The Call of the Aussie Outback
The Aussie Outback was the last place I thought of visiting. However, fate determined otherwise, and I found myself at the end of an Australian summer driving through arid land, dotted with sage green brush waving madly in the wind.
We were scheduled to visit Alice Springs, the third largest town in the Northern Territory of Australia. In my mind’s eye I saw waterfalls and greenery, only to encounter a dry place, named after Alice, the wife of the telegraph pioneer Sir Charles Todd. What was informative was visiting the Royal Flying Doctor’s Museum that indicated how medical emergencies were dealt with on a regular basis.
Due to the vast distances between cities, the School of the Air here helps teachers to broadcast lessons to their students. It was the first of its kind, established in June 1951, and was referred to as “the largest classroom in the world.” (521,000 square miles) The curriculum that the school follows is similar to other public schools in the Northern Territory. Today the Internet is a big asset to those living far away from regular schools. Interestingly enough, one of our bus drivers was a graduate of this form of education, and filled us in on his unique learning experience.
A big surprise was how expensive it was to eat in a restaurant. I was sadly disappointed when the plate of scallops I ordered, arrived with just three small ones smiling at me, and it cost all of $21. I almost said aloud to the shy waitress in true Aussie slang, “Fair Dinkum?” (Are you serious?)
However, Ayres Rock was waiting for me, and it was worth the seemingly endless drive through the desert. The flat red land that stretched on and on suddenly sprouted a very large stand stone rock. There was something mystical about this place.
As we drove and walked around the base of the rock, I learned that it was also known as Uluru, sacred to the Pitjantjatjara Anangu, the aboriginal people of the area. The bus driver cum tour guide rattled off the fact that this is a UNESCO World Heritage site. That awakened me to the springs, water holes, and caves.
The day was dying slowly, so we rushed to a vantage point to watch the sun set over Ayers Rock. What an experience that was – balancing on portable stools sitting on red soil, nibbling on cheese n’ crackers, chips n’ dip, and sipping champagne from stemware, while we watched the sun dance on the giant red rock in a spectacle of color. Gradually the rays of sunlight faded into darkness, but not before we looked in awe at this iconic landmark in Australia.
The excitement continued when we went star gazing that night, walking through the bush and exclaiming over the Southern Cross, and Milky Way, that we could see with our naked eyes! Luckily no wandering dingo – a dog native to Australia, met us as we enjoyed our “ah ha” moment in the dark.
That was not all, for the next morning found us back at Uluru walking around the rock on a very hot day, swatting pesky flies, bemoaning the lack of netting to protect us from these annoying insects. I was dwarfed by this rock approximately 348 metres high, taller than the Eiffel Tower. Signs stood out warning people not to climb the rock because 37 people had attempted to do so, and died. Apparently the local people are very sad when someone dies.
Uluru, a natural phenomenon, began half a billion years ago, we were told. Meeting the aboriginals, the oldest living culture in history was equally interesting. They smiled at us inviting us to buy their colorful arts and crafts. All I could think of was having some ice cream, or cool Australian ginger beer to drive the heat away.
The wind had picked up, and it seemed to call me back to the core of a rock that cried Uluru over and over again. I was mesmerized by the magic of the Aussie outback, and was sad to say, “Hoo Roo” (Goodbye) to a place that has a charm all its own