Dalby, Qld. Tuesday, 2.30pm
On one side of the Warrego highway is a huge brown paddock of dirt. And I mean huge; not so much a paddock as a landscape. It stretches as far as the eye can see. Towards the horizon is an ocean, sparkling in the distance. Except, of course, it isn’t an ocean; it’s a mirage.
The dirt of the paddock is being turned over by four giant machines running parallel, each feeding a cloud of dust that hangs like a brown cloud over the newly stirred soil.
But it’s not all flat. What looks like a long, flat-topped hill lingers in my car window for half a kilometre.
‘That’s a strange looking hill,’ I say to my travelling companion.
‘Aliens,’ she says.
This is certainly alien country. There are huge machines on and off the highway, the bush has long gone and the remaining farmhouses and buildings are slumping earthwards, all flaking paint and rusted iron. Between garish petrol stations there are these de-treed landscapes pricked only by CSG drills. There are no humans to be seen.
Next to the strange-looking hill, there’s a building with a huge pipe running from it into the hill. Oh.
‘It’s a dam,’ I say. ‘A bloody big dam. I reckon that paddock is a cotton farm.’
‘Aliens have dams?’ my travelling companion asks, rhetorically, and leans back in her seat. It’s been a big day.
We have been on the road for two days, towing my little caravan, heading north. A quest takes you into the unknown, the unfamiliar. We have driven through some beautiful country since leaving my shack under the cliffs in the Northern Rivers. Crossing the border at Legume, winding through Killarney and Warwick, was good fun – picking our way over hill and dale, in to and out of forest remnants, the caravan following truly. That was yesterday.
Today, though, has been hard going.
‘You okay?’ I ask as a huge semi rumbles towards, and then past, us. We and the semis are squeezed into narrow lanes defined by kilometres of witches’ hats and flashing arrows, while, either side of us, machines widen the road to accommodate a future of even more trucks taking the spoils of this ruthless pillage of the land to market. Still no humans to be seen.
‘Yes, I’m okay,’ she says, twitching as the truck pushes by us, the roadwork speed limit sign obviously just a suggestion. The crumpled bonnet of the Superoo lifts a little as the truck’s slipstream catches it. It doesn’t close properly anymore. You see, I had a little accident in Toowoomba.
If life is a quest that is lived, rather than watched on a screen, than there are challenges to be met. Our quest is to reach Carnarvon Gorge, which lies far to the north. On a quest unforeseen events will test you. You will discover what it is to live. You will look into the dragon’s eye and draw your sword. Or hit the ute in front of you…
‘Would you like to stop for a minute?’ I ask her. She’s still shook up by our ute encounter.
‘No, I’m fine,’ she says.
I drove the Superoo into the back of a ute in Toowoomba. The Superoo, with lights and grill bandaged back in place with gaffe tape, is still running, but it was a shock to my travelling companion and me. Now, we’re stuck in some sort of environmental dead zone populated by big machines.
‘Oh, there’s a person!’ she shouts, pointing excitedly. ‘And another!’
Following her finger, past the semi and the road-making machines, I do see people: yellow cutout people stuck in the ground on sticks.
The quest continues.