by Peter Nelson
Once back on the mainland, we zigzagged aimlessly across Victoria, wandered back up into New South Wales again, but saw the remote western part of the state this time. Here the towns like Broken Hill haven’t changed much since the old frontier days. Most of them started out as mining centers, so they attracted a rough and greedy crowd. More pubs than churches, needless to say, and many of the local lads still seem the old lawless macho types.
In South Australia, we set our personal bad-luck hitching record. Spent a whole day waiting on the side of the road. In my years of hitching alone, I was never surprised to be ignored by motorists. But now that Elaine was at my side, for some reason, my hitching luck improved astronomically!
But all luck comes to an end, even bad luck. Towards the end of the day, this car drives up to us, pulls over and stops. The driver scrambles out, but says, “Don’t get excited. I can’t take you anywhere.”
So what does he do but pull out this large tray loaded with a pot of fresh tea, cups and saucers, lots of little cakes, and even cloth napkins, if you don’t mind! He sets everything down on the grass on on the side of the ditch and proceeds to serve us this elaborate afternoon tea. He and his mum live at the end of the village and had seen us walk by that morning. When they saw us still there 6 hours later, they made tea for us. People are wonderful, aren’t they? And of course the very next car to come by, stopped for us and took us right to the Flinders Ranges.
We spent a couple of days hiking in the rugged rocks. From here, gravity pulled us down to Adelaide, a real Australian city. Ever been to New Orleans? Lots of two-story buildings with balconies with wrought-iron railings. Adelaide’s like that. The first city that really feels Australian. Though the population is nearly one million, it seems like just a large country town, with narrow sun-baked streets and low buildings. So dry that you can see where lawn sprinklers have been at work — perfect green circles where water has sprayed, everything dead brown outside the circles. Just as if the water contained a green dye. From 10 AM to 6 PM, everyone seeks the shade, even mad dogs and Englishmen.
And now it’s Christmas. Hard to grapple with that fact in the southern hemisphere — Christmas carols in the hot dusty city square, fat men roasting in red wool Santa suits and cloth beards. Christmas seems like an arbitrary holiday under the misplaced summer sun.