Diary of The Travelling Seanchai :-
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of the Outback
2007-09-05 to 2007-09-07
If you haven`t been to the outback of Australia it really is hard to describe how absolutely desolate it is. And if you were being pursued by a crazed gunman it would certainly not be one of the places where you would want to find yourself. And yet this was the fate of Peter Falconio and Joanne Lees in July 2001, close to the area where we had arrived for the night.
Now, I had just read “Dead Centre”, a book on the case a few days ago so I was feeling very Bill Brysonesque as I suggested that we stop there for the night so that I could get more of a feel for the story.
We had been driving again in the dark and so we were happy to arrive at the Barrow Creek pub. What was even more appreciated was the welcome that we got from our hosts, Les and Ellen, the latter being a gem of an Irish lady! I joined her for a can of Guinness, my first from a can in more years than I care to remember.
Now, for the record, I was here in Australia during the time of the murder of Peter Falconio. A gunman had stopped them in their combi van, murdered Peter, handcuffed Joanne who later escaped and was saved by a passing truckie a few hours later, who then dropped her off to the Barrow Creek bar. 18 months later, Bradley Murdock (who`d been brought up in Northamption where I had been hitching a few days ago!) was arrested for the murder. Peter`s body has never been found.
I have to say that I don`t believe Joanne`s account of events that night, something just doesn`t sit right with me but that`s neither here nor there. We were happy to be in a great bar and not in the pinball machine which were the roads of the outback at night.
The bar is like a museum, again splattered with traveller`s memoribilia but it also has lots of old history about the place and the amazing characters that have lived in the area and frequented this little tavern. But whoever they were, you would be hard pressed to find a finer personality than Les, the owner! Two other tired drivers, Jenny and Steve joined myself and the girls for a few drinks and we went on to have one of the best nights I have had on this trip, just the five of us and Les!
I found in Les a fellow connoissuer of old style music and he let me go through his old CD and record collections! But to show off his younger, carefree side, he put on the Macarena and Mambo Number 5 much to my amused chagrin and the delight of the girls who danced around the bar!
He then brought out a `bush instrument` for Roy Orbison`s `Pretty Woman`, a long stick with beer caps nailed on that is bounced and hit to provide a beat. If you go to the video part of this website you`ll see Les starting it up and then handing it over to me where I realise that it`s going on tape. I am getting right into it when I realise that I hvae broken it and quickly sweep two of the beer caps away with some nifty footwork! Apologies for the sore neck you may have after watching it though, you`ll understand when you see it!
As it happened, it was Jenny`s birthday after midnight so Les treated us to a shot of whiskey as we talked on till after 3am. On the wall is a $5 note with a note on it from Peter`s brother Paul, left there in case Peter ever walks through the door again and needs a beer. Not having a loved one`s body to bury must be terrible.
I didn`t want to bother Les and Ellen with questions about what it was like at the time, their lives were as disrupted as any during the epic investigation but Les said he didn`t mind it too much as it meant that people could get a proper idea as to what happened and the people of the outback.
But as far as I was concerned I had found one of the great bars and had another unlikely yet amazing nights of banter and laughter in good meansure.
We woke early next morning and drove through Alice Springs and on to Uluru for sunset. It is easy see why this place is so special to the Aborigines, a huge monolith in a barren desert. The changing colours that displayed on the Rock every few minutes were amazing as over a hundred people gathered in their camper vans and watched it almost change shape with the shadows. We had also gone to see the nearby (50km away) Olgas which was another amazing rock formation.
But it was time to head back to our rest stop for the night and with the two girls on cattle watch we managed for the third night to rely heavily on the Consi Halo and got back to Curtain Springs Cattle Station. This place is over a million acres in size and is probably considered small by all accounts over here!
Next morning, I arrived back from my room (the girls slept in the back of the van) took the keys and basically kidnapped them at 5am as we set off the dark towards Uluru again for sunrise. The girls stayed tucked up in their sleeping bags as I drove the short 100km just in time to see the other side of Uluru light up with the sun in a bright orange. We took several walks around and were awestruck by the beauty of it, the wall paintings and the seperate caves for Men`s and Women`s business. Each gender had their own laws and even to this day, the other gender is procluded from activities designed for either the men or the women.
We were told how a movement to modern day food away from the food of the land, a vast increase in the consumption of alcohol and reduced access to medical facilities had combined to dramatically reduce their life expectancy. They openly but politely ask that tourists do not climb Uluru as it is sacred. Not only that, 36 people have died in the last 20 years and there are scores of cases where people have had lucky escapes.
So it was sad to see parents taking their kids up the steep incline, simultaneously putting their lives at risk and giving them a poor lesson in culture and understanding. `Hey kids, isn`t this great? Maybe next year we can go hunting for endangered species, then trample all over the Great Barrier Reef and if ye are really lucky we can go to the Antarctic and spray aerosol cans into the air`
We left there and got ready for the long drive back to Alice Springs. On the way we were waved down by an Aboriginal man standing in the middle of the road by his parked car. I got out and spoke to him and I would have guessed that he was about 60 but they don`t age so well so maybe he was in his 40`s. He asked me for some water which we duly gave him a bottle of but then he asked if we had any beer to buy. When we said we didn`t have any they asked could we drive back 10km to get them some. We said that we were in a rush.
It was like when you were younger and the 15 and 16 year olds would hover around the off license/bottle shop/liquor store and ask you to buy them drink. But here were elders of another culture who were hailing down strangers who they would trust with their money to buy them a drug in essence that they are genetically incapable of processing. It was very sad…
I took a walk around Alice Springs after saying goodbye to the German girls and I was disturbed to be greeted to the sight of an Aboriginal man being led away drunk into the back of a Paddy Wagon after causing a disturbance and all this before 9am. Alice is a strangle little town surrounded by the McDonnell Ranges and the view from the top of the Anzac Memorial gave you birds eye view of everywhere. It is beautiful but there is remoteness about this place that makes you feel like you are further away from everywhere else than even Perth.
But I had been to the West Coast and through the Northern Territory and I was really happy to have achieved that after so many years over here in the big cities. Now I felt that I could go back to my old stomping ground of Sydney and deservedly accept my citizenship for this country…
But George Bush, myself and other world leaders were flying into Sydney on the same day so it was going to be a busy weekend!
Home again where the people are half crazy!