THE UP COUNTRY






FRIDAY

If you go ahead draw a wire fence and a few ragged gums, and add some scattered goats that are too lethargic to shift from the edge of the scorched highway - You’ll have the bush all the way from Nevertire.

We heard the country was dry the other side of Nevertire and no word of a lie, it is. We didn’t wish to sit down on it, anywhere.

The wire fence I mentioned, well it’s a standing joke with the kangaroo. I claimed it’s heart on the side of my vehicle, making a further joke out of me and my unbeknownst lack of insurance. 

The Up Country is clay country. Once the rain has fallen we make fun of the promiscuous signs that flag the highway. Stating ‘Soft Edges’, we let our minds run wild to give way to the boredom of the straight runway of a highway -That is until a thundering road train approaches. Do you gamble kissing it? Or do you run the trimmings of the tarmac where you could simply slip, slide and fly across the bare horizon? It’s safe to say you would always get through as long as you were holding your breath.

Willicannia- Will Can Ya See The River? Nah. The sight of the Darling flowing is only available to view at the local Historical Society. Instead, you will view skeletal, native animals sliding down the steep riverbanks in search for what water that is left. It looks and smells like death. In the distance, you will hear handsome Aboriginal children scream from one end of town to the other, 
“Oi, Lisa wat are ya doin?”

White Cliffs- Those smudgy white mounds that appear out of no-where. Payable dirt, filled with riches of Opal and topped with the rubbish from Colonialism. Being a white privileged Australian gives me no leg to stand on, but the waste exhibits the entire existence from the first glass Coca Cola bottle through to the vile plastic Coca Cola bottles that decorate the skies in a dust storm. 


SATURDAY

On camp you will meet B-jay, Andrew and Kenny, the members of Broken Hill’s famous mobile canteen. These bush larrikins tied a deep frier and BBQ plate to their tow bar. In turn, they make serious quid keeping the crowd fed on grease and high on sugar from the soft drinks that float in an iced bathtub.  

Whilst cutting hair in the back ground, pesters of

 “Oi mate, take this napkin she's gone ahead and sliced your ear.” 

Or

“Andrew, if we leave Kenny asleep here in his swag on the kitchen floor, he may well be more alert next year and do some decent bloody work”.

I miss them. Like the stories of Mac and the boys from the flophouse in Steinbeck’s, Canary Row. Their hearts are bigger than those milky encrusted night skies you will experience in the Up Country.

Late Saturday afternoon is filled with the unique activities of Bobbing apples, Broom tossing and Tug-A-War.

As brooms and dust fly, echoes of “Don’t hit my Toyota” and “Arhhh Sharon, you caught yourself some down wind” float across the bare horizon.  

The Tug-A-War. “Well gather around my hipster sisters” Let’s give ourselves the name of City Kids and see how quickly the ladies from the country throw our backsides down this big red paddock. The result will only bruise one’s ego but one must try to be social. 



SUNDAY

Wait till you meet Jeanie- The very talented cowgirl from Grong Grong. She hosts a conversation that will never bore your mind. Jeanie, makes a mean cup of instant coffee and is a woman that can stand her loneliness, as well as hold her own with strangers. Those two traits are set rules if you wish to exist out here.

Jeanie and her husband have been travelling the country for years with their Australian stock horses. Jeanie competes in the Gymkhana, entertains the crowds with her impressive barrel runs. Mick does the Rodeo pick up. Mick and his mate - Mick are the mad man with the precisely trained horse pulling cowboys up and off bucking broncos.

Jeanie and Mick introduced me to their good friend, Banjo. An Australian War Veteran and Station Master who is retired and now living alongside the banks of the Darling River. He too lives for the loneliness and dullness, surviving on his own on a hobby farm of 3000 acres. Banjo holds an old wise expression in his handsome eyes and the tire of life in his brow. He dresses to that of a true gentleman and is greeted by locals with the utmost respect in the shake of their hands.

He has not only been cursing the drought, but the entire month he’d been travelling the country in search of a haircut that he did not have to make an appointment for. It was both his and my lucky day that we were able to meet, cut hair and share tales of previous experiences about being on the road.


The Rodeo finishes and I turn to my travel companion, Tegan. We smile through our dust-encrusted moustaches. And after peeling layers of blood and dirt from the inside of our nostrils, we are beyond ourselves to see the camp’s shower. 


Arriving at the local pub for a serious serving of lamb chops, karaoke and traditional country dancing on display. We balance circumstances of some men still yet to understand that if you spend too much time yarning with an 'out of town' lass you might upset the village. A situation one must be consciously aware of. It’s a knee jerk reaction from my youth; a dormant memory of being spat on or asked to leave for my own safety. It’s a balancing act, an argument in my mind, my quest for knowledge. My desire to learn more about the Up Country and the life of a human stuck in the rudest drought this side of 1982.  

My friend Tegan taught me a lot on this trip. A lot about feminism, when and how to walk away from certain conversations and interactions with bad characters. 
One character had me stuck in place of disgust and sadness in her existence. “ You’re a hairdresser, you give head jobs for a living - well you must be doing a bad job because you are not on your knees right now.”

This was one instance that I needed Tegan. I either needed her quick response or her nudge to tell me to punch this lass in the face. Instead, I stood drunk, in my vulnerable state of trying to connect to a community that was 1,161km from my own safe environment.

Tegan’s a one tough cookie but this whole time she was in the midst of dealing with an aching heart and torture of university exams in the depths of her mind. I watch her desolate interior relate to the desolation of the Australian inland. There was freedom in her stride, a constant smile in the corner of her mouth and air in her heavy chest. It’s truly the reason I find myself in such locations. 



MONDAY

No exceptions often lead to maximum experience on journeys like this. Lastly we meet Graham. Once a contract shearer. Once publican of the local fire water establishment. He generously showed us the sights of this baked land from the air above. Tegan and I quickly verbalised our dying wishes as this gents breath from last nights festivities could easily run the engine if we ever happened to of run into trouble. 

Once home I refused to polish the red dust from my boots or clean the dash of my car. I continued to play the music that was the soundtrack of the Up Country. Who would think that you would ever listen to Garth Brooks and Zac Brown’s Band, “ You know I like my chicken fried, cold beer on a Friday night” on repeat for a week or…two.