When the wheels fell off at work and I had no idea what would happen next, Little Black Car and I went on a road trip. Ages ago I signed up for a Japanese woodblock printing course in Cobargo, in the beautiful Bega valley, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. A long drive and a two-day workshop making art seemed like the perfect antidote to the week.
As I shoved a few things in an overnight bag I thought, “Mustn’t forget phone charger.” Then I remembered all the work trips I’d been on with federal and state politicians where at least one pollie always forgot their phone charger. I laughed, “Doofuses!” then somehow between the kitchen and the front door managed to leave my phone charger in the washing basket and drive off without it.
Little Black Car and I headed out to the Monaro Highway. We had three extra passengers who showed up uninvited. In the back seat were Anxiety and Work Stress, while General Worry About Everything rode up in front with me. “Don’t stop in Cooma for a coffee,” said General Worry. “You haven’t got time and you’ll never find a park.” What?! On a Friday morning in a country town?! Of course there was time and of course there was parking, but at that stage I was still listening to General Worry so I bypassed the town and headed out on to the Monaro plains, coffee-less and in a not very good mental state.
Out on the Monaro there’s a whole lot of…nothing. “Good place to bury a body,” I thought. Then, when a huge ute roared up behind me from nowhere: “Uh-oh! Serial killer alert!” It’s an easy place to freak yourself out. After 30 kilometres of it I was starting to wonder if I’d ever see a living thing again. I’ve never been so relieved to see a flock of sheep in my life.
Then an oasis appeared, a huddle of cute wooden houses and springtime trees out there on the plain.
There were two pubs, one with a huge bottle sticking out of the side of it. There was a shop selling biker gear and a shop selling fruitcake. This, my friends, was Nimmitabel, population not very many at all. I got out of the car and walked around and that’s when I found this:
Yes, indeedy, it’s an elephant—a large, concrete, highly embellished, wrinkly kneed elephant. There’s no plaque near it. There’s no sign saying, “This elephant is here because.” It’s just there. So if you’re a biker who needs a new pair of leathers and you fancy a beer and some fruitcake and a look at an inexplicable elephant in a little hamlet right out in the middle of nowhere, Nimmitabel is the place for you. I loved it.
After Nimmitabel the trees came back and suddenly they were everywhere. The road wound down Brown Mountain, through incredibly tall eucalypts and tree ferns and wattle bursting with golden powder puffs. I stopped at Somebody’s Lookout for a pee and found that someone had thoughtfully put a window next to the loo so that you could enjoy the view through the trees and down the mountain.
At this point General Worry was telling me to get back in the car and keep going, but I ignored her and wandered off down the path to the lookout. I bumped into an older couple who were obviously intoxicated too by the sudden appearance of trees and the smell of honey and the fact that it was several degrees warmer here than up on the windy old plains. “Walk to the end of the path!” said the woman, her eyes shining. “You can see the sea!” And that’s when I knew that, like me, they were from Canberra and had had enough of inland winter.
After I’d walked to the end of the path, where you could indeed see the sea, far off and blue like the hills, I realised my three uninvited car companions had become silent. I drove on down the mountain without hearing a peep from any of them. Even General Worry was quiet. At the bottom of Brown Mountain the land opened out into a wide valley. The last time I came this way the grass was as green as Ireland. This time it was brown. The local radio station was dishing out advice to farmers on whether to plant sorghum in dry conditions. It was the only station I could get reception for, so now I’m an expert on sorghum. Ask me anything. Also, I can give you a round-up of cattle prices at the Bega saleyards if you’re interested.
Bemboka, population more than Nimmitabel but still not very many, sits in that wide valley. It’s a beautiful, beautiful spot. On the right-hand side as I drove into the village was a little white church made of royal icing, shining in the sun. The whiteness against the blue sky was gasp worthy. It reminded me of being in Florence and wandering around dark, narrow streets, past austere Renaissance buildings, and suddenly coming out into the square and seeing the Duomo, that wedding cake of a building, for the first time. So pretty.
After that it was serious Bega cheese country. Cows everywhere. Cows, cows and more cows. I love cows. The road from Cobargo to Bermagui even had a spot where the cows crossed the road to be milked every day. A trail of mud and hoof prints spilled from the paddock, across the bitumen, to the dairy. I’ll be thinking of those cows next time I make a cheese sandwich.
Finally, I reached my destination. In just over three hours I had crossed the plains and avoided being murdered by a serial killer. I’d seen a pub with a bottle coming out of the side of it and a concrete elephant nearby. I’d driven past some of the tallest trees I’ve ever seen and across a dry but still beautiful valley full of happy cows. At the end of all that was Bermagui and the sparkly-arkly sea. And that’s where I’ll leave it for now, with the sun on our faces and the smell of salty air in our nostrils. To be continued…