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  You are here: Home > Travel Stories > Australasia
 
 

Travel Story by John Lewis

  Snippet from the Australian Outback
Australia
 


Wild creatures in the outback

DAY 1

I spent a few days in Alice Springs, a reasonably small town located right in the vast interior of Australia. During my stay I visitED the world famous Ayers Rock (known as Uluru) and another range of rocks known as the ‘Olgas’ that are connected to Uluru. And I also had a few drinks in “Melankas”; a well-known bar in Alice Springs but that is another story – the sort of bar with cheap booze and people dancing on tables – you get the idea! Anyhow, it was time to move on and I decided my next destination would be Cairns. Through ‘Outback Travel Shop’ I managed to find a coach firm called ‘Overland Adventures’ that would take me to Cairns. The cost was a £233 Oz dollars. The trip by road would take three days and include two overnight stops. I thought this would be a great opportunity to see the scenery of the outback as we travelled through the country.

The coach, departed at 6.50am and I only just made it having woken up 30 minutes earlier. Just enough time to shower, wash, pack and make my trip to the coach. The coach was a 46-seater with only 26 people on board which gave everyone that bit more room on what would be a long journey. Our driver/guide was an affable ozzie bloke named Steve who would be looking after us for the duration of the trip. Steve referred to us, his passengers, as ‘beating hearts’, with lines such as, “Hello, we have 26 beating hearts on this trip”. Steve also cheerfully informed us that we were taking a new route through the outback that had he had never used before and the trip was subject to change depending on the road and weather conditions. I had a vision that thirty years from now a rusty coach, half buried in the desert sand would finally be found minus its beating hearts!

We started off and went north along the Stuart Highway before turning right onto the Plenty Highway. This road is unsealed and subject to weather conditions affecting its surface. The surface of the land was red, sandy desert with a few scrubs and bushes but it was mainly a flat and arid landscape. The temperature was starting to rise as the sun made its presence felt. We stopped at a small township that was owned by the Aboriginal community. This township had been designated as a ‘dry town’. This means that alcohol could not be brought into or consumed in the town. Anyone breaking this rule could be subjected to fines and prison. Apparently, there is a huge alcohol problem with the aboriginal community in Australia and this was one of the initiatives being used to combat the issue.

The coach proceeded to Jervois, which looked like an abandoned farmstead, where we stopped for lunch. I wandered around and noticed some bomb shelters? Steve explained that the government used to test missiles in the area and sometimes they would go astray! Apparently the locals used to sit on top of the bomb shelters so they could admire the fireworks! The coach left Jervois and trundled on to its next destination. One oddity I noticed in the outback was seeing camels in the red desert. I expect to see them in the Middle East, but Australia? When Australia was being colonised by white settlers there was a need for reliable transport for goods and people. Consequently camels were imported in the early 1800’s and were of great benefit to settlers travelling around the huge country. With the advent of the motor industry camels became redundant and were released into the country. Being hardy desert animals they adapted very well and thrived and are now often considered a pest in the outback.

Onwards we go and we arrived at Tobermory at 3.00pm. This looked like a campsite with a couple of buildings and it was in the middle of nowhere! A few fences, some shrubs and the omnipresent red sand. It’s also a baking hot day and I learn that the temperature is 44.9 degrees – woah! It is stiflingly hot and weirdly dry, quite different to the humid heat I experienced in South-east Asia. I went into one of the buildings to buy a drink and the cheery resident lady says in a shrill oz accent, “Hot enough for ya?” I mumbled something like, “Yeah, roasting” before tottering off.

When I flush the toilet a small frog pops out from under the rim and plonks into the basin. I wish I had my camera! The frog looks at me, blinks then scuttles its way back up and under the rim. A surreal moment.

We reach the Northern Territories / Queensland border at around 4.00pm and stop for the obligatory photos. It is another two hours before we stop for a break. There are some huge termite mounds and one I stand next to must be twenty feet tall. There are actually two other jeep-like vehicles in the area and in the outback I suppose this constitutes a traffic jam!

As we continue the colour and scenery of the landscape changes from red to a more orange hue. The sand gives way to vast plains with more trees and shrubs. Night falls and this brings with it ominous, heavy thunderclouds and some spectacular lightning rips across the skies. We arrive in Boulia at 8.00pm. Here I end up sharing a twin room with a shaven headed Dutch guy. After a refreshing shower it is time to go into the bar for a few drinks. I learn that it is St. Patrick’s Day (17th March) and I had completely forgotten about it. There are a few locals in the bar and even less atmosphere! However, there are a few Irish people in our travelling contingent and naturally they were keen to celebrate.

They tried to explain the idea of St. Patrick’s Day to the barman but the concept was beyond the bemused Aussie guy. However, the barman, being the sociable bloke he was, gave the Irish group some free beers on the house for being Irish. I got chatting to some of our party over a few ales. Two Irish men and two Scottish men who had met while backpacking in Australia and were now all travelling together as a foursome fascinated me. They were great guys with loads of humour but due to their indecipherable accents I could not understand a word they were saying. They would talk and jabber and laugh and I would just smile politely and nod my head wondering what the hell they were saying. How these two pairs of lads from rural villages in Scotland and Ireland managed to understand each other was one of the great mysteries of my travels. After a few beers, shots and toasting each other and what ever else was there to toast I retired to bed, ready for day two of my travelling.

DAY 2

A 6.30am wake up call starts our day. After loading our coach we carry on along our way. At around 9.30am we stop at an area of rocky outcrops. On clambering to the tops of these outcrops we are afforded a spectacular view of the local countryside. Here the scenery is more reminiscent of the great prairies and plains of America. I see an emu, a wedge tailed eagle and a kangaroo bouncing nonchalantly in the distance.

Our next stop is Middleton, a tiny place in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by a sea of grass. The ‘location’ consists of a single pub opposite a church that is basically a dilapidated shack. Here our coach is parked next to a road-train, a huge lorry that is three times the size of our coach. As for the pub, I couldn’t help but wonder where on earth their customers came from? Do drink-drive laws apply here?

The next place we stopped at was Winton. This was truly a wild west looking town and all it was missing was two cowboys shooting a duel at noon. There was an opal shop here where they shaped and made opals into jewellery. There was also a ‘Waltzing Matilda’ museum. This was a tribute to a guy named Banjo Paterson who wrote a very famous song called ‘Waltzing Matilda’. The song is about the swagmen of Australia who used to walk the country looking for work. The men would carry a ‘Swag’, which was basically a rolled up sleeping bag that was very hardy, and you could use it to sleep out in the open. All their worldly possessions would be wrapped up in this swag that they carried on their backs and as they walked the swags would gently swing from side to side, hence ‘Waltzing Matilda’. The other oddity of Winton was the various dinosaur artefacts and souvenirs scattered in the shops and building around the town. Apparently, there is the Lark Quarry Conservation Park located 113km from Winton that has huge amounts of dinosaur evidence embedded in shale and limestone.

Our next stop sees us arrive in Corfield, yet another place in the middle of nowhere. I do wonder how people manage out here in the desolate outback. The only structure here is a wooden building here that doubles as a pub and a shop. I use the facilities here to freshen up and buy things for the journey ahead.

At 5pm we arrived in Hughenden, our destination for the night. We stayed in the Grand Hotel, a large building that looks like a saloon from the Wild West. It was built in the 1920s and the whole structure is made of wood. Time and weather has taken its toll and the various rooms in the building are warped and twisted. Standing outside on guard is a replica model of a 20-foot dinosaur that has probably lost all street cred since Jurassic Park. Another strange feeling about these outback towns is that they all seem eerily deserted. I wander the streets to have a look around but hardly see anyone.

The evening entertainment unsurprisingly is centred in the bar of the Grand Hotel. We all have a few beers to help Kieran, an Irishman, celebrate his 21st Birthday. At the bar I notice a large jar. In the jar, is an extremely poisonous, but dead, Taipan snake suspended in a pickle solution. I ask the barman about the snake. He explains that one day he was underneath his car fixing the engine when he came across the snake and it tried to attack him. Being a resourceful fellow he managed to kill the snake without getting bitten and pickled the poor blighter for posterity. The evening passes with many beers sunk in celebration of an Irishman’s birthday. At around 11.30pm I decide to go to bed and walk past Kieran rather drunk and spread-eagled on the floor of the first floor balcony – I guess he had a good night!

DAY 3

It’s a 5.15am start, with my head still thumping from last nights’ celebrations. I wonder how Kieran feels? We head on and arrive at Porcupine Creek at 7am. It’s a gorge and we walk down to the bottom where there is a small lake. As I look up I see cliffs and blue sky. Some people take a dip in the lake but I just admire the scenery. We depart an hour later around 8am and as we continue the scenery continues to change. There are a lot more trees and shrubs now and more wildlife and the red sand has given way to dusty landscape. I see the occasional kangaroo and wild horses. At one point everyone has to get off the coach while the driver negotiates a dip in the road. In the wet season this dip would be a river.

At around 12.30pm we stop at another location. We all get off the coach for sandwiches and to stretch our legs. I notice there is a bar here and it is licensed so I go over and have a look. The ‘bar’ consists of a counter and a room measuring 6 x 6 feet and it claims to be the smallest bar in Australia. I wonder what it’s like during happy hour? On my visit to the toilet I spot a large, green frog in the pan of one of the toilets. Luckily I have my camera with me this time and I take a picture. The frog looks up at me as if to say, “Watcha looking at buddy?”

Onwards we travel and at one point we have to stop as cattle drovers were herding large numbers of cows across the road/track. They looked just like cowboys wearing stetsons and riding their horses. As we continue the bush land gave way to more and more trees and we come to the Great Dividing Range. This is a range of mountains that run from north to south on the east side of Australia. The mountains were covered in trees and were very green. I could almost imagine being in Wales. We also stopped at Windy Hill that had a proliferation of wind power stations.

The landscape became more jungle-like with winding roads. We stopped just after Kuranda at a vantage point that gave us our first view of Cairns. The town is by the sea and surrounded by towering, hilly and green, tree-covered country. At this point Steve informed us about cassowaries. These are giant birds with three toes, the middle of which has a sharp point. Apparently they have a powerful kick and can cause serious injuries, even resulting in death if they kick a human. I can’t help but think that it would be kind of embarrassing to be kicked to death by a giant bird.

Finally, we arrived in Cairns at 5.30pm after our eventful and interesting three-day journey. I could not help but be amazed at how the scenery had changed and evolved during the course of my trip and remembering all the sights I had seen. It was certainly one of the most fascinating journeys on my travels.


Click on photo to enlarge


Termite mounds  In the middle of nowhere  “Watcha looking at buddy?”


Date Submitted: 08 Dec 2008


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