It’s an otherworldly place. Moon-like landscapes, heat that leaves you gasping, dry as sunbleached skeletal leaves, skies that go on for ever. It lacks obvious attraction for tourists, yet like a scrap of celluloid film at the moment it catches fire, it’s in my head.
I first visited Western Australia twenty years ago and it’s never left me. When we were planning our itinerary for last year’s trip, I knew that WA would have to be included. I needed to return. My esteemed husband was less sure. You really want to drive three thousand kilometres, with our children in the back, he asked incredulously, more than once. I know it sounds mad I said, but yes. You know it’ll be so hot that we’ll barely be able to breathe, he said. We’ll get used to it, I countered. Surely there’s nothing to actually do, he said. That’s not the point. You will never visit anywhere like it again. Probably wouldn’t want to, he muttered.
We got there. Isn’t it breathtaking, I asked nervously. He was non-committal.
We drove. And camped in improbable places. And drove. And swam off stunning beaches, gawping at technicolor coral reefs and giant sea mammals. And drove. And marvelled at man’s mastery of a landscape so bleak and unforgiving. And drove. And walked amongst an ancient country, unchanged for tens of thousands of years, rock art of prehistoric animals making us feel small and insignificant. And drove. And explored ghost towns with graves of people searching for a better life in an inhospitable place rich with pearls. We lay under the Southern Cross night after night, a billion stars clearly visible in the infinite sky.
After three weeks we reached our destination. We were giddy with the achievement of making it safely through the desert. We returned to a world of traffic lights and hotels. A noisy world. One full of people and buildings and other cars.
I kind of miss it, he said. All that space. It’s in his head too.