If you get out on any stretch of highway in our part of Australia, you might easily come to the conclusion that this is a nation of narcolepts. Road signs leap out at you alerting you to the dangers of dropping off into oblivion. “Drowsy Drivers Die,” reads one not-too-subtle injunction. “A Micro sleep kills,” reads another. “Power nap, now!” I am not entirely sure what a power nap is, but it sounds essential to maintaining one’s consciousness on Australian highways, which seem to have the ability to knock each and every driver out for the count.

It seems a bit much, really, considering where we are. This is the state of Victoria, which is very, very small. Take a look at a map. We are not driving one of those roads in Western Australia where you come across warnings that the next petrol (and beer) is 300 kms away. Where the view out the window is nothing but termite mounds for hours on end. Where you really could nod off and massacre millions of termites with no trouble at all.


We had decided to make a pilgrimage to the Grampians, a small, but rugged National Park three hours to the west of Melbourne. The only town within the boundaries of the Park itself is called Halls Gap. Since it is winter here, I expected to see more kangaroos than people, but I had not counted on the intrepid Australian campers or dedication of North American and Japanese tourists. For them, it is the height of summer, a fine time to visit Australia without the crowds.


The Grampians form the western extremity of the Great Dividing Range. The sandstone ranges took shape some 300 million years ago. A series of low-angled sandstone ridges run roughly north-south. The eastern sides of the ridges, where the sedimentary layers have faulted, are steep and spectacular. The southern edge of the Park is nearly 100 kms from the Southern Ocean, due north of Port Fairy, where we once joined hordes of folkies for the famous festival. Forty million years ago the Southern Ocean covered all that land and the waves lapped at the base of Mount Abrupt.


The ranges were named in 1836 by Surveyor General of New South Wales Sir Thomas Mitchell after the Grampian Mountains in his native Scotland. They are also known by the name Gariwerd, from one of the local Australian Aboriginal languages spoken in the area. It was an inviting landscape for the natives, rich in fresh water, wildlife, medicinal plants and food. They have left evidence of their 10,000 year habitation in one of best collections of rock art sites anywhere in Australia. The elegant Brambuk Aboriginal Centre provides a glimpse into the native heritage.


The first European settlers used the “gap” to pasture cattle, then grow wheat. They were soon followed by logging companies who came in to take the tall, straight trees. The sandstone was cut and shipped out for the grand buildings going up in Melbourne, Ballarat and Ararat, thanks to the gold rush. Now, the gold arrives in the pockets of bush walkers and climbers, tourists attracted to the area for the spectacular views, wildlife and waterfalls.


In January, 2006, parts of the Grampians were devastated by fire, five years later came floods that tore apart gorges and sent trees toppling over waterfalls. Many of the famous walks are now closed, pending the time and money to repair the trails. But when Spring rolls around, it will be wildflower season in the Grampians.


We’ll be back. Now, if only I can stay awake long enough to drive there. The road is a long, drawn out whisper, “You are drowsy, now, you are very, very sleepy.” I must be in Australia. It’s the Dreaming.