The Road South

I’ve just been driving on the little artery connecting Perth with ‘down South’ (the only holiday destination a drivable distance for we people in this sorrowfully isolated city, a refuge to which the townies escape in order to furiously recreate). ┬áThe road is in jolly good nick, hugging the coast as it does, and it bypasses the bristling little towns on the way. It’s very different from driving the mean-looking Albany highway, which is straight as a Cormac McCarthy sentence, and bisects off the juicy little south-west triangle, dividing southern Western Australia into the haves and the have-nots – a partition between green and brown, grapes and wheat, money and not, leisure and work.

Anyway, heading southwards, I saw a man riding a motorbike. He was dressed from top to toe in the richest of browns, copper coloured corduroy pants, a brownish khaki shirt, nut-coloured shoes and an open faced helmet, and he was riding a Royal Enfield – a majestic thing on two wheels, all elegance and history. He rode it slung back in his seat, and, with the entire horizon steeped in smoke from some distant bushfire, as he passed I could taste adventure. Smell the exploits ahead of him. In the lane next to him was a brown volvo – actually more beige, the colour of slacks that men of a certain age wear to their Rotary meetings. And in that car, was me. And a song played over in my head. How did I get here? This is not my beautiful life.

Back in university days, when ‘down South’ was the only vacation option for the cash-strapped and unimaginative among us, when our thighs were hard-muscled and our cars were borrowed, we would stay in makeshift campsites, or the friend of a friend’s beach shack, and play drinking games nobody really knew the rules of, our only bath the icy washing machine of the Indian Ocean.

But now, in the mesmerising drive down to the ‘resort’ where we are booked for a few days, I had plenty of time to reminisce, compare the then and the now. The road, of course, was full of visual distractions, little snippets that make this drive so unique. I saw a fully assembled drum kit being played next to a rubbish bin in one of the truck lay offs, genderless youths in black hoodies hurling rocks at birds, boxes of squashed end of season fruit advertised for sale for the price of a gold coin, and the repeated lonely little crosses by the roadside, covered in their colourful synthetic flowers, paying stoic homage to our national pastime of slaughtering our young on our roads.

Before I knew it though, before I could descend into too much maudlin memory and regret, I arrived at the main hub of this holiday destination, this odd place of perhaps the undeservedly rich. It’s got itself a bit of a bad rap, this town, as though it were the Hamptons misplaced, Gatsby’s West Egg without the glitz, the cafes with their queues of people as impatient here as they are in high street Claremont, their annoyances simply transplanted along with their neighbours, every bank holiday weekend. Not unaware of my own hypocrisy, we trooped into our own bungalow with its gleaming marble basins and hand lotions arranged just so.

I haven’t done this place justice though. The southern coast of Western Australia has far more exquisite beauty than it does plastic pop-ups. It is mostly ancient and wild and has air full of fresh, screaming wind, and more biodiversity than we paltry humans have any idea about.

And as we pulled into our home for the next few days, I saw, for a brief moment, simultaneously, the setting sun – a burnished bronzed orb, alchemically distorted by the smoke – and on the other horizon a warm, full moon, so clear you could see the valleys and rifts and seas upon it, and for a few minutes they were balanced exactly, as though they were a Calderian sculpture, and I felt such a sense of perfection, such wonder, I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I was right here in this moment, able to see such things, knowing I would never have done so in my unseeing university days. And that I am deeply happy to be the age that I am, and with the words to say so.


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About the author

Dr Michelle Johnston is a consultant Emergency Physician who works at an inner city hospital. Mostly her days consist of trauma and mess. Also, she writes.

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