From Berri I have two choices: travel east towards Mildura along the busy Sturt Highway or travel south across the mallee towards Pinanaroo along the narrow but quieter B road. Despite it being slightly further, I opt for the latter option because I do not fancy spending the next couple of days being blown off the road by interstate trucks and caravans. And so I find myself crossing the River Murray’s flood plains watching birds of prey hunting their breakfasts.
About 15km (10 miles) from Berri a beautiful old church stands on the side of the road marking the location of a town that has long gone. This is something I am becoming accustomed to seeing out here in the bush: towns die but the old churches remain. You can tell a lot about a region’s heritage by looking at the denominations of the churchs. Back in the Mid North around Burra, the churches were all either squat Anglican or tall-spired Catholic buildings, showing that the English and Irish were probably the dominant cultures who settled the land there. But here the churches are castle-like Lutheran structures, showing a strong Germanic influence on the area. Even in previous travels, I have noticed the way churches were built to outlast their communities; you can see how close together townships once were before the motor car allowed people to travel over 100km in an hour.
I stop at the Loxton Historical Village, which I have heard is interesting. It certainly doesn’t disappoint and is well worth the $12.50 entry fee. There are over 40 historic buildings including a general store, post office, cobbler, barber, newspaper office, railway station and cottages. Each is set up to reflect the period to which it relates and there is a character who starts “speaking” when you enter the building, telling you the stories of days gone by. In addition to the buildings, there are all manner of machinery, including cars, sulkies, tractors and agricultural equipment. The whole village gives a fantastic insight into the history of the district and how hard life must have been.
There’s also some opportunities to play. I “drive” a steam train and pose for a photo “with” Loxton, the founder of the town.
From Loxton the river bends back north so I leave it and continue traveling south. The road is narrow but the traffic is moderate. The wind is blowing from the south so I get into a rhythm of looking behind every so often to check for trucks and caravans in case I don’t hear them. The gravel beside the road is mostly in good condition so I duck off when trucks and caravans come from behind or when a car is coming and it’s too dangerous for them to overtake safely. While the law requires the vehicles to slow down and pass me safely, the reality is that they are traveling at over 110kph and I’m only crawling along at 15kph. I’m not stupid enough to think the drivers are alert and attentive either. Many will be driving for 8-10 hours eveyr day through landscape that is mundane to them. So I prefer self-preservation over the agro of cyclists’ rights. And it works wonders on the relationship I create with the other road users. Truck drivers actually wave and a drivers talk to me in towns along the way thanking me for sharing the road and criticising other cyclists who wear dark coloured clothing or don’t seem to realise how narrow the roads here are.
The sun is shining so the flowers bloom along the side of the road. It makes me feel happy to see the flowers’ colourful faces smiling up at me. On a long tough day in the saddle it makes a difference to the way I feel. Before long I am rolling off the road into the tiny camping area at Paruna, a town that is so small it doesn’t even have a shop or school anymore. I pitch my tent, pay my $10, take a long hot shower and cook a meal in the shelter of the picnic hut. There is no internet or phone service here so I am asleep by 7:30pm.