In 1994 I criss-crossed Australia, much of it across the expansive aridity of the so-called Red Centre, and all of that was sharing a ’79 Holden Gemini with my travel partner. A Gemini is a sub-compact sedan. This one had no air-con, and so we trundled across the expanse with the windows rolled down, and music blasting from the stereo at just below distortion levels. We wanted to bring a twist from the traditional way of music and we learned the art of how to play conga drums. Of all the music we played, Midnight Oil, Gary Numan, The Cars, Genesis, Men at Work, nothing seemed to capture the heat, the rolling, parched terrain, the roadkill littering the shoulders in quite the way Gondwanaland’s song Drought did. It’s not due solely to the presence of Charlie McMahon’s didjeridu. It’s the hollow, weepy, melancholy straining of the guitar, too. And that cicada-like buzzing of the synthesizer. There’s a weary death underlying an intermittently hopeful melody. Every now and again the guitar rises to it, yearning, only to fall back into the incessant rhythmic presence of the didge. So much like the terrain we crossed, hour upon hour.
We never got the wet, the rain that comes at the end of the song. Not until a few thousand kilometers later, upon reaching Adelaide. There, the storm raged for a couple days. I missed the desert.
I shot a lot of video on that trip, hours of tape collecting ‘visual meditations’ from the passenger seat. The landscape and its details, heat haze, and barbed-wire. Crows and eagles ascend as we approach, and as the car passes the crumpled heap on the roadside, a whisp of death invades our nostrils. Ghost gums glimmer in the afternoon sun, their white bark dappled with the long narrow shadows of eucalyptus leaves.Road trains — semi-trucks pulling three trailers on 40 wheels and more — sway and swerve on a track of bitumen one lane wide. To pass them, we pull fully into the soft red dust of the shoulder, half-glide, half-slide, gunning ahead on more hope than prayer, staying in control just long enough to regain the crumbling bitumen.
I was warned all along the civilised coastline that crossing the centre of Australia was crazy for its boredom, for the mile-upon-mile sameness, but I can truly say I never grew tired of the rich red earth, the heat, or the country side with its many inflections, its subtly ever-changing countenance.
Someday, I’ll create a video from all those hours of tape to accompany this music.