I was sat in my van in South Australia on the night before I had to give the van back. I didn’t really want to give the van back at all, but the weather had turned to shit and I was listening to the howling wind and rain outside and just thought, nah! I’d run out of pre-planned things to do, so it was a matter of having to get my proverbial finger out and decide once and for all. The day before, I’d sourced three flat pebbles, and on them I’d written numbers 1,2,3, blank on the other side. Each number corresponded to what I was to do first, depending on which number landed upright, after I’d thrown all three in the air. Number two came up. Number two was ‘up the middle’. One was skydiving; three was ‘way out west’.
In the thirteen years I’ve been living in and visiting Australia, There’s not a lot of places along the East Coast I haven’t been to, but I’d still never been over to the red centre, or out west. I’ve always wanted to see the ‘Big Red Rock’, and various other parts of the desert, and it was about time. So number two it was. First off I thought, I’ll drive up. Then I just couldn’t get the film ‘Wolf Creek’ out of my head and thought maybe it wasn’t such a brilliant idea, at least not until I’ve seen it and sussed it out. How about a drop of water from the top end mate? Then I thought, why don’t I get the bus up the middle? The bus departed at 6pm, so that had me sitting round waiting in the cold all day with two fat bags. Then I though, bollocks to it, I’ll fly up to Alice Springs, and then if the mood takes me, I’ll either free wheel all the way back down to do the skydiving. Or I’ll go to Perth, or maybe Broome, then Perth. That all depends on what number comes up next.
So that following morning I dropped the van off at the hire place, got a free bus ride off a very kind bus driver to the airport, and I flew up to Alice Springs. A bit different doing a flight over the top for a couple of hours, or the alternative, sitting on a bus for something like 39 hours to do the same trip. The view from the plane was amazing; it was like being on Mars. The red centre it is, with so much texture from the desert and dried up lakes and all the other things down there, it was really beautiful. From 35,000ft, you got a great overview, I especially liked all the black ‘veins’ on the landscape, which I guess are where rivers once were and still are in times of flood, but are now where extensive scrub and the odd tree grows along the old water estuaries. Another mind-blowing sight was the dry salt lake of Torrens and Gairdner, they were enormous, I bet you can see them from outer space. I laughed to myself when only days before, I’d fully intended on driving up there in my camper van as a next port of call. It was a thousand miles and more, and what I’d have done when I got there after I’d taken some photographs I don’t know. But I’d still like to go there!
I arrived at Alice Springs airport, when we got off the plane we had to come down the steps onto the concrete and walk to the terminal, and I couldn’t believe how hot it was. I was told it was 40 degrees, which is about 108 degrees in the other one, cooking on gas. I hadn’t felt heat like that since I was in Las Vegas, and I think it was actually even hotter than that. After a bit of asking, I managed to get a free shuttle to my hostel. The first place I stayed at was Haven, which is supposed to be an award winning hostel, though I’m not really sure where they’ve pulled the awards in. The place itself was fine, the room could have slept 4 people, but I had it all to myself and it was huge. It had an ensuite bathroom, which was a bit of a novelty after sleeping in a van for eight days. I have to say though, the van, I’d really like to have my own again, I just loved it and had no problem with the confined space. The fact that you just got up and drove to where ever you wanted and stayed somewhere different every night, usually always somewhere a million times more beautiful a location than any hotel, was just perfect for me. You could stay in the middle of nowhere and be able to cook your own tea on the spot. And the bed in that van was so comfortable, I slept like a king every night. Hostels on the other hand, well, bring your lug plugs. It doesn’t matter which hostel you go to, award winning or not, the people who stay in them love slamming doors around the clock, stamping feet and yelling. It’s nothing to do with my age, I’ve never liked them, and if I was minted, I would give them a wide berth all together.
I had thought it a brilliant idea that I stay somewhere with a pool, and in the heat I was looking forward to getting in it! So strange the pool area, the pool was much smaller than advertised and there were only 4 sun loungers, it seemed, that whoever managed to commandeer those loungers for the day, somehow ‘ruled the pool’. Newbies or strangers were not welcome and were made to feel as such. On the first day I got into my bikini as soon as I got to the place and went to go for a swim, only to sit there for half an hour getting increasingly pissed off by the gobby cockneys playing footy in the water and talking absolute bollocks at the top of their lungs. That, and after me saying hello and getting the complete filthy evils with no reply off these two girls who were frying in the sun, I in turn thought, bollocks to this.
The fact that the pool was not at all inviting was of no consequence over the next couple of days. On the first full day, I hired a bike from the hostel and went off for a spin to explore in 40 degree heat, she’ll be right. The bike cost $20 for four hours and afterwards I thought I could have probably bought a similar bike for less than $20. No brakes, no gears, rusty, you can probably picture it. Anyway, it went, in a fashion, it was completely hopeless on hills. I fully explored town and the outskirts, I had to push the beast up Anzac Hill but the ride down was good, and I was surprised just how many trees manage to grow in such an arid place. My little head was like a tomato and cycling in that heat probably isn’t a great idea, but even if I did probably look like I was going to blow a gasket, I didn’t mind it physically, oddly. I did still, at this point, fail to see why anybody in his or her right mind would choose to live here on a long-term basis. I just thought, there’s nothing here. Just the usual collections of big chain Aussie retailers, and well, not much else.
As I cycled around the town centre the concentration of Aborigines was the most I’ve ever seen in one place and I’ve always been fascinated by them, the hardest thing is to try not to stare, which I’m sure I do. I’ve always wanted to photograph them, but have never dared ask, I do find them a bit overwhelming and scary for some reason. One of the saddest things is that they sometimes look so out of place in their own country, in the town put here by the ‘pioneers’. You look at them and they look so lost, sad and empty. It’s obvious when you see how most white locals interact with them that they are still looked upon as second-class citizens and I really hate that. Another sad thing I saw was so many of the Aborigines were sitting around on street corners drunk. I saw one woman pulling glass bottles out of a bin and throwing them at the hospital wall today, smashing the bottles to pieces, one after the other, drunk and frustrated. Most Aborigines will cross the road to avoid passing you, I’ve found here. And it’s unusual if you can get eye-to-eye contact. You question what they really think of the whites, and especially the tourists. It does make you question the definition of progress.
Later that night I’d booked to go on a camel safari at sunset down a stretch of desert across the Macdonnel Ranges. Crocodile Dundee (I’m not kidding, he would have made a great one) who as he came out to meet me, motioned with his hands, as if holding reigns, Camel ride? Was I about to take part in the camel equivalent of the Grand National, I hoped so. There was about six of us altogether, the rest of the mob being from The States. We had a short ride out in the van to the farm, and already saddled up when we got there were six camels, and one camel without a saddle. One by one we got onto our respective transport, my camel was called Annie, been doing the job for 17 years apparently. I’d been on a camel before, so I was familiar with the mounting procedure, and how not to mount a camel. No problems. I had stirrups this time, which was a bit different from my camel in Egypt, you just sat cross legged on top of those ones, which was quite comfy actually, once you got your balance. There wasn’t about to be any camel derby unfortunately, we were all attached to the camel in front. I had a trainee camel behind me with nobody on top, who was out to learn a bit of camel train etiquette, he was called… ‘Good Boy’. Yeah, I know.
So, off we went, along the path to the desert. I do like riding on top of a camel, I’d like to go on a fast one, bet they can’t half move. Just as we were going along, and I had been warned about this before hand, Good Boy slammed on the brakes behind. This was a bit of a shock, because I had ditched the stirrups and was riding half cross-legged, so I nearly came off backwards with the jolt, with not holding on. Stubborn old Good Boy was just there staring at me, looking smug, with his hoofs planted firmly in the sand, legs rigid, rope tight. He was like a naughty boy who didn’t want to go to school and had to be dragged, no different from a naughty pony. He came around after a few minutes and we were on our way. Things were going quite smoothly for a while and we were plodding our way across the desert, then it happened again. Good Boy slammed his brakes on. Only this time, the rest of the camels kept going, apart from Good Boy and mine because she couldn’t move, and in doing so, the rope to the camel in front of me couldn’t take the strain. In almost slow motion, the two American girls in front of me came off backwards in such a spectacular fashion, still sat on the saddle that was attached to the rope and landed in a heap on the floor behind their camel and in front of mine. It’s only funny now because they were both OK, it’s the sort of thing you see on a Carry On film. Carry on up the Camel. I think there were a couple of bruised bums, but they were fine. What do they say? Never work with children or animals. Animals can be unpredictable, everyone knows that, and if you don’t like that, you shouldn’t approach one, or get on one. It was all taken in good humour thankfully, we had a few dramas sorting the camels out to go on, and the two girls just walked for a while, eventually jumping onto a camel at the front. Not long after this, Good Boy walked into a tree, not know for being the brightest of creatures I don’t think. He looked at me confused, as if to say, who put that there, when all the other camels had managed to avoid it. It took me a minute or two to get him to go around the tree, but once he’d sussed that we were off again. It was at this point that I took on the role of camel whisperer. I talked to the camel all the way from here, gave him a few tree branches to munch on as we went, who’s a Good Boy, and what a difference it made. I had him riding along side me, as much as the rope would allow, for the last part of the ride. We’d become friends, and he didn’t play up again once, respect goes both ways. I think the Marcus The Cameleer was quite impressed with me, I’m pretty sure I could have had a job there if I was hanging around, I had a right good old laugh with him in the van on the way back to my hostel, we was a brilliant character, I really liked him.
The next day I decided to give the rusty bike a miss and set off on foot for about three hours, it was still about 38 degrees, but I love the heat. I had a wander up to Anzac Hill where you get a great 360-degree view over the whole town, which is a sprawling patchwork of metal buildings, but the view of the mountains and bush beyond is inviting and impressive. There was no amount of pipes and similar snake looking things sticking out of the ground up there! You never know what you’re going to come across out here; I’m always on guard! I had about an hour back at the hostel where I would have gone for a swim if I could have got in the pool, had it not been full of idiots. What to do now, I decided to go to the reptile park. The park is small, but what a brilliant collection of critters they had in there. I got to touch a goanna and then I had a big python wrapped round my neck. The snake was a funny experience, the skin was so smooth and soft, but you couldn’t half feel the power of those muscles. As soon as it was around my neck, it completely wrapped itself around my body, and it was really heavy. Snakes get their warmth from contact with other objects, so it probably loved wrapping itself around me given I’d been out frying in the desert heat all day, it sat there quite happily. Other things they had in there were amazing too. They had a collection of the most deadly snakes in the world, including The Death Adder, The King Brown and The Tiapan. There was a big monitor lizard whose colours and markings were beautiful, and you could see where a lot of that influence appears in Aboriginal paintings. I got a good photograph of that goanna, I might have a shot at doing a painting when I get home, I do love Aboriginal art. They had some lovely gecko’s, and a legless lizard, which made me laugh. They also had a crocodile in there and you could go underwater to have a look at him, through glass obviously. I loved it all.
In a moment of madness the next morning I decided I’d have a stab at cycling to Simpson’s Gap. This is about a 45km round trip, completely doable on a normal day. I set off down Larapinta Drive, headed out of town. The bike was the same one; no gears, not really any brakes, seat falling to pieces. Piece of shit really, they insisted you lock it when not using it, but I don’t know who’d be stupid enough to nick it. I managed to do about 22km in total. It wasn’t any of the faculties of the bike that stopped me, or the outdoor elements, or physical inability. It was the flies. I have never been so tormented by flying things in my life, the further out of town I got, the worse they got. It got to a point where I’d completely covered my head in fly spray more than once, it didn’t make any difference what so ever, they’re immune to it. I couldn’t hack it any more, I had to double back. On the way back I went to the Alice Springs Desert Park, so it wasn’t a completely wasted mission. A fantastic place that tells you all about the desert in laymen’s terms, in a nutshell. A massive parkland that’s mostly outdoors, in which you go along with a radio thing, and it tells you what’s what and why, very interesting for a nature geek like me. They also had a nocturnal house there, and I got to see some rare animals that I’ll probably never get to see in the wild, like Bilbies, they were beautiful. Quite funny that house, all the animals really thought it was night, they were all out doing what they do, even the bats.
The next morning I was checking out. I was glad to be moving out of that place. My non-existent plan had changed though, and I’d started to quite like it up in Alice. I’d booked another five days to stay longer, see what happens from there, I thought, but now I was moving to a wilderness lodge out of town where I hoped I’d be able to get up close to some wildlife. I was out of my room and in a taxi early and when I got to the lodge I was able to check in and get into my room, which was great. The room overlooked the Todd River and all who roamed it, including lots of Aborigines on Walk-A-Bout. It was early enough, so I thought I’d take myself off exploring and I went for a 12km hike up the Todd River. It was a really hot day, the flies were doing my head in, but the hike was great. The Todd River, an ephemeral river, is such an amazing place. All the way along I tried to imagine what it’d look like with water in it, I’d love to see that, the river’s so wide in places, it’d be awesome to see torrents flowing. The smell of the Red River Gum wafts up your nose as you walk along and it’s lovely. Rivers up this way are all upside-down rivers, as in they look dry, but they aren’t. They all have permanent water tables underneath, and if you dig down about 30cm, you’ll hit water, pretty amazing. All the way along the river you could see Aboriginal people, they were either just wandering along alone, or they were sat in groups in the riverbed drinking and being noisy. I passed one white woman who was so thin, I couldn’t believe she was walking, I don’t think I’ve ever seen somebody alive looking so ill, I was shocked. You pass numerous Aboriginal hostels on the way into town opposite the river, it’s such a strange area like that, all those places are fenced off with bars and barbed wire, it’s a bit like the ghetto at times. They look like prison to me, so goodness knows how the indigenous cope with it; its no wonder a lot of Aboriginals hit the bottle!
I’d fully settled into my new pad and my first adventure out of town was to take in quite a lot of The Macdonnell Ranges National park. What an adventure, you set off on these days, never really knowing what to expect and I had no idea just how beautiful the desert here was until I saw it for my own eyes. I went as far across as Mt Sonder lookout, probably a couple of hundred km’s, the view from which was just jaw dropping. The weather wasn’t very kind to us, and I saw the first rain in ages. I even had goose bumps on my legs at times and if I could have magically materialised a pair of trousers up for my sparrow knee caps, I would have. There was about five of us altogether, and our guide Magdita was just lovely. We stopped at Simpson’s Gap, which was gorgeous, colossal towering red rocks with a swimming hole at the bottom and another upside down river, which comically had a ‘no diving’ sign next to it, another place that would be amazing in the floods. We went to Standley’s Chasm, which was even more impressive. A spectacular hike up the riverbed, navigating my way around huge boulders, which were made up of muted layered rainbow colours. Seeing 800-year-old cycad palms along the way was amazing. The gum trees were beautiful, and in the cool air and drizzle the smell was so fresh and invigorating. When you finally reached the chasm, its presence did make you want to fall over backwards it was so awesome. If you’re in tune, the natural energy in these places blows you away. The chasm itself was a gorge split in two over millions of years, a split down the middle, you can only imagine how it got to be like that. The colour of the rock was bright red; it’s one of those places that you just have to see for your own eyes, because no photograph I’ve seen has done it any justice.
We went to the Ochre Pits; these particular ones are some of the biggest in Australia. Whether you’re aware that I paint canvases, with forks and other odd implements when the mood takes me I’m not sure, but I do. Seeing where the ancient Aborigines used to collect their ‘paint’ from was amazing for me. The colours, the textures, the natural ochre amphitheatres themselves were a work of art. Magdita said, when I asked if the Aborigines still went there to collect the minerals to paint with, said no. It’s a dying or dead art now by the sounds of it, but I love the romance of it all, and the colours are my favourites. We went to Ormiston Gorge and to Glen Helen, which was a place that sold a bottle of beer for $7.80. Fair enough, it was in the middle of nowhere, but come on cowboy, $18 for 6 bottles of the same back in Alice. You could do helicopter rides from the place as well for $50, but it was too windy that day. We ended the day at Ellery Creek Big Hole. Jesus, what a place. Wild camping if you want, pity flies aren’t a delicacy.
One of the lads that were with us, French lad, went in for a dip, too cold for me without having had a skinfull first. The water hole was massive and you could swim out to near the middle where there was sandbank and you could stand up with the water below your knees. You have to remember this is in the middle of the desert, there’s sand, there’s water. The geographical history will curl your toenails, it’s too much to write on here, buy a book or ten! To the right of the water hole there was the half left remnants of what used to be a rope swing. I was told a Japanese girl had once swung out on it, shit her pants, and not dare let go of the rope. She eventually let go at the wrong time, probably too weak to hold on any longer, and smashed into the rocks. Goodnight. So this in turn eradicated all fun swings from the area. Sound familiar? The whole landscape amazed me from start to finish. It was an amazing day, where at time I was speechless, for a change. Day by day, the outback has become one of the most amazing places I’ve ever seen, or been. I spoke to somebody here the other day who came here for a week and that was 19 years ago, and I can easily see how that happened.
That night, while I was back at the pad, fresh from cuddling a few wild wallabies, there was a bit of noise coming from next door. This was quite strange, because the place was usually very quite and relaxing as far as I’d seen. I was sat out on the back deck having a beer and I was trying to work out what had moved in. I’d been told on several occasions prior to this, that Thursday is ‘pay day’ in the outback. This meaning, that this is the day that the local fellas get their ‘we’re sorry’ handout from the government. Thursday is the busiest day at the bottle shop. I knew from the voices that they were Aborigines, they were talking in English, but the accent is unmistakable. It was interesting eavesdropping, but a lot of the bits of the stories I heard were sad, even guns were mentioned. As the night went on, they got more and more arseholed, and louder and louder. It got to the point where I had to pop my head around the corner and say hello. Their eyes were so bloodshot; I’m surprised they could even make me out to be honest. I asked them if they ‘reckoned they could turn it down a notch’, were my exact words. They were so apologetic, I was quite taken aback for some reason, probably all the bad press the poor souls get. They said very sorry about five times and I didn’t hear another peep out of them all night, apart from them going down to be noisy in the Todd River bed. But they seemed lovely characters, should have had a beer with them ha ha. The next morning I could hear the maid cleaning out the room, well, sweeping up broken glass ha ha.
Easter weekend had arrived and with it came a shit load of people. Where I was staying had a campsite part of it next door and that was full. As well as that, there was a tavern, suprette and bottleshop for convenience; town was quite a few miles away. Full of kids on school holidays, the otherwise peaceful outback lodge had been transformed into my definition of hell. Screaming, shouting, noise. Everything was shut on Good Friday and I’ve never seen the bottleshop near the tavern so quiet. Even the tavern was shut. To escape, I grabbed my camera and went for a hike into town along the Todd River. Everywhere was like a ghost town, nobody getting drunk in the riverbed, which was very unusual. As I walked into the centre of town, I saw a big black crow tugging on a thin line of pipe that was sticking out of the ground. I watched it for a few minutes and thought, daft bird, it’s not a worm. As I carried on watching it, I realised what it was doing. On the end of the pipe was a round washer with a sprinkler type thing inside, when the bird managed to pick the washer up in it’s beak and tip the pipe upside-down, water came out of the end of the pipe. What a genius, I was quite chuffed after seeing that, clever birdy. It’s so dry here, but everything manages.
I had a bit of a wander around and decided to go and get something to eat at the only place in town that was open, apart from Maccas and Red Rooster, obviously. Nice little tapas place on Todd Mall, thought I’d have a cheeky wine while I was there. I had Thai crocodile salad to eat, which was nice, croc tastes like chicken. The wine was so nice, I thought I might have another glass. Stingy little glasses over here, you ask for a ‘proper measure’, and they say, ‘that is a proper measure’. They don’t do “large” glasses here in Australia I’ve discovered. I didn’t realise a standard glass was so meagre, three gob full’s and it’s gone. I went inside to ask the waitress for a top up and she said I couldn’t have one. Pardon? She said, that because I wasn’t technically eating anymore, I wasn’t allowed to have a glass of wine. The pardon turned into a What? I said, I’ve just had lunch here at some expense, are you telling me… She said they couldn’t serve alcohol unless you’ve still got food on your plate. The most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. I suggest you sort your license out, blah blah pfuf. So off I went, in disbelief, probably chuntering to myself out loud. I bet Jesus didn’t say no to a drop of wine out of the holy grail on Good Friday, bollocks did he.
Wandering back down Todd Mall I saw red kangaroo books was open, so I went in for a look. I can’t walk into a bookshop and come out empty handed, it’s impossible, I saw at least three books I wanted straight away. I’d been in Alice that long, I’d just about forgotten I was supposed to be travelling and worrying about adding more things to my already cumbersome baggage went out of the window. There was one book of photographs that were taken by a cattle drover, all were taken from a helicopter and were the most beautiful aerial shots of the outback. This was a big hardback book, so I talked myself out of that one. Out of the last two, I finally chose a book called ‘Blood on the Wattle’, a book containing a collection of true accounts of the massacres and maltreatment of Aboriginal Australians. Sound morbid?
I spent the rest of the day and all the following day reading this book, though I had to keep putting it down and going and doing something else because it was that unbelievable you just couldn’t stomach it all in one go. I’ve always been interested in Aboriginal history, but I had no idea of the actual scale of the genocide, which is exactly what it was. An invasion of ignorant British people, who practically wiped out a race that had been surviving in their homeland, in peace and harmony, for more than twenty thousand years, the book makes you feel sick and ashamed to be British. But, it’s a book I think everybody should read. I think most people, including me, are ignorant to the reality of what went on back in the days of the early settlers in Australia. The Aborigines are shy and peaceful people, who have been brought to their knees by our intrusion, and I can now understand why things are like they are here today. You can buy a copy of the book online from Amazon. I could go on about it for weeks…
On a lighter note… I was up at 5am the next morning to go to Kings Canyon. This is another place I’ve always wanted to go to and another dream fulfilled. Still dark here at that time of morning, I had to have a big yawn and stretch, what time is it? I was picked up at 6am just as the sun was peeping it head over the mountains beyond. I got to go down to the canyon with a great bunch of guides and a couple of other people. Some of the guides were getting trained up for that particular run, the guide at the helm was called Kelvin. We transferred onto a bus that was taking people to Uluru, then we jumped off that cruiser and onto a smaller bus at Erldunda. At Erldunda there was a load of emu’s hanging around at the fence when we arrived, funny birds, one had a right good peck at my finger. Serves me right for sticking it through the fence. I made use of the toilets and got the first mosquito bite I’ve had since I’ve been in the desert, on my arse cheek, while I was having a wee. I didn’t feel it bite me, but when I went back into the café my left bum cheek started to itch. I wasn’t quite sure why at the time, until a lump appeared! Damn it! I thought I was going to be walking around scratching my arse all day. I had this bush concoction for keeping flies off that I got from town a few days earlier, so I thought I’d whack some of that on, and to my amazement it stopped it itching and the lump went away. Hurray for natural oils.
We had another couple of hours drive from here, the scenery was amazing along the way and the guides entertained us. I met Colman, Magdita’s husband, who was lovely, the time flies by when you’re having a bit of a crack. We stopped for lunch at a cattle station not that far from Kings Canyon. I think just about everyone had hat envy when I put my bush hat on. The flies were unreal here, you had hundreds of black flies trying to get in every orifice, and around your feet were thousands of ants that were more than happy to crawl up your leg and give you a nip. I stuffed my sandwich under my net and into my mouth as best as I could without letting the enemy in. They had camels here and there was a baby camel who was so lovely. It gave you a bit of an affectionate cuddle with its head and camel kissed you on the lips. I thought it might be gearing itself up to spit in my face, but it never did. Enviable eyelashes and big brown eyes, it was so adorable.
When we arrived at Kings Canyon, you couldn’t help but be awestruck. We did a 6km hike up the canyon, across the rim, and the middle and then back down the other side. The place was beyond spectacular. The canyon, in Watarrka National Park, is a geographic marvel. The colours and textures of the stone are beautiful and wonderful, and the amount of bush life that exists up there blows your mind. There were cycad palms that were over five hundred years old together with any amount of other amazing things. Down on the other side of the canyon is The Garden of Eden, which was like an oasis in the middle of the desert. There was a water hole at the bottom that you could swim in. We’d spent too much time gawping about and didn’t have time for a dip. On the top of the canyon you could see 400 million year old fossils in the rocks, shells, worm trails. There were ghost gum trees growing out of the rocks that were natural bonsai size because of the limited root systems under the rocks. There were Witchetty bushes; the same bush the Aborigines get the grub from which is a delicacy. There was mistletoe living a parasitic existence on some of the acacia trees. I saw three lizards. There were giant ants getting massacred by an army of smaller ants. The list goes on and on. I could have done that walk three times and still gone again, I’d love to camp up there and see the sunrise.
We realised how lucky we’d been with the weather when it started tipping it down in a big way on the road back to Erldunda. We were headed back there, through enormous cattle stations, to meet the big transporter coach that was bringing people back from The Rock. Driving the bus must have been a bit of a nightmare, it was coming down so hard at one point you could hardly see through the windscreen. You could see how easily the roads flood and the 2m water markers on the side of the road made more sense. The rain started to ease a bit and up ahead we could see a cow and a couple of calves in the middle of the road. We slowed down to a halt. To all of our amazement, there was also a pack of dingoes. This was the first dingo I’d seen on this trip, and I’ve only ever seen them on Fraser Island on the East coast here before now. The dingoes were mustering the cow and calves, obviously trying to separate the smaller calf from its mother to kill and eat it. There was definitely five dogs, there was possibly up to eight. It was like watching the big cats picking off a gazelle in Africa; it was astonishing to watch. I felt sorry for the calf obviously, and I spent the next day wondering if it had managed to get away, but I doubt it did.
It was dark and cold when we arrived back at Erldunda, we headed into the pub for a beer and something to eat. We had a few hours here and the wine went down pretty well. The food was laid on for us, and I don’t think I’ve ever eaten one before, but it was a chicken schnitzel with gravy on and mashed potato. Not something I’d usually eat, but I have to say, it went down a treat. There were some real local characters in the tavern, come to think of it; the tavern itself was a bit of a unique place. Behind the bar on a shelf they had pickled poisonous critters in huge jars that had met their doom at the pub recently. There was a couple of brown snakes and a scorpion in separate vessels, swimming around in, quite aptly, alcohol. I met the man who killed them. I’m a bit gutted I didn’t get a proper portrait of him; I was a bit slow there. He was telling me how and where he killed the pickled samples and then he told us he’d killed a brown snake that day. Off he went into the back and brought out this headless snake, which, when alive, is one of the most poisonous snakes on earth. He’d collared it in or around the pub somewhere earlier. Jesus. I reckon that guy’s in there every night, I’ll make sure I get a shot of him if I’m ever in there again, he had these crazy metal teeth. He was telling me about a plague of mice that they’d had recently which made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. He said there were so many mice, the carpets were moving underneath you, they were climbing up the windows and they were moving dead ones by the wheelbarrow full. Shudder.
It must have been about ten by the time the coach turned up to take us back up to Alice. I felt a bit sorry for the Uluru people, it’d been raining down there that day. Most people on the bus were half asleep. I sat and talked to Kelvin all the way back to Alice Springs, and it after midnight by the time we pulled in. I was wide awake when we got back so I went and said hello to the wallabies for a bit, who were all down off the mountain hopping around being ace. What a fantastic day, massive information overload, but as far as I’m concerned, you can never ingest too much. My time wasn’t done in Alice yet, I’d really started to love it. My four days here was already heading towards turning a fortnight. I’d even thought about coming back and becoming a cameleer next season, it isn’t such a daft idea. The people here are open and friendly; the transient population is full of character, variety and curiosity with individuals who have great life stories, just the kind of people I love. At 6700 words, think it’s time to wrap this one up and start on another page… More to report in part 2 if you haven’t nodded off…
And so the adventure continued. Monday, what to do? I walked into town up the Todd River with the intentions of hiring a bike and going off for a spin. I also wanted to sort out a trip to Palm Valley. I was wandering down the road to Todd Mall and stopped off in The Rock tour place. I got chatting to a guy who was working behind the desk, another one, came for a few days holiday, been here two years. He was from down Cambridge way or somewhere like that. He already had a bit of an Aussie twang going on. As I was talking to him, I thought I’d ask him if he knew anywhere I could get a bike from. I told him how shit the hire bikes I’d been on were. I also said that I could go to Kmart and buy a brand new bike for $100, and rather than keep dipping my hand in my pocket at $40 a go to hire a shit heap, I was seriously considering buying one. As fate would have it, he just happened to know someone who did bikes up and sold them second hand. Triumph! So after a bit more discussion, I was put on the phone to said purveyor of bicycles. I said I didn’t want to spend any more than $50 on a second hand one, he wanted more, I said no. I told him I could get a brand new one for about $100 and I wasn’t spending any more than $50. I said, put one together for me that’s worth $50 or less. This was agreed and I was told that he’d have something ready for me by ‘the afternoon’. I had to entertain myself in Alice in the mean time. At 4pm I was still waiting. I did understand that there is such a thing around here as outback ‘o clock, but I was a bit over waiting. Patience and me are distant cousins. I paced up and down a few times and then I went back into The Rock and said the guy hadn’t been in touch, ‘where’s me bike?’
I was put back on the phone to him and he said he’d almost finished it and he’d be in town with the wheels in a hour, fair enough. To his word, he rolled up in his ute and lifted the bike off. It was never going to win the Tour de France, or any bonny bike competitions, but it looked all right for the price. I handed the cash over, hopped on and cycled off down the road.
The first thing I noticed was that one of the pedals was warped, almost catching on the gears when you peddled. It felt weird, almost like you were drunk wobbling along, the bike felt wobbly. Strangely though, you soon got used to that. I was just happy to have my own set of wheels, dangerously getting far too comfortable in Alice, give me a bed and a bike to get about on and I’m as happy as a pig in shit. I spent the rest of the afternoon bombing about up and around the Todd River.
The next two days I spent on my bike discovering Alice. The bike tracks in the area are brilliant, apparently they spent millions putting them in, and they are a real treat. I had a cycle out to the old Telegraph Station. One of the very first frontier settlements in central Australia, this was where all communications to the outside world were sent from, by Morse code. All the communication equipment was still in one of the buildings; the whole settlement was really interesting. In one of the buildings there was photographs from when the place was a small village, it also showed some fantastic photographs and stories of Aborigines who came from the stolen generation. You partly know my feelings on that, but what was on show was a testament to how important historical photography is. Some of the photographs made you hang your head in shame. On the banks of the Todd River, this section of the river was where the Afghan Cameleers used to water the camels after bringing in supplies, after treks that would have been 1000’s of Km’s long. They had to dig down into the riverbed to draw the water up by means of a primitive pump. I was stood there on that red soil, trying to imagine what it would have been like, soaking it all up. I liked the ‘bath houses’. With no inside amenities back then, there were two bathhouses, one for the stationmaster and his family, and the other one for everyone else. These were little sheds with a small plunge pool inside; you can just picture the women getting in there, what an operation it would have been. Had it been my gaff, I’d have been having parties in there on a regular basis, with no discrimination allowed. It was all pretty mind blowing really.
The location was beautiful, the surrounding landscape scattered with big red boulders as the Todd River meandered past, rarely with water above ground. I found the track to the ‘cemetery’, so I thought I’d go up there and have a look… on the bike. This was part of the Larapinta Trail, and I was chuffed to have at least got on a bit of that. I’ve been obsessed by the Larapinta ever since I heard about it, I want to do it. What is it? In short, It’s a very very long hike across the MacDonnell ranges that takes about 18 days to complete, end to end, if you’re agile. The cemetery up the track consisted of two small enclosures. One enclosure, which had a stone wall around it, had the graves of three people in there. These were graves of the first settlers. The oldest was 53, and at that time, that age was considered a good innings. There was a grave of a 33 year old that died from rheumatic fever, something you’d rarely die of these days. Stuck out in the desert, without the help and bush science knowledge of the Aborigines, you were buggered. The other main grave was of a 27 year old who had tuberculosis. I had a bit of a bomb up the track and then headed back in to Heavitree Gap.
The next morning I was up early to go to Palm Valley. Another dream about to be fulfilled. I was stood waiting for the 4WD to pick me up outside and it was still dark. In the distance I could hear Dingoes howling, which in turn were making various dogs bark across the valley, the echoes filled the air, it was an eerie but enchanting sound. It was a beautiful starry sky above and just as my lift arrived the sun was coming up, as it did, turning the sky a beautiful mauve colour. I was so pleased it was going to be a clear day so I could see the true colours of the rocks.
The 4WD was brilliant. It was basically a custom-made people carrier, which was a lorry underneath and then had been modified to carry a carriage on top of the axles. Straight away I thought, what a brilliant campervan it would be, I’d already ripped out all the seats and sorted it in my head before we’d even left town. There were only a few of us onboard, two guys who were learning the ropes with the company, one Kiwi and the other Aussie, and then an oldish couple. The only other couple to come on board after this, hobbled (they weren’t old) up the steps to sit directly behind me. When the woman opened her mouth it sent a shiver right down to the core of my spine. They reckon everyone’s got a doppelganger somewhere in the world. I just don’t know why my brother’s wife’s doppelganger had to be on the same trip as me, in the middle of the desert, in Australia. It was like being an extra on the set of ‘Haunted’, have I been a bad girl? I’m not kidding you when I say she talked the same, had the same outlook, attitude and mannerisms, and she even looked like her from head to foot, same face, height, same shape. The only real difference was she had a black bob haircut, had it been shoulder length, it would have been even scarier. It was unnerving, unsettling and was to give me the willies for the rest of the day, every time she opened her mouth. I later unearthed through brief conversation, that she was from Darlington, originally, she said. He was a cockney. I’d actually shelved that part of this trip in my mind until I sat down to write this, and now I’ve come over all funny again.
The drive out to Palm Valley was brilliant. Once you get off the road you’re completely at the mercy of the oldest riverbed in the world, The Finke River, which is what we had to steer our way down in the 4WD. We saw abundance of Brumbies and foals, which is the wild horse here. Beautiful horses, they were so immaculate and self sufficient, happily grazing away in the remnant river on both sides as we navigated our way though. The drive was rough, but Geoff, the driver, handled the challenge brilliantly. You were basically driving on the boulders of the ancient riverbed; this was interspersed with sections when you were just driving on sand, quite deep in places. Shake, rattle and roll. The scenery again was just breathtaking, the further you got into the bush, the more awesome the scenery became. We got dropped off at the head of the beginning of Palm Valley and saw for the first time the Red Cabbage Trees that exist nowhere else on earth, for me it was like being stood right in middle of pages in a never seen before story book, I was blown away. The walk took me along the riverbed, through the gorge, my feet planted way along the oldest geology on the planet. I was at the bottom of the riverbed and looking up at the rock carved out through millions of years of elements. Plants surrounded me that you can’t find anywhere else; some palms were as old as 800 years or more. It’s hard to explain how that felt, but you’ll just have to try and imagine it. I felt totally connected to it all, the energy in the place was beyond powerful to say the least. You immediately forgot where you were; it was like being in the lost world, a total tropical oasis in the middle of the desert, a place you’d least expect to find it.
We spent a few hours here; we did a hike up across the top so we could look down into the gorge. There were ghost gum trees growing out of the rocks, the white bark of which contrasted vividly against the lush green backdrop. One of my favourite trees, I can’t pass one without stopping to stare at the majesty of such an amazing tree, a tree that can survive against all the odds. As I was leaping up the track, like the mountain goat I am, I couldn’t help but notice the others struggling behind up the same route. I never want to get like that, so devoid of exercise in daily life that the body can’t manage a relatively easy climb. Huffing, puffing, sweating and commenting on how hard it all is. Jesus. Shut up, you’re messing with the ambience.
Back down in the gorge I took a few photos, I imagined what the place would look like in full flood. On the way in there you could see debris in the gum trees from a previous flood, the height of which was around 4m up in places, from the riverbed where I was stood. Debris, meaning all things washed along with the torrent of flowing water, and I don’t mean shopping bags and baked bean cans, I mean fallen trees, fauna and native roughage. Probably one of the most unique and amazing aspects of all is that the rivers here all flow inland, it’s something I’ve never seen, and I don’t think it happens anywhere else. It all seemed hard to believe looking at it dry, but I’d love to see it flooded. The trouble is, you just can’t get into these places when it’s really rained. I must pop helicopter onto shopping list, oh, and a pilot to man it as well; above average intelligence, able to climb mountains without carking it or moaning, eyes like the ocean, longish darkish curly hair, about similar age.
We had lunch and then we went back out of the valley a little way to do another hike. Again, there were the groans of discontent from the others. To be honest, it was just a slight advancing hill track, a bit rocky, but get a grip. At the top the view was just sensational, you got a full 360-degree panorama of the whole area. There was an outcrop boulder at the summit that was detached from the rest of the rocks, sort of like a tabletop. You could climb onto this with some agility and effort to be rewarded further with the views beyond. Geoff climbed up first and offered a hand to anyone else that wanted to give it a go. I was putting my camera away, so I could leave my bag down below and climb up. In the mean time, all I could hear was ‘you can’t do it, please don’t try it, you’ll fall off, you know what you’re like’. This was cockney talking to doppelganger. To my amazement doppelganger tried to climb up, I was impressed by this, not quite a complete doppelganger then, but then she came crashing down off the rocks like the detached basket off a hot air balloon in between the rocks, bang. What really got on my tits here was him. If you’re constantly told you can’t do something, you start believing it. She got on that rock with this voice in her head saying, you can’t do it, you can’t do it, that’s why she fell off. I told him to shut up, I said she can make her own mind up as to whether she can do the climb or not, it’s got nout to do with you (or your beer belly). That did shut him up, temporarily. I went to climb up, it was a bit tricky, but you just had to use your noggin. Geoff gave me his hand to do the final launch up onto the boulder platform. To my utter surprise, doppelganger decided to give it another try. The cockney was still making my ears bleed. I told doppelganger where to put her feet on the rock. She said, I’m left handed; I thought what the fucks that got to do with anything, just listen to what I’m saying. She did what I said, and she got up onto the rock. She was made up she’d actually managed to do something by herself for once, with a little help, and I was chuffed for her, but I could have thrown the rock we were standing on onto his head. I genuinely think he was jealous that she’d got up there and he hadn’t, because he was too bone idle and feigning incapacity to try. Pfuf. Be gone with you shit face, no time for such twats. Here’s the number for a really good quickie divorce lawyer I know.
Energised by such places, I could have stayed out there for weeks; just camping under the stars and having a good look around. We had to leave after this, but it’s a place I will never forget. From here we went on to Hermannsburg. This is an Aboriginal community all by itself in the tundra. It’s also the home to one of the old missions from the days of the ‘invaders’. A cluster of old stone outbuildings, one church building, and really, a soul crunching fistful of other stuff. They were charging $10 to see it, and after a quick look, I didn’t pay. In one building they had a bunch of photographs of the Aborigines practically imprisoned and Europeanised there, it made me feel a bit sick. Another building, which was obviously locked up at night to prevent looting, had watercolour paintings from Aboriginal artists in there. I liked this and it was homage to Albert Namatjira and his understudies. If you’re interested you should look up Albert Namatjira, he was a beautiful watercolour artist, but with no surprise, the story of how his life ended was a very sad one.
Just up the settlement was a complete contrast to everything. A solar power farm. These solar panels are apparently the most efficient solar capturing devices in the world. So, you go from slavery to slavery all in one square kilometer, same but different. I have to admit, these things were impressive, totally out of character with the surrounding landscape, but welcome to the future. Each solar dish has 112 curved reflecting Each solar dish has 112 curved reflecting mirrors mounted on a steel frame, which tracks the sun throughout the day. The mirrored dishes concentrate sunlight by 500 times onto PV modules housed within a receiver. The tracking mechanism allows electricity to be produced whenever the sun is more than 5° above the horizon. Clever, and help a community be self-sufficient, at least that’s what you’re led to believe. One thing that I did find startling about the place, and you have to imagine that this place is a place of indescribably natural beauty in the middle of the desert, was the amount of rubbish thrown everywhere. Geoff said that the Aborigines were always transient people (in the past), who only ever constructed or used things from the land, which were natural, therefore biodegradable. I knew this already, but that’s no excuse. He said they haven’t quite got used to the fact that you can’t just throw things away and expect them to disappear. If they can have solar power, they can clean the fuckin’ rubbish up that they’ve throw everywhere. I even saw a skeleton of a whole horse leg on the side of someone’s driveway, still with a bit of flesh on it. Bones I can deal with, plastic shit I cannot.
And so we made our way back to Alice Springs, the drive was an hour or so. We stopped on the road on the way back to see the sunset over the MacDonnell Ranges; the expanse of the place never ceases to amaze you. We took a slight detour back and saw even more beautiful landscapes, The Outback is just one of the most incredible places you’ll ever see.
After a few days tinkering around on the bike exploring… No groundbreaking missions, as such, but it doesn’t take me much to amuse myself, lets face it. Here’s an example. I was cycling down the Larapinta Road with the MacDonnell Ranges towering above me, and there’s an impressive big red stack of rocks sticking out of the ground, adjacent to the ranges, which I’ve always admired whilst cycling past. They look different every time I’ve seen them; it just depends on what time of day you go past. I said out loud to myself, ‘I love that rock’. Then I turned and said to the rock, ‘Rock, you rock’. Then belly ached giggled for half a kilometer down the road, to myself. That shows the level of inner contentment.
A lifetime in coming, but the next big outing was to Uluru. For those not in the know, the more familiar name might be Ayres Rock. I get annoyed with all the English names for things here, and am very pleased traditional names are being reintroduced everywhere. I’ve always wanted to see Uluru. It’s the archetypical image of Australia, I know, but it is, as far as I’m concerned one of the marvels of the world. It’s another one of those places that you can’t really prepare yourself for, because when you see the rock for the first time, your mouth just drops open.
We were picked up at 6am and had an epic drive, which took about five hours. When we arrived in the national park, we couldn’t have had a better day for weather. There were little fluffy clouds geometrically spaced out in the sky, the whole scene looked like a painting. First we went to Kata Tjuta. This place is equally as jaw dropping as Uluru. Because of the spiritual significance of the site, there’s only limited access to it, but I did a walk up to the rock and down through one of the valleys. You could feel how special the place was just being there amoungst it. The sheer scale of the rocks was monumental, the colour, texture, form and how the light changed was really beautiful to see first hand. There is a walk there that you can do called The Valley of The Wind, we didn’t have time to do that, but if I make it back there again I’ll definitely be doing that. The voices of other people in the rock valley echoed ten fold and it sounded like the rock was talking, maybe that was just me? Apparently the Aborigines still carry out boy to men initiations at the site, wouldn’t mind being a fly on the wall at one of those!
From there we went the short distance back to Uluru. So many people have said to me that they prefer Kings Canyon, or Kata Tjuta, but I think they are all equally awesome. You can’t really get your head around the size of the rock when you get up close to it; the colour and the scale were overwhelming. I was just blown away to actually finally be there to be honest. All the photographs I’ve seen in the past are similar, usually all taken from the same vantage point; it’s a photograph I got too. But I don’t think any of those typical shots actually do the rock any justice really, not now I’ve been up close to it. We did a walk around the base of the rock where you could see some rock art in some of the caves. Unfortunately, and you probably know what’s coming next, people had been in one of the caves scratching graffiti over the top of 20 million year old art. I was a bit pissed off as well, that some of the people on our trip, eighteen to be exact, decided to climb up the rock. We were repeatedly asked not to in various forms, the aboriginal people don’t want you to, but they still did anyway. I could have spent all day staring at the rock and I would have liked to have done a walk around the entire base, maybe next time. We saw Uluru from two different sides both were very different. In the time that we were there the light transformed dramatically and the whole shape of the rock seemed to change, it’s hard to put in to words. Such a special place, things like the fact that people who do climb the rock go to the toilet up there; they in turn have poisoned the waterholes around the base to such an extent that the animals will no longer drink from them. There are all sorts of reasons why I wouldn’t be surprised if the rock gets shut to the public eventually, and I hope it does. I’m no party pooper, but no more climbing up it would be the best thing that could happen to it, for a variety of reasons.
One thing that did make me laugh was ‘The Sorry Book’. This was a book in the visitor centre that had been compiled out of letters from people who had stolen pieces of rock from Uluru. They had stolen rock, taken it away with them back home to various places in the world and, according to them, had nothing but bad luck ever since. So what they had all done, were not just talking a few people here, were talking hundreds, is sent the rock back with a letter apologising for nicking it. The problem with that is, that now they have a room there full of rock that people have returned and nobody will touch it, because who ever moves it has the bad luck transferred onto them. Some of the pieces of rock were as big as 16kg. One woman from Japan nicked some rock and reckoned that’s why the tsunami happened. Someone else’s dog died. All the bad luck was different, some worse than others, but everyone who nicked some rock felt guilty as sin and were convinced that if they returned it to where they nicked it from, their newly acquired bad luck would go away. Unfortunately that’s not the case apparently.
An amazing end to the day was champagne at sunset! You know me, never one to turn down a glass of that stuff. It was so nice I had three; unfortunately it ran out after that. We were at ‘that vantage point’, the place where everyone seems to get ‘that photo’. It was lovely watching the changing colours on the rock as the sun went down, it was just as amazing as it had been described, with the bonus of there not being half the amount of people there that I thought there might be.
It was a whistle-stop tour and I only wished I’d have had more time there, but I’ll know that for next time. It was the accommodation that put me off, it was about £200+ a night for a room, some rooms were a couple of grand a night, so I’ll definitely be camping under the stars! We had another five hour drive back, and in total that day I think we drove about 1100km. We did stop off briefly at the Tavern at Erldunda, and I did see and say hello to snake man. I still didn’t get the portrait!
After a couple of days bombing about on my bike, I went out for the day with Magdita and Colman. We had a lovely brunch at their camp, smoked salmon, you what! I was properly gobsmacked at their amazing automobile. Here’s a couple of people who know what they’re doing. They’d converted a 52-seater bus into a motorhome, done it all themselves. There’s nothing the bus didn’t have, solar power, air con, full electrics, ensuite bedroom with double bed, the list goes on and I was mightily impressed, I’d love one of those please! Doubt I’d be able to park it though, but the passenger seat would have been perfect for Diggy, and if he didn’t want to sit there, he could always just lay on the couch!
In the afternoon, we went Geocaching. Never heard of it? Neither had I before now. Basically, Geocaching is a global outdoor treasure hunt that you operate from your smart phone via GPS. Put simply, people all over the world bury something and you have to go and find it. What a fantastic idea and what a laugh. You get to go to places you would never even dream of, some brilliant off road hiking and stunning locations. A kangaroo bounced past as we were coming out of the bush from one site. We found six different sites that day, in different locations, and found all the treasure. When you find the treasure, you log your name in the book inside the treasure capsule or whatever vessel it’s buried in, you also log it on the web. Then you bury the treasure again for the next people to find. I had a brilliant day and can’t wait to have a go at it when I get home; I bet there are some corking sites in The Yorkshire Dales. I’m off to bury some myself as well. Bring on the Geo Geek. We had a nice BBQ back at M & C’s and had a few ales, the end to another perfect day. I cycled back from their camp in the dark with no lights, which was quite fun, not. The Outback Lodge is probably about 3km from where they are, and when you get to Heavitree Gap, a cut in the mountains, it’s pitch dark for a bit of the way with roads trains flying past you at times. Alice Springs isn’t really the sort of place you want to be wandering around at night I don’t think, and I wouldn’t be as quick to do it on foot. I was all right on my bike though; I can just run people over on that. The trouble with riding on a night is, the place is badly lit and usually there are smashed glass bottles from the pissheads on the cycle tracks, and you just can’t see it in the dark. This night there was police and fire sirens going off all over the place, so I had to go and have a look and see what was going on of course. It took me a bit longer to get home than it would have, but I did discover that the Aborigines had set fire to the Todd River… again. That was a pretty adrenalin fuelled peddle, but I got back in one piece.
It was about 38 degrees the next day, really hot, but I still went for a peddle on my bike. That little bike has just been amazing to have while I’ve been here; it hasn’t let me down once. I’d cycled up to the town end of the Todd River and I was just about to go under one of the bridges when I saw an Aboriginal man and woman, probably in their fifties – hard to tell sometimes, bashing each other with what looked like a couple of baseball bats. It was about 11am. There was another Aboriginal girl running away from the scene, looking beside herself and like she was trying to get help but nobody was taking any notice. I knew they were really lamping each other because I could hear the ‘crack’ when the bat hit. One of them got a smack over the head. Not one to meddle in other people’s business, but not one to stand by and watch a man hit a woman either, Aboriginal or not. You do wonder if this is the way they sort an issue out and maybe you just let them get on with it, but I don’t think so. So I turned around and came back to down the path a bit, then cycled into the town centre to the police station. Was this the right thing to do or not? I don’t know, you just have to go with your gut. I told them what I’d seen, and the copper put it on the radio for assistance straight away while I was there. Nothing more I could do. So I had a few bits to do in town and then I thought I’d have a cycle back down to the bridge to see what was going on. When I got to the bridge the two Aborigines who had been scrapping were sat at a picnic table nearby, with the baseballs bats sat in front of them on the table, like nothing had happened, I couldn’t believe it. All’s well that ends well, maybe that is how they sort shit out between themselves. ‘I’m not going to confiscate your baseball bats, but play nicely’, said the policeman.
The next day after this I got revved up and cycled all the way out to Simpson’s Gap, and this time I made it. You’ve just got to commit yourself and do it and once I do that, I’m there. It was a bloody hot day, probably about 36 degrees outback. I checked the tyres on the bike before I set off, and had faith that I would neither get a puncture nor have any such relative bad luck. I didn’t have any repair facilities with me at all. No inner tubes, no pump, no spanner. I only had enough room in my pack for 2 litres of water… and a chicken kebab, which I bought in town before I set off. I had my phone, but there’s zero reception once you get out of Alice anyway, so if there is a fuck up, you just have to work it out, if and when it happens. At first it’s a bit daunting cycling out across the desert on you own. The first 10km are close to the road, but after that you’re taken inland and are completely left to your own devices. The track takes you across the most spectacular landscape; it’s barren, but not empty. There are plenty of eucalypt and acacia trees, and the backdrop of the West MacDonnell Ranges blows your mind. It’s not, like one would imagine, red sand and nothing else. All you do have to envisage and remember though is that there is no pub, or garage, or shop en-route, not for the foreseeable future. In fact, in that direction out of Alice, there is nothing for hundreds of miles. It’s stiflingly hot, you’re in the middle of nowhere, and you just have to watch what you’re doing. For example, don’t fall off your bike and knock yourself out, because there’s 25 black kites circling over your head just waiting to peck you eyes out. Sweat all the water your drinking out, preferably, because pulling your knickers down in the bush might not be the relief you thought it was going to be. Things like that, all sorts does go through your head, believe me. If in doubt, keep peddling, if you can.
I arrived at the Gap triumphant. Though the distance marker was a liar, it was at least another 2km to the Gap from the 16km pointer. So I had 3.5km from my camp to town, 8km from town to the start of the track, then about 18km to the Gap, one way. It was a Saturday and much to my delight, I had the whole place to myself. It was so different from being on one of the tours, where you just never know who’s going to be there, but usually the place is swamped by anything from a coach load of school kids, groan, to a Contiki nightmare. It was sunny, it was midday, and I saw the place just as I’d dreamed to finally see it. Because it was the middle of the day, the light was amazing and the water hole at the Gap had amazing reflections and the silence was, as they say, golden. I sat on a rock under a native fig tree but the waters edge and ate my kebab, I was so happy I was grinning from ear to ear. The kebab had got a little sweaty on the way, and I did end up troughing a bit of the paper it was wrapped in while I was at it because that was soggy as well and had become part of it, but I didn’t care. I sat at The Gap for a while and then I peddled my way back, it seemed to take half the time to peddle the same distance, but I did run out of water on the return and the last 8km I was sure I was starting to hallucinate. That’s the fastest peddle to the nearest place I could find when I got back into town, to get some water. Water has never tasted so good.
You sit out on a night here and I’m right at the foot of the ranges, that’s my panorama. It’s really beautiful, and since I arrived all the trees are now starting to flower and fruit. There’s a tree just outside my veranda that’s flowering now, each day a new flower has sprouted, and two birds that I’ve never seen before have arrived to feed on the nectar. One of the birds looks like a yellow humming bird it’s so tiny. Another thing that amazes me to such a degree every time it happens, is that there’s a big grey kangaroo that bounces past, at just about the same time every night to come and have a drink out of a little underground spring that’s nearby in the bed of the Todd River. I’m amazed every time I see it, and just about melt inside. I just love marsupials, especially Kangaroos, Wallabies and Bilbies. I went to say hello to a wallaby that was down off the mountain really early the other day and you could see she was hungry. She was a bit out of sorts with herself you could just feel it. You could also see the line where the baby crawls up into the pouch. So whether she’d just given birth or was about to, I’m not certain. The longer I’m here the more I notice and understand. That’s just a few of the things I’m going to miss when I leave. I never was any good at just going somewhere for a few days; you need to live it for a while to get even half of it.
Next, I went out on another epic day across the West MacDonnell Ranges, this time it was sunny! Visiting all the places I’d been before was no less exciting, and to top it all off I got to see the landscape in full colour, instead of under a blanket of cloud like the last time I did the full whammy! One of the best things about going out on these trips is the people you meet. There was one woman on the trip who obviously had some sort of eating disorder and was so skinny you couldn’t quite believe it. You don’t stare intentionally, but she was forever catching your eye. Of all the outfits to pick, she was wearing a mini skirt and a bikini top. You know you’ve got problems when your kneecaps are fatter than your thighs. She was a psychologist, ‘apparently’, which does beggar belief. By the end of the day listening to increasingly trumpet blowing stories, I didn’t know what to make of her by the time I got off the bus. What I will say is, get well soon. All in all it was yet another fantastic day cruising around, swatting flies and taking in the spectacular scenery, this is a place I could never get sick of.
I had dinner with Geoff, who works for AAT Kings, one of the companies around here. We sat outside at the back of the tavern just on the other side of the campsite here. From where I was sitting I could see loads of kangaroos in the grass, down off the ranges after dark. I just love it when I see them. I wasn’t that hungry, so I ordered a prawn cocktail thing, and when it came out I might as well have ordered ‘a prawn’. When I left the pub and I got home I was starving, but as luck would have it I’d stocked up the larder that day, so I tucked into ‘A Taste of Italy’ platter I’d bought earlier and thought of Giovanni, my friend in Italy, and how he would piss himself laughing if he could see me… In Australia eating a box of ‘stuff’ with an Italian flag on it. It was really nice, bit weird and I can’t really remember having anything like that while I’ve been in Italy. There were four dishes; Anchovy pate; Wild mushrooms in balsamic (when I say wild, I’m surprised I didn’t start tripping); Seafood medley in an onion marinade, this included baby octopus that did exercise your jaw extremely well; and the obligatory Sicilian olives that I love. I went to bed belly satisfied, I bet the room stunk.
I had a bit of minor hangover the next morning, but that soon dissipated. This day I went in a completely different direction, which is always good. Magdita and Colman picked me up and we set off for a day down the ‘East’ MacDonnell ranges. Not that many people venture out this way apparently, but I was just as impressed with it as the West Ranges. I saw some amazing Aboriginal rock art at Emily and Jesse Gaps; the rock formations were awesome.
We climbed up to the top of Traphina Gorge so we were looking down into it, and then we climbed down into the gorge itself. Where waterfalls would be in the wet, we climbed down and we finished off the climb by traversing down a big rock face back to the riverbed. It was totally beautiful there and would be a brilliant place to camp for a while. We went all the way along the ranges to the oldest gold mine at Arltunga. This wasn’t what I’d expected it to be. I was expecting an old Wild West street with a saloon with swinging doors. In reality it was a few original stone buildings and ruins that used to make up the mining township, there wasn’t a lot there to be honest. I did go down into one of the mines though, you had to climb about 10m down a ladder and shuffle along on your hands and knees in the dark. God knows how they used to work down there with a pickaxe; you couldn’t swing a cat. Colman mentioned snakes might be hiding out down there, and that’s all I could think about when I was on my hands and knees in the sand and the dark going through one of the tunnels. We went the wrong way and had to come back through in the dark. In the end we popped up at a different hole and climbed out of there, it was a great experience, and hats off to the boys who used to work down there. I don’t think they ever did find much gold there.
We went to the Ross River Homestead, this was a place full of character. There was a skinned feral cat stuck on the wall that was huge. They spun wool out of camel hair to make hats and things, which was cool. The guy who was running the place was a character, when Colman asked for a hotdog, he said he could make one, but… So we all ended up having identical cheese and ham toasties. The beer went down well. We got asked if we wanted to go up in a helicopter. I thought they were offering us it for free, given that Magdita and Colman are guides, though this wasn’t the case. It was $55 for 6 minutes; I thought the pilot was joking, but he wasn’t and he only looked like he was about 14 years old, so we declined. On the way back the sunset was gorgeous, we did a quick stop off at Corroboree rock which is an Aboriginal sacred site. We got back just as the sun was going down, it was a great day.
The next day I did a fair bit of peddling around. I made a book of photo’s for Magdita and Colman of some of the happy memories while we’d been adventuring around Alice. I had a lovely curry that Colman made at their camp and was half cut peddling back to Heavitree Gap. Then some Aboriginal friends at the Campsite lynched me into going for numerous beers and then a bunch of us ended up at their van; they had a humongous sound system outside, it was hilarious. It ended up completely messy and I’m glad I had nothing much to do the next day because it was a complete write off.
I was pleased my bike was still there the next time I looked because I hadn’t put the lock on properly. I cycled about 30km that day and spent the day after that educating myself. I went to the Art Gallery and the Museum. I had a good old geek session in the museum; they even had some meteors from Wolf Creek in there! Top End Mate! I had a couple of days relaxing and realising that I did finally have to leave.
A few days before, Me, Colman and Magdita climbed up to the top of Heavitree Ranges to find a Geocache that was buried up there. The 900m on the GPS turned into about 2km over a non-existent track of loose mountain rock and porcupine spinnifex. We did find the buried treasure, but we ended up coming back down the ranges when it was dark. This was a bit of a test to say the least, but I did get to see an amazing moon rise. Magdita and Colman sat on a nest of fire ants and had to strip off to get them out of their clothes, they still had some stuck in various places when we were at the pub later having dinner. I knackered my knee coming back down the last steep part, I felt it go and knew it would be sore the next day. I didn’t get far on my bike the next day and ended up sat on my veranda with a bottle of wine and a bag of ice on my knee, watching the wallabies and kangaroo’s bounce past.
On my last day I had to cycle my bike into town for the last time. I took the bike to the Salvation Army; I had to peddle it all the way with one leg. They were so pleased to take the bike and said they’d sell it straight away. The funny thing was that the closer I got to the shop, the louder the bike started clanking, it was as though the bike knew I was dispatching it. As soon as I gave it to them I was missing it and all it’s foibles. I had to walk all the way back to Heavitree, I’d forgotten how far it was on foot, it’s quite a few miles. That night I had a lovely dinner with Geoff, Magdita and Colman at The Red Ochre on Todd Mall. I had Camel and Date Sausages on mashed potato and onion gravy of all things and I have to say, they were lovely! We all said our goodbyes and Geoff dropped me back at Heavitree Gap. I couldn’t leave without saying a final goodbye to my Aboriginal friends Rodney, Rick, then John the Ranger, Timmy, Sleepy Dave and his dog called Naughty. You’ll never meet such a wonderful bunch of characters; I could sit and listen to them all night long. I reckon and hope they’ll be there, if and when I get back, they will be I’m sure, that’s if they don’t all drink and smoke themselves to death before hand.
Weird to be packing my bag again, something I haven’t missed. I was organised way before time and at the bus stop an hour early, which was a pain in the arse in the heat with two heavy bags. When I got on the bus it was practically empty, I think there was only about 7 of us on there. I had a choice of seats, I sat right at the front because the whole point of me doing this trip down the middle was so I could see it all, so I wanted front row panorama. We were on the bus for about eight hours but it didn’t seem like that long to be honest. I read half a book and watched the world go by, I think I might have even nodded off for a bit. The last hour seemed to drag on a bit, but the sunset out of the window was beautiful.
By the time we arrived in Coober Pedy it was dark. Out of the bus window the landscape did look like I’d landed on The Moon or Mars or anywhere but Earth. There were big piles of ‘moon rock’ stacked up as far as the eye could see. The town looked like quite a small place, but there was some sign of life, some lights. The bus dropped everyone apart from me off at the garage. I thought, ‘ what’s the fuck’s going on here like?’ Then, to my sort of relief, I got dropped off at ‘The bus terminal’. This was just another patch of sand down the road from the garage; with a grumpy looking Indian sat behind a corrugated iron fence, what he was doing there I have no idea. As I yanked all my shit off the bus, a bedraggled, terminally thin Aboriginal man came and sat down on the wall in front of the fence, he really smelt of stale alcohol entrenched wee. He was covered in dust and dirt from head to foot, filthy, I just wanted to whip my camera out and take a photograph, but again, I didn’t want to offend him.
I’ve had all sorts of stories from all sorts of people about the state of the Aborigines today. Red neck Australians, like the bus driver on the way down, hate them just for breathing the same air, others don’t understand them partly because of ignorance and also because their plight is an endless subject, and the list really does go on and on. I will make my own mind up about the people, I won’t be influenced by ignorance and I still think that they are a complete disastrous product of our forced environment. Had The Europeans never colonised Australia, nothing would be half as cocked up here as it is now. I do believe that had the island never been found (pretty hard when it’s the size it is) it would be just about as close to what it was 40,000 years ago now. The locals would be living in harmony on the land as they always had done for tens of thousands of years; there would be no introduced vermin or introduced vegetation crippling the eco system and there would be no disease. Here’s some trivia for you; essentially, the diseases that we carried over from England in the 1800’s killed over half of the 300,000 Aboriginals present in Australia when we invaded it. Mainly influenza, but one other of the biggest killers was Syphilis spread mainly as the colonisers raped and pillaged their way across the country. The Aborigines had no diseases here when we got here, so they had no resistance to anything when we arrived. It might still have been the land of dreams. But… that’s not the case now really, not for them at least. You can’t reverse things or turn back time, most of the time you wouldn’t want to anyway, except for in the Aboriginals case. It does make me sad for them and for the country, having read what I have read and seen what I have seen. The point I’m making is that when I walk past a group or a single Aboriginal, I will go out of my way to try and say hello, or make eye contact, or wave, or at least acknowledge their presence in some way. The sad thing is, they’ve been ignored for so long, they don’t know how to respond. That and they are incredibly shy people. Rant over.
So when I got off the bus I had to ring my hostel to get them to come and pick me up. All I’d been told by various people was to not walk around at night on your own in Coober Pedy. Like anywhere you go for the first time, you do want to check the place out in the daylight and find your feet. When you arrive at night, everything does seem a bit strange and disorienting. The hostel came to get me straight away, the minibus was an old clapped out thing, it must have been forty years old judging by the upholstery on the seats. The driver was an old character, thin guy with a big grey bushy fisherman’s beard and a cowboy hat. As it turned out, the hostel wasn’t that far away and as I was to discover, Coober Pedy isn’t all that big at all. I was told it stretches about 15km in either direction, but the town itself was basically just a high street. The rest of the settlement was people living in caves, or dug out’s as they like to call them.
I got checked in by the bus driver, whom I have to say was incredibly rude at the time. I couldn’t believe how abrupt he was; it was as though it was a complete inconvenience my being there. There was that, and the fact that at 6pm the bar was shut, which was the last thing I wanted to see. I got the key to my room and I had to wheel my bags outside and across a car park to get into where I was staying. I was quite excited about staying in an underground cave… that was until I got in it. You entered through a door with a key code and then had to go down two flights of steps 7m underground to get to the sleeping quarters, the first thing I noticed was the stale smell. When I got into my room I had a little laugh to myself. There was just a bed in there, no power what so ever, a proper cave. When I saw the rodent trap in the corner I thought, oh fuck. I didn’t stay down there long and went back up to the surface to see if I could find something to eat and a beer of some description.
I went for a walk down the main street, there was nobody around really, and definitely nothing scary as far as I could tell. I went into the only place I could see to get some food. On the way in, I passed a notice that exclaimed, “Voted best pizza in Australia”, I thought that was funny, and wondered if it was true. There was a photograph of Jason Donovan on the wall who’d obviously eaten there at some point. The place was busy which I was surprised about, but I got a seat and I got a beer so all was well in Jayne’s world. I had a chicken salad that tasted like a desert salad, but you have to admire lettuce that’s travelled that far to be on your plate. It seems to be a common flaw with salads in OZ, that they always feel they have to drown everything in sauce or dressing. This salad came out with the biggest squirt of this weird mayonnaise on top; it had been crafted in a walnut whip circular pattern from a great height, so much of it that it was squashing what was underneath. What was underneath it was swimming in oily vinegar, I thought this might have been to disguise ‘other’ flavours, but I ate it anyway, I’m not that fussy. Thinking about the prospect of cave dwelling, I threw a glass of wine down my neck as well before I left, given what was to come, a bottle might have been better.
I sat with my laptop in the car park for a bit, but then I had to do it, it was either go back down there into the cave, or sleep in the car park on a bench. On thing I will say, it was still 27 degrees at about 10pm in Coober Pedy. Alice Springs had dipped right into winter on a night, and even though it was 30+ degrees during the day, it had been 8 degrees the previous night. I’d forgotten what it was like to be cold in bed, but it was freezing that night. So, off I went down into the bowels. The hostel was an old opal mine that has been converted into a place to sleep by the prospectors. By all accounts they’ve been ‘doing it up’ for twenty years and still haven’t finished. Down in the room, I couldn’t get comfortable or get my head around the fact that I was underground, and then there were the rodents. I hate rats and mice; anyone who knows me knows that. I ended up sleeping in my clothes with some knee high socks on; the thought of rats touching my skin while I’m awake or asleep just about sends me over the edge. I got laid in bed and the longer I laid there the more I realised there was no air down there. I put my ipod on and tried just about every genre of music to take my mind off the fact that I felt like I had been buried alive. I was so glad I had a head torch; I sat with that on for ages so I could see the top of the cave and make sure it wasn’t moving, and make sure there wasn’t anything else moving in there for that matter. I thought to myself, the only reason why there are no fucking bats down here, is because they don’t want to bloody live down here either.
I’d been laid there for hours and then I wanted a wee. I put it off for as long as I could, but eventually I did have to get up, least I had my clothes on, and plod all the way back up the stairs 7m to the surface to use the toilet. You noticed the difference in the quality of air back up there. While I tried to remind myself that nobody had forced me into doing this, I wasn’t that chuffed about having to go back underground and again did consider sitting in the car park all night. Back in bed, torch back on and I was listening to Richard Hawley. There’s something so soothing about his voice, I always feel like he’s singing to me when I listen to him. At one point I felt like there was somebody sat on my chest I found it that hard the breath down there. There was a vent on the wall about 7 foot up at the back of the bed, and at one point I got up on the bed an stuck my head next to it to see if there was any air coming down through it, there wasn’t. After laying back in bed for god knows how long thinking I might suffocate in my sleep, I eventually dropped off, I woke up with my iPod headphones stuck to my cheek hours later. As it’s so dark down there, you have no idea what time it is at any time of the day, but when I located my phone I was pleased to see it was about 8am.
I went through the rigmarole of getting all my stuff out to go up to the surface to have a shower and got ready to explore town. I managed to get myself booked onto a tour that afternoon. I had a bit of a look around town, to be fair, that didn’t take all that long. There was a host of ‘gem shops’ along the main drag, as you would expect, this being the opal capital of the world. I went into them to have a look and not one of the people in there was an Australian. As soon as you walked in, they all seemed to have the same banter. The more shops I went in the more it became obvious that most of them were selling the shit stuff, the best stuff being exported. I asked, ‘where do these get made?’ At least she didn’t lie, but she said that the jewellery was made in Adelaide. It was funny looking at the rings and stuff; there were the same designs in just about every shop, with the odd exception. One woman tried to flog me this ring, the opal was nice, but the mount it was on was wonky. I said I liked it, but it wasn’t symmetrical. I don’t know if it’s the designer in me, but I hate objects that aren’t balanced. Her come back about the wonky factor, she said, ‘That’s our design, if you don’t like it, you don’t like it’. I just laughed. It was wonky because it was shite craftsmanship, rubbish.
The tour bus picked me up at 1pm. The flies around town were unreal, I had my bush hat on that I’d bought in Alice and I was so happy to have that. The flies were ten times worse than anything I’d seen up to that point. Another old rickety bus, off we went to pick the other tourists up. The guide was called Terry, he reminded me of Uncle Jeff a bit, and he was even a bit of a doppelganger. Terry was the old bank manager for the only bank in town, Westpac. I assumed he was retired, he said he was trying to sell ‘his cave’, but it’d been on the market for two years with no joy. This guy was an absolute well of knowledge about everything to do with Coober Pedy, including knowing who the millionaires in town were! Having been the bank manager for ten years, he was the man to talk to regarding where the money was! He said that opal mining was like playing the lotto; you aren’t guaranteed to find it, most people never strike rich, but people do get lucky. He said that the people who have hit the jackpot just go and blow it all in the casino and then broke, start mining again for another try.
I completely loved my five hours with Terry, I felt there wasn’t much left to know by the end of it, he was that brilliant. We went for a tour around the mines. There are literally millions of holes in the ground where people have done exploration work with drills. The mounds you see everywhere can never be flattened because the next man needs to know where has already been searched. The result of this was thousands of giant molehills of ground-up rock everywhere, you will never see anything like it, I never have, and it really was from another planet. We went to the location of several movies, none of which I’d seen to be honest, but the scenery was amazing. We went to The Breakaways, which was the remainder of the Stuart Ranges, a cluster of outcrops in the desert where the colour of the rock just made your gob drop open. I loved it there; it was another of those places where I’d just love to sit all day to watch the change in the light. After this we went to the Dog Fence, which was a fence that was erected in 1880 and is the largest man made structure on earth. It stretches 5,614 kilometres from Jimbour on the Darling Downs through thousands of miles of desert to the Nullarbor Plain. It was put there to keep the dingoes away from the livestock. I’m not sure how successful it is. The stretch that I saw was only 5ft high, a dog could get over that if it wanted to, our Jetsy could in his day. It must work to a certain degree, you’d think, because the government pays the landowners a fair price per kilometer to maintain it to this day.
We drove across the Moon Plain which was, as promised, just like being on the moon, or what you’d expect it to be like. A flat expanse, which went on for hundreds of miles with what looked like the shrapnel from meteorites, scattered everywhere. I’m bound to miss something out while I’m recalling this, I learned so much. Where did we go next? Erm, oh, we went to a proper deep old mine. We climbed down into a 17m underground network of tunnels, which had all been dug out by hand, it was bonkers to see it and live it. We stood on top of a closed up hole and were told that another similar network of tunnels were underneath us. It was hard to get your head around. We also went into a proper ‘dug out’ which was part of the opal claim on that part of rock. Basically, they had made a house out of the tunnels they had already made digging for opal. This was a house that was lived in, around the 1970’s, and it was actually quite nice in a cavey sort of way. It was retro as you’d expect, but the living quarters were pretty groovy. When we went into the bedroom, 17m underground, the torches were turned out and I got the same feeling I had sleeping in the cave the night before. Really, I have no idea how people can live underground on a long-term basis. I love looking out of the window at home on the farm, not just that, but I love opening the window as well. I like air, that’s it, down there, as much as the cave dwellers would argue, there is very little fresh air. I had that song in my head again, a mixture of Vinnie Jones singing ‘Staying Alive’ if you’re mate has a heart attack on you, and me singing ‘Buried alive’ to the same Bee Gee’s song.
We went to this underground church. My god it was impressive. A huge effort made by the god squad of the Orthodox Church way back, the whole thing blew your mind once you got down inside it. It even had stained glass windows, which faced out of the top of the front of the church at ground level. Inside, the most impressive thing for me were these carvings of the bearded one, which had been carved out of the rock, it was really amazing. When we came out of here the sun was setting over Coober Pedy and it was a beautiful sight, it was like a scene out of Star Wars. We drove down the road to the town cemetery and were told that the cemetery had doubled in size in the last 6 years. Terry parked the bus in the middle of the edge of the graves and said that all the young people have left Coober Pedy now, the rest of the population is dying quickly. All the original opal prospectors are old and dropping like flies and that the town’s prospect isn’t looking that great. I’m really glad I made the pilgrimage to see it, because I’m with Terry, I don’t think the town will be around much longer. I reckon in about fifty years from now, people will be driving though a ghost town that used to be Coober Pedy, might even be sooner than that.
This was the end of the tour, if I was to tell you about it word for word I’d be here for weeks, what an amazing place, with such ridiculous history. One thing that never changes – man continually searching for his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. After everyone was dropped off, Terry took me back to the deep caves to pick up my gem! You’ve probably never see me wearing jewelry; I’m not a big fan of bling to be honest. It’s just not practical for me; I always have my hands dirty digging up some shit in the garden, making mud pies or something. Anyway, an opal spellbound me. When I was 18, I bought an antique ring in York markets, a silver ring with an Onyx stone, and that ring never came off my hand in over fifteen years. I wore the ring that much that the silver wore away and eventually snapped and that was that, I’ve still got it at home in a box, thankfully I didn’t loose it. That was eight years ago now, and ever since I’ve been looking for a similar ring to take its place, nothing has ever grabbed me. When I was in Alice Springs, I’d had such a mind-blowing time, a life changing time, I wanted something tactile to keep as a memory recall of what a blast I’d had. When I was in Mission Beach a decade ago, I got a piercing… it always reminds me of that time. In Alice, I was thinking about getting somewhere pierced, I even thought about a tattoo, though in the past I would never have considered that permanence for a second. It all turned out as it should and I will go away from here with a part of the land I love so much. An opal, created over millions of years in The Great Artesian Basin. It’s the most luminous piece of natural history I’ve ever seen; it’s so beautiful I won’t be able to wear it to muck the shed out on the farm. I won’t be able to wear it like the onyx, but every time I do wear it, or even look at it, I’ll be reminded of what a truly all-encompassing place the outback of Australia is. How I, on a whim as I often do, decided to go bush for 4 days, I ended up in the bush for over a month. How I have seen some of the most spectacular landscapes that I have ever had the pleasure of setting my eyes on. The people, the break from life as you knew it. I love water and I love oceans. I never thought I could live away from that. But, It’s easy for me to say, I completely fell in love with the outback of Australia, apart from being at home, I have never felt so at home in my life.
With love and the fondest of memories of the outback
Captain, over and out XX