Why the desert?
It has had a magical appeal for me, ever since I made the trip to Hay, New South Wales with my boyfriend (now husband). That’s me, above, in 2006.
It was the Easter weekend. We started driving out of Sydney . No destination in mind, except The Outback, or what we believed it to be. Along the way trying and failing to see herds of kangaroo. Only sheep, as the land became drier, and night fell. Then a strange delusion: I started to think there was water, on both sides of the road. It was the shimmer of the moon on the dust. We were passing over a long bridge, without end, over the inland sea that so many Europeans also believed must exist.
We stopped in the dark; the milky way visible as it can only be in the purest skies. The Southern Cross there too, signalling we were not home, but far from it. My boyfriend drove us onwards, until we saw signs for Hay. After some hassle and much stranger-kindness (a local wedding having filled nearly every hotel in the small place), we found a bed for the night , and the next day drove out for One Tree, a spot on the map at the crossing point of three desert highways.
One Tree Hotel, or what remains of it. Nothing for miles but the roads out, a few signs.
This was what we found at the spot marked One Tree; a former wayside rest for how many bleached, hot, irritable travelers? I wanted to go in, expected that the hotel would still be open, and finally that there would be some way to get in, to know more, but this was all we were given. Beer cans and space.
Then, on the way home, (or the way there…memory is hazy except on this point) another burst of strangeness:
A water-hole (man made, perhaps for sheep, or cattle, who could no longer live there in the terrible drought) and in the water, a flock of Pelicans. We got out of the car and walked over; already they were overhead, circling. Waterbirds, in the desert. hundreds of miles inland. There was the Murray River not so far off, but still, in this flat, dun landscape, they were an unexpected wonder. Perhaps they lived on the invisible sea that I had seen.
The desert is haunting. For someone from a small, rainy, hilly country, it is impossible to fathom. Surely just over the horizon, it ends? It doesn’t. The sky so big, the heat so much. The emptiness so all encompassing, that you realise your smallness and finality in a way that cannot be done in a city or peaceful garden. In a clap of wings and blinding light.
That’s what I want to get at again.