Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The good time of the return trip was when the concrete roadway screamed and hummed under the tyres in the final 150 kilometres down the Pacific Highway.

It was also good early in the morning on the New England Highway when the magpies just outside Armidale reluctantly relinquished the road to my oncoming car. The bad times were earlier, the day before, in the first, flat expanse of the highlands, when the rough macadam thundered under the wheels.

I'd fought my way free of Brisbane without major mishap - the missed turnoff turned out to be alright if a little slow - and shed Ipswich along the Cunningham Highway. I'd ascended the tablelands at Cunningham's Gap, through the echoing blips of the bellbird forest.

But I hadn't counted on the harrassing of my rear bumper by recent model Commodores. There was one FWD, in particular, that I recall with gritted teeth. He was not content to travel at the specified maximum of 100 kilometres per hour, and he hummed along a few metres from my car until I finally let him pass. It was mid-30s in the shade. I was ready to stop and take a breather.

First we had to negotiate his passing. A few miles down the road, in the steep approaches to the tablelands up the second 'step', I passed him, staying at 100 km/hr while he, trailer pulling, slowed to 85.

It was sweet only for a time, and many others would pass me in similar circumstances before I got to rest that evening. I landed in the motel at about 4.45pm, bushed and frankly screaming with fatigue.

Next morning I woke before 6am and straightaway hit the road. The weather was hot, again, but the grass was green and the pastures a comfortable colour, not like a year ago, when the brown expanses stretched away to grey-olive mountains. They were cutting grass this year, and spraying weeds, by the side of the road just north of Tamworth.

The Lower Hunter is still brown, however. Down in the great bowl of arable land beside the sea, from Newcastle to Gosford (and which is all forest, and untouched by pastoral work) the short, salty-coloured scrub bears the heat. The screaming of the concrete roadway was the only thing indicating movement. Everything else was asleep, dulled into somnolescence by sun and still air.

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