Australia, 2007 Journal: Part 4

17 Apr 07

We all drove to the house where Heading Bush’s owner, Mick, lives. There, we verified our vouchers, paid $120 AUD for supplies, and signed waivers. We met everyone a bit better and packed up to go. Through my trip I realized I had packed quite well. My new sleeping bag compressed well in a waterproof bag. I had a solid ruck, a multi-tool Leatherman called upon many times to fix things, the brightest Surefire flashlight in camp, a headlamp, a Camelbak for hikes, a Nalgene unbreakable container for drinking water, plenty to read. I should have brought more clothes. Only 3-4 shirts, 1 pair of paints and shorts. And only 3 pairs of socks! I will throw out the shoes and socks because they smell. I already bought a new pair of Nikes in Melbourne.

I also should have brought a towel and soap and shampoo. My ruck was already pretty full so I had to cut down. I think maybe this ruck is too small for longer backpacking trips which sucks. Maybe all the books and supplies took up too much valuable space for amenities? Also my Camelbak could be replaced by a proper backpack for all my electronics, books, and on-hand gear. I was impressed at being able to pack so easily with my minimalist pack. Is this interesting to you at all?! Heh.

We drove to Dublin first to get gas. I then got my first good look at our set-up. 11 people in a truck with an orange trailer in the back. Swags, tents, dry food, cooler, water tanks, spare car parts, kitchen utensils, shovel. It was a very compact set-up indeed! We then drove into the Flinders Ranges. My first taste of the “Outback” was rather green mountains. Our lunch was typical of the rest of them, save for a few cook-outs. Cutting boards to butter breads, slice tomato and cucumber. Prepare sandwiches of various types. Followed by the dreaded clean-up using a water bowl and tea towels for drying. We slowly learned how ot pack the vehicle up over the next few meals. I noticed at this point, Lennis and Melanie would go off on their own for a walk. Nicholas would carefully roll a cigarette using his bag of tobacco, cheaper, he said, than buying smokes from the store. I would help pack up. For camp we set up next to a river bed. It was dark when we got there. I dug the communal shit-hole. We had pasta for dinner. I learned what the swag was. I woke up early (I tended to be one of the first to wake throughout the tour) to the sound of magpies, kookaburras, and sheep running past. The magpies sound funny. Like “hah, hah, hawwwwww” with the last note falling off like groaning at a bad joke.

18 Apr 07

Breakfast (Brekkies) usually consisted of Mueslix and coffee or tea. Toast also with butter and choice of spreads. The Dutchies and their Nutella. Clean up, pack up, and leave. We drove up to Wilpena Pound, which is the site of a big space enclosed by rocks. Inside are plant/flower/tree relics of how Australia used to be before foreign flora was brought in. I forget whether Wilpena Pound was a crater impact site or not. There is one exit so Aboriginals would trap roos and other animals inside.

We would stop in towns sometimes for lunch. Sleepy places with a pub and a gas station and convenience store. Everyone stayed inside and the flies were noticeably more prevalent. We stopped next to a mountain and hiked up a bit to look at some Aboriginal cave drawings, which were used by elders (men and women have separate learning sites to distinguish between men’s and women’s business) to teach the children. Often there’d be a songline, or visual/audio map of one tribe’s territory, showing waterholes and camps and roo tracks. ((.)) is a water hole or sugar ant nest (they dig deep down to eat sugar ants’ abdomens, which are swollen full of sugar).

For camp, we stopped at the Iga Warta Aboriginal site for the night. We met Terrence, who is from the area and founded the campsite once the Australian government allowed Aboriginals to set up businesses in the area. Songline dreaming there was called “Yuramuda”. Terrence is rather big and wears Crocodile Dundee clothes except black. He wears the leather hat and cargo vest and boots. He drove us and an Italian couple and an Aussie family to the ochre pits. The Aboriginals would go there and use the different colors of ochre with water and paint faces for ceremony. White is for a connection with the spirit mother, red is for the mother’s umbilical cord. Yellow is for the sun. Pink for the breath of the mother. Purple is for cleansing the spirit. These Adnyamathanha people owned this land. Terrence put all the colors on our faces with slight variations for men and women. We took many photos of each other in the darkness. A little mop dog came out with us on the bus and just wanted to play. While Terrence told us of sacred rituals, the dog was tugging on my pants! We stood in a circle to breathe in a new beginning; Rich and Geoff held a paw as Rich was holding the dog. The rest of us linked hands. After a dinner of fajitas, we gathered around the sacred campfire. Terrence played some campy songs for the kids mainly. Some complained that they wanted more authentic Aboriginal stuff. We ended up singing songs to clan and dance to. “Ohhhh my walla (stomach), it’s rumbling and tumbling (spinning hands motion) like a big bass drum.” Step forward and with a drumming motion: “Duh duh duduh duh duh duh duh.” “When I seeeee a kangaroo, I chase him with my .22, I cook him in a big ol’ stew.” Also sang “All We Need is Love” with everyone individually contributing versions in their mother languages. After that, Terrence had the Italian woman bury a ball of dough in the fire coals. Later, she hit it with a shovel and heard a hollow sound meaning this “damper” was ready. Hard crust, soft inside. We all took pieces with strawberry jam and butter. The dirt and coals fell off the crust easily. The end to a good night.

19 Apr 07

I tried calling the next morning. Found a payphone. The site had horses walking around, pygmy horses, chickens, loud birds that woke me up too early, a rooster to crow the sunrise. In the truck I learned about ANZAC biscuits, the biscuit of choice for Australia/New Zealand Army Corps soldiers during the World Wars. Also Tim Tams, chocolate-covered biscuits favored by Australians. “Drop Bears” are vicious biting koalas that drop on peoples’ swags at night. I learned much talking in the car but also around the campfire. As an anthropological Turner I couldn’t help but note the communal aspect of the campfire. We gathered around it to share food; trade stories, get warmth, and pass the evening. We would learn for breakfast and lunch that a quick fire was the miracle for driving the flies away. I would always smell of smoke (if not bad odor) since I always sat right next to the fire. Sometimes we’d all huddle in the smoke’s heat path if the 2 million flies were especially insistent at trying to get into our eyes, noses, mouths, and ears.

We also learned that Rosa could not pick good driving music, opting for music like Spice Girls and girly music. Rich pulled out his iPod and played Creedence and Zeppelin and good ol’ American roadie music! Nicholas put in his Eskimo Joe CD, a rock band from Australia with a new album that I’ll download.

I ate a roo pie for pre-lunch, from a diner next to a gas station. Ben and Geoff bought spinach and cheese pasties, far better. Roo tastes like any meat. Not very good with just gravy and a pastry pie shell! I learned about butcher birds that resemble magpies. Was told to watch the Apocalypse Now documentary of its making, by Rich who said it was voted the best documentary ever. Everyone informed me about backpacker living and the cult of the Lonely Planet guidebooks and the incestuous nature of backpackers who compete to travel to the most numerous and remote locations. This was all news to me! I could have stayed in $15/night rooms with cool young people instead of expensive lonely $80/night hotel rooms. I don’t see the point of spending more than $40/night for a room you can’t even stay 12 hours in! The $200/night room my mom and I stayed in in Austin was hardly better than the considerably budget-friendly $70/night Travelodge in Melbourne Southbank! Mozzies are mosquitoes. Remember, in Australia, shorten words to one syllable and add “y”, like “brekky” for breakfast, “genny” for generator, “pommy” for pom, or a Brit. The joke is that “pom” means “prisoner of her majesty”. Aussies call Brits this as we would call them Limeys. My dad knows the term “pom” somehow. I learned that “Warrianha” is the name second-born sons receive in Adnyamathanha culture.

On this day we began driving along the Oodnadatta track, also the Ghan Railway. The railway ran through the Outback carrying supplies, people, meat, and most importantly commerce until the planners figured out that building track near a flooding lake and sand was dumb. When the line was moved east, these small towns failed. We stopped at the salt beds at Lake Eyre as I mentioned earlier. The flies were unbelievably horrible and the salty crust above mud was a feeling I’ll probably never encounter again. We stopped in Marree and cooked sausages on a public grill. At night we pulled in to William Creek which is basically an outpost with some hotel rooms, gas, food, beer, and our first run-in with dingoes who like to steal unprotected shoes at night. We told riddles in the dark in the middle of a camping field. I was taught how to find and read the Southern Cross, which is the primary navigation in the southern hemisphere as Polaris is, in the north. The Southern Cross is on the Australian flag. “Upplaa” became a popular phrase for “hooray”, courtesy of Rosa. I think technically it means “oops” but no one seemed to care too much. Ben used the term “desert snout” as our climate was considerably drier now and noses gave way to colored snot. A “billabong”, like the company whose clothes everyone was wearing, is the word for a leftover bend in a river after the river has carved a more direct path. Rich taught me “going for a Wallace”, which is a new phrase like Cockney rhyming slang. It stands for Wallace and Gromit, with Gromit rhyming with vomit. So going for a Wallace is barfing. I cracked up. Did we have stir fry to eat, this night?

We stopped at Lake Caddibarrawirracanna which was unimpressive except for the long sign. Oops! Forgot to mention that in the morning at William Creek, we saw the pub. Foreign currencies, student IDs, learner’s permits, letters, even panties and bras were stapled to the walls to commemorate past visitors. It was quite impressive. The owner, a white-haired guy, complained to our guides that they didn’t get us into the pub the night before for drinking. I think they were noticeably hurting for business. Early in the day we crossed a long dingo fence that extends literally from one side of the continent to another to keep dingoes out. There’s actually a loner’s type of job of dingos cowboys or some such who are employed by the government to patrol the fence periodically as camels now regularly smash the fence down. It’s also locals’ responsibility to monitor the fence. We stopped at a water hole but only Lennis, Rosa, and I swam. It was brief but good since we were days between showers.

We reached Coober Pedy (from kupa piti, Aboriginal for “white man in a hole”) for lunch. We had reached the main highway from Adelaide to Alice Springs, and we were used to dirt and gravel road. The hardball asphalt felt good after jaw-jarring off-road. Sometimes we would see maybe one car the whole day. We came to love being on our own so coming back to tour buses was not welcome. We enjoyed feeling alone in the bush. Nevertheless, Coober Pedy was great. 70% of the world’s opals are supposedly mined here. There are large mounds of digging debris everywhere. The locals built trucks with vacuum cleaning-like things to suck all the dug rock out of holes. Warning signs posted said not to walk backwards. Pay attention or you’ll fall down a hole. We went through the Umoona tour which showed us some underground tunnels, opal ores, and living quarters. The locals build their homes underground to look for opals and to escape the heat. Smoothly-drilled tunnels lead into the rock where it is comfortably cooled or heated all year naturally. Small shafts lead straight up for air ventilation in all rooms. Living quarters were silent and dark when lights were turned off.

I’ve seen nothing like this place. It was bizarre. Houses underground! With carpeting and kitchens and whatnot. The city won’t allow companies to dig so the population is made up of individuals trying to strike it rich. Also the cost to build a home is like the fourth of a real home. People are not allowed to dig around their house explicitly for mining so they “add” bowling alleys. Dynamite is used sometimes to dig. Often it’s used to settle disputes, intimidate criminals, and celebrate special events. Talk about a frontier town type of feel! Before we left, I bought an opal rock and small earrings for you and El. The price was reasonable. Some stuff sold for $350! The ladies behind the jewelry counters remarked on my tattoos. The head lady said she had Native Indian Canadian tattoos; that was her favorite. I told them I was shopping for my girlfriend and her daughter and they aww’d a lot!

By this time, everyone had meals and packing up down to a science. We quickly took out tubs containing the food stuffs or utensils we’d need. Swags would be removed from the canvas bag on top of the truck, the fold-up table and propane grill were put up. In no time a fire would be burning and tents would pop up. Sometimes while driving we’d stop to collect firewood and lash it to the roof of the trailer for later that night. Ben taught me how to tie two types of knots, one which I recognize as a Ranger knot, which the Army uses for rope seats when rappelling.