Where’s King Island again? It’s in Bass Strait, the island on the left, a hundred kilometres south of Cape Otway. Shaped a bit like Taiwan but much smaller, it’ll take you just 90 minutes to drive north-south and 30 minutes east-west. Seventeen hundred people live there, about the same number typically waiting at the Genius Bar in an Apple store.
You get to King Island by flying 40 minutes in a 19-seat twin turboprop from Essendon Airport to Currie, the capital. I am away from my wife and kids for a couple of days – the first time in years – which might explain my jaunty manner as I skip off the plane. The car rental lady gives me the keys to ‘‘The Beast’’ – a grey, late ’90s manual HiLux – and tells me I can drive on gravel roads, ‘‘but not off-road’’.
Two hours after creeping out of my house in pre-dawn Footscray, I’m doing 100km/h up North Road, King Island, wind in my hair, cutting through grassy dunes and farms, wishing I’d taken a Zyrtec. It’s a warm, high-20s day and my right arm gets burnt hanging out of the window. That day I pass 11 cars, total. I soon realise that it’s practically criminal not to acknowledge the oncoming cars with a lift of the finger, no matter how ridiculous I feel doing it.
Over the roar of the diesel engine I hear the mournful, hollow calls of what surely couldn’t be peacocks? I pull over and see four of them skimming across a vast, windswept meadow, their technicolour trains bouncing behind them, like the Bronte sisters in cumbersome dresses.