January 2007


We’re at a festival now in Busselton, on the West Coast, south of Perth. Michael Franti played an acoustic set last night and blew the place apart. John Butler of the John Butler Trio sat in and they really brought down the house. In the middle of the set some crazy Aussie kid free-climbed the center pole of the big-top tent and Franti almost missed a few bars watching and laughing at him. He made it to the top, probably 25 feet in the air, touched the canvas and slid down to raucous applause. Franti closed the set with a Sublime cover and brought a guy up on stage to sing along, and the guy proposed to his girlfriend of seven years. She said No. Ha! Yeah right. She had no choice. They got big hugs from MF for the occasion.

The Australian motorway. Bruce Highway. Northern Queensland. Shimmering pools of mirage water. Our car’s front wheels seemed almost to splash through them.

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South through this part of Queensland there is a long flat sun-scorched savanna of dry washes and sandy gulches, dry riverbeds and dusty grasses, and we passed through it at top speed, testing our new red rental car, stretching its legs a bit.

We drove by a man wearing a pith helmet, suspenders over a white T-shirt, and Ugg boots: riding atop a penny-farthing, one of those 19th century bicycles with the huge front wheel – the kind you need a ladder to get on – pedaling furiously.

There was a straight line of shimmering road. (Spotted on a bumper sticker: “Of course I’m drunk – I’m not a stunt driver.” And another: “Don’t laugh – Your daughter could be inside.” The famous Aussie sense of humo(u)r.) There was a cemetery of dead bleached trees frozen in macabre poses. There were riparian lines of living trees that looked like cottonwoods, cutting through a parched plain of stunted brush and meter-, or meter-and-a-half-tall termite mounds. The mounds looked like stalagmites. The brush and the small trees seemed to gasp for water.

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There was a broken line of ruddy hillsides on the western horizon. There was a hot sirocco-like wind feeding the fire of burning canefields that smoked in the middle distance.

There were smoking forests too, burning across shoulders of brown-red hills. There was grove after grove of roadside eucalypts with blackened trunks, standing charred amid plumes of smoldering earth. All undergrowth was gone. We didn’t know if this was planned or wild fire. With bushfires blazing everywhere – but especially in Victoria and Tasmania – it’s hard to know what’s intentional and what has the potential to wreak havoc. Over Townsville, Queensland’s Second City, there was a pale gauzy haze from the constant conflagration.

Forming a backdrop to the metropolis was a ridge of low rocky hills. There was a sparseness of trees that resembled the hair on a mangy dog.

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We came thundering like a train out of the desert at top speed through pit stops and roadhouse oases like Gumlu and Ilbilbie and out again in a flash. Back into the Wasteland. There was a salt smell to the air as we realized the sea was only a mile or two to our left.

Lisa New Year’sWe came out of Canberra – “a good sheep paddock ruined” – and into the Snowies for Christmas, then ambled down into Melbourne for New Year’s, thus completing our 5,000-kilometer drive from Cape Tribulation and our tour of Australia’s eastern seaboard, where most of the country’s population resides.

Melbourne put on a good show for New Year’s Eve, with lots of fireworks and free music by local bands, some of them actually talented. Also the city earned our permanent goodwill by providing free tram and train service for the duration of the evening. We ended up spending not very much money – much less than would have been the case in D.C., at any rate. Though the absence of friends was not forgotten.Wombat Divine

We hope everyone had a great NYE, and that you all have a terrific New Year.

In two days we fly to Perth to get a taste of the West Coast. The temperature there is considerably warmer, something to the effect of 35-38 degrees on average (here, with the rain that’s been following us, it’s been a tolerable 25-30), so we’ve discarded all our warm clothing and are hunkering down (mentally) for a good desert skin-fry. First thing on the agenda: The Southbound Music Festival, headlined by Michael Franti.

We’re going to post some more descriptions of the East Coast in the meantime, abandoning all chronology, to give everyone a sense of how varied our itinerary has been. This is a beautiful place and as far as this blog goes we’ve only scratched the surface.

Melbourne skyline, day

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