According to my map, there is a town called Emmet, and that’s where I needed to turn left for Yaraka.
In reality, there is no town. There is a closed railway siding and a building which might once have been a store, but which is now the residence of the local postie.
I stopped, turned off the bike. The sun was blazing, the air dry, the dirt red.
I drank some water and listened to the silence.
I took a photograph of Beastie in the blazing sun, in the middle of vast stretches of very little. Her natural environment; maybe also mine.
‘We’re free, Beastie,’ I said, and no-one thought that I was mad at all, talking to my motorbike, because there was no-one there to hear.
* * *
The skinny blacktop led me all the way to Yaraka, with just a few kilometres of interesting dirt. It’ll be bitumen soon too.
The landscape is mostly flat, with abrupt hills towering out of the plain. If I knew something of geology I could describe it a little better, but these are no rolling hills: they’re steep, stubborn remnants of a soil level otherwise long disappeared.
As you approach Yaraka, however, you see the Yan Yang Ranges crouching behind the town; that day, they looked blue.
It was late afternoon when I rode into town and parked Beastie in the dirt expanse in the middle of the main street. In front of me was a building with YARAKA painted across the corrugated iron roof in dimensions big enough to make out from the air. Definitely the pub.
I took off my helmet and headed that way. A man appeared at the top of the steps, arms outstretched in greeting. ‘Welcome to Yaraka!’ he said.
* * *
This good gentleman was Chris, Yaraka’s present publican. He welcomed me to town, introduced me to the only other patron (hi Dennis) and invited me to help myself to the tea and coffee. The pub was empty but golden in the afternoon sun, and we sat out the front on the verandah and talked while we waited for evening to come.
I think Chris saw me as a bit of a lost soul – a wanderer seeking respite and perhaps something else I couldn’t quite name. He isn’t entirely wrong.
Chris said that he thought Yaraka was a good place for people like that – a place where you might find some peace, some respite; enough space under the blue sky to feel a little differently about the world and the people in it.
* * *
It was Saturday night, and as the sun went down a few cars pulled up out the front. I was introduced to each person, one by one, and Chris told each of them that I was going to Paris. Chris was my tour guide to the people and places of Yaraka that night.
After a while, a Landcruiser pulled up with the people I’d been awaiting: my good host for the evening, Andy Pegler, along with Caroline and Greg, the couple who were caretaking the property at the times when Andy was away.
Now, I knew nothing of Andy except what my mother had told me: that he was a ‘lovely man’ and had been involved in some sort of motorbike race, which I was guessing to have been the Finke. That, and the fact that he took it very well when I cold-called from a phone box in Mitchell and invited myself to camp out in his front paddock.
Well, my mother was right: Andy is a ‘lovely man’, and the Caroline and Greg are lovely people, and in fact pretty much everyone in Yaraka was absolutely lovely to me. I’ve never been so warmly welcomed to a place in my life.
There was dinner and beer and a good night was had by all, but I was laying off the drink: in the back of my mind, I knew I still had to ride out to Andy’s place in the dark. It was only a bit over 50km and there would kangaroos up to my neck; that didn’t worry me so much. What did worry me is that fact that I’m desperately night blind. The road was going to be dirt, the surface was going to be variable, and I wouldn’t be able to see it properly. I’d be riding by Braille with 50kg of gear, and hoping for the best.