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nullabor MICHAEL BLUCHER COLUMN FRIDAY

Apr 22, 2024, updated Apr 22, 2024

Here we are mate. I’ve probably got a couple of photos that you could use as well …depending on your preference…

“You’re driving where? To Perth? I’ll come for the ride…”

The words came out of my mouth involuntarily, even before I’d paused to contemplate some of the more critical detail, like the “who what when and why”.

I’d always been intrigued by the notion of a trans continent crossing – exploring a whole lot of nothing for no real reason – and here was the perfect opportunity, even if I hadn’t been formally invited. Been invited at all.

To my welcome surprise, my potential travel companion, my chauffeur, was amenable. I didn’t know him well – the “Big Marn” was more an acquaintance than a close friend, but some people just exude conviviality, and he was one. It was a chance to get to know him better.

“Sure – be good to have company,” he said, apparently just as prepared to take the punt of being trapped for 10 days in a six by six capsule with somebody he couldn’t cop. Oscar and Felix on a 4000km road trip – what could possibly go wrong?

I’d quickly learn his journey purpose – the Big Marn was taking his old silver Land Cruiser across to the west to sell – bigger market over there apparently. However, he’d quickly learn the OSLC was unlikely to make it all the way across the Nullarbor. So we’d be travelling in his less robust but more reliable Prado – the “Soccer Mum 4WD”, he called it. The SMFWD still had enough grunt to haul a camper trailer, and more importantly, space for two sets of golf clubs.

Let’s face it, if you’re going to drive 4315km across the country, you might as well stop and stretch your legs every now and then. Besides, the Nullabor Golf Course was apparently “bucket list” item – a hotch pot of 18 “rustic” holes, predominantly tucked in behind random road houses at regular intervals along the way.

At 1214 km long (off the white tees), the NGC has a well earned reputation as the longest golf layout in the world, an enticing mix of uncleared bushland, scrub and red dirt barren-ness, heavily punctuated with flies and roos. It’s a course layout destined to challenge even the lowest handicapper, particularly when there’s a road train or a camper van parked in the middle of the fairway, which we’d quickly learn, was a common occurrence.

“‘Scuse me – don’t want to be a nark but could you move ya truck? If I hit my seven iron a little thin, there’s every chance it’s going straight through your front windscreen.“ Once you’d clarified your mission, and explained that you hadn’t been hitting your irons that sweetly, the truckies and the nomads were usually pretty accommodating.

The opening two holes of the NGC are at Ceduna, a coastal town on the western tip of South Australia’s Eyre Peninsula. Ceduna is famous for its fishing, certainly not its golf amenities. The good news, Royal Ceduna quickly set the expectations of what was to come.

When we were picking up our score cards and paying our $78 green fees at the Ceduna Visitors Centre, the refined English gentleman behind the counter (a blind spider scientist nonetheless), told us the course record was 72 – “even par”. Notwithstanding the advantage of ‘preferred lies’, I’m calling bullshit, The oil sand greens don’t run quite as a true as the bent grass surfaces of Royal Melbourne, but hey, as it’s often said about golf, “you’re only cheating yourself”.

We arrived at Royal Ceduna GC, parking boldly and illegally in the “member’s carpark”. We felt pretty safe – there was no evidence anybody had been at the course for four months.

We teed off at 11.42 – not our tee time. That’s just when we were ready. Our golfing odyssey had begun.

“What’d you finish with there, Big Marn?” Nine? Yep, the 45 degree bounce off a rock in front of the green, into that thistle bush didn’t help. Up until then it looked for all money like he’d have a putt for par.

At the risk of disappointing, I won’t run you through the whole scorecard – suffice to say, on handicap we finished dead square, and not a single broken front windscreen, though the Big Marn did lose a ball under a burnt out blue Falcon. I think it was hole five, a treacherous 700m par five, so long that we drove the SMFWD out onto the course. Hardly proper golf etiquette, but course marshals seemed to be few and far between on the Nullabor.

NGC – apparently they get between 2000-3000 “players” a year… steady traffic. We even had to wait on one tee – for old mate who had his wife carrying his clubs. The Big Marn went out on a limb and suggested he was having a better time than her. Gotta love ’Straylya.

The golf wasn’t the only highlight of the Nullarbor crossing.

There’s something truly mesmerising about standing on the edge of the country and looking up the coastline of the Great Australian Bite, the might of the Southern Ocean pounding relentlessly into the 90m tall limestone cliffs.

It’s no longer safe to camp anywhere near the top of the cliff face – another grey nomad bucket list item. Apparently there are cracks appearing close to the cliff’s edge – at some point, giant slabs of limestone will likely disappear into the ocean. It’d be a real shame if there was a SM4WD or something similarly weighty perched on top at the time.

Coastline aside, there is plenty to see – just the vastness of the flat, featureless landscape is well worth witnessing. Across one stretch, there’s not a single bend in the road for 150km. You’re looking at the nothing and yet it’s curiously spectacular.

You get a weird sense of connection with where you are – in the middle of nowhere, no excuse in the world to be anything but 100% present.

The nation’s self-important, stressed-out executives could do with a few days out here, slowing down, sitting, thinking, reflecting. Just breathing, living without noise or obligation. I know Cocklebiddy, in the guts of the Nullabor, is only a small town, but I can’t imagine too many who live there suffer from depression or anxiety.

As we headed west, the on-coming traffic across the Nullarbor also provoked plenty of thought and conversation.

Punctuating the endless stream of 40-something wheel road trains, a rich mix of much lighter offerings. Cyclists, walkers, a bloke running, even some clown pushing a shopping trolley. No idea where he picked that up, but he must have been going a while – the nearest Woolies was 900kms west.

While there was no opportunity to stop and talk to any of them, we had a wonderful time, hypothesising what they were doing, and why. And for whom.

Sadly, the week before our crossing, a cyclist had been knocked off his bike and killed by a passing road train. It was the middle of the night, the driver didn’t stop because he was completely oblivious to what had happened. Pushbike v road train on the plains of the Nullabor – the ultimate David v Goliath battle.

Over the entirety of our journey, we were constantly reminded of Australia’s size and scale. Kalgoorlie’s super pit, for instance, which butts up against the eastern fringe of WA’s historic gold mining town, has to be seen to be believed. I’d imagine it’d be a tough for gig for a Greens candidate, campaigning out there. Did you know it takes on average the mining of 20,000 tonnes of earth to produce one gold wedding band? Well, you do now!

Our trans continental trip took nine days. More through good luck than good management, we arrived in Perth on the specified day. The plan of not having a plan, worked perfectly to plan.

The Big Marn is still over there, driving around patiently but purposefully in the Soccer Mum Prado, breaking bread with the locals, searching for new and different golf courses, some he reports, that even have grass.

I must confess, I took the easy option and flew back from Perth. Time restrictions, you’ll understand, Besides, I figured the Big Marn would have had more than enough of my trash talk.

I’d only packed 20-odd stories in my swag, and after six days, he’d heard them all, at least three times. He did like the one about the chairlift in St Anton, Austria though – he asked to hear that again.

But what an experience. If you can find the time, it’s a uniquely Australian offering, well worth undertaking.

And golfers, pack your clubs. The course record – even par 72 – is still there for the taking.

Preferred lies of course, but just remember, if you cheat, you’re only cheating yourself.

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