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459 Fitzgerald Street
North Perth, WA, 6006
Australia

Across the Country in an Unreliable Van

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Across the Country in an Unreliable Van

Andrew Ryan

*Photo credit to Peter Bibby

I write this on our third forced day in a Kalgoorlie motel room, thankfully paid for by the RAC. All our stuff, except what we could fit in our backpacks, is still in or tied on to the van, which is at the mechanics, with the gear-box all pulled out from underneath it, the gearbox which is confirmed to be broken.

This gearbox issue is the latest in many van fuck ups. Pete drove from Perth to past Norseman with a cracked head gasket. The van broke down and he was towed back 700kms. He made it to Adelaide about a week later than expected. He had to leave his van there to be fixed in order to make the shows he had booked in Victoria: caught the bus from Adelaide to Melbourne. We caught the bus together from Melbourne to Ballarat, Ballarat to Adelaide, picked up the car, drove back to Melbourne, stopping off at Portarlington on the way. We picked up my stuff in Melbourne, waited around for a few days for a mechanic to fix the alternator, then headed off along the Great Ocean Road, portions of it scared by a huge fire that tore through it a few months ago. We had to stay four nights in Portland due to waiting for mechanic as well – a busted external regulator fuse – and once we left there, we explored along South Australia’s coastline, went a little inland to explore arid national park, and kept drivin’ drivin’ over the border in to Western Australia. It was a relief to know the van was good; we thought it would last forever.

And I felt so darn inspired by the landscape as we drove in to those big ol’ Western Woodlands. I find that environment to be so comforting these days, even though I remember kinda hating the bush when I was a kid. I grew up mostly across the road from national forest in Kalamunda; the first chunk of bush off the road was all suburban prickle bushes and swooping magpies. Once you got deeper in to it, it got pretty good – a creek and big rocks and all that – but when my ma and step-dad would force us in to going on orchid hunting bush-walks i guess I was lazy and wanted to be watching movies or exploring the internet or hanging out with my friends or something. But these days, I can’t think of many better things than driving/strolling through/sitting amongst that kind of bushland. We drove through heaps of it, through mining areas, the red dirt thrown up on the trees, traffic cones dotted all around, wondering what the hell was going on down all those unsealed roads that we could no longer trust the van to safely go down, planning photo series and video works, documentation of where the state’s money comes from, where so many people are employed, the condition of the environment and the workers…

Before we got to Norseman, some of the van’s gears stopped working, and we had to park it somewhere where we didn’t have to put it in to reverse, so as to consider our options. Pete has a mechanic friend who he has been in touch with sooooo many times on this trip, has been a voice of calming hopefulness and the first port of call before dropping the car off at any local mechanics, so we were waiting to hear back from him in Norseman, and decided to drop in to the pub for a bevy and a game of pool. 4 hours later, we’re drunk and up $70, after Peter played songs on his guitar for a bunch of construction workers who happened to have their RDO that day and were keen to hear some music, a nice change from their regular horse-racing and youtube watching r&r styles. They plied us with booze, filled Pete’s hat with money, and we were able to pay for a room at the pub for the night. Woke up the next morning feeling good about driving the van to Kalgoorlie to get shit sorted out, and then when we got to Kalgoorlie we thought, fuck it, 4th gear works fine, let’s just gun it to Perth. 5kms out of the city centre, at an intersection on the Great Eastern Highway, we broke down completely.

So we’re in this motel room, kindly provided by Pete’s premium RAC membership (fucking worth it if you have a dodgy car btw), thank fuck he thought to purchase it, and we’ve got not much to do, except browse the digital television channels and lament the lack of decent reception on the SBS channels, and like, listen to fellow motel guests sit outside all of our rooms in the walkway with an esky full of beer. After two weeks of driving through tiny towns, agricultural areas and extreme arid plains, it’s not hard to feel grossed out by sitting in a motel browsing through television channels.

Earlier, I sat just outside the door of our room smoking a cigarette, looking at the building and envisioning what it would look like when Kalgoorlie has way less people in it and there are even more disused buildings and this one is crumbling and all the windows are smashed in. Nearly every town will go through this process at some stage. It is a dark satisfaction for me to see this process in action, it is a reminder that nothing stays the same for long, not much is built to last, especially not contemporary society, it’s not yet designed sustainably, it’s still layers of buildings rising and falling at the whims of investors and industries. That being said, in some tiny towns we drove through, there are some buildings that were built seemingly well over a hundred years ago which are still in use. I saw plenty that weren’t too, especially in inland South Australia, man, so many crumbling old buildings along the highways out there, failed farms from early colonial days, but in the towns nearby, the colonial settlers remain, and very few of those towns seem to have had more than one new building built each decade that has gone by since their creation.

All of this to get me to Western Australia’s capital, lil’ ol’ Perth; the land of renewable buildings and non-renewable energies, plenty of houses but not enough homeless people who can afford to pay for them, fewer music venues than I’m now used to, more expensive food than I’m now used to, possible anti-protest laws on the horizon and a vast, sprawling suburbia… I’ll be back here for a while, and I reckon I’ll have plenty of things to say about it, mark my words.