We arrived late in the night, too excited to stop in Broome to sleep in the tent as planned. We’d already driven 4500kms in the past few days – what was the harm in another 700 tonight? We looked at each other; a reckless glint in our tired eyes. The setting sun cast warm orange rays over Kyle’s dusty skin. “Yep, let’s keep going.”
Wired on zero sleep, buzzing with the constant forward movement of the truck; we switched off the air-con and let the warm summer air flood in through the open windows. The red sun had now set; the country road-side was dry, yet bursting with life. I’d never seen such a thing. How can something so isolated, surrounded by silence and nothing but constant heat look so at peace?
Small pockets of wild fire burned in huge open paddocks; the red flames munching dry grass hungrily with a well-practiced crackle. Our headlights gave us just enough warning to spot the cows; their beady eyes glowing brilliantly in the middle of the highway. They knew what the deal was. We honked, they continued chewing; they owned the joint.
I’ll never forget when we first drove into town. The sign was right there, the turn-off from the Great Northern Highway to Port Hedland. After such a stretch of wilderness, the lights were mesmerising. They twinkled on the horizon for as far as you could see. Sprawled out along what we guessed was the coast; it was as though we’d taken a wrong turn. Had we discovered a lost city? What was this vast place specked with yellow lights, buzzing like an ant’s nest surrounded by balmy darkness.
We were exhausted, running on adrenalin. Our GPS directed us to the area called ‘Pretty Pool’, and we felt an odd sense of accomplishment as we pulled into the unfamiliar driveway.
Knocking on the front door, we were met by the friendly faces of our friends. Big tired hugs were shared in the strange kitchen in the silence of the night, a kitchen which became so very familiar. Our dog Quinn let himself right in without invitation and began sniffing the air-conditioned rooms one by one.
The first couple of months were exciting. We found adventure in everything. It was all new! So much to learn about the town and how things worked with the port. A new state, a new town; we were living in a remote place with so much history, so much culture; there was a lot to get our east-coast heads around. We’d never expected to make a new home town in our own country. What was this madness?
I cried a few times, especially in the first few months while I was trying to find my place. There were plenty of great times, so many; it was at sometimes overwhelming – this life we had stumbled across. I could feel big change in how I thought about things and it scared me a little. Under everything was a real sense of gratitude; we had discovered so much, had grown so much, we’d been given this amazing opportunity. Things had worked out too well. I felt as though I needed to pinch myself all the time. Did we really come here on a whim, and find so much? We were so lucky.
Fast-forward twelve months. I was in the local art gallery talking to a local, a friend – yep, I’d made some lovely friends – we were saying goodbye. “You cry twice when you come to Hedland”, she said. “Once when you get here, and again when you leave.”
The alarm woke us before the sun. Our housemate wandered out under the kitchen’s yellow light in her pyjamas, her eyes barely open to hug us goodbye reluctantly. The car was packed with our odd few possessions, Quinn was keen to hit the road.
I looked around the house; so many good times. Spilt wine here, cooked terrible dinners in there, watched massive dust storms rage across the ocean from out the front, palm trees threatening to snap in half from the wild west ‘breeze’. Orange sunsets over the ocean, 2am creek swims, 2pm nauseas chats the next day shaking my head and feeling blessed to have somehow survived a shark / crocodile / other ocean critter encounter in my recklessness. Kyle asking me to marry him in the lounge room one winter night with salty hair and sun-kissed skin. We were out in the wild north-west landscape every chance we got to satisfy our itchy feet; Quinn with his fat staffy head hanging out the window, eager to see where we ended up. Swimming in water of any temperature (because how good is this!), climbing gorges, finding dirt tracks, wearing fly nets, chasing waterfalls, getting annoyed with Quinn’s loud panting in the heat even though the air-con was blasting him in the face.
I crept into my housemate’s room in the darkness for one last hug, a big ball of excitement and sadness in my chest; and then we jumped in the car. That was it. We were off. I sobbed as we drove down the street, the first light of the new day hitting the vast blue ocean.
I’d felt something new – many new things. Unlike possessions, they stayed with me to be treasured for the rest of my life. The unknown awaited us yet again.
Twelve months later, we drove into a familiar driveway, this time we didn’t need to follow any signs. Palm trees swayed in the breeze. The red dirt had gotten into our blood just as they said it would, it was swirling around inside my veins along with the all the other colours that I’d so far collected. I was creating my own cocktail, making up the recipe as I went.
What were we doing back there? I didn’t know. What would we do next? I didn’t know that either. All I knew was that it felt right.
I’d find the next road when I was ready, and apparently – it wasn’t the right time just yet.