And Now for Something Completely Different

A Covid free blog – almost.

When we are watching Mastermind or University Challenge, one question I can always answer is What is the name, meaning treeless, of the large / vast plain in Au… NULLABOR I yell.
As part of my pandemic escapist reading I have been dipping into Bill Bryson’s book ‘Down Under’ published in 2000. Coincidentally up popped Australian blogger Rowena’s ‘Beyond The Flow’ A-Z challenge ‘N’…

I loved reading about the Nullarbor Plain as I have crossed it! Once. Time and distance have left a romantic feel to the experience which probably did not exist at the time.
When I was browsing on the internet for Nullabor nuggets I came across this
Latin nullus ‘no, none’ + arbor ‘tree’
I never studied Latin, but I like picking up Latin origins and reading that line the Null arbor origins are obvious, but I had always assumed it was an Aboriginal word. It sounds like a name they would have been using for thousands of years before Latin was even invented.
‘The Nullarbor Plain is the world’s largest single exposure of limestone bedrock, and occupies an area of about 200,000 square kilometres, stretching about 1,100 kilometres from east to west across the border between South Australia and Western Australia.’
Our trip in the early seventies was from Perth to South Australia and my Aussie friend’s uncle’s orchard; then Melbourne, Sydney and eventually Tasmania. As I ended up back in England the following year ( that’s another story ) it remains my most adventurous trip; at the time there was a three hundred mile section of the highway that was still only gravel.



Back in 1964 when we were new migrants we met another new family (of the whingeing Pom variety) who said if they didn’t like Perth they would drive over to Sydney. When an Aussie mentioned it was rather a long way they said they would take some sandwiches! I often wonder if they made it.
It is a long way. 2,444 miles – 46 hours 34 minutes in moderate traffic if you are planning to drive today.

One of my impressions was that we drove through a vast wheat belt, then the vegetation got smaller and sparser until it barely existed. On the other side the scrub gradually grew again and we drove through an identical wheatbelt. We slept on the beach at Eucla, we certainly never stayed at any accommodation. My friend was of tough farming stock, but the family friend we hitched a lift and shared driving with was another Pommie and I’m sure he and I had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for, though we knew the basics; take plenty of water and NEVER wander away from your vehicle. I had never been away from home for more than a week, my parents also had no idea of the journey. Were they worried, I’m not sure. In those pre internet days they would have had no idea if we had arrived safely until they got a picture post card. Absolutely nothing went wrong, though it was a boring drive and so easy to drift off to sleep at the wheel on that endless straight road. But a trip well worth taking to understand the vastness and aridity of a continent where most people cluster round the coast. Here I have to confess that it was so boring that nearing the end of our trip, after meeting up with friends who had flown over, loving Tasmania because it was so green and lush, just like England, I went into a bank and was pleasantly surprised to see a pay cheque had gone in to my meagre account. I booked a flight from Sydney back to Perth. A three hour flight that landed in Perth at the same time we had left Sydney. Sitting next to me was an unescorted child who kept saying ‘Are we nearly there yet’ so the flight felt longer than three hours, but not as long as the drive across the Nullabor.

My children claim I was always talking about ‘when I crossed the Nullarbor Plain’ and it wasn’t till we were all chatting with an Aussie visitor about the trip that my then teenagers revealed they had always assumed I had driven across the Nullabor Plain by myself! No way…
Bill Bryson’s book describes the train journey across the Nullabor, a trip I would love to take, in a comfy sleeper, not the economy sitting all the way. He got to ride for a while in the driver’s cab and describes seeing a railway line that stretched dead straight for hundreds of miles.
Perhaps most intriguing about this journey is to realise how isolated Western Australia is. Holidays in Bali are nearer and cheaper for Perth people than going to the Eastern States. It could be another country especially when there is a pandemic on!

Last updated: 22 April 2020 at 6.07am
Arrivals to Western Australia after 11:59pm on Sunday 5 April 2020
Strict border controls are in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 in WA.

Arrivals to Western Australia
You will no longer be able to enter Western Australia after 11.59pm, on Sunday, 5 April 2020 unless an exemption has been granted.

Have you crossed the Nullabor Plain?

My novel Quarter Acre Block was inspired by our family’s emigration to Western Australia.


22 thoughts on “And Now for Something Completely Different

  1. I enjoyed that. I don’t remember Mum and Dad being worried, though maybe they kept it to themselves. I suspect they were just sure you would be safe with Christine and Anthony. I’ve never done that adventure, though like you I fancy the train trip rather than driving! I also fancy going on the Gan. I’m afriad my two claims to adventure (and Jeremy said I was always mentioning it!) were that I had climbed the Gloucester Tree in Pemberton and that I had climbed to the top of Bluff Knoll! (though I’ve just remembered I climbed to the top of Mt Kosciusko (with Fiona, Helen and a friend, though you probably remember as I probably keep mentioning it!). And ask Fiona about Peak Charles! xx


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jean, yes I want to go on the Gan, I’m sure I have seen a programme about it; all these celebrities get to go on all the good train trips! I think you should write a blog about your famous climb of the Gloucester Tree…


    1. No shame in that Jim, I’m sure there are plenty of adventurous parts of the USA I have never heard of, apart from the Grand canyon and ‘Jellystone Park’! I’m sure the highway over the Nullabor is much smoother now, but I would go by train these days.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Australia certainly is vast! It was a long, long drive from Sydney up to Cairns when we went. But I can’t say I was bored. And the trip across the red centre via Uluru was absolutely stunning, although I was happy to be driven by an entertaining and informative coach driver on the 7 hour drive to Alice Springs. There is an awful lot of Australia we haven’t seen-if I were to re-visit I’d want to go to Darwin…

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  3. Great read, Janet. I hang my head in shame as an Australian that I’ve never driven or trained it across the Nullarbor, although I have flown over it several times. The road is all paved now and that straight stretch of rail that Bill Bryson mentioned is 478 km (297 mi). You’ll need deep pockets to take the Ghan from Adelaide to Darwin (or vice versa), with the cheapest on-way fare being around 1400 UK Pounds.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks Doug. Nearly 300 miles of straight line – but then I guess there was no reason not to make it straight. Have to save up for the Ghan – I would want a royal carriage for that.


  4. How I long for the not knowing/or worrying our parents had.. my trips were not as long as yours but I used to walk/ride a borrowed bike to my grandparents as a 10-year-old…and maybe on arrival, I was allowed to phone a neighbour who relayed to my parents that I had arrived safely some few days ago and would come back on some unspecified day in the future…Such freedom we had and how worry free our parents were…Be well and stay safe Janet and thank for reviving those memories 🙂 x

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Bill Bryson and I have one thing in common, I arrived back in Britain and he arrived in Britain at about the same time. I have read lots of his books, but I don’t think he’s read any of mine!

      Liked by 1 person

    1. My parents were actually thinking of emigrating to Canada when I was a baby, that didn’t happen and we ended up in Australia. I think the distances would be very similar, but not much else. I do actually have lots of Canadian relatives I have never met. Through Ancestry DNA I heard from the granddaughter of a great uncle who settled early in the twentieth century!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is very cool. For many Britsh people considering emigrating, it was a choice of Canada or Australia. I would love to hear more about your experiences down under.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Don’t worry, you will Darlene, I have written a couple of blogs and have a few more in mind as people seem to be interested. My first novel is inspired by our family’s experiences.

        Liked by 1 person

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