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.
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.
Next stop, with nothing in between, was Alice Springs, 727 miles away.
We got there early the next morning.
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.
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.
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.
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.
…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.
…this was the headquarters of the Royal Flying Doctor Service
…anyone know who made this plane?
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…
Standley Chasm, just 40km from Alice Springs
My best definition of a camel is that it is a horse that a committee designed…
From Alice Springs it was pretty much an all day trip to Ayers Rock
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.
…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.
…Now we headed to Ayers Rock. Didn’t know what to expect, but I wanted to climb it. Uluru is the aboriginal name.
They had a hand rail to help you – Wikipedia says that it was installed in 1976.
Nevertheless about 35 have died climbing it.
Almost at the summit. Note the Olgas in the background…
…at the top. It’s about 1150 feet high.
Next I went to a place called Kings Canyon – about 70-90 miles down a road like this…
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…
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…
A lot of climbing here, too.
There really was an absence of tourists here – we were the only ones…
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.
…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 😉
Looking down from the narrow ledge…
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.
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 😉
Still have the hat.