Monday, 29 September 2008


29/09/08 Esperance – Norseman – Balladonia – Caiguna 575(13961) kms

Hurray. For once a really early start and how much easier this is without any other passengers! At 7:03, we were leaving the caravan park ahead of the grey nomads who rise early, and despatch themselves to the highways to be a traffic hazard for the Langomobile. A few photos at the beach and we were outta there by 7:20am.

First stop was Norseman, 200 km and two hours later and our first morning tea. We would be hobbits today and have two of them. Our outdoor cafe was in a well presented little park beside the Norseman Tourist Information Office (aka the brochures and dunny building built to take the pressure off the service stations in these small towns). Two Scotch Finger biscuits and a cuppa would have been enough for me but Sue was also concerned for my cultural thirst and so we went to photograph a horse called Norseman. He was a horse with a name who went through the desert without going lame and felt good to be out of the rain. In the desert, owners give horses a name. This particular owner was the first settler and when thinking of a name for the village, he defied the convention of picking someone really famous that you wanted to suck up too and so Norseman it is. I photographed his effigy the best I could given the constraints of having to shoot around the graffiti unappreciative louts from the CWA had put there and the further constraint of being completely disinterested.

I hear you shouting, "enough, no more Peter. Too much culture for us ..." but you'll just have to hold to your season tickets to the opera a little longer because next, Sue had me photographing tin camels. Yes, I said tin. Galvanized, corrugated, tin camels that are locked in an endless circuit of the town's main roundabout. Some poor bloke’s dunny is missing its roof and it wouldn’t surprise me if his neighbour is a crazy camel sculptor.

In appreciation for her intervention in my cultural education, Sue took the wheel for only the second time of this tour and naturally, did an excellent job for the next 200 km to Balladonia. She should drive more often. Balladonia is like many of the "towns" listed on roads maps in the far flung corners of Australia - it's a roadhouse which used to be in the middle of nowhere until NASA became its marketing manager in 1979. At that point, NASA dropped bits of Skylab all over the Southwest and Goldfields, but gave the biggest piece to Balladonia. Within twenty four hours, the world's media descended and filed reports from out in front of the roadhouse. President Jimmy Carter even rang the proprietor and apologised for the unscheduled low pass. It was a case of Skylab being Lost In Lots Of Space. Why, even the USA entrant in the Miss World contest which was being staged in Perth a few weeks later, came out to be photographed with some singed wiring harnesses and a portaloo. Several weeks later, the biggest bit was put on stage during the Miss W event but either the organisers proved too dense or it did, because the stage collapsed beneath it during the speeches section. Even inert pieces of space junk don't believe that "world peace" crap.

Going back in time, like many of the roadhouses in the west, Balladonia was a sheep and cattle station but petrol and basic motel rooms served with thick steaks and cold but expensive beer proved more lucrative. As roadhouses go, this is a pretty good one and its museum is surprisingly well presented and empathetic to truth in history, so indigenous Australians are well represented.

I was back in the driver's seat for the 150kms to Caiguna, the bulk of which is the longest section of straight road in Australia and the second longest straight road in the world. Called 90 Mile Stretch (146.6kms) it was just that ... straight, but it did contain four small rises. I reorganised the GPS, listened to music, counted the road kill, cut my toe nails, got some sox from my port in the boot and several other things while I drove it because the novelty was gone after five or ten km.

Caiguna Blowhole
After checking in at the first bend I came to, we back tracked five km and visited the Caiguna Blowhole. Eastern states people with have an image of water spurting forth as being a blowhole but not here. The hole is about 40cm across and a constant draft of air blows up through it, strong enough to make leaves rise in the air and a flag flutter. It’s caused by a differential in air pressure between the cave below and the atmosphere. It’s also about 15 degrees C cooler than the air on the surface. One blowhole in the area has measured exhaling air at 72km/hr! That’s some cavernous belch!


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