Travelogue: Elsewhere

Ali Smith has this short story in her collection titled Public Library about the pursuit of ‘Elsewhere’. Elsewhere is why we travel and elsewhere explains the awe-struck envy we feel towards the one who quits her job to do what she was really made for. Blissfully, I am elsewhere.

It’s where I need to be because it embodies my defiance of the “humdrum malaise” that surrounds the defeated. When I was trying to sit still, trying to work in Katherine, trying to write around the edges of the day, trying to make friends in a real way without over-sharing and over-relying, I could feel myself sinking into despair. For once, I listened to the instinct; I gave weight to my gut. (And to the strong advice of my psychologist!)

Normanton in the Shire of Carpentaria, ‘Outback by the Sea’. On the right of this photo you might be able to make out the life-sized statue of the largest saltwater crocodile ever caught; it measures 8.63m. It was shot by a woman called Krystina Pawlowski in the Norman River in 1957. In honour of Ms Pawlowski, the crocodile is called Krys.

I’m in between, heartbroken, disillusioned, humiliated, disappointed, healing, driven, hopeful. Travelling is helping me live into those experiences; it’s giving me the time, the anonymity, the loose rhythm to let those experiences shape me. I can’t, and won’t, bury my head in the sand of work and other busyness, as has so often been my way – to my detriment and others’.

So where exactly is ‘Elsewhere’? Great question!

On Wednesday morning, I left Katherine with everything I own (minus my bed) packed into the back of my car. It was the culmination of a week of chaos: getting back from my Red Centre trip, a horrible depressive slump, resigning, breaking the news about resigning, terrible nightmares whenever I tried to sleep without the light on, becoming ‘officially’ divorced, moving house, packing the car, nursing a broken heart, trying to remember that leaving felt like the only right thing to do.

Somewhere in the mix, I managed to enjoy a day canoeing in Katherine Gorge as a farewell present to myself. And on the morning I left town, I had breakfast and a dip at the hot springs with Kath, a gentle and kind woman I’m so thankful to have met. Then I was off.

That night, I stayed at the Barkly Homestead, 250km from the NT/QLD border. On Thursday, I crossed the border, drove past Bob Katter’s office in Mt Isa, and made my way to Cloncurry, “Queensland’s friendliest town”. I met Grant, a descendent of Victor Hugo, and talked his ear off about theology and spirituality over pizza and beer.

The hostel where I stayed in Karumba is about 50m behind me. I was SO happy to see the ocean!

On Friday morning, I found a delightful shop that served delicious coffee and sold all manner of trinkets and tasteful homewares. Then it was north to Karumba, a barramundi fishing town on the Gulf of Carpentaria. From the west-facing beach tavern, my new friend Grant and I enjoyed a pretty special sunset.

After a lazy start to Saturday, I continued along the Savannah Way towards Cairns, passing through Croydon (the pub does an excellent fish burger) and Georgetown before stopping for the night at Mt Surprise. It’s honestly the most dormant place I’ve ever been, but the lady in charge at the roadhouse said she was ‘overrun’ and ‘all of a dither’ so I was surprised (!) I even got a room in the end. I built a fire, watched it burn, then went to bed.

Mt Surprise. Maybe the name’s supposed to be ironic?

Today’s Sunday and, as I write this, I’m sitting in a backpackers’ hostel in Palm Cove, north of Cairns. Approaching the coast, I watched the landscape palette change from red and blonde to green and shady as more and more trees lined the road. This continent is astonishingly beautiful. I am so thankful that the adventure continues.

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