The Endless Emptiness of Crossing the Nullarbor

The Nullarbor Plain is an area of arid desert stretching across South Australia and Western Australia. To the south lies the Great Australian Bight, an area of unique natural beauty and diversity, and to the north the Great Victoria Desert.

Crossing the Nullarbor
The Great Australian Bight

I knew very little about the Nullarbor before a friend asked if I wanted to cross it. A mutual friend of ours had offered their car, while they went to the States for six months, and was happy for us to drive it from Melbourne to Perth, over 2,000 miles away.

The Nullarbor can be crossed at two points, the Eyre Highway or the Trans-Australian Railway, both via the Nullarbor Plain. Our route would be the highway named after Edward John Eyre, the first European to make the crossing back in 1841. Officially the highway starts in Norseman, a town 450 miles east of Perth, before travelling 1,300 miles to Port Augusta in South Australia.

Crossing the Nullarbor prior to 1976 would have been a completely different experience. The first ‘road’ was completed in 1942, though it was only a dirt track, it was suitable for cars. It wasn’t until the  early 1960s that efforts to seal the highway began. They started in Norseman but the Western Australian section wasn’t sealed until 1969, it was a further seven years before the South Australian section was finished and the highway was completed.

Crossing the Nullarbor
Nullarbor Sunset

It wasn’t just the road that had changed. It was the way of life too. Many towns were established along with the introduction of the Trans-Australian Railway in 1917 and eventually to service those travelling on the Eyre Highway. With the decline in train services the small settlements got even smaller. Cook in South Australia was reliant on servicing the trains passing through, it once boasted a population of fifty but in 2009 it was said only four people still live there.

We would be travelling from the Mornington Peninsula, an area south of Melbourne, first spending two weeks on the Great Ocean Road and a few days in Adelaide before finally crossing the Nullarbor. After that we were onto Perth where our journey officially ended.

Crossing the Nullarbor

We had a 1991 Nissan with no air conditioning and only one window crank that we had to share between the other windows. Not only that there were four of us plus our luggage that spilled over from the boot to the back seat and into the footwells, just leaving us room for the passengers. 

Everyone we met before leaving had thought we were crazy. The Nullarbor had a reputation among Australians and there weren’t many that would even consider crossing it. Our group of four was made up of one Australian and three ‘poms’, as we were known, another factor not in our favour.

Due to the risk of kangaroos we wouldn’t be driving at night and would avoid driving at dusk, a time of day when kangaroos were most active and very difficult to spot. We would also be playing the Nullarbor Links, an eighteen hole golf course stretching over 800 miles. Each hole was situated at a roadhouse along the route, averaging 40 miles apart with the furthest 120 miles apart. This would not only encourage us to stop and rest but also help us support the fading economy.

Crossing the Nullarbor
Leaving Madura

I had heard and read so much about the Nullarbor before leaving but one image was painted clearly, its endless emptiness. This was something I wanted to capture. On the road driving hundreds of miles a day I wanted to record our journey through this unique landscape, from the backseat. An unbiased view of what Crossing the Nullarbor was really like.

Further Reading:

My new zine Crossing the Nullarbor is available to order along with four prints taken at various landmarks we travelled passed on our route. One of my favourites that features on the cover is from Lake Cowan which is now waterless.Crossing the Nullarbor

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