A Town Called Leonora

The clock tower in Kalgoorlie works with tireless efficiency all through the night. Not quite what I expected when I was thinking about the night life in Kalgoorlie, which by the way is non-existent, unless you like skimpy bars.

Still, this is beside the point, which is our trip to Lake Ballard and Leonora. After a pit stop at the Dome, where I break my one-coffee-a-week rule, and another stop for fuel and packed lunch, we head north. Robyn explains that we have a sealed road till we reach Menzies. This puzzles me for a while until I realize that sealed=tarred, and is not the same thing as road blocks on Mumbai’s Marine Drive because the President is in town.

By the time we reach Menzies, I’ve learnt a thing or two about driving in Australia – okay, I wasn’t driving, but I still picked up the driver etiquette. Rule one – do a two-fingers-off-the-wheel-wave when you cross another driver. Rule two – always overtake camper vans and road trains. Rule three – NEVER cross a double white line. This is tricky stuff, not like Indian roads where the only rules are honk loud and honk often. I’ve also learnt that red dirt looks really good through brown-tinted sunglasses.

Menzies welcomes us with ancient machinery and flat iron figures of miners. After a briefly inspecting these, we pile back into our Commodore and head for the real attraction – Lake Ballard. The salt lake is known for its 51 stick figure iron statues that are scattered across its cracked basin. I think I’m the only person who has tackled Lake Ballard with an umbrella. The strong wind seriously bends my brolly (my fourth since coming to Perth), but we survive.

Our next stop is Leonora, the hometown of one of Robyn’s friends. It’s more or less a one-street town, but the buildings are quaintly interesting. Robyn’s friend declares that the thing to do in Leonora is to climb Tank Hill – not surprisingly, Tanky Hill to the locals. So, we follow our guide to the top of the rocky crag that passes for a hill. Rather difficult with an umbrella, and I cut my finger on my way up. Still, the view is worth it. A whole stretch of nothing all the way to the horizon.

“Is this the Outback?” I ask hopefully. My Aussie companions decide that it is. This is the furthest north I’ve been in Australia. This calls for a picture.

We head back via the “ghost town” of Gwalia. Not to be confused with Gwalior, India, where my father once lived. This town’s claim to fame is that US President Hoover was the first manager of the mine site here. His house is still standing. The Indian version probably has more to offer.

The sun sets on our way back, and I enjoy the rather hair-raising experience of driving down unlit roads and passing road trains in the dark. As we approach Kalgoorlie, the man from Leonora pulls off the road. We get out of the car and look up at the night sky. I just think I’ve seen the Milky Way for the first time, and I’m not talking chocolate. My grandmother would be proud.

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