The Nullarbor Plain: it’s that stretch of semi-arid landscape, on the coast between the desert and the coast on the Great Australian Bight, where the sky opens up and the horizon appears unreachable. It’s a place where the wind is hollow and an echo could ring out for a day, without another living soul having heard it. It’s where the road, an endless black ribbon, unravels beneath the feet and wheels of those who travel it, and fragments of the past, ghosts of history, linger in the bristling calm.
Blitzing across this flat land, we are not oblivious to its mysteries, but we are genetically unequipped to understand them. Alone or in company, it’s only natural to run out of things to talk about. We hurtle along, silent, invincible, but relatively insignificant. The sun hunts us as we speed due west, but out here, it always beats you to that line between the land and the sky.
“They” say when the sun goes down, enormous kamikaze kangaroos loiter by the side of the road, waiting to throw themselves under the wheels of your car at the last second, and without a petrol station, or any semblance of civilisation for 300 kilometres, (or a redneck bulbar to combat those pesky terrorist marsupials,) sense says to pull into the next campsite, and rest for the night.
The enormous underbelly of this place is apparent as soon as we cut the engine. The insects are so noisy, singing in the afternoon sun. We know we’re heavily outweighed by them. Our insignificance is both alarming and bizarre. We know we are intruders here. This is not our world.
A quick inspection of the cracked earth reveals rich colours and a million different of creatures, all carrying out a purpose, demonstrating the meaning of life. How can something that looks so dry, so dead, have more exuberance, more vitality, than our own urban worlds? I feel that I am nowhere, but at the same time I feel I am in the most important part of the planet. I am of no use to this society; there is nothing I can contribute here, short of offering my flesh as food. My presence is little more than a light breeze across the rocks of an ancient land.
On dusk, a swarm of bugs appears from nowhere, presumably to feast on the flies that carry on in the daylight hours. In less than ten minutes, another swarm of bigger, more menacing bugs arrive. They eradicate the lesser beings, and I see every sad existential metaphor that applies to the futility of human civilisation crystalize. It is here that my hope for the human race finally combusts.
As the sun leaves us, the sticky heat is exchanged for a sobering chill. The blue sky darkens gradually, until we can see space. A million stars, more stars than I have ever seen in my life, sprinkle the sky as though the comical creator had thrown a jar of glitter across the black as an afterthought. My isolation, and the triviality of my existence here is humbling. What are we, really, when all of this can exist without us? From the tiniest ant up to the biggest star in the sky, my opposable thumbs, my ability to feel anxiety, my silly little drawings, my entire existence, is of little consequence to this reality.
Sleep takes us, but we are restless. We are foreigners here and while the land will tolerate our presence, we are not welcome. Our ancestors made sure that the land and the people could never be one, never again. I dream that the spiders and insects cocoon us in our car, glaring at us through the windows.
Waking early, I know the sunrise will be spectacular. The sun creeps up on the horizon; gradually the light drips into the dark, until it spills onto the landscape. Golden sunshine, atomically bright, starts to fill the sky, trickling across the grass and illuminating the light mist hanging near the ground. The inky silhouettes of gum trees lurching out of the ground are sleek and iconic – an eerie symbol of childhood nostalgia – stark against the colours of a new morning.
Words hardly do justice to what is out here; I am merely a student of life, unqualified to assign vocabulary to these natural elements infused between the realms of existence. It’s not a form of life that can easily be seen with the eye, heard with the ear or touched by the skin; instead it’s an accumulation of all those things and more – it is all the things that exist here, in synch, coming together to amass an elusive life force.
I swat a fly from my face. The heat is coming. Another day of driving, another night on the Nullarbor awaits us. I remember to breathe in the richness of this place – surely this purity is the cure for cancer, or some sort of life elixir. Surely it is magic that can be found in what is dead, but still full of life. The dust kicks up under the wheels and we are gone, back to that straight road, with no end in sight.