The Weirdness and Glory of the Aussie Outback
“Why not spend the money to go overseas?” asked the Sydney wankers when we told them we’d be spending our uni break road tripping our way through the outback. They turned their noses up, but we were fair dinkum.
When Australians think about travelling around our homeland, they imagine a retired old couple going from place to place in a caravan. They are not wrong. Far too many young Australians head abroad before they even consider seeing what we have going on right here down under, leaving our sunburnt country to the silver nomads.
Four friends and I were going to attempt to get to Uluru and back in 11 days, covering 6,300km – an estimated 65 hours of driving. On my 20th birthday, we picked up the Fur Burger (our questionably road-worthy vehicle), our cork hats and shitloads of stolen bread. We piled in and were off on our merry way.
Amongst the five of us crammed into the 2 x 1.5m space for eight hours a day, there was a sweaty American, a stoned Canadian and a crocs-and-socks-wearing Tasmanian (me). There was a lot of denim. It was hot, we were cramped, the air was pungent and the Essential Aussie Songs CD, that included an acoustic rendition of the Australian anthem, was on repeat. Looking back, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
Some parts of Australia are pretty fucked
Having grown up in Tassie, I thought I had seen the weirdest fucks to ever grace this barren land. I’m talking about two-toothed, red-necked, eloping-with-their-cousin kind of hillbillies. But after passing through New South Wales and Victoria we found ourselves in a place that I hope you’ve never heard of – Nelshaby, South Australia.
It was getting dark and we were trying to get a fire going at a dodgy free campsite when I felt a rock hit my head. I looked over and saw a child holding a pile of ammunition. I followed the little shit around the corner to find a family of at least 25 living out of their cars and one man-made hut. Observing the behaviour of the clan left me speechless, particularly when asked to move our fire by two “council” workers in fluro Kmart shirts who were holding hands.
We concluded that maybe this was a one-time thing. But when we rocked up in Coober Pedy the next day, we were proven wrong.
I’m pretty sure we saw a dead man clutching a VB on the side of the road in Coober. The locals were way too casual in telling us that there were murders aplenty in the underground buildings. The weird, organised rubbish dumps on the side of the road looked like a scene straight out of Criminal Minds. We were quickly in and out of that hellhole, avoiding eye contact with anyone as we tried to accept the fact that the majority of remote Australians were completely nuts.
Sometimes cultural etiquette is too hard to explain
The siren was going off. The police were flagging us down and the American was in the driver’s seat. The Canadian to my left had made a bong out of his drink bottle an hour or so before, and he certainly looked like it. I accepted our fate. Either we were getting searched, tested, breathoed or fined.
“I got this guys. Watch and learn,” said the American.
“Hey mate. Where you off to?”
“Afternoon fine sir. We are off to the ALL ALMIGHTY Uluru.”
The rest of the car stared with disbelief at this patriotic idiot.
“Yeah righto, I see. Is this bongo van registered?”
“Sir, the vehicle is registered, and I am a registered driver. I am from the state of California. I’m from the United States, and I’m very excited to be here.”
The officer stared blankly, trying to detect sarcasm or a nervous talking problem.
“Mate you were doing eight ks over the limit. I’m going to have to fine you.”
We drove away with a $280 fine. It was day four and Home Among the Gum Trees was promptly turned off in favour of silence. The adrenaline on which we had survived came to a screeching halt.
Rural people can be super friendly
On day five, we crossed the NT border and got to Kulgera. It’s shown as a town on the map, but it’s really just a petrol station and pub. This setup exceeded our basic needs and we headed straight for a beer.
This is when we met Rob, the single barman who runs the joint. He was stoked to see visitors under the age of 60, and expressed his disappointment at how few young people make the journey to Uluru. We got the jukebox blasting, took shots of Rob’s top shelf liquor (Black Sambuca), then boogied and played pool with random truckies and a couple of Kiwi tradies.
Uluru was kind of sad
Despite the good times, we were pretty sad to learn from Rob and the local Aboriginals that many in fact despised Uluru. We learned that the land was only returned to the traditional owners in 1985 after years of disrepect, leaving many with a sense of sadness and negative association to the rock. As one Aboriginal lady said to me, they have watched what was once sacred literally being trodden on, and much of the surrounding land being sold off for foreign cattle breeding.
I know it was probably a lot more technical than my basic understanding, but it wasn’t hard to see that the pride in this country, both from the indigenous Australians and from the people who run it, was withering away.
The price of things is getting ridiculous
Despite being stingy as fuck and rationing our bread like a block of Cadburys on school camp, we couldn’t avoid the price to get into Uluru. It costs $250 just to get inside the park. The cost of everything in the place was absurd; I paid $6 for a bottle of water. Uluru has become a money pit and that was such a turn off. It completely took away from the magic of the place. Even the “cultural centre” comprised of little more than a few measly metres of uninspiring info, with the main focus on the overpriced merch stalls at the entrance and again at the exit. No wonder Australians aren’t flocking to the rock in droves – if your own people can’t be fucked to go, then what’s the point? What’s the future going to look like?
Despite all of this, Australia is awesome.
Despite our shitty political leadership and overpriced tourism industry, Australia is a seriously cool place. There a huge variety of places to explore, a lot to learn, and the added bonus that outback locals will always want to crack a cold one with you.
As far as destinations go, Uluru doesn’t seem to be high on people’s lists. Sailing Croatia or a selfie with the Leaning Tower of Pisa seems to be far more appealing and Instagram-worthy than a sweaty venture into the outback. But when you’re planning your next trip, wipe the dust off your Aussie pride and give our good old backyard a thought. My roadie to the red centre was not only 11 hilarious days with my best mates, but a really worthwhile insight into our culture.