I pulled into a gas station in Norseman, Western Australia, around 3:30 pm. A silver Honda that I had passed back and forth while driving through the Nullarbor was pumping gas. The man said, “You’re doing a lot of driving all by yourself.” He told me that they were headed to Esperance, but planned to stop there for the night. I still wasn’t entirely sure if I’d stay the night there. It was the first town that I had come across in days.
I drove to the visitor center, but it was closed. I drove through the main street, and almost everything was closed. Sundays in Australia are virtually ghost towns. I pulled my car over and looked on TripAdvisor for places to stay, but there was only one place available, and it cost $105 AUD. After spending $140 AUD a night on motels across the Nullarbor, I decided that I needed to save some money.
I drove by a small apartment complex that rents nightly, but there was no front desk. Next, I drove to a hotel with good reviews, but there was a “no vacancy” sign. Finally, I drove to the Norseman Hotel. It was on the main street, which felt eerie because nobody was around except for the couple in the silver Honda. We drove past each other and waved.
I found a hotel above a pub in an old Victorian building. I walked inside the pub to find out the price. An older man sat at the bar nursing his beer, while a skinny young girl with short brown hair worked behind the bar. I asked her if there were hotel rooms available, and she confirmed there were for $45 AUD, but the bathrooms were shared. The girl explained that there were only two other people there, so far, that I’d be sharing the bathroom with.
I agreed to the room to save money and thought, “How bad could it be?” The girl walked me through a maze to get to the alley and told me to park my car. I parked my car as instructed and had to walk alone through an empty, outdoor patio where four cats were sitting on tables. I thought, “This has to be better than sleeping in my car, right? Maybe Not.” I’ve never slept in a room above a bar, so this would be a new experience.
I walked up a grand, old, creaky wooden staircase. An old, worn couch awaited me at the top. A door to the side read, “male toilets,” which was for pub customers. I walked down the dark hallway. The tall ceiling towered above me, and an old rug led the path down the hall. It felt like I was in the movie The Shinning.
I arrived at my room and walked inside. The room was tiny, with just a twin bed. I looked around in terror:
- There were holes in the wall where screws once were, or maybe they were just pushed into the wall.
- A small pedestal sink was randomly placed, with water dripping into the basin that wouldn’t drain.
- A small, rectangular wall heater was high up the wall, and it was freezing cold in the room. It didn’t push out air, it just illuminated bright orange and slowly warned up.
- There was a door leading to the outside balcony that was shared by all rooms. The crack at the bottom of the door let the cold wind inside the room.
- The ceiling was extremely tall, making the room feel even more narrow.
- The paint was peeling on the doors, walls, and ceiling.
- There was a small fridge, but the door wouldn’t close and it was unplugged.
I left my bags in the room and walked down the hallway to find the bathrooms. I ended up outside on the balcony where two doors were located. One entry was for the toilet, and there wasn’t a sink. The opposite door was for the showers, where a couple of shower stalls and sinks were located. The padlock was on the outside of the door for the showers. I thought, “Wait, so, I can’t lock the door for a shower, but someone can lock me inside?!” On the outside of the door, a paper sign with bad handwriting read, “Showers,” making it look like something from a horror movie. I wondered if these were for both males and females and thought, “I am not showering tonight.”
I walked back to my room and turned on the tiny T.V. in the corner and played on my phone since it was the first time in days that I had service. I was shivering from the cold, so I walked down to the bar. I asked if they had a heater, but the girl said that the small heater on the wall was all they had. She gave me a key to another room to see if it was any better. I checked it out, but it was even colder than my room and had worse lighting. I decided to stay in my first room.
I sat there and thought about what sort of place this was. Was this a hotel for miners back in the day? Was it mostly used for prostitution? I don’t think I want to know the things that have happened there. I didn’t understand how the Google Maps page said it had a 4.2-star rating. I looked at it again and realized that the restaurant and bar had that rating. There weren’t ratings for the hotel.
I could hear loud music coming from the bar. I needed dinner, so I decided to go downstairs and see what I could order. I asked the bartender for a menu, and she explained that the kitchen didn’t open until 6:00 pm (in 15 minutes), so I ordered a glass of red wine. It was as you’d expect and hard to drink.
I noticed a fireplace against the wall, and I was still freezing, I walked over and stood next to it to warm up. Sitting at a tall, rectangular table close by was a married couple – Greg and Collise. We started talking, which made me feel at ease. Other than them, the restaurant/bar only had creepy-looking men.
Greg and Collise were in their mid-50s. They took some time to travel around Australia in a caravan that they purchased the year before. They were from Corowa, New South Wales, three hours north of Melbourne. They had just finished driving across the Nullarbor and were headed to Perth. Then, they’d drive up north to Broome and Darwin before flying to Bali to meet their kids for a vacation. Once they returned from Bali, they’d drive through the center and return home.
Greg and Collise have three children and ten grandchildren. Collise worked at a pub, and Greg worked for the Australian Post. Collise was a hoot! She was dramatic and animated when telling stories, which made me instantly feel comfortable around her.
We talked about what it was like driving across the Nullarbor. Collise said they were running out of the water (the free campsites don’t offer water), so they needed to stop and refill. The map made Norseman look like a city, but they were also disappointed to see the emptiness. Collise said, “There’s nothing here!” A man near us tried to jump into our conversation and said he’s driven the Nullarbor 36 times. We quietly tried to get him out of our discussion.
Hunching down and whispering, Collise said, “These people are just weird. They have three eyes!” I agreed. The energy in that town was strange. I got the feeling it was towns like these that were the inspiration behind many horror movies in Australia. The men in the bar looked like they never left or stepped outside. I clung to Collise and Greg for some normalcy.
I told them that I was traveling alone and had been for over a year. Collise said, “If you were my daughter, I’d be telling you to get back home! I’d be worried sick.” She wanted to mother me and take me in. My mom was across the planet, so it was a sweet gesture.
Greg and Collise told me that I need to be careful since I’m a solo female traveler. I was nervous to say my plans for travel because a creepy guy near me seemed to be listening. I quietly told them that I had booked a room upstairs for the night. I laughed at the absurdity of where I was staying and showed them pictures (which don’t fully show the creepiness). Collise couldn’t believe that I was actually going to sleep there. She told me not to shower and to sleep in my clothes. She said, “You never know if they have cameras.”
I told Greg and Collise how I had watched the movie, Wolf Creek, about outback serial killers. They had seen the film, as well as part two. We talked about all of the people that go missing in Australia. When they free camp in their caravan, they always try to stay near other people. The night prior, they watched the movie, The Box. It freaked them out so much that Greg didn’t want to go outside to pee.
It was so fun to have people who understood what driving across the Nullarbor was like and the fears it can bring about. Collise never wanted to drive across it again and said, “There’s not even a Macca’s around!” Australians call McDonald’s, Macca.
It was time for Greg and Collise to leave. I was incredibly grateful they were there that evening. I ate my dinner with them and felt so much better than being there alone. They were hilarious and made the creepiest hotel that I’ve ever stayed at, bearable. We exchanged information so we could meet up in Esperance and said our goodbyes.
I went back to my room and had found out that the showers for the women were in a separate area indoors. It was a single-use shower with a sink and a lock on the inside of the door. It wasn’t horrible, so I decided to take a quick shower and climbed into my bed.
Thankfully, the small wall heater started to warm up the room. I thought, “At least I’m not freezing in the back of my car like I was on the Oodnadatta track.” To this day, that hotel in Norseman has been the creepiest place that I’ve stayed. I agree with Collise – I never want to return to Norseman.
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