May, 23 2010
Billanooka Station
William L Fox
Writing

On the Roads

Sunday is a travel day--but first we have to climb a hill at 5.30 am for dawn shots, this time so the guys can catch early light bouncing off the steep terraces of overburden from the pit. We're facing the mine, the waste piles of which are considerably higher than the hill we're perched atop, but we're alerted by the sounds behind us that the road trains are blowing by at full speed on the road below, and an ore train is getting an early start along the tracks. Les spots a young death adder just a few inches long next to his foot. He thinks it's dead, curled atop a rock, almost invisible, a pale dusky red. One of the guys gets close with a macro lens and it stirs itself to slide off under a bush. It's a reminder that the country here demands attention with more senses than can be focused through a lens.

It's 5.50 before we get out onto the Marble Bar road and not until 11.15 that we join the road to Jigalong, a community made famous by Phillip Noyce's 2002 film The Rabbit-Proof Fence, more about which later. I start counting abandoned cars along the dirt track, most of them turned upside down so people could scavenge axles and the differentials. Many of the hulks are burned out, the aluminium bits melted in the intense desert brushfires. We startle up a wedge tail eagle snacking on a small grey kangaroo road kill, another kind of scavenging.

At Walgun instead of turning south to Jigalong we bear north to Billanooka Station. Its eight houses and outbuildings are sun blasted and wind beaten, boards creaking. A wire fence with a gate surrounds each house, and next to one weathered structure a couple of bougainvillea bushes are flourishing, their pink and orange blossoms the only vivid colours in the small settlement. It's a spooky set of ruins that's been scoured for anything truly useful.

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