Between Coober Pedy and William Creek, outback Australia, June 2007
Tiny pyramids scattered the landscape, like little man made mountains in an area that had grown bored with its own terrain. Nine hundred kilometres north of Adelaide, Australia. Coober Pedy, where opals are made. A place where men live underground in burrows like wombats. I loved it there. It was not glitzy, and nor was it proud. Rather, it was a humble place. A place which, in spite of its many faults, stood behind its own individuality; a sun tanned hippy in ripped jeans and with muddy feet, looking contrarily cool in the face of conventionality.
We were four weeks into our two year journey, my then fiancé and I. We loaded up with pretty pebbles and set off for William Creek, the smallest town in the country, with a population of only twelve. We drove away from the opal capital, passing signs which warned us of the potential for impending death in the desolate isolation. We checked our water supplies, our spare tyres and our jerry cans, and then made our way along the dusty, dirt road. I pulled the glove box open, retrieving the CDs from under the maps. There was the black CD wallet, well weathered from excess handling.
It was tradition for us to buy a CD for every holiday or road trip that we undertook. This time, it had been the Triple J Hottest 100 compilation. I can’t recall the other songs that happened to be playing beforehand. For some reason, it wasn’t until Gnarls Barkley’s soulful voice began singing to us about being crazy that I felt true nostalgia. There are two kinds of nostalgia. There is the most common kind, where one looks back on old photos and feels that familiar warmth of unique memory, usually not realised until sometime after an event. Then there’s the second kind, the rarer kind, the kind that caresses you in the moment, making you more aware of your surroundings and making you smile within them. It is a whisper from time, telling you that you are going to remember this moment – this moment you are in right now, for the rest of your life.
We drove in a cloud of red dust, flying through numerous puddles; calling cards from the heavy desert rains. They splashed up on the windshield of our Nissan Navara, a kind of muddy orange wash. The sun was setting, the sky a smudgy blue against the blood orange of the flat plains surrounding us. We drove by the famous dog fence, and slowed for the kangaroos that were grazing with the cattle. I looked out the window, winding it down and resting my head against the door frame. The dusty air was flying past my face, fresh, but smelling of minerals and earth that were almost edible. I closed my eyes as Gnarls sang to us.
Suddenly the car slowed, my fiancé pointing out the window at two stray horses as they trotted up to the car, out of nowhere, curiously looking in on us as if also wanting to hear the music. I reached out, touching the end of one of the horses’ white noses as the car sped up again. In that moment, as the rest of the world made dinners, got ready for work, dropped their children off at school, here I was, in the Australian outback, travelling on a road where, in three hours, we had not seen another single car, gliding with the carelessness of a flying bird with the wind in my hair and Gnarls in my ears, stroking the end of a stray horse’s nose.
When the song inevitably finished, I didn’t even wait for the last dulcet tones to fade before I replayed it, wanting the euphoria to last forever. I looked across at my fiancé, who had originally turned the volume up. He smiled widely and nodded. In that moment, without a word, I could tell that the same waves of contented happiness had been floating over him also, coming into our little car to dance with Gnarls, and bind us together in vivid, silent memory. A memory so strong that it would follow us, through happy times and through sad, through boisterous chats where we would love to listen to it again, to separation where we hated the fact that we couldn’t.
Gnarls, for the rest of our lives, together or apart, from Boston to Budapest, continues to bind us together with every lyric, chord and note, conjuring the memories of our innocent, young, crazy and penniless souls, to dance forever in our hearts, no matter who, or where, we are.
© Casselise Rowe. Casselise also writes about art, poetry, literature and life.