September 16, Laverton, WA
Finished The Great Central Road (and some add on) 1834 kilometers, something over 1,000 miles, not sure how much, most of it sand and rock. Twenty-three wonderful bush camps. We’re knackered,
I Respect You
Claire went into the Laverton store for some much needed food, we had run out the last morning. I leaned against the wall with the bikes zoning out from a hard headwind corrugated day. Not for long:
The young Aboriginal woman walked up to me and stared into my eyes, “What ta fuck you doin’ here.” Tall, but slightly staggered, she stood inches in front of me. Her eyelids were slightly low, face passive.
It was a good question. White fella flew halfway around the world to ride a push-bike across her land; a whim, a silly challenge, a show of wealth? Maybe it was an affront to her culture’s long time struggles, an affront to her personal struggles. “You don’t know what is happnin’ down here in the South.” Her eyes still locked with mine, trying to tell me, something, something important for the foreign white fella to know. “It’s hard,” she said. “Hard.”
“Yes, I know. It’s hard,” I said. Then I heard myself. She’s heard it too many times before, “No, I don’t know. I can’t know.”
Her eyes softened, “It hurts.”
“I wish I could make it better. I can’t.”
“Nobody asked you to.” She just wanted me to listen. I listened. It was difficult to understand her, but pain was wrapped in the words. Pain and dissapointment, anger. As late as the 1930s they were hunting Aboriginies like animals; leaving them to rot. Some people today want to, “Put them back where they belong.”
I listened and looked in her eyes, not something she gets from most white fellas. “I respect you,” she said, as two other women gently guided her away. “Leave him alone. He’s come a long hard way,” one said.
“I respect you,” I said to her back. It sounded hollow.
Respect is a loaded word with the races here. The Aborigines, with their tens of thousands of years old continuous culture, think they deserve it, white fellas want them to learn to be like white fellas first, then respect. It’s hard. For both.
They wandered back later. and she turned toward me. “Leave them alone.” Claire was with me. She stood in front of me again. Eyes soft this time, and tried to say something several times.
Then came the tears. Glistening down her black cheeks. Streaks of tears, trying to tell us something. Something. White fella not have good ears for tears. I touched her arm, then held her hand, Claire reached out to gently hold her other. We stood there, in front of the Laverton store, learning to listen to tears.
Her friends called her away. “I respect you,” she said. “I respect you,” we each said. As she walked away, she turned to look at us, for a long time. I will never forget that look.
We knew the last section would be long and hard, and hoped to find someone willing to do three water caches, a lot to ask. But Des and Shona came just when we needed them, with a can-do, willing-to attitude. They were headed back to Warburton, where they hold services for an Aboriginal church, and promised to stop on their way back to Laverton, pick up our water, and make three stops to cache them. Not only did they do a perfect job, each was easy to find, and just the right distance since they know the Great Central so well, but each held surprise treats: bananas, mandarins, and crackers and cheese. What a delight!
Not only that, but Des found us coming into town and offered us a spare house for a few days recovery! Since they own the grocery and petrol station in town, I suspect word will get out that we need a ride south any day. Things work out, because people take care of us.
One fun aspect of our trip was seeing people’s eyes glaze over when we said it would take four or five days to get someplace they could drive to in an afternoon.
Early on, a motorcyclists assured us we’d be bored to tears as we approached the easier riding of Western Australia. I secretly worried that he meant the landscape could get boring. Far from it, we love the slow pace and the subtle scenery, the light always changing. We were lucky enough to have 23 bush camps during our five week outing. We slept under a full moon, then a new moon and finally under a full moon again. We were both a little sad on our last night out. Maybe we’ll find a few other opportunities.