I woke in the pink of dawn and packed up my roadside camp, eyes still blurred by sleep and grit. There was no shade and I was racing the heat of the sun.

Once I’d strapped everything to the bike, my roadside companion invited me down to his stranded caravan for a morning cup of tea. He made me toast with local honey, and sent me on my way with good wishes and a little petrol money for the road ahead.

He was settling in for a long, boring wait beside the Tablelands Highway. I would be in Cape Crawford within a couple of hours, and would make some phone calls there to be sure that last night’s message had gotten through to his mate in Borroloola: Dick’s broken down south of Cape Crawford, bring a tow truck and an extra tow vehicle. But Dick and I both knew that his mate would be out fishing somewhere with no phone reception: by the time he came back from fishing, got the message, organised a rescue fleet and made it down from the Gulf, it would be a couple of days.

Dick had the comforts of a caravan, food and half a tank of drinking water, so I knew he’d be alright as long as he didn’t go crazy from the boredom. I offered him a book to read – I had A History of the Middle East strapped to my fender – but he politely declined.
Despite the rich subject matter, I’d never found it a pacey read either; I could understand how one might judge it to be marginally less interesting than watching the sun move across the sky.

So I said my goodbyes and I was off again. I had that bright outback sun and that skinny, skinny highway all to myself. I swear there’s no therapy like it.

And therapy was what I almost needed when my fuel light malfunctioned 100km out of Cape Crawford. In my right mind, I knew the illuminated fuel light was wrong: I knew I’d left Barkly with enough fuel for about 520km, and that the run to my next fuel stop was only 385km. I’d checked the bike that morning, and I checked it again: there was no fuel leak. I knew I had enough fuel to make Cape Crawford. And yet, the alarming orange of the fuel light seemed to burn into my brain. For twenty minutes, my mind gallivanted off into mortifying imaginings about running out of petrol on the Tablelands Highway. Running out of fuel on your superbike in Sydney is one thing – a foolish oversight – but there’s no excuse for such stupidity in remote areas like this, where running out of fuel could kill you. In this case it wouldn’t kill me – I had food, water, shelter, and a satellite messaging device – but the ignominy would be the same.

Twenty minutes later, my fuel light went out again, just as inexplicably as it had come on. Tranquility returned.

* * *

A bit outside Cape Crawford, I came across a sudden a mess of activity on the road. There was an old couple, a tow vehicle, and then a caravan awkwardly jack-knifed over the edge of the skinny bitumen. One set of caravan wheels were bent at an awkward angle. It looked like the caravanners had gotten off the single-lane bitumen to allow an oncoming vehicle to pass, and had been pulling back onto the road when the six inch drop-off between bitumen and dirt had demanded more from their caravan than it had been structurally able to give. I slowed right down and idled through the scene in first gear, but they didn’t need me: there were already two dusty Landcruisers pulled up behind the caravan, and couple of blokes were attacking the bent wheels with levers and gusto. Another lady was patting the old couple consolingly.

I kept going, and found myself riding into a world of forest and greenery. The trees closed over my head and filtered the harsh sun; the temperature dropped. It was far from rainforest, but after the scorched tablelands it felt soothing and lush. I passed a creek clustered with cool green foliage and regretted that I hadn’t made it this far last night; it would have been an idyllic camp spot.

But a few moments later I was in Cape Crawford: a couple of houses, a police station, and the well-watered oasis of the Heartbreak Hotel. The Hotel was everything I love about Territory pubs: wide shady verandahs, lush greenery, laid back people, and as many water taps as you’d like. I’m told that the Heartbreak Hotel earned its name back in the 70s when the founding publican brought his new bride back to Cape Crawford and threw a big party… during which the bride ran off with a ringer. This may or may not be accurate of course; I’m not sure you should put too much trust in names in a town that is called Cape Crawford, but which is hundreds of kilometres from the sea.

I fueled up at their bowsers and filled my waterbag.

Then, I went on a trip down memory lane, and started feeding coins into the old Telstra phone box. I dislike that the pricing model has failed to adapt to modern calling rates but there was no mobile coverage and no alternative. I called up the caravan park in Borroloola where Dick’s mate was meant to be staying, and left another message on his mobile. It was out of range and the call went straight to voicemail, with a message telling me that they couldn’t answer the phone because they were out fishing. Undoubtedly true. I left messages with everyone telling them come and rescue Dick from the side of the highway, and that was all I could do for the moment.

I was loath to leave the cool surrounds of the Heartbreak Hotel so I loitered for a bit, standing under the lawn sprinklers until my clothes were soaked. I watched the vehicles pulling in and fuelling up: there were the middle aged country people towing a truck-sized horse trailer, perhaps on their way back from the recent rodeo; there was an indigenous family in an aging red Hilux; and a white family – man, woman, two small children – in a big white Landcruiser. The Landcruiser was vinyl-wrapped with photographs of smiling indigenous children and advertisements for ‘family photography packages’.

I was dubious as to how much the generally low-income residents of remote indigenous communities needed to buy a professional photography package. Particularly in cultural settings where viewing images of deceased persons is often taboo.

I got on my motorbike and rode across more baking plains under a bleaching sun. It was hot enough to smell the bitumen.


After a while I started to feel fatigued from the heat. I stopped at a roadside water tank and stripped off my heavy jacket, found some shade, broke out the rehydration salts. It was time for a break.

The water tank was empty but I was carrying plenty. I lit a tiny fire in the dust and boiled the billy. I was on my second cup of tea when I heard motorbikes approaching. I stood up and waited for them to appear over the horizon – there they were – a couple of KTM 1190 Adventures, I think. I waved them in for a cup of tea but they only looked at me blankly for a moment as they shot past.

In a hurry, I guess. What for, I wondered, as I had another piece of cake

0 thoughts on “Heartbreak Hotel

  1. Richard Hall says:

    Be good to have some dates to bring us back on track as was 19 days without update

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