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Full Circle

Day 126: Darwin, Australia

The Stuart Highway, Australia 
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By road train down the Stuart Highway.
Michael Palin - Full CircleA nineteenth century Welsh naturalist called Alfred Wallace, who made a detailed study of animal life on both sides of the Timor Sea, argued that there was a clear evolutionary distinction between the Oriental and the Australasian land masses. Recently his conclusions were borne out by geologists who now seem sure that a hundred and fifty million years ago a vast continent called Gondwanaland, which comprised what we now know as Australia, Antarctica, India, Arabia, Africa and South America, began to split and drift apart on the moving rollers of the earth's crust called tectonic plates. Australia moved the least of all these great land masses and has remained stable and largely unchanged for millions of years, except for the long, slow processes of erosion. While its near neighbour Java is one of the newest, least stable and most fertile lands in the world, Australia is one of the oldest, driest, and most inhospitable.

The Australians themselves are not at all inhospitable. And they're certainly not dry. My Rough Guide describes alcohol consumption in Darwin as 'legendary', estimating that they knock back 230 litres a year for every man, woman and child. After Ramadan this all comes as a bit of a shock.

Up here in the green and scrubby north Australians call the Top End, where we are as close to Singapore as Sydney, a sturdy independence prevails. The locals do not take kindly to rules, reckoning that if you're mad enough to come and live here the last thing you want is someone telling you what to do. This is the general impression I get from talking with Scotty (soon or later everyone's name is rounded off with a 'y' here) who is driving me, and one hundred and seventy feet of trailer, down the Stuart Highway towards the town of Katherine. Scotty is short, stocky with a solid black moustache and dark, curly hair squashed beneath a baseball cap. He drives the longest, heaviest commercial truck combinations in the world, the land trains. They move food and goods enormous distances right across Australia.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 126
  • Country/sea: Australia
  • Place: Darwin
  • Book page no: 179

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