Double U by Mark Young

I head south. Down Highway #1, the main National Highway. Two days & I could be in Sydney. I think about it seriously.

But. Arriving in Sydney in shorts & sandals & T-shirt? Worn for two days? & it’s still fucking winter down there .

So. No. & anyway, that’s not the purpose of this little jaunt.

I’m entranced by placenames. & in my travels up & down this stretch I’ve seen signposts pointing to Upper Ulam. Several of them, different roads. The name intrigues me. I think of Mongolia, Ulan Bator, Ulaanbaater, & wonder if there are yurts in the hinterland.

So I go, past Midgee, past Gavial, past the Nobel explosives factory. Think about dropping in & asking for a prize. Almost as far as Bajool. Those faraway places….I’m heading for what I think is the third road to double U. It seems to be sealed, at the beginning at least, but that’s no true indicator. Six Mile Road it turns out to be called — the early European settlers were really inventive with their naming; I’ve seen so many six mile, nine mile, twelve mile, creeks, roads, penny arcades in my roamings — & no signposts apart from the name. &, inevitably, six meters up the road is a sign saying gravel road, & six miles up the road it ends at the front gate of somebody’s property.

Retrace my steps. Take the next turn-off. Gravel road, though not really. More like compacted clay, light brown, the odd bit of gravel on it. & then, in the middle of nowhere, tarseal. It’s something that’s quite common round these parts, sealed road for no apparent reason, not at the beginning, not near anything that might pass for a settlement (two or more houses). Just appears in the middle of nowhere.

Follow the road, come to the intersection where the right turn obviously heads back to the highway & the other turn-off. Head left, slight rise, tar seal stops, pass the Upper Ulam Recreation Reserve, further on another intersection. The Upper Ulam Road heads off to the right, the Ulam Connection Road to the left. Follow the latter since there are signs on it saying it’s a school bus route & maybe it even goes to Ulam. If there is an Ulam. Horseshit on the road. Turns into a fucking goat track after a couple of kilometers. I turn around before I turn into a goat.

Retrace my steps again. Take the upper Upper Ulam Road. Quite a few properties with unromantic names, including XXXX which is proclaimed by a purloined metal advertising sign. (New South Wales joke: Q. Why do Queenslanders call their favourite beer XXXX? A. Because they can’t spell fuck properly.) Cattle & horses on the properties, but nothing close enough together, not even a circle of yurts, to suggest a settlement. Realise that Ulam is probably the name of the valley I’ve been going up & down. No idea where the name comes from. Unlikely that it’s mathematical, even though “… the Borsuk–Ulam theorem (BUT) states that every continuous function from an n-sphere into Euclidean n-space maps some pair of antipodal points to the same point” & that could possibly make some sort of sense here.

Stop at the Reserve to have a cigarette. Looks looked after or at least the grass is short. Tables & benches under cover, a couple of barbeque plates, toilets — although probably just a hole in the ground — & a chunk of marble (?) mounted on a concrete base, a meter or so high, half a meter deep/wide, quite attractive actually, flecked with silica that reflects prismatically in the sun, & with a small plaque mounted on it saying that this was a 1988 Bicentennial project.

Haven’t seen many birds. A few currawongs & magpies. No crows, not surprising since they’re highway birds, where the pickings are better. But out of the car there’s quite a bit of bird noise. & not much else.

So, head home again, thinking of that line from J. K. Baxter —”How many roads we take that lead to Nowhere” — & putting a line through Upper Ulam on my list of places to meander to when the mood takes me.


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