Updated: Jun 2
Is it my turn to drive already? I am in a sweaty back-seat haze and I have drooled on my pillow. I hardly know my colleagues in the front seat and drooling by day two is not a good look. We unfold the map on the boiling bonnet to see we have driven 1,186 kms and have 370 kms to go. Easy. Feels like a really long way to travel to teach kids how to make films.
It is getting late and thankfully I will not be driving into the setting sun. We have contacted the police back in Newman as well as the community at track’s end. I should feel some comfort in that, but upon hearing that three guys rolled their vehicle the week before and subsequently perished does nothing for my sanity. Neither does the fact that I can’t even pronounce ‘Parnngurr’, our destination. Martu land.
I am driving into the Little Sandy Desert. The desert. Appearing in control and enthusiastic, as a Tour Manager should, I flop out of the back seat, attempt to de-crease my face and bound into the front beside one of my crew. He smiles at me and I wonder if it because he is not driving this top heaving 4x4 full of filmmaking gear, or if he is hoping like hell I don’t roll this thing. It’s 46 degrees and the red dirt and spinifex warn me that I am now officially outside of my comfort zone. Helloooo Talawana Track. Please be kind to me.
Right. Into four wheel drive. Trying to remember all of my training without appearing like a novice. Steady as she goes. God, can they see I am white-knuckling this steering wheel?
Turn up the air-con!
It becomes clear pretty quickly that the roughly calculated travel time of five hours looks more like eight. I have a dilemma. Should I pick up the speed to save us time? Is that what these blokes would do? The sun is setting and the roos are out. God help me if we get confronted by an angry camel.
I speed up and shift the gear to fourth, then fifth. Cruising! I think I get the hang of this. I wind the window down and point my elbow towards the red termite mounds and full moon hanging low in the purple and orange sky. It mesmerizes me and I feel at ease. The Cruel Sea is blasting from the stereo. This landscape is in me. I think I actually understand this place.
My glimpse is brief. The road is becoming rough and winding. My elbow bolts from the landscape and back into the awful possibility of rolling. I don’t want to perish under a Toyota! I am going too fast. Pot holes hidden under bull dust. Camels! Kangaroos!
My crew says nothing. Just grin. Are they grinning because they are relieved to be alive or because they don’t want to say what they are really thinking? ‘The Honeymoon is Over’ rings out from the stereo and across this peaceful Martu land. As I slowly start up the Toyota, I rest my elbow on the open window and move on. The moon and the desert are laughing at this white fella. No more white knuckles. It’s just too hot. Now try to ease back into that place. That place I will always carry with me.