Penny needs a boyfriend, apparently.

The conversation started innocently enough. Shiraz and I were strolling along the friend-making path, shaking hands and exchanging intimate personal details with strangers. The night was going startlingly well.

Things got out of hand very quickly.

I was curious whether the new journalist at the rival paper, due in town on Friday, was good looking. My mate Richard was loathe to comment, possibly thinking a poorly-worded answer would bring his masculinity into question. The bloke behind the bar and his mate from the Thai restaurant in the next room had no qualms. Immediately my single status was under fire. Steve, that energetic Thai restaurateur, rocked his index finger back and forwards across his chin with his arms folded and a look on his face akin to a surgeon in risky transplant. “Hmmm, I dunno what blokes we’ve got in town for ya, Pen,” he said, shaking his head sagely. “No one springs to mind.”

I was a tad perturbed by the conversation. I’d gone to the pub to find friends, not potential husbands. But soon enough the barman was joining in, also shaking his head and adopting an expression of someone trying to dissect fish from fish bone before digestion. “Yeah, there’s plenty of young women around,” he told me. “But not that many men.”

It was a surreal moment, seeing these blokes playing cupid for me. I fleetingly imagined the two of them with wings on their back, hoisting a heart-shaped bow and arrow in my direction.

I tried to laugh them off, insisting that I was ok, that I could look after myself. But it appears that’s not the way things are done here. Just a few hours earlier I had been chatting with another bloke in the street when my marital status was dragged into the conversation. “So are you married, single or indifferent,” he asked me without an inch of self-consciousness. “No, you can’t be indifferent,” he swiftly added. The blonde in me stepped in. I put my head to one side and adopted the look I do when confronted with a mechanical problem. “That means you’re not into men,” he told me, helpfully. I muttered that, no, I wasn’t indifferent, just living my life without a man in it. And happy.

But, back at the pub, Steve wasn’t going to let my hopelessness with men go on. He called for reinforcements. Of course, that means the police. Yes, he went into his restaurant and grabbed the nearest copper, who, by the way, was dining with his spouse, and bought him out to meet me.

I got up off my chair, aided by Shiraz, and shook the nice man’s hand. Steve explained that I was single and needed a man. Yes, that’s right, needs a man.

Steve instructed the copper to look me up and down and memorise what he saw so that he could tell his mates about the pathetic brunette who can’t snag a man. The nice policeman was very obliging, but informed Steve and the bartender that most of the coppers were already attached. Oh the shame, I can’t even land a copper, I thought in a moment of fleeting self-pity. But, he’d ask around on my behalf and see if he could dig someone up.

By this stage my hard-to-embarrass demeanor was sliding. If it was not so hilarious I may have had to sneak into the pokies room to find some pyramids to hide in.

Suddenly, the mortifying moment was over. The constable went back to his curry and I ordered another Shiraz. Steve meandered back to his restaurant with a few cheeky words and a smirk. He was delighted to have embarrassed me. I was delighted, too, that I’d found some folk to have a good yarn and a laugh with, even if the conversation and the jokes were at my expense.

I strolled home with Richard and was content to keep myself warm on the chilly winter’s night. In fact, with a pillow either side I doubt there’s room for a man in my bed. But I reckon it’s unlikely we’ve seen the last of the Charleville community dating service.

Thank god for red wine.

There is one pal who unquestioningly accompanies me on all of my journeys out here. It’s Shiraz. She’s been so supportive.

On these chilly winter nights when it’s just me sitting around my tv-less lounge room in a dashing ensemble of tights and a poncho – mind, I don’t want to sound too pathetic here, I’m not that bloody lonely – she will come and sit with me, bringing a beer-goggle shine to the room.

There is only a small smattering of flies in my otherwise perfect outback ointment. The job is bonzer, I have a stunning jogging track that I share with the kangaroos on the river and my house has a mighty fine feel about it, even without the beer goggles.

But I haven’t had hordes of lasses or lads lining up at the bar to be my friend, as I expected. I thought there would be no easier place to make some new mates. In Funnamulla it took mere minutes before I was ensconced with the curly-haired Josephine laughing over embarrassing school stories. I found myself a pseudo mum just a few days later.

It’s a different story for Charleville. I don’t even have a nickname for the town yet. It’s scandalous!

My best mate here is the journo from the other paper. I thought I’d hate him on principal, but he’s actually a nice guy and I’m hardly in a position to be choosey. I’ve also developed a soft spot for Steve from the Thai restaurant and Fred from Fat Freddy’s burger joint. I get along well with Rob from the produce store and my ol’ favourite Graham at the hardware store.

The school is a gold mine. It’s my Everest. It sits there, taunting me with its bounty of fun-loving, ridiculously good-looking young folk. Occasionally I get invited through the cast iron gates and I get to see what I’m missing out on. But I haven’t managed to wangle a dinner party invitation yet.

At one of my missions into the school, it was for a story on distance education kids gathering from their isolated bush properties, I found myself quizzing the teacher in a similar manner to the barristers I’ve been studying in court.

“So how long have you been in Charleville,” I asked the art teacher. I elicited that she’s been here six years, loves the place, watches the footy on the weekend, drinks at the pub which is scarily close to my pad and she has a cosy group of mates.

“Oh I’m so pleased to hear that,” I can recall pandering to her. “I’m just new in town and haven’t made many friends yet,” I told her, pathetically searching out some sort of companionship like a forlorn fox. “I’m sure you’ll love it,” she told me with a disgusting amount of cheer, clearly missing my searching enquiries.

I do bloody love it here, I thought. I’d just like someone for Shiraz and I to share our risottos and cheese platters with.

Perhaps my friend-making standards are too high. It seems a mockingly short time ago that I was lamenting making too many friends and having to put up with all the teary goodbyes. What a woe!

It’s a confronting struggle for me. Friendships are often easier for me to make than spaghetti bolognaise. But that was the point of coming here – I was craving a challenge.

Of course, my friend-making machine is slightly inhibited by my status in the town. As the reporter from the local rag I am definitely not trustworthy, to some, I’m flattered by the lashings of suspicion poured upon me by many locals. “We can’t talk to you, you’ll just put whatever we say in that paper,” they tell me.

“Will I ever make any friends,” I begged of Robert today. “Nah, you’ll be right,” he assured me.

And the people in Charleville are, on balance, brilliantly friendly. One geezer in the street yesterday dipped his Akubra and said “g’day sweetheart,” with genuine sentiment. And when I’m at the footy – which surprisingly is now the highlight of my life, but more on that later – or at any event which requires me to squint my brow and squiggle away in my notebook, people are absurdly friendly and helpful.

It’s boggling me, frankly.

In an attempt to cope with the lack of new pals I’ve taken to reinvigorating time-worn friendships. I often find myself scouring the facebook chat bar for company. When I lived in BrisVegas I never opened that bar. I couldn’t shake the fear that I might get stuck chatting to someone who had changed their name on the social network in an attempt to be funny or disguise their identity. Those people are so lame (ha!).

Now, I’m catching up with old mates from America, Sweden, Indo, Spain, Coffs Harbour, everywhere but bloody Charleville. Of course, Shiraz and I have some pretty witty conversation with these backpackers, but it’s not good enough. Something must be done.

Luckily, there is one little trick I’m yet to yank out of my bag. This one involves Shiraz.

I’m going to send her behind enemy lines and thrown a little social lubricant at a few folk who I’ve earmarked as good friend material. I’ve already checked that they’ve got cars and jobs. Top of my list are the ladies who I’ve caught throwing their head back and laughing with reckless abandon while walking along the street with their pals. I reckon with the help of Shiraz we’re going to get along just fine.

Astro smut.

It’s hardly a tough crowd at the Cosmos centre on a Monday night. The grey nomads have unhooked their caravans or trailers, donned colourful woollen scarves and beanies and loosened up their shoulder muscles in pre-stargazing anticipation. The friendly folk at the door of the shed show the mostly-city crew what country hospitality is all about. There is not a local in sight, myself and the guides excluded, although I am recently arrived so probably still classed as a blow-in. Our host, Jane, tells us it took a lot of chook raffles to build the observatory. She has the nomads eating out of her palm before they’ve even seen the telescopes.

We head out to the shed with our pupils raring to dilate. As the roof slides back and the temperature plummets, Jane begins explaining things about focal lengths and cluster stars. I hastily check that my plus-one, a certified grey nomad complete with a camper trailer and a work-free schedule, has no idea what these terms mean. My aunt is also clueless. Luckily, Jane caters to such amateurs and I quickly grasp how far away a light year is. A bloody long way. The terms light-year and light-speed are bandied about as if we’re talking about the distance to Birdsville, or Perth. Then, Jane breaks out her laser pointer which looks as if its kissing the stars. “I wish I had a pointer like that,” one nomad whispered to her husband.
Jane points out a seemingly inconsequential star, with a double-barrelled name I cannot recall. The one next to it is Saturn, she tells us in revered tones, the lord of the rings. Apparently it is the pulverised rocks reflecting off the sun that allow us to see the rings around the gassy planet when we all bustle around the three telescopes. “If Earth is a pea, Saturn is a basketball,” our telescope attendant, Karen, tells us helpfully putting Saturn’s size in perspective. She adds that it’s about minus-180 degrees up there, spoiling the idea that we are hard done by in the chilly night air. “Oh it’s pretty fascinating,” one lady gushes into the telescope. My aunt reckons she thought it’d be much bigger.

Jane explains things well, talking of the milk in the Milky Way and describing stars as either toddlers, mature stars who have left home or dead stars. There’s enough science talk to impress the few amateur astronomers hanging around the stripped back shed and enough fluff to impress the others. We check out the jewel box cluster, where Jane handily describes the stars as grouping together like bees to a honey pot. Then the telescopes are pointed directly up, although Jane admits the machines don’t like standing on their heads. The audience heartily agree that they also don’t like that position. Jane shows us M6, a catalogue star that we would not be able to see without the telescope. A couple of shooting stars wow us all in the middle of Jane’s show. “Ah, a bit of comet rubbish,” she says, cheerfully dismissing them. We move on to the pair of stars the Cosmos ladies call Sapphire and Topaz. The blokes laconically prefer to call this duo the blue and yellow double star. The stars actually twinkle through the scope, reminding me of a blazing campfire. A few geezers in the group are clearly impressed with the crisp country sky. ‘You wouldn’t get this in the city,” one bloke tells his pal.

We are shown Omega Centauri, a globular cluster. “Can you see a ball of stars,” the attendant asks one eager amateur. “Yes, I can see a fuzz ball,” he replies. “That’s about 5 to 10 million stars.” We are told that we’re now in deep sky. I reckon that sounds delightfully like astro smut.

Jane points out a few extra stars and some creative constellations. I struggle to join the dots to create a dolphin or a fly. The rest of the group nod their heads and murmur that they’ve seen the designs, but I was doubtful whether some of the crew even had their glasses back on. The general consensus was that the Greek astronomers had drunk far too much red wine when they saw the fancy shapes in the night sky. However, the Aboriginal spirit god and the emu standing on its head were as easy to spot as a dead roo at dusk. Jane promises that once we’ve seen these shapes we’ll be able to impress our mates at barbeques forever. It’s an exciting thought. We were all getting pretty cold by the end of the show and a fair few of the crowd were stomping their feet to warm up. There was even talk of kettles being put to boil. And so the nomads headed back to their camps and their kettles with another outback tale for their mates back home.

Instant but daggy soul nourishment.

It is certainly not an activity that is likely to give any twenty-something street cred. In fact, you’re more likely to come off looking extremely uncool and, actually rather dirty. Not as uncool as the kids that wear their pants low enough to show a large thatch of underpants, but definitely less cool than the people with piercings.

Luckily appearances don’t matter and my love of gardening is growing faster than my spinach out the front. I love the digging, watching proudly as my seedlings shoot up and I don’t even mind getting little patches of soil on my forehead that stealthily stay there for hours.

I’ve probably got the grottiest fingernails in Charleville at the moment. Dirt is spewing out from beneath my nails and I seem to be leaving a trail of black splotches behind me, Hansel and Gretel style. But I can barely care, I’m just so pleased with my new plants. I keep popping outside to check on them, much like a dog would with a bone it had buried.

My love for spending time shoving my hands into wormy lounge rooms has deep-seated roots (ha ha). My brother’s delight in telling me about my knack of feasting on worms when I was a toddler. Unfortunately there is photographic evidence. Just a little blond girls sitting in the garden with dirt spread liberally around her mouth, all over her fingers, hands arms and down the front of her shirt. I wonder why I wasn’t wearing a bib, really or just what  was my mum thinking, letting a small child loose in a worm factory?

I stopped eating worms, apparently, when my horrid brother – he’s not horrid anymore, but all brothers are bad news when you’re three and they’re older and insisting that you are not allowed to spray them with the hose – told me there was a juicy little worm on the driveway. For some reason the pale gray foot-long, translucent wormie that was stretched along the driveway did not make me salivate. I ran screaming from my nasty little brother and didn’t see the value in gardens until I started university, aged 18.

My sweet-as-a-barrel surfer boyfriend bought me a wee love fern to remind me of him while I was away in college. Of course, it was just a housewarming gift and nothing so sentimental, but I got immense enjoyment embarrassing him with talk about him giving me a fern that symbolised our unity. The joke was on me, ultimately, when I left the fern in my dorm one summer, forgetting that it needed attention or it would scab up and die. Fernie was dead by term three.

Jack and I made it through the death of our plant and tried again with a proper garden when we lived together briefly in Brisbane. We foraged for dirt at the local nursery, by far the least cool 20-year-olds I knew. The garden attendant even asked if we were married. We were mortified, but the man with the shovel continued, asking us if we had kids. Oh, it was laughable. And it jinxed the garden, I reckon. We were just country kids adapting to city life like a fish adapts to living on the beach.

At first the lump of dirt we’d bought gave off on a sinister grave-like look. The mound of freshly-turned dirt disturbed the poor lady next door, but the bush turkeys loved it. They loved the spinach seedlings, too. And the strawberries. The tomatoes were probably their favourite.

I’m not sure I ate even one vegie out of that patch, but I spent at least $150 trying to get some sort of edible greenery happening in my backyard.

I lost interest in vegies for a while, resigning myself to a life of buying plastic produce from the supermarkets. As an interesting aside I left a pear in my parents fridge when I went to China. It was still blemish free when I returned ten weeks later. Go figure.

The worm-eater within rose again when I moved into a house that already had a few herbs growing. All I had to do was water those suckers.

Soon enough I roped Pashmina Nick in to give a hand. Having an oldest brother with a horticultural business is very handy in the gardening game. I took advantage of his broken heart one Sunday and told him it’d be good for him to replace the dirt in one of my troublesome beds and then chuck some seedlings in. It was the most innocent fun he’d had in a long time, I’m certain, and while his liver was recovering my garden was flourishing.

The tomatoes and spinach coloured my meals nearly everyday. It was a happy time. Occasionally I’d take my morning cuppa to my garden and speculate on the future of my eggplant plant. I admit that sometimes I would have a quick chat to the herbs, but only the coriander, which is unashamedly my favourite.

I gave most of the garden away to mates when I pulled the plug on BrisVegas. I reckon most of those plants have sadly passed away now. Giving the lucky bamboo to the black-thumb, Sophie was certainly an error.

There was always going to be a garden in Charleville. Best of all, it would probably even be cool out here in the land of farms and utes and big hats. My dad got me started with a few trays of lettuces. They’re blooming out here in the Queensland sun. As he predicted, they have been good for my soul, quite calming and they engender a feeling of responsibility that I sometimes lack with my happy-go-lucky lifestyle.

Garnering a sense of satisfaction from those plants is almost effortless. A little water and a little love and BOOM, you’ve got some bloody lettuce.

Today I added spinach, tomato plants and some zucchini to my patch. It felt amazing to start something on a journey of life. This is how pregnant women feel, I reckon. Although carrying the over-sized bag of potting mix down the main street was not easy and did not make me look cool.

My garden is already good company. Of course, it won’t keep me warm at night and it certainly will not be the big-spoon. That would be pretty dirty, really. Instead it touches a spot that surreptitiously brightens my day, my life.

Fine, call me blondie.

“You’ve got to be careful out here with nicknames,” Duck warned me last week. ‘They’ll stick to you like shit to a blanket.” He’s right. I wonder if anyone even remembers what Duck’s mum called him when he was a kid. His step-kid, Dave, is called Koala. He’s a protected species, apparently, and his mum is the Koala mum.

A quick flick through my little green phone book reveals a grand mix of Blueys, Woggies, Choggas and one bloke who even managed to hoodwink the rest of the town into calling him tractor. Apparently he’s known as tractor on the electoral roll, too. I love being thigh-deep in nickname territory. It makes life much more colourful.

Of course, it wasn’t long before I was given a bush christening. I missed a crucial joke about a bottle tree just after I’d told the tale about locking my keys in the wheel well. Frankly, I still don’t understand Duck’s original joke, but I’m Blondie now. The meaning is clearer than the crisp sunrises out here in Charleville.

I won’t deny that I’ve done a few blond things since I’ve moved to the Outback. Just yesterday I was trying to take a few snaps at the racecourse. My boss had informed me I’d be ok to jump the fence to get in and I was excited about the covert operation. Just as I was dangling my camera over the fence I spotted a man inside with a dog. “How’d you get in,” I called out, with one foot one the bottom rung. “Through the gate,” he said with that tone you adopt when explaining how to cross the road to a toddler.

It was Graham from the hardware store who’d found me trying to break into an open compound. He recognised me from my early morning visit to the store a few days ago, when I’d rocked up in my fluorescent pink running gear. I’d been looking for my dad’s glasses that he’d left next to the tech screws. Overall, I don’t think Graham thinks my family is too intelligent. So maybe Blondie will stick? It can’t be much worse than Pen Dog or PeeeeeNelope, right?

My favourite thing about these nicknames is the sense of community it creates. On the weekend I popped around the corner to Quilpie to watch the footy. It’s just a lazy two-hour drive. Meeting the locals in this part of the world is not a matter of giving your name and occupation, it’s involves sharing some very intimate details, usually. Like Fats, for instance, got his name because he was such a fat baby. Good to know, right. And even if you don’t care about whether he outgrew 000 before he was a week old, it’s still a funny story, a real conversation starter.

In fact, as I wrote this blog one of my more sophisticated pals dropped by to tell me he dubbed his mate ‘cliff shitter’ on the weekend. I bet there’s a nice yarn behind that one. And, as always, it’s the story that we’re after.

Funnamulla, a place of learning.

Night vision goggles give green vision, I found out yesterday. Today I learned that water lettuce is a real nuisance in freshwater river. It could probably destroy a boat motor with its lanky root system. On Monday I learned that an affray is just a fancy word for a fight in a public place.

Tonight I learned that I don’t quite have the courage to walk into an Outback pub by myself. It’s more disappointing than realising you cannot cry when you’re trying to be heart-broken.

I’ve been hanging out in Cunnamulla this week. My journey from Brisbane to Charleville – which takes just eight hours – has spanned visits to Tamworth, Sydney, China, Laos, Cambodia, Coffs Harbour, the Gold Coast, the Sunshine Coast and Cunnamulla. My destination eludes me, but the travel sensation is richly embedded in my psyche.

I prefer to call this place Funnamulla. It is so packed full of character it’s hard to walk down the bare streets without finding something to amuse my city brain.

A few days ago I noticed a charming sign on the way into tow. It read ‘slow down or piss off.’ There is no chance to ponder what the sign writer is getting at here, except perhaps in which direction one should piss off to. I’m guessing the local doesn’t care, so long as your hooning car isn’t spotted outside the Cunnamulla Hotel.

Earlier this morning I spotted a caravan parking itself across the street. I could tell it was purposefully trying to get in the way of oncoming traffic. There was no beeping. No one minded, they just slowed down to check out what was going on and silently moved past on the other side of the road. Most folk waved to the guy who clearly got his licence before driving tests included reverse parallel manoeuvres.

I love the people here the most. One lady I met the other day was describing a friend of hers. “She’ll put her hand up for any bun fight going ‘round,” she told me. Obviously she is not talking about baked goods here, but rather her mate’s poor track record arriving at events she said she’d attend. In some cases the lingo is so powerful my mind takes off into a fantasy land where I imagine the ladies in the town stripping off and throwing sesame seed creations at one another. The day that happens I’ll be a very happy little journalist.

My boss determines the length a story should be based on whether the tale is a ‘ripper’ or not. It’s an excellent criteria, I reckon.

The beauty of living out here, I’ve found, is that your expectations are shattered the moment anything happens. Anything at all. The interview with the man about the water weeds today far surpassed my planned afternoon writing about what happened in court. I cannot wait to roll out my facts about the root-length of the infectious weed at the next dinner party I attend.

Yesterday I was summoned to take photos of the army’s new MHR 90 helicopter that was landing in town. The army were doing some training exercises and because the trainer is marrying the daughter of a local couple, he thought it’d be nice to join in the Funnamulla shenanigans for the afternoon.

About 17 locals, myself included, rocked up for a guided tour of the $42 million aircraft. Some little girls got their 15 minutes in the cockpit. One of the more enthusiastic young’uns was keen to fly the beast, but the army lads managed to prise her away from the chopper kicking and screaming.

I tried on the night vision goggles and quizzed the friendly AJ with abandon. It was a fantastic moment, easily outshining my afternoon plans of fastidiously checking facebook.

And I did have my day in court on Monday. That threw up a few surprises.

Firstly, I was shocked that I’d never come before a magistrate before. Surely some of my more impressive antics could have warranted some time before a grey-haired man wearing a gown. Secondly, I now know that an affray is not the newsreader having pronunciation issues. It’s a public brawl. (At least I think that’s what it is. If I’ve got that wrong could someone please correct me before deadline on Tuesday?)

Another fact that came into sharp focus on Monday was my dire note-taking skills. Gosh, my hand was writhing after a day jotting down the details of Cunnamulla’s less savoury incidents.

This town is unique. It has spunk. Tonight, after I had shamefully avoided the local watering hole, I was meandering along the streets when I noticed a man sitting in the middle of the road with a high-visibility vest on. I have no idea what this dude’s caper was. Maybe it’s a new form of hitch-hiking that ensures the traffic actually stops for you? I’m still confused about that man.

The night sky is an attraction in itself out here. The streets are quiet, but the skies are bustling with stars blazing down at me.

The only issue I have with the cute little town is the pooches. There are plenty of dogs in Funnamulla, too. And these beasts are getting years’ worth of amusement at my expense. I reek of fear when I pass by their fences. Their barking becomes feverish as I quicken my pace, determined not to let the bloodthirsty monsters get the better of me.

The biggest surprise this week is how much I have enjoyed living in this desert-rimmed town where there is nothing much, bar a chilly frenzied breeze to keep me company at night. I’ve traded the Chinese summer for frosty mornings and a beachy, boozy holiday for early starts. It has been thrilling.

I never imagined I could be so happy sitting alone on a Friday night, sober.

Welcome to the wild wild west.

The drive to Cunnamulla began innocently enough.

I waved goodbye to my mate Sophie as the first tinges of the sunrise kissed the sky. There have been too many goodbyes recently, I thought, just resisting the urge to beep my horn before 6am on a Sunday.

As I headed west, the sunrise made up for my cold toes. Clouds were illuminated to a shade of pink most 5-year-old girls can only dream of painting their bedrooms. The red orb gradually arced across the horizon, the changing colours mirroring the shift in the landscape. Soon enough I left behind the lush coastal fields, trading the greenery for red soils and vertically-challenged shrubs.

As I lost radio transmissions and, of course, mobile phone reception, things headed south, steadily.

I abandoned the radio static in favour of my own soulful tunes. “Ammmmaaayyyzzzziiiinnngggg ggrrrrraaacccceeee,” I began, loving that no one was around to point out my lack of tone. “How sweet the ….”



I wish someone had been there to hear my kick-ass scream as I ploughed down a kamikaze kangaroo. Some company to still my racing heart or commiserate seeing the poor animal fly in the air as I flicked it out from my tyres would also have been nice.

But, there I was, alone on a road where you can go half an hour without seeing another car. In that time you will probably see hundreds of roo carcasses littering the road, but they’re not really hopping company. Ha ha – I had plenty of time to become desensitised to the involuntary slaughter and pen some horrible dad jokes. I even began to have bull-bar envy.

Just days before, as Friday night was kicking into gear my mate Tracey had warned me about the foolish habits of Australia’s famous national emblem. “If you see a kangaroo don’t swerve that mother f**ker,” she advised me, sagely. “Just take it down.”

At the time I had laughed along with her. I recall taking a sip of my Pinot, loving the dramatic way she packaged her drive-safely-and-give-us-a-call-when-you-get-there advice.

Her astute words echoed in my ears for the half an hour it took to calm my pulse, memories of my laughter mocking me.

My concern about the dearth of radio stations was replaced with a simmering anxiety about kangaroos. I was lucky it did not destroy my radiator, leaving me marooned in a sea of long, straight roads. Instead it just dislodged my bumper, reshaped my number plate and generally gave my car just a little more character.

I rolled into St George at midday, six hours of driving down and just four to go. I was excited and exhilarated, noticing the isolation and feeling the slightly heightened sense of danger that I always associate with the Aussie outback.

My brother instructed me to pump up my spare tyre, just in case (and I had plenty of time to indulge in awful just-in-case fantasies). I obliged and decided that I’d made such good time that I should probably lock my keys in the car. What a fun little trick!

The solo nature of my trip hit home as I stood at the petrol station knowing that I had no mates or brothers or Scandinavians that could pull out two sticks and fix my car. Surprisingly, I was buoyed by this thought, relishing the thought that I was on an intense adventure.

I waltzed into the shop with nothing to lose and introduced myself to Tony, the helpful petrol-station attendant.

“Any chance you’ve got experience breaking into cars,” I asked, mustering an I-know-I’m-useless-but-please-help-me smile. Obviously, I have a wealth of experience with this particular grin.

“Aww, whaddya done,” Tony asked, playing me.

I confessed my idiot-city-slicker status and my crime, but won him over with the news that I was moving to Charleville to work for the local rag.

He was delighted at first, but then gave me a strange look, clearly wondering why anyone would move to Charleville. “I’m looking for an adventure,” I told him, shrugging my shoulders.

“Nar, you’ll be all right,” he relented, slightly, then added “you got a fella with you?”

I gave him a look that said I clearly do not need a man to accompany me to the country. “No, it’s just me,” I said, trying not to sound like too much of a loser.

He scratched his head, a bit bamboozled. “Ah well, do you like a bit of the right arm then,” he asked, miming bringing a beer glass to the lips with his right arm and simultaneously tipping his neck back. I returned the gesture and nodded, “sure, I like to drink.”

“Well, you’ll be fine then.”

Half an hour later Tony had cracked open the passenger door, given a strange look to the lettuce plants I was transporting across the state, and waved me off.

Optimism was on my side. I was thrilled that I’d managed to lock my keys in the car, get them back out and make a new friend.

Soon enough, I passed my first 53-metre road train, which provided a neat little adrenalin rush.

The roads were relentlessly straight, stretching to a blur on the horizon. I began to think I was seeing mirages, a town perhaps, or a petrol station, but they were just dead roos, taunting me.

Petrol became an issue about 100 kilometres from Cunnamulla. The gauge was reaching toward the big E with an enthusiasm my car usually saves for harbouring mandarin peels. With 50 kilometres to go I began to see a slight malevolence in the stark landscape. I had enough food to last the night out here, but what about water? Or would I try to walk to Cunnamulla? Would the person that stopped to help me be an Ivan Milat enthusiast? Would there even be a petrol station open on a Sunday afternoon in a town with a population of 1300 people?

The questions haunted me as the petrol light beamed at me. With 35 kilometres to go I started counting every movement the odometer made.

My kangaroo anxiety was replaced with petrol panic.

Of course, I made it to town, buzzing with nerves and delighting in the spontaneous and candid excitement I had found on the journey. One less-remarkable hour later I arrived at my lodgings, a sheep and cattle farm in the middle of splendid nothingness.

A crisp sunset and a friendly face welcomed me to the west, to the adventurous lifestyle I had hoped for.

What would happen tomorrow? I had no idea. It was the perfect moment.