I’d arranged to camp that night at a station out past Yaraka, in a fairly remote stretch of south-western Queensland. It was vaguely on my way to Birdsville, and I had reason to hope for a hot shower and some good conversation to boot. Now I just had to get there.
I nailed it down the bitumen from Augathella to Tambo, regretfully forgoing a rather fun back road that I’d encountered on my shakedown run a year earlier. I knew if I played in the paddocks I wouldn’t make it to wherever I was going by dark.
In Tambo I stopped in at the Royal Carrangarra Hotel, where they’d let me camp in the shelter of their beer garden one rainy night almost a year ago.
Keith, the blue dog, was guarding the bottle shop with a degree of swagger the rest of us can only hope for:
Keith, you handsome devil.
Steve and Mary have just sold the pub and were about to hit the road too; Steve’s been kitting out his four wheel drive and camper trailer an adventure for sometime. As he said to me, leaning on the bar and squinting into the narrow band of sunlight coming through the doors – ‘I’ve always loved the bush. But since we’ve been here at the pub, this is all I’ve seen of it.’ That is, a wedge of bitumen running across to two sun-drenched houses on the other side of the road.
So Mary and Steve and their blue dog were about to hit the road too – you can Instagram stalk them on @smkadventures like I do.
I also owe Steve some thanks, because it was out of the front of the pub that I noticed that Beastie had thumped another bolt out of place and into oblivion. (Yes, I know, Loctite all bolts on thumpers!) Loctite is my friend; I even travel with two different strengths! But you still lose a few.
It was hot and well after midday when I headed out of Tambo for Blackall, straight down the narrow bitumen. It was flat, open country with a few windmills; I crossed the watershed into the Lake Eyre Basin. Here, all water would eventually run west and inland, instead of east and out to the cities, the farmland, the coast. I had truly left east coast Australia behind.
By the time I got to Blackall the town was baking and empty on a Saturday afternoon. The bakery was closed – I had been secretly hanging out for a pie – and there was a lone mobility scooter parked out of the front of one of the pubs.
I could feel myself getting dehydrated, so I fuelled up and sat in the shade at the roadhouse for half an hour, forcing myself to drink water.
The woman from behind the counter came outside and yelled to me, ‘Stay away from strangers!’ and walked away.
Why do people do that.
* * *
I hadn’t had phone reception since Roma and I was happy to let it slide. I dug out some coins, found another pay phone, and called Andy to tell him I was in Blackall.
As he ran me through the directions to his place, I looked at my map and realised that half of the roads weren’t on it, and the other half seemed to be marked in the wrong places.
“…and then you cross the Barcoo River and after that you’ll see the cattle yards right by the road and you turn down there….” Andy was saying, with the assurance of someone who knows exactly where the Barcoo River is.
My map was definitely useless, and I wondered if I’d know which dry watercourse was the Barcoo when I saw it.
Then Andy said that, since it was Saturday, he’d be going to the Yaraka pub tonight. I looked at the time, looked at the distances, and agreed that I would probably meet him there.
‘Well, when you get to Yaraka, get the pub to call me and let me know you’re there.’
Get the pub to call you?
‘Yes, they know my number.’
Sure, I said, and my coins ran out, and I headed out of Blackall.
The road was bitumen, getting skinnier and skinnier, and more and more littered with dead kangaroos. There were plenty of live ones too, and emus – mobs of emus pelting across the landscape with their funny backwards knees.
I felt my heart lifting as I rode – the sky always feel less heavy to me, the further west I go.