Friday, June 4, 2010

In your car and follow that star!

When the International Space Station recently emerged as a speeding star over the dawn horizon of the North West Aussie Pilbara region, my family and I jumped up and down like looneys (as far as my post baby bladder allows these days). We beamed our


into the atmosphere and we were loud. So loud, we're sure they heard us. The ISS was being pursued at the time by the Space Shuttle Atlantis on the last days of what may well have been its final mission. Our view was awesome: rather gritty, a bit crusty, waves lapping behind us, tent thankfully sandfly proof. We were camping at our Indian Ocean secret spot along 40 Mile Beach near Karratha. And admiring its speedy passage across the sky smacked my gob harder than a flying sandcastle.

Meanwhile, I'm led to believe, down the road were a couple of grey nomads (and for those of you reading from the far reaches of the globe, this is a term of ...endearment? for wandering Australian retirees travelling about the country in their vans, campers, tents and other weird, wonderful getups.) They were having a few issues with their vehicle of choice whose brand shall remain nameless (and don't worry runaway 4wd types, it's not you!) They spent the night on a large station, surrounded by plenty of space and a few international travellers. international space station of its own, one might say. So it's to these folks we turn: Geoff, Shirl and their not so trusty four wheel drive, Apollo. They have their own astronomical story to tell...and it's pretty, uh, far out...

Apollo and the ISS

Geoff had the radio turned up loud,
tapping on the steering wheel, royally proud
of his shiny sublimy four wheel drive,
‘Apollo’* took them travelling, fully alive.

Shirl felt it first and moaned out loud
Didn’t sound right even under the shroud
of blasting beats from the stere-e-ere-oh
and caravan wheels back there on tow.

But loy-a-lly she faced the music,
‘Geoff!’ she called, should he choose to hear it.
‘Geoff!’ again, ‘Can you HEAR THAT SOUND!’
But thumping his beat, didn’t turn around.’

This time Shirl cried out, ‘My dear!
Houston? GEOFF!! Got a problem here!’
Around spun Geoff, nose tapping the beat,
Shirl now squiggling in her seat.

She flicked off the music, speaking clear,
‘I said, just listen, to the engine dear.’
His face then blanched. Coconut white.
A rattle and thump, his wife was right!

So here they were two nomads bold
travelling the earth to lands untold,
through the dust and rickety gravel,
never did they think it would unravel.

Su-dden-ly, the plans had changed.
Something in the engine was deranged.
and caught on a road ‘twixt nowhere near,
landscape burnt, they felt the fear.

Then…just like a dream a sign emerged
beside the road both on the verge
of pondering, wondering about their fate,
sun now setting, getting late.

A station it was, with plenty of space
and dusk now coming was a race
to find a spot with Apollo intact
before a diff or engine cracked.

Soon found a paddock by the sea,
wide and vast as this land can be,
a scattering of vans spread far apart
by folks whose travels were an art:

A German couple in a battered van,
a family from France in a hired tin can
and way over there were a bunch of Swiss,
blonde and yodelling, hard to miss.

Vast amounts of space to camp
on which to muse beside their lamp.
‘Oh dear Geoff, maybe in the morning
someone can help us on sun’s dawning.’

‘Better still,’ mused Geoff-er-y,
‘the first night star’s above the sea.
Let’s make a wish from this vast station
for ve-hicular inspiration.’

They wished the star might ease their plight
and all too soon the dawn brought light.
Geoff woke first and mustered Shirl,
‘Look outside! Check it out my girl.’

Everyone else in the paddock near,
everyone was up and up they peered as a-
cross the sky a bright star moved,
followed by another one along its groove.

Curve balls over the daybreak light.
What an anomaly, a bit of all right!
And off the light headed north northwest
‘It’s a sign, it’s a sign!’ burst forth our Geoff.

They jumped in Apollo, perilous car,
‘Follow, follow, FOLLOW THAT STAR!’
Away from the station scattered with races
all peering up with glowing faces.

Out down the gravel to the nor’ nor’west
off to Karratha (just my guess).
If only they had known when they awoke
‘twas no bright star but full of folk -

astronauts not on vacation
but hurtling past on a fast space station,
speeding round out in the dark,
thinking life is quite a lark.

So, as a p.s. to this tale of Apollo,
the four wheel drive drove ‘til tomorrow
and up they went, not into town
and sailing into space you could see Geoff frown.

The ISS it took them far,
into orbit with their car
and with just a little less gravity
and wicked views, the world to see,

the four wheel drive was simply fine
and Geoff and Shirl had a whirl of a time.
Talk about nomads flying free
around the world dexterity.

So if you see a funny shape
up in space, it’s the 'Great Escape’,
for Geoff and Shirl can still be found
following the space station round and round
          and round and…round and
                                             and round...

© Elise Batchelor ABC North West 26th May 2010
© Rob Whitehead 2010 - photo of the ISS and Atlantis
    in the predawn Pilbara sky
* Apollo: not the car's real name

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