It just lacks pubs and discos

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