Subject: The Outback At 100km An Hour
Hello Ziners,

Finally we have made it to the Outback, somewhere, which resembles nowhere, we have ever been. We are in an underground hotel in Coober Pedy one the opal mining centers of Australia. We are taking the great distances of the outback at 100km. per hour. At this speed our old red Ford Falcon, Blot (as in: "on the landscape") is happy, he can go all day at this pace, we find it a relaxing speed to travel and the gas consumption is also to our liking. In the 700km. we travelled today we only passed two vehicles and two passed us. I even got used to the road trains as they barreled towards us but thankfully I was never required to try to pass one.

When we mentioned the vast distances we intended to drive many people advised against it - but we really relish each day in the car, the ever-changing vistas are a constant delight. How else can one get a sense of what Australia is all about? Perhaps at this point in our lives we are just up for it.

But I am getting ahead of myself. We drove from Castlemaine to Mildura where we over-nighted at a "clash motel" i.e. Under $80 per night and where the carpet clashes with the linen, which in turn clashes with the sofa which clashes with the art (?) work and everything else. Thankfully we were on our way early and in Broken Hill by lunchtime.

Broken Hill, on the edge of the outback, we could hardly wait. We have always had a soft spot for mining communities. Our children all have fond (?) memories of our attempt to document photographically the end of an era in the North Eastern English mining town of Seaham County Durham. Broken Hill was no exception. We photographed the old mine heads and visited the Broken Earth restaurant and miners memorial a top an apparent slagheap which dominates the town, before heading out to the ghost town of Silverton and a drink at the most filmed pub in Oz.

We really liked the museum here. The good people of Broken Hill must have been the original recyclers. I suppose if you live in the back of beyond you develop the habit of never throwing anything away. Eventually your descendants give the whole lot to the local historical society, who place it in a museum at the old Silverton Jail. It’s a nice display with none of the artsy fartsy elements beloved of modern museums curators.

Beyond Silverton is the Mundi Mundi Plain where they say it is so flat and the view so wide that it is possible to see the curvature of the earth. We managed to convince ourselves that ‘they’ are right the earth is not flat.

The School Of The Air and the Flying Dr. museum and hanger were definite highlights, but especially the School Of The Air. Thankfully they have now gone over from radio to satellite. The Vice Principle explained how the school operates, how every student is supplied with a computer, printer, scanner, desk, chair, paper and 24-hour Internet access. The parents provide a suitable room for study, electricity to power the system and printer cartridges. Every student has a home visit each term and students take part in visits to the school in Broken Hill, school camps and even cubs, brownies, scouts and guides. Apparently the children have station smarts, by the age of seven most boys can handle a four on the floor and drive all over the station, but bring them into town and they are like wildlife caught in the headlights. The teachers have to keep a very close eye on them when they are on the street.

The students can now see the teachers on their computer screens but the teachers cannot see them. That is the next step and apparently the children who like to start the school day in their pyjamas and the parents with bed head are in no hurry. Since they changed to computers three years ago the students standardized rankings have gone from below to above average. Proving that most of their children are visual rather then aural learners.

After our introduction the teachers, a pair of vivacious women, arrived to conduct a ‘musical assembly’. They were more like a couple of morning show hosts than my idea of teachers. Listening to the children joining in the singing was charming.

We were very taken with the Flying Dr.’s medical chests. Station owners pay for the chest and the government supply and replace the drugs etc., which are all numbered for easy identification. Along with a body chart, patients can be diagnosed and medicated via a phone call. They like to tell the tale of the patient who having been prescribed a number #9 drug reported back that he was out of #9 but had taken a #7 and a #2 and was feeling much better. As travelers through the outback, should we need medical care we can call in at any Station, where a call can be placed to the Dr. and medicine supplied free of charge from the chest. Not that we are planning on needing anything.

All this plus regular clinics in outback towns and 24 hour on call service. They also provide dentists, which according to what we read in our newspapers means you are better off in the middle of nowhere than in the middle of Melbourne if you have a toothache.

Broken Hill has become a Mecca for artists. We climbed to the Sculpture Symposium on the hill above the town at sunset and visited as many galleries as we had time for. Pro Hart’s gallery was our first stop, Australia’s leading artist of the outback and one of the original "Brushmen of the Bush" Pro Hart is very sick and his private art collection on display in his gallery is soon to be sold. My favourite was his Rolls Royce, painted on every surface with scenes from outback life. We also spent a happy hour in another artist’s studio watching him convert a maroon blob into a beautiful moonlit rocky outcrop while we chatted and had a lesson on opals 101 from a rather curmudgeonly artist, Jack Absalom.

We had another drink, this time at the Palace Hotel beloved of Bill Bryson and Pricilla Queen Of The Dessert. The startlingly incongruous murals painted by an itinerant aboriginal artist on every wall and ceiling are well worth the price of a drink.

Three nights and two days are not nearly long enough to do justice to Broken Hill but we had to move on.

More Outback to follow.

Regards, Sue, currently out in the outback