I've written on Meekatharra before, but I recently used the town as a subject of an assessment for my Travel Writing so I thought I would post this. Disclaimer: most of the events in this piece are fictionalised and based on my travels to (and through) the town, and some readers may possibly find content disturbing.
Keep your foot down and keep driving. That’s number one on the list of things to do when you reach Meekatharra (Meeka to the locals). For if you are anywhere near the town, you are probably heading somewhere else. People say that the journey is more important than the destination, but this is not true.
Meekatharra is the journey. Places further north like Karijini, Broome and the Kimberley are destinations. You are on a holiday, and those are the places you’d prefer to be in. But before you do, you will find yourself stuck in a little town, which itself is stuck right in the middle of nowhere. You can’t help it. There is simply no avoiding this place where red dirt and dead trees work their way to the horizon and back, while a never ending bitumen road offers the only sense that you might be making progress. If you must stop, say for a life and death situation, make sure it’s at the roadhouse that sits to the south of the town. The best coffee is served here, and you’ll need it if you are anywhere near Meeka.
People say that the journey is more important than the destination, but this is not true. Meekatharra is the journey.
If, for some stupid reason, you are planning an extensive stay (anything longer than a night here can be said to be ‘extensive’) among the wide, grid patterned streets, you can easily find yourself at one of the town’s two pubs. Unless you have a caravan or friends in town (you don’t), one of these two buildings will allow you to sit back and sleep with a knife next to your bed and a chair behind the door. The buzzing of a dozen flies keeps you awake for much of the night. Eventually, exhausted by the long drive, you go to sleep in the Royal Mail Hotel, the better rated hotel at two out of five stars. Sleep lasts until 6AM, when the curtainless windows let the sunshine in.
Awake and smelly, you want to wash yourself clean of the watering-hole so you head down to the local pool. It’s closed. Maybe you can go back to the pub and brave those showers, but in the end you decide to bear the smell. You’ll fit right in.
The picture gardens down the road are also closed, having been plagued by stink bugs throughout its existence. Yet it still stands – screen, seats and all – slowly decomposing by the highway’s edge. Nobody has bothered to knock it down, since it would cost more than it’s worth. In most towns, this spot in the town centre would be prime real estate, but the people of Meekatharra don’t need the land. There is too much as it is.
A very small portion of the land has been taken up by gold mines that have cut deep into the earth. The first of these that you visit is an open pit mine and doubles as a popular swimming spot. Despite being known as ‘five-mile’ by the locals, this mine is actually located about eight kilometres out of town. After the sixteen-kilometre round trip, an extremely short drive, you decide to have a quick gander at another open pit mine, this time located right on the edge of the town. The lookout here offers the best views of the town, and acts like some kind of total perspective vortex – a fictional device that shows you the entire universe along with a little dot that says “you are here”.
Despite being known as 'five-mile' by the locals, this mine is actually located about eight kilometres out of town.
So here you are, this little dot standing on the shaded peak of a deserted hill. It is midday. A road train rolls into town, briefly stopping at the roadhouse for a cup of coffee and meat pie, before continuing on its journey north. It drives past the empty side streets, the two pubs, the swimming pool and the picture gardens, and back out into the never never. The desolation continues as far as your eyes can see. You pull out some binoculars and it stretches even further. It is while you are here, clutching onto binoculars, that you realise how insignificant you and this town are in the scheme of things.
The buzzing of flies awakes you from your philosophical musings and you wonder if you should have showered. But no, the flies would follow you anywhere, even to the ends of the earth. Even to Meekatharra.
The flies would follow you anywhere, even to the ends of the earth. Even to Meekatharra
The only solitude you mind find from these flies is in an air-conditioned building. To be exact, in the shire office. Visiting the office is certainly one of the top things to do while in Meekatharra. The best thing is you can’t miss it, since the white building and green grass helps it to stand out like a beacon. The building also doubles as a tourist office, despite the lack of tourists, as well as holding the town library inside.
You enter the building and, after introducing yourself to a man named Bruce (i.e. sharing life stories), have a look at a small exhibition inside the library. The most interesting artefact you find here is a hearse. Not a modern, car hearse, but a 20th-century mining town, trailer hearse. Really, the coffin inside the glass case and the black paint job are the only giveaways here, since it otherwise looks like your grandpa’s trailer. You wonder how often they use it.
It only takes a few minutes to explore the exhibits so you are quickly after something else to do. You say this to the person you spoke to before, and they suggest you do one of the town walks. They pass you a pamphlet on the walks and, as you are about to walk through the door, they ask if you are doing anything later. Intrigued, you say no, and they offer you a chance to go kangaroo shooting with them and one of their mates. You’ve never gone shooting before, and the person seems friendly enough to not shoot and eat you, so you accept their offer.
You are welcomed back outside by a hundred or so flies and walk towards large machines that worked in the mines one or two centuries previously. You slowly make your way underneath some gumtrees and along a riverbed while some boys ride past you on their bikes. The walk ends at the picture gardens so you decide to go back to the shire office and wait for Bruce.
He doesn’t take long, business is slow today, as it was yesterday and the day before that. You get into his beaten-up Nissan Patrol and he launches down the main street after introducing you to his mate Jezza. On the way he explains that goats and kangaroos make good tucker while camels are only okay, plus they are the most difficult to find and then take down. Skippy offers the best chance at a feed.
Skippy offers the best chance at a feed.
A short drive out of town brings you to an array of dirt tracks you can turn down. After choosing one, or simply making your own, you head even deeper into the nothing. If you are fortunate, you will find something out here, and if it is a kangaroo then they will simply stare at you while Bruce gets out of the car, turns the safety off, takes a breath, aims, and shoots. One kangaroo drops to the ground in front of you while its mate hops away. Bruce doesn’t bother to chase after the second one since it is enough work to skin and dissect just a single roo. Hopefully it is a dad and not a mother, but if it is the latter then you all decide a quick death is the most humane thing for the little joey. After returning from hitting the baby on a nearby log, you see the others have already strung the kangaroo upside down on a tree and are working to skin it. You watch as the insides of the roo are revealed like a well peeled potato. They hold solid until a knife cuts into them, working to get as much out of it as it can. Bruce and Jezza don’t leave anything to waste, and drop you back in town with an esky of meat.
With the next week of barbeques sorted out, you might want to take a moment to rest and try to enjoy the place you are in. Going along with Bruce’s advice, you make your way a few kilometres out of town to a group of granite boulders. Unlike ‘five-mile’, this attraction doesn’t have a name to place it anywhere in particular, and the locals seem to just call them ‘the boulders’. Instead, the boulders are simply there, squashed between the desert and the open sky.
The sun is starting to set. You decide to ignore the bottles on the ground as you make your way up to the top of the boulders. The summit reveals a breathtaking view. You see the hill that marks both the lookout you visited earlier, and the place Meekatharra begins and ends. Turning around, you observe that vast land go on forever.
So you are here, this little dot in the Australian outback, a land as hard as the rocks you are standing on. You discover that the sun sets slowly out here, dropping all the way to the horizon while it punches blood red and orange into the cloudless sky. There is a violence to it. The sun falls steadily and the night follows suit. The black curtain reveals a canopy of stars that, having managed to pierce the fabric, slowly rotate in the sky. You observe all of this alone, even the flies have given you some peace.
The desert nights are chilly, so after a while you head back to your accommodation via the roadhouse. You’ll have the kangaroo later. For now a meat pie and hot coffee while suffice. You should make your destination tomorrow, but you’ve been living in destinations all your life. For a moment you realise that maybe, just maybe, the journey isn’t so bad after all.
A portion of the 360 degree view you get at the boulders. Sunset. (Above)
The cover image, that I also posted to Instagram. (Below)