Sorry for the light posting. Lately I have spent too many days in small rooms, most recently at the Planning Institute of Australia conference in Darwin, on Australia's tropical north coast. Tonight, however, I reach you through the thinnest imaginable thread of wi-fi from the Batchelor Butterfly Farm (and Tropical Retreat) in Batchelor, NT, near Litchfield National Park. Uploading photographs would take forever, so we'll have a go at naked text.
Signifiers at hand: Eating dinner at a long polished-wood table on a large verandah, a soft evening breeze piercing the humid heat without really making it cooler. A little buddha at the end of the table. Hindu prayer flags, fifties jazz, a noisy frog atop the wooden butterfly on the wall. Kitchen behind me, to my right an elderly Aussie couple chatting with a young Spanish couple about the economy. A talkative host, fiftyish, long hair, thin shirt open to hairy chest, who tells us he likes it here but would rather be in Bali. Around the corner (for all great Aussie verandahs wrap around) a knot of young backpackers in the smoking section, laptops glowing with the news from Denmark.
Batchelor is not quite the stereotypical Aussie middle of nowhere, but it's far from anywhere but Darwin, which takes pride in being nowhere near anything. A week ago, on a short drive from Brisbane to Toowoomba in Queensland, I enjoyed a series of road signs counting down the km to Darwin, something like:
But I flew to Darwin, coward that I am, and today, driving south into the great north, reading signs like
HOWARD SPRINGS 3
ALICE SPRINGS 1482
... I wondered if I would ever set off on a long road trip again. I don't own a car, and drive only on special rental-car occasions, so there's always a sense of event about it. For a moment I wondered what it would be like to drive to Alice Springs, accumulating the rubbish of life in the back seat, chapped faces hurled at the hot red wind. It's one of those things that friends do together to see if they're really friends.
But once I left metro Darwin, and the road straightened out, the speed limit went up to 130 kph (81 mph). I gasped -- I had literally never seen a 130 kph sign before, but for obvious reasons couldn't take a photo. Briefly I tried speeding up to 130 on the two-lane highway, something I've probably not done since a very brief period of reckless teenagerdom. But many things that feel thrilling at 16 feel suicidal at 46, and this was one of them. The triple-trailer trucks (called 'road trains' here) would have to dawdle after me at 110 until the moment, bound to come soon, where they could see 20km of dead straight road ahead, stretched taut as though tied to the horizon. Then they'd show me who was boss.
So it will be short drives for me, I expect, for all the banality of planes. Short drives that end, on good days, at odd places like Batchelor, a town laid out around grand park squares on Garden City principles, as though ready to become Canberra, but still just a small place where the CBD is a very large general store and service station and liquor store and post office, and the beautiful people are at the Butterfly Farm.