Where do I pitch my pup tent? I’ve never made that decision alone before. There always was.... I bite my lip. I will not go there. This journey is about the future.
A middle aged woman alone; it is important I find a place where I will feel safe.
Girls skip outside a large tent. Their thick rope slaps the road rhythmically. An older woman holds one end chanting, ‘One potato, two potato, three potato four.’ This will do.
Within minutes the tent is up. The car unloaded.
After a virtually unbroken, fifteen hundred kilometre drive through the centre of Australia, in extreme heat and with a broken air conditioner, I desperately need a shower.
I let the cold water flow over me. For the first time in seven months I am as cold on the outside as on the inside. The long drive has left we weary and I sleep for several hours.
In the early afternoon I walk around, rather than climb, Uluru – Ayers rock – in deference to the desire of traditional owners, the Mutijulu Aboriginal community. The ten kilometre walk around this sacred site is exhausting. I eek out my one litre of water. A small jagged rock catches my attention. It would be good to have a souvenir, something I couldn’t buy in a shop.
Photographs and memories make the best souvenirs. Memories are all I have left.
There is no epiphany.
I return to my tent. Every available camping space is taken.
I’ve camped in many places in our wide brown land. Until today I always shared the experience with the one person I cherished above all others. We shivered in the Grampians. Had a kangaroo hop into our tent and join us for breakfast in the Carnarvon Ranges of Western Queensland. Soaked in the mining town of Burra. Experienced the utter silence of off-road camping at Parachilna Gorge in the Flinders Ranges. Bathed in icy outback waters. Shared the worst bottle of port outside out rent, watching the sun set across the sea at Noosa.
Tonight, in the middle of Australia, on the eve of the millennium, I am searching for something special.
The Portuguese set eyes on this continent long before the British used it as a dumping ground for criminals. In 1606 Pedro Ferdandez de Quiros believed 'Terra Australis' would be ‘Australia del Espiritu Sancto’ — the Southland of the Holy Spirit.
Will I find that spirit in the land of the Aboriginal Dreaming? Will it reveal itself to me on this momentous night, in this sacred spot? Will it bring meaning back to my life?
Around me people are partying hard. I carry a cask of cheap wine and am accepted into a group of people sitting within a circle of home made teepees, playing guitars and singing.
At last there is no one to console me with empty words. Accept it and move on. It is the will of God.
Every day I challenge God. ‘Why did you do this to me? If you exist, show me your face so that I can spit on it. Oh, I will find you alright. You can’t hide from me.’
At midnight a bagpiper pipes Old Langs Syne. There is cheering, honking of horns, kissing and hugging.
Much later, in the silence, I wait expectantly. Eventually I fall asleep, eyes closing on an amazing display of stars, prolifically stitched across the darkest blanket of sky I’ve ever experienced. No earthly light, no spiritual revelations either.
On the first day of the millennium I visit the Olgas – Kata Tjuta – forty eight kilometers from Uluru, to watch the sun rise. Will this be my magical moment? I wait in breathless anticipation. The sun shoots its first rays of colour from behind the Olgas. Interrupting the utter silence dingo howls, long and clear, heralding the day. The hair stands up on the back of my neck.
I return slowly to the car. A jagged rock sits on the passenger’s seat. I place it under a bush. Whatever I feel on this morning of the new millennium watching the sun rise on a sacred site I instinctively know it’s not enough to sustain me.
I return to the campsite, drink black coffee and plan the next leg of the journey to – I didn’t know where. I must keep on moving. I’ve become an itinerate, a homeless one, alone and searching for answers.
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