THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Tuesday, 27 March

Following a mellow breakfast and animated chat with Jo, the substitute innkeeper, we hit the road. It’s all freeway to Canberra. Phew. In the car, Alice and I engage in a small discussion whether or not to stop at Gundagai to see The Dog on the Tuckerbox. Who wouldn’t want to see a dog on a goddamn tuckerbox, I say. “What’s a tuckerbox, Dad?’ replies Ali. The response “Let’s find out!” doesn’t meet with much enthusiasm, but we’re both peckish, so we make the turn at Gundagai anyway. Okay, this tuckerbox + dog equation has its origins in a typical Australian ballad called ‘Nine Miles from Gundagai’, a sort of lament for the passing of the drover’s way of life and a paean to the canine companionship and loyalty. A tuckerbox, by the way, is a food box, not unlike the present-day cooler.

This is a small, very local café. We order two burgers with ‘the lot’, which means garnished on top with salad. In addition to a profusion of tattered celebrity mags everywhere, two wheelbarrows full of squash ($5 each) sit by the front door. The young women serving pepper us with many questions about the US.

Canberra is very low-key, a most suburban city. What bustle there is appears exclusively automotive. We are relying on the GPS solely; no street numbers are visible. We get turned around a couple times, but without too much difficulty locate our hotel. For the price of two rooms, we’re given a roomy suite, which comes with the always welcome, always problematic, washer/dryer combo. We keep it simple by ordering a room service dinner.

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