The Nullabor Roadhouse

Ah, keep your eyes upon the road
Your hands upon the wheel
Keep your eyes upon the road
Your hands upon the wheel
Yeah, we're going to the roadhouse
Gonna have a real good-time
By a favourite band The Doors

Crossing the Nullarbor is really a euphemism for driving the 1668kms of the Eyre Highway from Ceduna in the east to Norseman in the west. Ceduna is in South Australia and the border into Western Australia is at Eucla some 490 kms further on. The Nullarbor is as varied and unusual as its name suggests. Nullarbor – null: nothing,nil arbor:trees. The Aboriginal name is Oondiri or “the waterless”. The Nullabor has on average rainfall of around 200mm per annum. The Eyre Highway itself was named after the European explorer John Eyre who was the first European to cross the Nullarbor Plains in 1840-41. It traverses Aboriginal Reserve land, long flat treeless plains and emerges occasionally alongside spectacular cliffs overlooking the Great Australian Bight on the Southern Ocean. The scenery is spectacular in places, unvaried in others. At the Head of Bight during the season Southern Right whales breed and the occasional humpback passes by. We were aiming for our first stop at the Nullarbor Roadhouse.

Head of Bight. This is Yalata Aboriginal land and the Anangu people operate the tourist activities. The Anangu were forcibly removed to Yalata in the early 1950s from their traditional lands which were taken for the Woomera Rocket range. We spoke to a man who had policed the community. Suffice it to say the stories are not pleasant. Yalata land includes 150kms of the Eyre Highway.

The Nullarbor Roadhouse comes upon you out of nowhere. This seems at odds with where we are which is a long flat highway bordered on both sides by treeless plains of spinifex and saltbush. But while the view from the cab is one of endless shimmering distance suddenly it isn’t – there is a roadhouse on the right set on the dusty red dirt plain. An oasis in a deserted country. This makes it seem that we were alone. Far from it. Huge Double B road trains full of iron ore and wheat occasionally rattle past with a whoosh. Caravans and campers are, if not common, at least present going both ways. The roadhouse is a petrol stop with a flat roofed shop, bar and restaurant surrounded by motel units and a dusty red camping ground. No trees. A spot and a toilet for $30. A shower of 4 minutes for a dollar. But it is hugely exciting to be here. We are a third the way across the Nullarbor. Two thirds the way from civilization. Ha. Not really. Twenty people work at the roadhouse. Plus Eugene and Leanne the managers. Many of the workers are European backpackers completing their visa requirement of working for three months in an isolated community. It is fun. We communed with the two resident dingos who wandered across the forecourt and greeted visitors with a growl. We ate a steak sandwich “with the lot” over a cold one in the bar and chatted with other travellers. A father and son from Adelaide heading home after a three week motorcycle tour, an older couple caravaning Australia and a young arborist from Sheffield, UK on his motorcycle going from Perth to Sydney for a job. You learn a lot on the road. And the night is so quiet and the sunrise so glorious. We could only wonder what sights and scenes the next day held. Quite possibly more flies.

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