From Perth, we go due north on the Great Northern Highway. The change in scenery is a shock indeed-no more luxuriant jungles and volcanoes. To the right, a plain strewn with crimson-colored shrubbery stretches on as far as the eye can see. To the left, an arid plateau is covered with spinifex, a prickly grass that only grows in the desert. And ahead, a road straight as an arrow extends to the horizon. Set against a background of ochre-colored soil, endless bushes flash by the car windows in cinematic fashion as the radio spews out country music. We are traveling in our own personal road movie, which will take us 3,100 miles between Perth and Darwin. The strip of asphalt before us is so perfectly unswerving that we could set the car on automatic pilot if it weren't for the "road trains," those enormous trucks which travel across the country pulling behind them three or four trailers and which take over a mile to come to a halt. Several times we have to pull over to the side of the road at the last second to avoid a collision.
We spend two months experiencing the adventure of the Outback, sleeping out in the open under the Southern Cross, with the campfire burning, our boots dust-laden, at the pace of wide-open spaces. Unadulterated freedom in the midst of immensity itself. Here, everything is bigger, larger, heavier, hotter, and drier. At Yarrie Station, a ranch in the middle of the Great Sandy Desert; we get out of our car exhausted-we've been looking for water for more than five hours.
"No worries mate, no problem!" calls out Roy, the owner, his cowboy hat clamped down on his head with perspiration. "But I think you should settle for a good old-fashioned beer because water isn't the strong point here!"
Yes, in this part of the desert, the water drawn up by the windmills is brackish, almost undrinkable. "My great-grandfather settled out here first. He hailed from Ireland in the late 1800s," Roy tells us. Two sheetmetal houses for his family and workers, a machine shed, a few stalls for horses, and a bush hedge around the whole farmstead to protect it from the windblown sand. Nothing seems to have changed in four generations, except for one thing: Roy now uses a helicopter to herd his livestock. In a few minutes, we fly over about 12 miles of bush and never move off of his landholdings. Wearing a headset and speaking through a mouthpiece, Roy guides his army of cowboys who, on horseback on the ground, contain the 500 head of livestock that he has just rounded up from above the desert.
We cross the western part of Australia-mining country. Wherever a village has sprung up, you can be sure that something precious is hidden below ground-most likely, gold. In the town of Newman, we meet an actual gold digger. And not just any digger-a Frenchman who has almost never seen France, as he was born and raised in New Caledonia. For 10 days, we crisscross the arid bush landscape with him, metal detectors in hand, and end up finding a few nuggets, but not without difficulty. Our most important discovery, however, is more culinary than gold-filled-we go kangaroo hunting with our new-found friend, Alain, and almost every evening share a gourmet meal of 'roo barbecue or stew.
Dusk in the Karijini National Park, in the Pilbara Region, western Australia.
Bivouac in the Australian bush, in an ant-hill field.
Contemplating Ayers Rock, located in the center of the island, from the bottom.