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Full Circle

Day 126: Darwin, Australia

Michael Palin - Full CircleBy lunchtime we're out of the green swampy coastland and beginning to hit hot, reddish-brown rock and scrubland sparsely covered with spear grass and the peeling black and white barks of fire-damaged gum trees. Scotty pulls us off the highway at a place called Emerald Springs, which appears to consist only of a pub, the Riverside Inn. Signs are hung by the door. 'G'day Mate', 'Welcome' and 'All Pets To Be Tied Up Please'.

Honey eaters perch in the rafters, swooping with a loud whee-k! to clear crumbs off the tables or strut cheekily along the bar, which is made of sleepers from a single-track railway which, until 1977, ran from Emerald Springs to Katherine. There is talk of building a railway right the way from Alice Springs to Darwin, but Scotty doesn't think this will happen in his lifetime. Transport up here means trucks. As far as I can see the only reading matter in the pub is a copy of Big Rigs - The National Newspaper For Truckers. The cover features a full-frontal of the Ford Aeromax 120.

'A good feed,' Scotty reckons as we climb aboard. The Cummins Red Head starts with the kick and roar of a startled horse.

'It's an air start,' Scotty advises, 'not an electric start.'

Now I know.

In the blazing heat of the afternoon I see my first emu. It's little more than a heap of feathers lying by the roadside, and if Scotty hadn't obligingly pointed it out I wouldn't have known it was an emu at all.

We roll across the Eugene Betty bridge over the Katherine River at five in the afternoon to be confronted by the most celebrated traffic lights in Australia. Recently installed in the centre of town, they are the only set of lights for a thousand miles.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 126
  • Country/sea: Australia
  • Place: Emerald Springs
  • Book page no: 180

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