'The thing that I noticed about returning to Adelaide,' Sebastiane said when I visited her there, 'was the lack of broken glass on the footpath and of cries in the night.'
I drove into the fine city of Adelaide on Wednesday evening last week. My brief encounters with Adelaide over the last decade or so have been enough for me for me to appreciate some of the good things about the place (the elegant township, the good food and wine, the festivals), without experiencing any of the aspects people complain about, like the conservatism and the relative lack of degrees of separation in Alice.
I dined with Kerryn in the evening, and among other things, she warned me about the road to Nihill -- how some kind of traffic accident vortex exists along the section of inland highway around Nihill.
I had to admit, I didn't enjoy the last leg of my journey so much -- it may have been tiredness or the fact I could no longer speed, but more than anything else, the sudden change of landscape. The more cultivated environment definitely seemed dull after the arid plains, orange rocks and salt lakes of the drive directly south from the centre. It all seemed like drab farming country, with the kind of towns that teenagers can't wait to escape (tho I did enjoy the country bakery-style meat pie and homemade wagon wheel at Bordertown).
Nihill was mirage country: trees shimmered on the horizon, hazy where their trunks should be. The shadows of trees flickered across the road. The picnic areas of yore have all been transformed into power nap stops. No wonder, I thought, there are so many accidents in these parts. Drivers would be mesmerised into some sort of trance state. Not only that, but the constant signs warning against taking you eyes off the driving game began to take on a certain gnomic wisdom: 'Yawning? A microsleep can kill', 'open your eyes - speed kills', 'only sleep cures fatigue' (a certain Shakespearean eloquence there!) And more intriguingly: 'in times of emergency, tune into local radio xxx.' Imagine, the little green peeps in the purple saucers are fast approaching rural Victoria, and you tune into radio Horsham for advice on what to do.
And then I realised: I'm back in the police state. That's why I'm seeing so many warnings. I mean, a series of road shrines is the more usual warning in the Territory.
Some time, a couple of hundred kilometres out of Melbourne, when I started seeing huge European trees lining the highway and thick, lush grass, I thought to myself, this is a place where it actually rains. (Melburnians might dispute that, as I'm told it's hardly rained in Melbourne over the last ten years, tho it seems to every time I visit...so there may be more of that, now that I'm back).
It was also a part of the highway (particularly the segments with convict-built stone walls) I remembered from driving out to meet with a certain Aboriginal leader's community. Yet again, I felt I was re-tracing much of my initial journey into Aboriginal affairs and the Centre. An Aboriginal woman said to me today that it was surprising that I was still working in the area, given some of the crazy people I've worked for: certainly, I've seen some very interesting politics, far more complicated than the perception of what goes on -- the 'Star Wars' view of Aboriginal issues that the Left often holds. On the hand, I feel privileged to have been taken by them to places (communities, old mission -- 'reservations') that I would never have visited and to have met people I would never have met otherwise. If I was feeling less tired, I might philosophise on some of these themes more (maybe the subject for another blogpost some time).