by Bren MacDibble
Travelling tales and tales while travelling are what I’m all about lately. We hit the road exactly a year ago after city life became all too busy and difficult and following a house fire. We sold everything we had left in Melbourne, bought an RV and a trailer to put the motorbikes in and set off around Australia. The idea was I would have time more to write when I didn’t have to work three jobs to pay for a mortgage. Now you might think Australia is so huge, travelling around it is a full time job! And you’re right, to see every beach in Australia would take you 30 years, but we’re not breaking records, we’re moving as the mood and weather takes us. The good thing about Australia is that when it’s winter in the south, the weather is best in the north. There are people who drive north every winter! Imagine that, being able to get in a vehicle and drive into summer? Of course, it’s probably the equivalent of driving from the north of Scotland to Sicily.
Writing on the road has been great for writing my latest children’s novel, The Dog Runner, given that it is very firmly set in Australia and also set in a barren grassless future. It incorporates a famine caused by a fungus that takes out all the grasses and grains, and I’ve seen my fair share of bare dirt in the last year! But also, I’ve seen the plants that try to reclaim barren land and felt the heat and seen landscapes so vast I swear I saw the curvature of the Earth!
I received the Neilma Sidney Travel Grant to research aspects of this novel so as well as seeing the landscapes, I toured an Asian woodland mushroom tunnel in New South Wales, and went to the Wimmera to talk to a grassland regeneration expert and up to Queensland to see sled dogs (with scooters and carts instead of sleds) running through the forest. Of course in Queensland the dogs run at 6am and 6pm, as they really can’t run for long above 15C, and this is how my children in The Dog Runner make their way across the barren landscape to safety on the family farm, by dog cart at dawn and dusk. It was a wonderful experience. I thought I knew a lot about grass, mushrooms and Australia, but honestly, there’s nothing like being there.
I grew up in New Zealand so there’s a lot I don’t know about Australia and one of the things apparently, is that some of the things called lakes don’t actually contain water most of the time but are large salt flats. Imagine it being 40C and driving to a lake to take a dip and cool off only to be confronted with kilometres of whiteness. Rookie error. Still, furnace-blasting heat or not, those places are amazing. The play of light is incredible. Australia is full of surprises like that. Hot pools in the outback. Settlements that are tens of thousands of years old with their history written on rock walls and handed down orally through generations. Beautiful beaches. Crocodiles hundreds of kilometres inland. Amazing waterfalls. A stunning rainforest with a tropical fruit orchard and icecreamery in the middle. Ancient lava tubes. Roadtrains. Tiny Bees. Giant birds. Towns with giant fiberglass ‘things’. Ancient stories of strange happenings. Termite mounds as far as the eye can see. Opal seams in the rock walls of underground houses. The Mad Max feel of Coober Pedy and the abandoned crashed spaceship from Pitch Black. Giant rock formations that defy gravity and logic. Did you know Uluru is actually standing on its end? That giant rock is just the tip sticking out of the ground. Riding my motorbike around Uluru and Kata Tjuta during the off-season when it was completely empty was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. It was the off-season because of the extreme heat so my eyelids literally peeled from a couple of hours riding around on the bike in 40C+. But it was worth it. The way the light travels over those rocks and the way they change colour minute by minute is surreal. We puny humans could never build anything to rival what mother nature has arranged on this planet, although I wish I knew how it got a rock that large to stand on its end.
We’ll probably keep travelling and writing another year. The second half of last year we ended up sitting still after my husband had a horror bike smash, but we’ve almost got him back in one piece, and there’s so much more to see and do and this country is just so enormous.
This is a guest blog by Bren MacDibble and the views expressed do not necessarily represent those of the FCBG. With thanks to her for her blog during NSSM. Bren MacDibble was raised on farms all over New Zealand, so is an expert about being a kid on the land. After 20 years in Melbourne, Bren recently sold everything, and now lives and works in a bus travelling around Australia. In 2018, How to Bee – her first novel for younger readers – won three major awards Down Under and arrived in the UK. The Dog Runner, her second children’s novel, is published by Old Barn Books on 2nd May.