Heading east was a new experience for Karen and myself. We had basically ridden north to Cairns, south, west and north to Darwin, and west and south to Perth. On a few occasions we had travelled east, mostly on the Cairns leg when we had made detours towards the coast to avoid as much of Highway One as possible. Those detours had been short, however. We now faced whole days of travelling east, and it presented us with a new problem - travelling into the sun.
When we left the camping area on the Blackwood River early in the morning, the sun was shining directly into our faces, making vision difficult, headaches a real possibility, and sunburned faces almost inevitable. Additionally, we had concerns about the drivers behind us who might not see us in the glare. Karen plastered her face with zinc to try to get around the sunburn problem, but I am not fond of pastes and lotions and used an alternative method. I had found a bandanna at the Bunbury caravan park, and now tried it as a face mask - like a western movie bad guy. It worked okay and was good for dust too, but it made drinking out of the water-bottle as I rode along rather difficult, and spitting almost impossible. Not that I spit very often.
It was relief when the sun rose high enough for the peaks on our helmets to shade our faces. The terrain was a variety of hills, from gentle ups and downs to major climbs and descents. Farmland, eucalypt forests and occasional pine plantations - some newly cleared and planted - made up the vegetation, and there was a notable absence of both animal and bird life.
With the temperature climbing into the thirties, and with both of us suffering colds, me with a sore throat as well, Karen and I dawdled over our morning tea after thirty two kilometres of riding. As we sniffled over our cuppas, we could not help thinking back to the mozzies in the Tuart forest where the Ross River virus warning sign had caught our attention. We plugged on to arrive at Nannup at around 12:30pm with sixty seven kilometres behind us. Our eighteen kilometres per hour average for the day was not too shabby, especially considering the hills, headwinds, heat and illness.
At the tourist bureau we heard about a recent sighting, by a Conservation and Land Management officer, of an animal believed to be a Tasmanian tiger. This really excited me, because when I had passed this way on my motorbike twenty years earlier, I had also seen a Tasmanian tiger. I had been riding from Norseman towards Esperance, not too far away from Nannup (by Australian standards) and a dog-like animal had loped out of the mulga and run along in front of me for a short distance. I could see the stripes on either side of its rump quite distinctly, but had not thought too much about it at the time. I had not known that Tasmanian tigers were generally believed to be extinct! There had been quite a few reported sightings in the area over the past fifty years, and these are used in some of the tourist literature. The local footie team is even called the Nannup Tigers - Tassie tigers of course!
We paid for a night at the caravan park and wandered down to the camping area to set up the tent and have lunch. While Karen was preparing the C-rations, I noticed a guy sketching just across from the campers kitchen, about thirty metres away. The scene in front of him was not particularly noteworthy, just a creekbed overgrown with vines and weeds, and with a little bit of time to kill, I thought I would go over and see what he was doing. Big mistake!
The Nannup Sketcher was deep in concentration, studying the creek in front of him intently and hunkering down over his sketch pad as he applied the scene to paper. Not wanting to scare the guy and make his hand jump on the page, I approached from a wide angle so he would see me in his peripheral vision. I was also treading heavily, even scuffing the gravel so that he would hear me. Despite my efforts, the Nannup Sketcher was not aware of my presence until I was only about three or four metres away, and his reaction was amazing. He jumped, pulled his drawing up against his chest to stop me seeing it, and quickly turned his head towards me. Instantly, I caught an unmistakable glimpse of madness in his eye.
"What do you want?! Why were you sneaking up on me?" he shrilled.
"Sorry mate," I said, "but I was not sneaking up on you. I was just interested in finding out what you were sketching. I'll leave if you like."
Somewhat mollified, the Nannup Sketcher relaxed a little, but still kept his drawing hidden. He then began the most amazing monologue I have ever heard, a stream of consciousness address uttered quickly without a break.
"There are a lot of crazies around here and they have been creeping up on me and lighting cigarettes and leaving them burning outside my caravan window at three o'clock in the morning, trying to scare me like those guys that were shooting at me near Port Augusta with their four shotgun blasts in two minutes but I didn't yell 'don't shoot' I just crawled away army-style 'cause maybe they were bored 'cause there were no animals around to shoot and maybe not but my brother got shot in Perth and that was eighteen years ago and there are a lot of crazy people around ..." (I had to agree) " ... and even if there is only one in every hundred then there are two hundred thousand Australian crazies out there and when I'm sitting here drawing, you know, it's like reading a book and you don't want someone coming up behind you and sticking their nose in your book and going "nnggghh" and you know I'm drawing a scene because I don't take photos because photos have got no feeling in them ..."
At this point he actually showed me the drawing he had been working on. Rather than sketch the whole scene, he had concentrated on a tangle of vines at the bottom of a small bush. I was amazed at how good the sketch was, and told him so, but he took no notice and carried on with his spiel.
"... and I'm only using Contos (?) and sometimes a 6B and if I had my choice I'd use English willow because it's superior, all in one piece fired in a kiln is probably best ... but I can't render like you can with willow because some you can lift off because you need white space in a drawing because if that's all gone all you've got is a flat picture ... perspective, texture, brightness, colour contrast and if you were going to do that scene over there of that pine tree, that's as brilliant a green as you can get but if you did it black and white you'd tend to colour it too dark and it's really very light ... "
At about this point in his tirade I thought back to the method I had employed to get rid of the one-armed cook from Erldunda, boring him with the technicalities of bird-watching until he went away. Was the Nannup Sketcher doing the same thing, trying to drive me away using my own defence? Evidently not, because when he paused for breath at one stage and I told him that I would have to go because my lunch was waiting for me, he ignored me completely and carried on with his long harangue.
I began to back away, saying that I really had to go, but his only reaction was to speak more loudly as the distance between us increased. Seeing my plight, Karen called out to me that lunch was ready, but the Nannup Sketcher ignored the interruption and carried on regardless. I finally gave him a little wave, said "See you later" and turned my back on him and walked over to the table where Karen was waiting. He continued on for a few minutes before his voice gradually trailed off as he slowly realised that nobody was listening to him. A moment later he went back to his sketch.
I had been a bit reluctant to leave the conversation, because it was really good material for a book, but the weirdness of the Nannup Sketcher was impossible to ignore. I knew that Karen and I would be safer if I exercised a bit of discretion and left him alone. When we finished lunch Karen and I went for a walk around the town. By the time we returned, the Nannup Sketcher had disappeared, and we did not see him again.