May 11, 2010
The Nullarbor Desert creeps up on you.
From Albany through Esperance and on to Norseman, the landscape changes from forest and vine to woodland and scrub, then to wheat fields so vast that after five of them I stopped saying: “Wow, that would make a good spot for a flying club”.
They are punctuated from time to time by farm entrances invariably marked by a pair of white tractor tyres or wagon wheels buried in the earth, below a sign saying Green Acres: Bob and Gayle Hunnicutt and Sons, or somesuch, and from time to time also by circular salt flats glittering in the sun.
I got off the bike and walked out to the middle of one, marvelling that until 80 years this land had been a dustbowl covered in these flats, until the Government rescued it from the dead, planting salt-friendly mulga trees to bind the soil, then gum, until at least it could be turned into wheat farms so productive that they not only supply all of Australia’s daily bread, but keep Asia topped up with its daily noodle as well.
Down a long road lined with plain trees which could have doubled for an avenue in Provence, we rolled into Norseman, named after the horse whose hoof turned up a nugget and sparked a gold rush, and before long were ensconced in the Railway Hotel, a magnificent art-deco gem which at the height of the gold rush would have charged a week’s wages for a room.
Today, it was owned by a Perth environmental scientist called Therese Wade, who had come out here to study the temperate forests, fallen in love with the building instead, bought it with her brother and was now painstakingly restoring it to its former glory with the help of a heap of optimism and a baffled Alsatian called Audrey.
Even better, it had become a magnet for adventurers, in the past month alone attracting two brothers walking across the country, and a microlight pilot who in attempting to fly the same route had come a cropper while trying to land on the salt flats.
We threw our bags in our rooms and went out to play golf for the afternoon on the world’s longest course: the Nullarbor Links, dreamed up by local businessman Alf Caputo and stretching for 800 miles across the desert, with one hole at each participating town or roadhouse along the way.
“Be careful of your balls, gentlemen,” said Evelyn at the tourist office when we picked up our clubs. “There’s a crow at one of the holes, and a dingo at another, who keep running off with them.”
Colin, being an anarchist by nature, had decided to spurn clubs and use a boomerang with a golf ball gaffer-taped to it; only to regret his decision when his gimcrack device turned out to have a range of about 30 yards, as a result of which I thrashed him at the first hole by a resounding nine shots to 15.
Still, at least we both beat the hole’s par five by a healthy margin.
October 16, 2016