Stanthorpe: the journey

The house empties on Saturday as the Tamborine mob returns home. On Monday morning, car packed, we head off for a 2-day drive to Stanthorpe. Usually we take four days. Usually we camp. Usually we travel in winter.

Weather forecast makes us a bit uneasy: 40°, and no access to the ocean. Through country suffering from drought. And 600 kilometres a day. But we need time for the animals to get used to us before their real family leaves for Warsaw.

And so we set off, travelling west, the amount of traffic dwindling the further west we go, even on the dreaded Newell Highway. Although dams are rimmed with desiccated dirt, one stretch of road shows recent signs of a savage storm, trees uprooted, hefty branches wrenched off.

In the afternoon, temperatures rise and the car begins to feel like a glasshouse. We don’t use the air conditioning on principle, and we stop only to drink and feed the car – food holds no attractions for us. Staff in supermarkets are heat-surly.

However, there are two ongoing pleasures: this is flowering time for Angophora floribunda and grand trees are crowned with thick blossom. They look especially splendid solitary in the middle of a paddock, although you regret the farmers’ urge to clear shade. The orangey-red bark of Angophora costata glows in the heat.

We arrive at our motel by 4pm. When I go in to book I suddenly “come over funny”, Squeamish and faint, and have to sit down. Cold ginger beer, air conditioning at 18° and a sprawl on the bed puts me right, and we sleep pretty well around the clock, the sleep of the sun-exhausted.

I’m surprised when I surface briefly and try to curate the images of the day to calm me back to sleep, that I have very few. Apart from the abundant flowerings, only the tessellated bark of a tree a mere 160 kilometres from home, and a green paddock on a bushy hill shaped like a stingray.

We wake refreshed to cooler air. I walk outside in a sun-frock, barefooted, and suddenly feel young.

It is my friend’s 70th birthday and I know she is spending it on a glacier in New Zealand. I collect images from a very different landscape as I think of her and relish her energetic life. A few spots of rain fall, and a rainbow arches across the sky to our west. In the east, the fingers of god reach down in a cone, and funnel into an inverted cone to reach the horizon. Sulphur crested cockatoos graze on the desiccated grass, and in the distance the Warrumbungles stretch their eccentric silhouette.

In Bingara we’re startled by a clean flowing river rolling along from bank to bank courtesy of a water release from a severely depleted dam. Beside it a huge old tree stands en point, heavy branched and presumably deep rooted.

My entertainment on this last stretch is collecting place names and reflecting on how each of them offers a small window on history (Oil Well Rd, Lever Arm Creek, Stevenson’s Gully, Sir William Bridges Rest Stop, Agincourt Rd, Myall Park, North Star); a hint of nostalgia (Argyle, Inverness, Claremont, Craigdon, Lochiel Downs, Strathdowney, Killarney Gap Rd, Glencoe); a remnant of First Inhabitants language (Moorara, Boonaroo, Warragamba, Gundwarra); a snippet of natural history (Plum Rd, Cherry Creek, Wonga Plains, Apple Tree Flat, Oakey Creek, Lava Downs, Tea-tree Creek, Crow Rd, Sparrow Rd); the kernel of a mini-story (Mosquito Creek, Duck Creek, Ticketty Creek, Goose Rd, Adams Scrub Rd); a few hints of independent naming (The Block, Valley Heights, The Hill, Rosedale, Sunset Lodge, Fernlea, Castle Top); and the odd wacky one (Boarambitty Rd, Timmalallie Creek, Bobbiwack). If I were a composer like Ross Edwards I could maybe turn the names into a Gregorian chant-like score.

We arrive in Stanthorpe with just enough energy to shop and then drive on to Liston to begin bonding with the animals that are the reason for our journey. We meet Nick for the first time and I worry because he seems to be cowering amongst the leaves, only one eye showing. Finally he emerges and begins getting acquainted with a squall of licking. Em gradually acknowledges that she knows us, and the cat, Leopard, stalks past, dignity and disdain intact.