So many international travelers say, “Oh yeah, I’ve been to Australia…flew into Sydney, hired a car and drove up the east coast….I’ve seen it”
I live here in Australia, in that nice warm state called Queensland where the sun shines a lot, the coast line is stunningly beautiful, the ocean is clean and some days, an exquisite shade of aqua.
I have also been privileged enough to have traveled all the way around the edges of this great land mass. I’d thought I’d seen most of what my own country has to offer, but I was wrong.
All these years I’d traveled to so many places here and overseas but I had never ventured into the middle of Australia.
This year I was offered a three-week contract as ‘Camp cook’ for an Outback Camping Expedition.
It was too good an opportunity to pass up, so I packed my bag, jumped into the huge green ex-army truck and we lumbered off towards the Red Centre. What I found when we got there was pretty special!
We left the North Queensland coastline heading westwards to Longreach in an International ex-military truck. Onwards to Bedourie, we pick our way through hundreds of kangaroo carcasses in various stages of decay, strewn along the road. The stench of rotting flesh wafts into the truck as a Winter sun beats down with a fierceness that is undeniably Queensland.
It’s another few thousand kilometres till we reach Alice Springs so we stop each night to camp under a black velvet quilt scattered with sparkling stars. The temperature drops dramatically at night, to almost freezing.
Once we’re away from poor old, dry old, drought stricken Western Queensland, the landscape started to get redder…..and redder and the sunsets more and more sensational.
Driving into Alice Springs was like coming home to me. If I’d have gone out there twenty years ago, I would never have left! I loved it.
We were to stay in the campgrounds for a few days prior to heading ‘bush’. It was pure joy!
Alice Springs has a very unique character and the charm of a big old country town. It has a sort of untamed, wild feel about it. It’s cultural. Australian culture that is, unlike Sydney which is all concrete structure, steel and influenced by the ‘‘old pommie convict’ days.
The locals here are both black and white and all the colors in between. It is a richly diverse ethnic population. I was lucky enough to catch a Saturday Todd Mall market which I can now guarantee, will charm your every sense. It certainly enchanted mine with all those delicious food smells, tasting fresh dates, eating a real Vietnamese paw paw salad with very hot, eye watering chilly, seeing all the incredible colorful, hand made goods, watching the indigenous folks creating their artwork. It’s got a real grassroots feel.
Next day, I had a free day and wandered off to find the National Pioneer Women’s Hall of Fame to donate my recently published book, “Russian Documents….Mongolian Dust.” I was impressed by the displays and information that was there about all those fabulous women, who paved the way for us latecomers. It somehow seemed appropriate to be situated in the ‘Old Gaol’ complex! http://www.pioneerwomen.com.au/default.html
Alice Springs epitomizes Australia. It was like seeing Australia’s multiculturalism in action. These were my first impressions of the red town.
Once we left Alice, we began to see some of the awesome wild places within the centre of Australia. Even after seeing a lifetime of photos in magazines and coffee table photographic pictorials, nothing prepared me for the spectacular scenery and her extreme beauty. This country is bloody incredible.
We camped by Chambers Pillar, huge multicolored rock pillars in every tone of red and orange you can imagine. The colors on the rocks intensified and continually changed, ever so subtly as the reddish, golden sun slid down to the horizon like a bulging, soft egg yolk. I spent almost all of my time, in the afternoons racing between my camera and the camp ovens. Trying to feed eighteen people and wanting to fully enjoy the Central Australia experience kept me pretty busy during all my waking hours.
Driving for a few hours each day then camping we made our way towards the East and West McDonnell ranges.
The entire area surrounding the ranges was an enchanting sight to behold. Primordial, ancient massive mountains contrasting against the brilliant sapphire winter sky. So much color everywhere; an artist’s paradise.
We were able to drive a long way into Ruby Gap as these big old green trucks go anywhere!
Ruby gap was so named because of all the red stones lying in the riverbeds. Some folks a long time ago came hurrying in, thinking that their greedy eyes were seeing gleaming red Rubies. Alas they were garnets and though no where near as valuable, they still look absolutely gorgeous as large patches of them, glisten in the sun. I found myself on my hands and knees on more than one occasion, sifting through the tiny stones.
Once the camp was set up I walked the five or so kilometres into the gorge in the hope of finding some water to have a dip. Huge rugged cliffs rose thirty metres up on either side of the gorge, all the way along the dry sandy riverbed.
The deepest reds and oranges of the cliffs contrasted crisply against a deep blue sky. In the silence, my bare feet crunch noisily against the white riverbed sand. Every so often there’s a splash of thousands of brilliant glittery garnets, weaving waves of shimmering red lights across my path. I drop to my knees again; like a child, to search for that ever elusive, special stone.
I see water up ahead, in the form of picturesque rock pools tucked up against the sheer drop of a terracotta cliff face. The sun had long finished laying her warm fingers into the water and it’s like melted ice.
Working up the courage, I leap in, amidst loud squeals. Feeling totally refreshed, I walk back in time to stoke up the cooking fires and get dinner going. It’s Lamb roast tonight.
Two nights at Ruby gap was not enough for me! I have put it into my mental travel book to go back and take time to sit in her silence.
Dingoes howled that night sending their echoes through this ancient place. In the early hours of the morning a shy dingo ventures within metres of my tent, sniffing my human scent.
I wanted the truck and it’s passengers to leave me behind. I longed to stay here for the rest of the Winter so I could immerse myself in this sacred place. But I had a job to do and many hungry mouths to feed.
So reluctantly, I climbed up into the truck after our ritual morning pack up and we rambled slowly back out of the ancient primordial space, which had opened to let us in; for a blink of an eye….
Now, I don’t believe that I had ever really seen Australia until I travelled to the middle of it.