Revisiting a story that I first tried to write twenty years ago is a strange experience. At that time the events on which it is based were relatively recent. There were newspaper reports of the actual event, background material on the setting and some historical, archaeological and geographical material held in the Battye Library. There was also my father’s account of a trip that he and my mother made across the Nullarbor in 1951. At that time the Eyre Highway was an unsealed road all the way to Ceduna. There was a Roadhouse at Balledonia, mostly servicing trucks travelling overland with goods like heavy machinery, live animals, fresh produce and some medicines which needed constant and reliable refrigeration. Apart from that there were only the occasional water tanks, under a corrugated iron roof, where travellers could re-fill their waterbags and radiators. The maps, detailed descriptions and black and white photographs from that epic journey have become part of our family archives and probably deserve a story of their own, but I am not the person to tell it. When I look at those tiny black and white photographs my imagination goes wild. I find myself searching out mysteries, adventures and strange possibilities to add to the already fascinating facts.
The internet has made a huge difference to the way in which I go about this. Now I can go down below the surface of the Nullarbor and explore six kilometres of tunnels, caves and blowholes that began to form there 15million years ago. Via YouTube clips and scientific video footage I can watch the scientists and palaeontologists squeezing through impossibly narrow crevices and discovering the skeletons of now extinct creatures. I can track the cyclone that cut both the Eyre Highway and the trans-Australian railway line back in 1995, effectively slicing Western Australia off the map. I can delve into the stories of truckies, overland cyclists and ordinary families who were caught up in the extended aftermath of Cyclone Bobby.
I don’t know how this story will pan out, yet. But I do know that it will be a much richer and more complex novel than the one I tried to write in 1996.