Australia 1986 – To The Outback

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Images of Australia 1986

 

After I got to Australia I learned something that surprised me. And while I forget the exact distance, virtually all of Australia’s population lives in a “ring” along the shore  – maybe 100 miles deep.

Beyond that is the Outback.

We left in the morning from Townsville, Queensland – and drove.

And drove.

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There was literally nothing until we reached a mining town, Mt Issa, 564 miles away.

We came into Mt Isa just as the sun was setting.

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Next stop, with nothing in between, was Alice Springs, 727 miles away.

We got there early the next morning.

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My main reason for going to Alice Springs was to see Ayers Rock. And Ayers Rock, I learned, was 290 miles from Alice Springs.

Australians know about distances.

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Since the Outback is so inhospitable (restaurant names in the US aside), Australians have been inventive in traversing it. For a while from the 1800s, they tried using camels, with Alice Springs being a way point. Motorized transport eliminated the need for the camel, and the herds were just set loose.

Today there are an estimated 1 million feral camels roaming the outback.

They are actually a problem, growing exponentially, and herds are being culled.

And there are feral horses too, called brumbies.

I remember several things about my time here. One was amazement that anyone could live here without technology and modern conveniences. My hat’s off to the Aborigines.

When I was stationed in El Paso, ( Ft Bliss), I flew overnight  coming from Ft Ord in Monterey with the ocean and cool breezes.

I can remember looking out the barracks window the next morning and seeing a sea of sand. I grew to like the desolation and isolation there , and so it was with the Outback.

The Outback is very unforgiving, particularly to naïve tourists, as I’ll show you during our walk through the Olgas.

Never heard of them? I hadn’t either, but to me this rock formation is in its own way as majestic as Ayers Rock.

I’ll show you another place “in the area” that few outsiders have heard of – Kings Canyon.

One other thing I remember, and you’ll be amazed at this peculiar recollection.

The flies.

For such a thing to be remembered nearly 30 years later might surprise most, but until you are there and experience them, it is hard to understand.

Picture every waking moment having literally 100s of flies all wanting to land on you – biting you. After a day there you search for suitable attire and don’t care how ridiculous you appear.

Anything for a respite.

Even tried smoking a cheap cigar – and I don’t usually smoke.

As to how many flies ended up in the Outback in looking around the web the only thing that makes any sense is the explanation that when cattle and livestock were introduced came the flies, and they have no natural predators.

But you learn about the unofficial Australian Salute, a joke not only in Australia but around the world. It’s a brush across the face, right to left.

Or for lefties, left to right.

With that, lets start our tour.

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Australians & New Zealanders have been no stranger to war. In the first World War, they lost so many, starting at Gallipoli.

It has become their Memorial Day, honoring all those who died in the service of their countries.

This was one of the first places I stopped in Alice Springs.

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…Alice Springs, as seen from Anzac Hill

With people so isolated in the Outback, several unique solutions came into being. Children would receive school lessons by radio, and doctors made their round by airplane.

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…this was the headquarters of the Royal  Flying Doctor Service

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…anyone know who made this plane?

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Before I headed off towards Ayer’s Rock, I wanted to see a more local site – Standley Chasm.

I rented a car and got to experience RHD for the first time. Everything, of course, is backwards from what I was used to. The fast lane is on the right, traffic travels on the “opposite side”…. The way I simplified is to think “lane is closest to the wheel”.

Shifting with my left hand took some getting used to.

I only messed up once, in the town of Alice Springs, when leaving from the curb (kerb?) I instinctively pulled out to “my side” – meeting a wedding party coming head on.

I can imagine what they were thinking, but better here than in Melbourne or Sydney…

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Standley Chasm, just 40km from Alice Springs

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…some Brumbies

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My best definition of a camel is that it is a horse that a committee designed…

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From Alice Springs it was pretty much an all day trip to Ayers Rock

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I wanted to climb Ayers Rock. Didn’t know how difficult it would be but didn’t feel that special climbing skills would be required.

But before we went to Ayers Rock, we went to another rock formation, called The Olgas.

It is about 15 miles from Ayers Rock.

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…It was January by the time I got here, Australia’s summer and the heat can be insidious. It is very dry but temperatures in the Gorge can get up to 130F I was told. And about every year some tourists die of dehydration. They start walking, get lost and the heat takes care of them. Happens fairly frequently, I was told.

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…Now we headed to Ayers Rock. Didn’t know what to expect, but I wanted to climb it. Uluru is the aboriginal name.

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They had a hand rail to help you – Wikipedia says that it was installed in 1976.

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Nevertheless about 35 have died climbing it.

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Almost at the summit. Note the Olgas in the background…

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…at the top. It’s about 1150 feet high.

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Next I went to a place called Kings Canyon – about 70-90 miles down a road like this…

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Stayed here….the showers were in trailers . BTW a funny story (actually in all honesty I suppose that I should tell you the story and you decide whether it is funny). During the night I got up to use the W.C. Put on the flip-flops, trudge down the dirt road to the trailer.

Next morning someone asks me if I saw “Old George”. Of course I have to ask who “Old George’ is – turns out he was a 6′ Australian Brown Snake.

Who liked to cool off along the dirt path during the night.

Australians have a rather perverse pride in having more reptiles, spiders and marine life that can kill you – you will see beautiful beaches and hot days with nobody in the water because of box jellyfish.

Anyway the brown snake will kill you rather quickly and fortunately I did not get to meet Old George. More on these deadly creatures down the travel road…

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Next morning a tour guide took us in his Toyota Land Cruiser (a popular vehicle in the outback) to Kings Canyon. Note the radio antenna in front – a good thing to have out there if you are in trouble – another dirt road 20-30 miles long…

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A lot of climbing here, too.

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There really was an absence of tourists here – we were the only ones…

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This tree was interesting – half palm tree and half some-other-kind-of tree – a holdover from the prehistoric times. Forget what they called it.

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…like I said there was climbing here. Although this kind of climbing, well, Buck could probably relate to it. The guide took us in one section along a narrow – a foot or less – ledge with a good 50-70′ drop.

And an overhang so you couldn’t even walk completely upright. I don’t have full blown acrophobia but hated this kind of stuff – all I could do was “suck it up”.

Or stop the tour and make a spectacle of myself 😉

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Looking down from the narrow ledge…

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Came time to leave Alice Springs. The question was, head west – to Perth or East – to Cairns?

Perth is in Western Australia – a province so big it is half the country. Most of it, of course, is desert and outback.

I decided to head to tropical Cairns – in northern Queensland. If you look at the “finger” on Australia’s northeast corner – the Cape York Peninsula – Cairns is at the base of that finger.

It is more tropical than Hawaii or Tahiti – and a favorite destination for sport fisherman wanting blue marlin.

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I was talking with the flight attendant on the Ansett 727 – she liked my Akubra hat – the ‘Snowy River” model – and I was a bit smitten with her 😉

BTW, Akubra is to Australia what Stetson is to the US – at least the Western US.

Still have the hat.

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Next week…Cairns

On to Cairns

17 Comments

Filed under Travel

17 responses to “Australia 1986 – To The Outback

  1. Buck

    I googled the Flying Doctors’ aircraft and came up with “De Havilland Australia DHA-3 Drover Mk3 C/N DHA5013.” The article I looked at had the same plane-on-a-stick photo as the one you posted, Bill.

    Great pics. Didja know we (USAF and other agencies) have a big-ass satellite communications and monitoring/surveillance station in Alice Springs? I knew guys who were stationed there and not one had a bad word to say about their tours.

    Great post, yet again. Nice hat, too. 🙂

    • Bill Brandt

      Buck – when I almost hit the wedding party head-on in Alice Springs the locals said not to worry – they’d think I was another recently arrived Yank at the satellite station 😉

      Like El Paso I liked Alice Spring’s desolation – although it is much smaller than El Paso.

      I was looking up Ansett and they went bankrupt in 1991 – the actual plane I was on was sold to Federal Express in 1989 – probably flown by Busbob at some point – time marches on!

      I have to apologize for the thing being so long without being broken up – I was trying to use WordPress’ “show more” link and actually lost the post for a time – I will try to make the next one so it doesn’t hide everyone else’s post 20 fathoms below 😉

      That Flying Doctor’s plane is a strange one, isn’t it?

  2. R

    Wow, I’ve never seen a Drover before. I guess three engines because two is one and one is none.

    I actually read blog posts by Dr. Minh Le Cong, a RFDS physician based in Cairns, occasionally. They still have big distances to cover.

    • Bill Brandt

      I was trying to picture people out here from the 1920s and earlier – when flying wasn’t really an option.
      They were a tough breed.

  3. Mannan Thomason

    Your trip is long a dream of mine! At this point in my life, I doubt that I’ll make it but it is still a dream!!!

    I’m still checking off “bucket list” items closer to home.

    It’ll never leave my dreams, though!

    • Bill Brandt

      The impetus for my taking this trip was getting fired from a job in Dec – I got a severance check and felt that I could do this either now – when I had the money and time or when I “retired” (then) 30 years later. Funny thing is now that I am at that part in the road taking a trip like I did doesn’t seem practical –
      So you have to go when that small window presents itself!

      BTW when I started this series – my trip to the South Pacific – I decided to send my now-ex-boss a post card at each stop.

  4. Dave

    Bill…………..awesome as usual, looking forward to more!

    • Bill Brandt

      Thanks Dave – I was thinking that this is good for me – as my supply of already-scanned digital images dries up it will force me to get off by rear and start scanning what hasn’t been done!

  5. Hogday

    Great stuff again, Bill. We went to Uluru in 2003 and they were very sniffy about anyone climbing it, asking for folks to respect the Aboriginals sacred site. Our guide said rather laconically, “Every year some Jap’ll climb up and get blown off”.

    • Bill Brandt

      Hogday – in reading the web about it these days I think it is a matter of time before they disallow climbing. Which makes me a bit ambivalent.

      Down at the base they had pools of water with signs saying that the aborigines consider this sacred and please do not get in the water.

      Then I am reminded me of what a Marine LT told us as we were being inducted into the Army (at the induction center) – he told us about the “10% Rule”.

      It is a rule that over the years I have remembered with some amusement and it is this: For any given population sample 10% always mess it up for the other 90%.

      It seems to hold true no matter the situation.

  6. Good Lord, what a small world. I not only flew that 727 in your picture I took one of the delivery pilots back from Memphis to LAX on another 727. He was in the jumpseat and I remember we talked about Australian critters big and small. We had an afternoon enroute stop in Lubbock and we got off the jet while the loading was going on and I asked the man if he knew of Texas Jackrabbits. Said he’d never heard of one, so we walked to the edge of the ramp and behind the first tumbleweed a typical Texas Jack stood up to see what was coming his way.
    Still remember the bloke’s amazed comment: “Look at the size of that bloody bunny!”

  7. Bill Brandt

    It is a small world Busbob! First Hogday recognizes the female Bobbie in the photo I took 39 years ago and now you recognize that plane!

    I was across town at a dinner tonight and I remarked – thanks to Google, in a matter of seconds I traced the life of VH-RMZ.

    Incidentally I figured out that the picture I took of that aircraft – in the rain – had to have been at my destination – Cairns – 1,500 miles by road – had to have easily been 1,000 miles by air.

    Now if that flight attendant 27 years later happens to stumble across her picture (long forgotten by her, I am sure) I will have had a trifecta!

    The Internet can be amazing….

    • Hogday

      That pic of the policewoman and her horse is still creating interest on the old police historical Flickr site.

  8. Paul L. Quandt

    Bill:

    Thanks again for posting your pictures. I wish that I had gone “down under” 40 or 50 years ago. If I were to get there now, I wouldn’t be able to do all the strenuous bits.

    Paul

    • Bill Brandt

      You are welcome Paul. I am just astounded at the coincidences I have discovered in posting pictures. First Hogday recognizing the policewoman and now Busbob with the 727.

      It is a small world!

  9. Pingback: South Pacific 1986 – Hawaii – The Last Stop | The Lexicans

  10. Pingback: From Melbourne up the Queensland Coast – to MacArthur’s Hotel | The Lexicans

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