Day 5 – Despair and Determination in the Outback


It would be easy to reach despair in the Outback 100 years ago and today as well. Gloom and doom was a little north of Elliott, perhaps.

By ten in the morning the temperature has climbed well in excess of 30 degrees. The road ahead looks exactly the same as the road behind, a shimmering white-grey strip bordered with scrub and small trees. At least with a decent Wet this year the grass is green, but the heat knocks the edge off happiness. Nothing can prosper here, you may well think.

100 years ago, would Borella been feeling at his lowest? He was thousands of kilometres from his home town of Melbourne. All his money was gone, sunk into the land venture which had consumed all he had given and returned nothing except flooding rains and washed out projects.

To keep food in his stomach he had taken a job as a cook on a telegraph team. With their tools and horses they plied the long line of cable that was all of the modern world in a landscape of immense age.

Borella would not have been able to experience the warmth of the welcome The Borella Ride received 100 years later in Elliott.

If he has been greeted by schoolchildren waving flags he would have been exalted.

If he had received the hospitality of the teachers who gave their classrooms up as dormitories for the Ride team he would have had his spirit lifted.

And if he had seen the resilience and determination of the local population his understanding of the Australian spirit would have been confirmed.

To set out north again, walking the horse, to sign up for a dangerous destiny – all alone or even with a solitary mate in the Great Outback might have seen such a man at his lowest.

But if we get nothing else from Borella, we can see that even at your darkest you may well have immense glory in front of you unknowing. Glory was what it was, even if it’s not fashionable now to see such a word in the immensity of warfare.

With it of course came enormous physical and psychological danger; the very finest of human endeavours as well as the worst cruelties. Borella – unknowing even whether he would be accepted into his country’s struggle – nevertheless walked north and into destiny and a Victoria Cross.

Well might we ponder this today if travelling the Stuart Highway, from the comforts of modern road transport, with cool drinks and cold air-conditioning at 130 kph. There are still terrors and nightmares in our world, as well as immense possibilities and perils.

Think on this in a year when war simmers around the world, and yet 100 people are planning to settle on Mars. If Borella tells us everything is possible, then the Outback gives us hope and not despair, and we may not go gentle into a dark night.

The Borella Ride continues up the Stuart Highway.

By Dr Tom Lewis, Lead Historian for The Borella Ride

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