Subject: From Alice To Ocean (long)
Hello Again Ziners,

Great title for a book eh? Unfortunately Robyn Davidson beat me to it, but she was going west by camel and we are going east by Blot. Tony bought me the coffee table edition of her book years ago and it probably has some bearing on our being here now.

We only had two full days in Alice and it really wasn’t enough. The city isn’t much to write home about but there is plenty to do around and about. We spent our first day checking out the finer art galleries and the inevitable happened, we fell in love with a painting by an aboriginal artist and having visited every other gallery in town, just to be sure, went back and purchased it. I really have to stop now or our place will look like a shrine to Oz.

The Todd River, home to the Alice Springs Regatta is dry as usual, which is good news for the ‘sailors’ as they will be able to practice in their bottomless boats. If there happened by chance to be water in the river on the day of the race, they would have to cancel. I guess you have to have a sense of humour to live in the middle of vast tracts of nowhere.

Like many others before me I found the Aboriginal people one sees around Alice to be sad and lost souls. There seems to be little or no contact between them and the locals, in fact I heard one motel owner threaten to turn the hose on some who were loitering outside her property. As a visitor it is impossible to make eye contact, even with the little children, I understand this is a cultural thing but it is very alien to me.

I was craving some indigenous culture so we booked a dining experience called "Red Center Dreaming". I normally hate this sort of thing, as I can usually find the ‘real’ experience on my travels without too much difficulty, but here it seems impossible. I rationalized it thus: Mounties don’t go around on horses flaunting red coats except on ceremonial duties or performing their musical ride but thousands flock to see them, so why not an Aboriginal dance performance? In any event we paid our money and boarded the bus and it was wonderful, all due to the very articulate and talented members of the Descendance Theatre Company.

Nicole Willis, daughter of the founder of the company is the matriarch, storyteller and interpreter of ‘women’s business’, her son treated us to a presentation on the art of the Red Center and the many tools, baskets and weapons to be made from the very hard wood of the mulga tree, (did you know that a Woomera is the implement used to launch a spear? Wish I had known that during the hours we spent crossing Woomera.) Two 'brothers’ plus a ‘non indigenous brother’ raised by the family, introduced us to ‘men’s business’ including a lesson on playing the didgeridoo which none of us will ever master and of course the music and dance we had come to see. They gave a great performance and were very generous with their time afterwards to chat and pose for photos with the audience if desired. Nicole travels widely at home and abroad "to show people who my people are, and to educate them about my people and our culture". She and the rest of the members are doing a great job. The food was ok, not marvelous but our fellow diners and the performance made it a night to remember.

I feel there must be whole stratum of Aboriginal society that we have no access to - with the exception of the park rangers, interpretive guides and performers we have encountered around central Australia.

Next day we met the Ghan as it arrived from Darwin. The Ghan, named for the Afghan camelteers it very quickly replaced, is one of the great train journeys of the world. Today it brought Brian and his wife Shirley to Alice from Katherine, overnight. They had to wade aboard the previous evening and were lucky to get away before Cyclone Larry flooded Katherine. I say lucky but I think Brian a retired hydrologist would have quite enjoyed staying to help out. After exchanging E-mail messages for seven years this was to be our first meeting.

In spite of an uncomfortable night in their very expensive reclining seats, they were game to accompany us on a day at the Desert Park, just a few minutes from Alice. We spent most of our time photographing birds, as we are all keen photographers. Tony counts the visit to the park and the demonstration of free flying birds of prey as his trip highlight - so far. He is in good company, Sir David Attenborough is quoted in the brochure as saying, "There is no museum or wildlife park in the world that could match it". Its setting in the shadow of the West Mac Donnell Ranges if perfect for their recreated river, sand and woodland habitats of the Australian center. There are presentations of Aboriginal culture and traditional bush food and medicine. They have numerous aviaries but the same birds are flying around outside, so either way you get a good view of them. The nocturnal house is informative; I now know what I could hear (or imagine I could hear) scratching around the tent in the night!

We had dinner at another great cultural center, the local service club and couldn’t believe the portions they were offering for the grand sum of $9.90, sweets (puddings to you Brits and dessert to you North Americans) $4 extra. Brian tells me some places offer ‘Nana’ portions especially for little old ladies who just can’t face the regular enormous ones. I haven’t had the chance to try it out yet but think it’s a great idea. I would often like to have the lunch or children’s size portions for dinner back home in Canada but know better than to ask.

The next two days were spent covering some of the ground between Alice and Ocean. The trip to Tennant Creek was pleasant and memorable for the thousands of termite towers which dot the landscape and soft shoulder of the road, the sea of shimmering pale gold spinifex and our crossing of the Tropic of Capricorn.

The ‘Drowsy Drivers Die’ signs pass by at regular intervals as we dutifully change drivers. We didn’t give Tennant Creek a chance to make any impression and it didn’t. As we left next day the sign said QSL 450km. In other words there was nothing worthy of note between the Queensland border and us and there wasn’t. The safety reminders here say "Stop Revive Survive". If I remember rightly the Victoria equivalent is something to the effect if you don’t take a break you are a "bloody fool". Every state has it’s own catch phrase. Out here it is hard to imagine having an accident but the stark white crosses beside the highway serve as a reminder to heed the warnings and take a break.

The sky was menacing and it was obvious that the cool wet aftermath of Cyclone Larry was reaching out to meet us. Many a time over the past few weeks we have wondered what the outback would look like after rain, today we found out. It looks - wet, and green. Just as the novelty of water in creeks was beginning to pale we crossed one and did a double take. Blot came to a screeching halt and went into reverse so we could check out the hundreds of blue and white water lilies rioting over the swollen creek. Even in the miserable weather, it was stunning. We were also very taken with the ‘downs homesteads’, miles and miles of pancake flat land. One mega homestead seemed to be home to a dozen horses, the next had no apparent occupants. We hardly saw a car all day and only a couple of buildings. Mt. Isa like Tennant Creek failed to impress.

Tony woke me at 5.30 today so we could make an extra early start then phoned the police to check road conditions. Woe is me, both roads east are impassable for the low-slung Blot. A 4-wheel drive might have made it but we were not prepared to try. If ever you should get stranded in Mt. Isa try to arrange for it to be on a weekday, on Sunday it is a ghost town, virtually everything is closed and most of the out of town attraction details start with ‘280 km north of town’, or ‘188 km west’. It was a very long morning till I decided to take a nap and pass some time. The afternoon passed quite nicely checking out our photos from the past few days.

By lunch time the RACV website was telling us the southerly route East is passable so tomorrow may be our last day on empty endless road. I will miss it, I have enjoyed my turn at the wheel out here. We will get as far as possible tomorrow and then head for the Tablelands and on to, we think, Port Douglas. It will be the Easter weekend by then so we expect our first traffic and crowds for weeks. It is still pretty wet up there, and Dianne in Sydney mentioned the ‘W’ word today. Surely it can’t be winter yet, it’s only April!

Regards Sue Waterloo ON (currently in Mt. Isa Queensland)