I wrote this post on our road trip down to SA. I’ve only just got around to publishing it.
A hundred km’s out of Dunmarra, the landscape is flat and green and a lone bird soars over the road. The temperature outside the car is hot, and the few clouds in the sky hold very little promise of rain.
It’s a desolate place. Lone and vacant.
And the worst is yet to come.
When I was a little girl, I loved Dunmarra. Nothing more than a road house about 650 km’s south of Darwin, in the middle of nowhere.
There is nothing there.
Just a place to stay, a place to eat, and a place to fuel up.
But I loved it.
The first time I remember going there, was for my eldest sisters wedding. Yep, she got married at a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere, and the people came from everywhere. That’s just life in the bush. When you all live miles from anywhere, a few hundred km’s down the road is nothing at all.
My sister, brother in law, and new born nephew lived and worked at the roadhouse, along with the owners and their two sons. Greg, who was my age, and Clint, a few years younger.
Whenever we visited there, our days were filled with bush walks on safe trails, and helping ourselves to soft drinks from behind the bar, whilst the boys tried to convince me to try beef jerky. It was a magical time for a city girl who had no siblings near her age.
And I loved it.
I loved Dunmarra.
I don’t love it now.
It’s amazing to watch the scenery change as you drive along the Stuart Highway. Once you’ve done it a few times, you start to know where you are by the bush. The mountains or lack thereof, the sparse, open, almost wetlands and the termite mounds and random piles of boulders.
Dunmarra, has always been known for its thick vegetation. You can’t tell by looking at it, but it’s one of the most dangerous patches of scrub in the North.
It was this bush that stopped John MacDougall Stuart trying to get the telegraph line from Alice to Darwin at least once.
It was this bush that swallowed Irish man Dan o Mara whole one day, and led to the roadhouses name.
And it was this bush that stole my friend.
It was a few years after our initial visit, and I must have been all of ten, when we got a phone call one Sunday afternoon. Someone had lost a horse and Greg, Clint and his dad had gone to search for it.
Well Greg and Steve had; Clint had follow along afterwards, unbeknownst to anyone. He crossed the road into unchartered bush territory, on his motorbike, determined to join his dad and brother.
He never came home.
In this part of the country, in November, the weather is hot and horrid. It’s build up time; showers of rain are sporadic and rare. It doesn’t take long for anyone to begin to suffer the effects of its horror; even less time of you’re just a small boy.
It’s a tragic story.
His motorbike broke down, so he got off and walked.
It began to get dark, and he panicked. He knew how to stay safe on the left side of the highway; head to the west, follow the sun, and you’ll find the road.
But when you’re eight, and on the wrong side, following the setting sun will just take you deep in to the dense, unforgiving outback.
For a whole week, I scanned the newspapers and watched the news with fervor, desperate for news of my friend. A huge man hunt had been initiated, with hundreds of people from all over the Territory descending on the road house to find him. In my child like mind, he was still alive. I had complete faith that a miracle could happen, and despite the look on my mothers face that suggested otherwise, I never gave up believing.
That’s what child like faith is.
Thursday afternoon brought rain, and I was sure this was exactly what he needed at this time.
The search was long and draining. It should have been quicker and easier, but no one could have anticipated a small child being able to travel that far, that quickly.
When they finally discovered him, 8 days after his disappearance, he was 10 km’s inland, under a tree, still, perfect and free from animal interruptions.
The aboriginal women had said there we spirits keeping him company, but Clint’s faith was always in God, even at the tender age of 8.
And like me, I’m fairly sure he never stopped believing.
Visiting the roadhouse always brings such bittersweet memories; trying Lift for the first time and running away from an annoying girl whose name I could never say right. And then seeing those trees and that land. Still, silent, and forbidding.
Looking at the land that was my friends grave, whilst my own children run the camp grounds I once did, climbing trees and making their own beautiful memories of a random roadhouse in the middle of nowhere. Redeeming in my own heart, what, at the age of ten, I thought would be completely unredeemable.