Borderlands

Written by Janelle White

I’d been stuck at the border for a couple of hours when a German couple turned up in a combi. She jumped out and immediately began a morning calisthenics routine, while he moseyed over to look at the bike.


Leaving Erldunda earlier that morning, I’d stopped at the NT/SA border to take the obligatory photo… then couldn’t get started again! Having trouble-shot possible causes of sporadic stalls the week prior, the advice provided as I’d ridden out of the Alice was ‘if she stops again, it’ll be the fuel pump’.


The gentleman politely listened to my story, jiggled some of the tubes leading to the pump and eventually got a sputter. I jumped on, shouted ‘Danke’ and headed back north 15kms to Kulgera, the first and last pub in the Northern Territory.


There’s a hills hoist replete with shoes, a giant can of XXXX beer, and a family of headless cartoon characters waiting for people to stand behind them to take their photo. I park up, turn the engine off, make my way into the roadhouse and explain my situation to the backpacker behind the till. He points in the direction of an outside shed: ‘Perhaps the onsite mechanic can help’… Hallelujah!


A couple of hours later and I’m sitting in the resident bar, under a ceiling full of unusual paraphernalia. I’ll be here until the following Wednesday when the Greyhound should deliver a new pump. The Royal Enfield agent in Darwin had come to the party, putting his last in stock on Central Australia’s dependable transport lifeline. You bewdy! Gotta love Bush ingenuity!

 

Unusual paraphernalia at the Kulgera Pub


Why do they make good neighbours? Isn’t it Where there are cows? But here there are no cows.
(‘Mending Wall’, Robert Frost)

Borders – there are currently more in the world than ever before… and yet as humans we have more in common than differences. I mean, Queenslanders might grab their ‘togs’ for a swim, Victorians their ‘bathers’ and Sydney-siders their ‘cossies’, but we mostly agree on the need for some sort of garb enabling our full enjoyment of waterholes, rivers, oceans. Australian state and territory borders are lines on maps symbolizing difference in legislation, not people. Perhaps of
greatest interest to the transcontinental motorcyclist are the varying biosecurity regulations and differing speed limits encountered.

 
Kulgera Pub – First and Last Pub in the NT.


Such borders contrast with Aboriginal cultural boundaries whereby people may cross socio-linguistic borders and effectively become mute as the Country no longer speaks to them. In the past, I travelled bush tracks with Walmajarri women who would shop from the back seat of the Troopy – pointing out bush tucker at 100m distance from the road, whilst travelling at 80kms/hr: ‘Manga! (Girl!)... Stop the car! Mangari! (Food!)’. These same women would suddenly become quiet in unfamiliar territory. Stories relating to that hill, that creek, that tree… unknown. Another people’s knowledge-scape; another mob’s Law. Utmost care must be taken when crossing such borders; respect shown for places understood and cared for by others.


I was once expelled from an international border. Thrown out of a country, with much pomp and circumstance, involving finger-printing, impromptu English lessons, and a declaration that I was ‘the nicest person we have ever thrown out of the country’… I’ll take that as a complement! Receiving an official apology a year later from the government in question, I was then asked to view the
unfortunate incident as a misunderstanding, with the hope that I would one day return to visit the country concerned: ‘We hope this has not clouded your opinion of us’. The letter was dated September, around my birthday, and ended with an official ‘PS. By the way, Happy Birthday!’


As acclaimed historian James Crawford (2022) declares, ‘a border is such a simple idea’… and yet they can also ‘make and break our world’. 1 Too often volatile flashpoints, erected as symbols of strength and power; designed to funnel, manage and control life flows. Creating division, facilitating situations whereby people fight over space, race for resources, declare ownership and privilege -
colonising, privatising, nationalising, portioning up the earth.


In contrast, fluidity and flexibility are the hallmarks of resilience, which is crucial for the continuance of life on this planet. So, why not focus on our similarities and the continuities, rather than our differences. Respect our common humanity?! The contemporary needs of all lives on Earth demand we cooperate and work together, embracing transitions and transcending boundaries. Finding
common ground amidst the beauty of our diversity.

The Greyhound arrives with my parcel on Wednesday morning and I set about replacing the old fuel pump, actively learning alongside the local mechanic. After lunch, I have a sea of mulga scrub to traverse, crossing from Centralia to the arid north of South Australia (…suddenly 110km/hr feels rather slow!). Next stop, Coober Pedy… now, that’s a different place!

 

 

 

 

 

Quarantine bins at State and Territory borders often lead to compulsory roadside picnics.


1 Crawford, J. 2022. The Edge of the Plain: How borders make and break our world. Canongate Books Ltd., Edinburgh.


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.


You may also like

View all