Sunday, July 05, 2015


After leaving home at a dark and chilly hour, I drove all day through the farms and forests east of Perth, then through the marginal towns and wide open fields of the Wheatbelt, skirted the Goldfields towns of central Western Australia and finally made the first of my overnight stops in Norseman, 726 kilometres from home.

Norseman is one of the towns through which one must pass on a drive from the west to the east, as inevitable as menopause or another disappointing Adam Sandler movie. At one point, in the middle decades of the 20th century, when flying was a luxury and most cross-continental travelers drove their cars, it was a prosperous tourist town. But nowadays most cross-continental travelers fly, leaving the town to wither with only the slim pickings of truckers, grey nomads, and Swedish tourists who got lost after typing something into their GPS incorrectly.

My hotel was built in the 1950s, at the height of Norseman’s prosperity, and as such it’s a glamorous Art Deco construction of glass bricks, geometric light fittings and curving walls, with a sleek jarrah staircase and soaring ceilings.

Or rather it was a glamorous construction. Now the ceilings are bulging and badly patched, the cornices are coming away from the walls, and architectural features like the main entrance and the telephone kiosk, with their names etched into their frosted glass panels, have been nailed shut. There are attempts at glamour, but they mainly run to having holographic portraits of Audrey Hepburn hanging in the hallway.

My room was on the front corner of the hotel. As you can tell, there was a fifty-fifty chance that I’d wake up out in the street after the front of the building fell off.

As evening drew in I went for a walk. Derek and Leslie admired the slagheap in the town’s main mine, possibly the most massive man-made object within fifty kilometres in any direction. While it looks like clay it’s actually sand, which has been carved by the rain such that it looks like an ancient and ornately carved pyramid from some lost civilisation.

I had dinner at the local hotel, another grand building from a bygone era. While mine workers played pool and watched the football on the big screen, I had vegetarian pizza and cider next to a warm fire. Given that Norseman is 800kms from the city and 200kms from the ocean, it’s not surprising that the ingredients of my vegetarian pizza were clearly selected for their durability rather than their taste; the vegetable equivalents of Toyota Hiluxes.

Returning to the hotel, and discovering that the front had not fallen off yet, I went to bed. The bed was comfortable, but it was covered with a horribly creepy chenille bedspread, which was disturbingly soft and slick, like a seductive muppet. I lay there and listened to the hotel creak and groan as the front withdrew another couple of inches from the rest of the building, and with the gentle pitter patter of what I assumed was asbestos dust raining down from the holes in the ceiling I fell asleep.


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