I’m currently sitting in seat 30A of Virgin Blue’s 737-800 airliner, registrated as VH-VOK but nicknamed “Smoochy Maroochy”, sipping a moderately acceptable cabernet merlot which arrived in a little plastic bottle.
I’d chosen this seat for two reasons. Statistically this is the safest seat in the aircraft. But more importantly, it’s the first time I’ve crossed the Nullarbor, and I wanted a clear view of the desert uninterrupted by wings.
My plans have been thwarted. But I have been given an unexpected treat.
We lifted off from Sydney three hours behind schedule. Smoochy was late for some reason or other, and when she finally did arrive the airport was closed by a lightning storm. Apparently tanker trucks full of Jet A-1 and sudden bolts of electrified plasma don’t mix. Bored businessmen relieved the tedium with an impromptu indoor cricket match using crumpled office paper as a ball and a bat made from a rolled-up copy of the Australian Financial Review. Virgin Blue made good with $6 food vouchers.
Once airborne, though, the sight of a freshly rain-washed Sydney Airport was magnificent. The late afternoon sunlight glistened off the tarmac. Singapore Airline’s new Airbus A380 sat at the international terminal like a shiny fat guppy. Sydney’s southern suburbs, a pattern of red-tiled roofs, looked almost acceptable, homely even. A Millennium Train snaked its way, with its bluntly rounded yellow ends looking vaguely like some grub in search of a fresh leaf to chew.
Not long after that the pilot broke the bad news. Our track would take us further south, across the Great Australian Bight. No view of the Nullarbor for me.
But an hour or so later, I caught a familiar sight. The Coorong, with the long, gentle curve of Ninety Mile Beach. Nearer lay Lake Alexandrina and the mouth of the Murray River.
Here was my unexpected treat! A view of my homeland, south of Adelaide, not during a low-altitude approach for a City of Churches landing, but from a grand perspective 11km up.
The whole Fleurieu Peninsula is stretched out before me, the ancient, eroded fault lines clearly visible. There is the freeway through the Adelaide Hills. There’s McLaren Vale, home of the most excellent Coriole Winery. There in the distance is The Bluff, the lumpy hill near Victor Harbor where I used to sit for hours watching the Southern Ocean merge into storm clouds, endlessly varied shades of grey — a fine cure for depression if there ever was one.
There’s Rapid Bay, with its peaceful beach lined with Norfolk Island pines, and the limestone-loading jetty where as a child I use to catch crabs.
There’s the beach just down from Yankalilla where lie the sand dunes in which I shared the most beautifully sensual lovemaking one summer’s sunset.
Ah, memories… Another sip of cab merlot.
Sadly there are no photos because the only camera I have is the phone and, well, I can’t turn it on because as we all know one little telephone will cause the airliner to plunge to a fiery doom.
Kangaroo Island is stretched out across the southern horizon. A scrubby coastline which once took me three days to hike as a moderately fit teenager is compressed into little more than a finger’s width.
As we cross Gulf St Vincent and approach the little country town of Edithburg, what is that little island of which I was previously unaware? And why don’t I know about that wind farm? From this altitude its massive white towers are just a regular grid of little tick-marks against the khaki farmland.
And then it’s into terra incognita, past the Italianate boot of Yorke Peninsula and into Spencer Gulf. Towards Port Lincoln and vague memories of tuna fisherman Dean Lukin winning gold for weightlifting — and were there drug allegations? But now everything is enveloped in cloud, figuratively and literally.
I return to watching Sky News. The National Farmers Federation tell me that workplace reform is essential. The election campaign continues unabated on Foxtel, even at 11 thousand metres. Cabernet merlot is good, for many reasons.