It has taken me a while to write this one because we have been in some pretty harsh outback conditions for the last week or so. And the 46 degree heat and locust swarms have made me a bit lazy and also nearly fried the laptop. Enough excuses…on with the story.
Mission to prevent spoilt, entitled little shits
Other than taking the chance to massively slack off for a year, one of the big reasons we wanted to travel around Australia was to properly show our kids how lucky they have it. Until recently, we had everything you could ask for – well educated, great careers, a rung on the Sydney property market ladder, good health, surrounded by family and friends – like us, our kids were born into better fortune than most of the world’s population. They have never done it at all tough. Not in the slightest. Their “problems” were having their iPad drop to lower than 80% battery (the panic!! the mad fights for the chargers!! the battery anxiety!!), or not being able to go to [Charisma]’s rock climbing party, because they were already triple booked that Saturday with black belt club, gymnastics grading and [insert dreamy inner west name]’s horse riding party.
Don’t get me wrong – we said “no” a lot. Not because we couldn’t afford it, but because we are really mean…and also didn’t want our kids becoming spoilt, entitled little shits that got everything they wanted. But we also said yes a lot and really, those kids want for nothing. And yet, often they still felt hard done by with their inner west, first world “problems”. Quite understandably, they take their good life for granted. Why not, it’s all they know.
We couldn’t keep telling the kids how lucky they had it. That was just words – and it’s all relative. They only felt as lucky (or as hard done by) as the other extremely privileged inner west kiddies they were comparing themselves to.
So we have pulled them (and us) out of our sheltered, privileged east coast existence for a while. We eased into it – with, you know, the small things like selling the house, making them homeless and taking them out of school and away from all their friends. We have started roughing it just a tiny bit as the towns became smaller, and further apart, and there were no more Aldi stores and supplies became less plentiful and more expensive. But until this week, everywhere we have travelled has still been fairly familiar and comfortable. We have mainly been on the coast, with lots of water, soil that stuff can grow in, seafood-y goodness, mobile reception.
So rather than continuing in our coastal comfort zone around to WA, we decided to head into the centre for a completely different experience.
Kingoonya – population 12 (13 if you include the town horse)
We saw there was an unsealed road from Streaky Bay on the Eyre Peninsula almost directly north to the Stuart Highway and on to Coober Pedy. It was around 300kms but Google Maps told us it would take 12 hours to drive. The alternative was the mind numbingly boring highway route through Port Augusta that would take 7 hours. We took the gamble and headed into the unknown up the Gawler Ranges dirt track. Google maps is a clearly a bit of a wuss – Bonnie and the Shack (our 4WD and off-road camper trailer) nailed it in less than three hours and we turned up in the tiny town of Kingoonya right at beer o’clock.
Kingoonya has a pub, a dilapidated (but beautiful) old school building, and a handful of houses. It is next to the train line and is one of the only towns that have both the Ghan and the Indian Pacific travel through it. It claims to have the widest main street in the world. I did not verify this or get out my tape measure, but the street does double as a cricket field. We set up camp behind the pub, where I was pinned against the Shack by the local horse moseying on over to say hello. The hubby lured him away with a half eaten sausage roll and we headed over to the pub.
We met 8 of the population of 12 who all popped by at various points for some beer, chat, arguments. These people get 150mm of rain a year if they’re lucky (Sydney got about a quarter of their annual rainfall in just one hour last month), have a 700km round trip to “run to the shops”, and get by from the occasional custom of those willing to disregard google maps and venture off the main highway. When they heard we were from Sydney, they laughed. They pitied us. They didn’t understand why you would want to live on top of each other and suffer through traffic and all that rushing around when there is all this wide open space out here and you can sit back and have a beer and watch the trains go by. There is definitely more than one way to be lucky in this country.
I’m not meaning to glamorise it – it was rough and far from idyllic by many measures*. But the locals were welcoming, friendly and optimistic. They know what they don’t have, and they just get on with it. And they’re pretty happy with, and appreciate what they do have.
And there was a dog, a horse, some trains and a cricket pitch. The kids LOVED it.
Coober Pedy – white man’s holes in the ground
And then on to Coober Pedy. I had always wanted to visit this place where it is so hot that people build their houses underground. And that’s about the extent of the thought I had given to it.
The night before in Kingoonya, an Aboriginal woman had told us that it breaks her heart what has been done to the land here. How white man have dug up their land for sparkly rocks and it can never be repaired. The town is an anglicised version of “Kupa Piti” which we have been told means white man’s holes in the ground. And driving into this town from the Woomera, this is all you can see. Big holes, and hills of dirt. The town is built in between, and through, and under these hills and holes. It feels like Mad Max, and Westworld, and Tatooine (that planet at the start of the Phantom Menace when Anakin is a kid).
The way of life here is interesting – fascinating – but it is stark and rough (and my god so bloody HOT), and from just our short time here, we can feel the undercurrent of some bad vibes and pretty major social problems. Because, at the end of the day, it is all about the sparkly rocks, and clearly some people are doing better out of that than others. But again, enough about that for now, because it would be naive for a city lawyer (who used to act for some of the big mining companies) to swan into town for all of one day and offer an opinion on such serious and deep rooted issues.
The Oodnadatta track – and some negative comments about some negative comments
From Coober Pedy it was more, and more, and more dirt tracks. Google maps had nothing to say about these because, they’re not on google maps and there was no reception to check anyway.
For days and days we drove to William Creek, Oodnadatta, Dalhousie Springs, Mt Dare, Kulgera. In one week we have done almost as many kms and blown more cashola on diesel as we did in the whole of the first six weeks.
A flying rock broke our back windscreen just out of Coober Pedy and the whole car was filled with red dust for the rest of the trip. We went to hot springs where it was 40 degrees in the water and 45 degrees out.
Our trusty Shack has kept out dirt, wind and rain but somehow managed to let in hundreds of locusts (perhaps dozens, I couldn’t exactly count with them leaping all over the place). And because there were thousands and thousands on the outside we couldn’t even open it up to let them out because it would have made it much worse. So we slept with them jumping all over us with the temperature not dropping much below 40 all night. The flies were so thick that they sat on our eyeballs, flew up our noses and straight down our throats (bonus snackage). It was so hot that our phones started showing that emergency screen that says something like “This phone is too hot – you idiot, did you put it in the oven? All my insides are about to melt and self combust”.
We were well and truly out of our comfort zone. And did the kids complain? Well, a little. But only a little – they were hot and tired and dusty and had had insects crawling over them all night and they did remarkably well only to beg for an ice block now and then. Fair enough. They were also amazed by the new scenery, the remoteness, the frogs, the emus, the camels and even the mice and getting a taste of what life in the outback is like.
[The following is a repeat of my recent instagram rant – feel free to skip to the end if you have already suffered through this] Throughout our outback adventure we enjoyed some topnotch outback hospitality. We have pulled into many small towns with pretty basic supplies/ amenities/ camping options. Some of these towns don’t have their own water supply, can’t grow anything nearby, and the locals have to travel hundreds of kilometres to buy food, Yet when we check wiki camps comments we see “disgusting”, “dusty shithole”, “over priced”. Guess what, to get supplies in remote areas for city folk so they can luxuriate and over consume in the manner to which they have become accustomed, costs a LOT. Did the people making these comments really travel to the middle of Australia to get the same experience they would get from ordering takeaway from their couch in Sydney? We have had some great times in these small towns by chatting, finding out what the locals love (and don’t love) about where they live, recognising what they don’t have and experiencing what they do have. Rant over – too hot for ranting.
Alice Springs – woo hoo!
We had to head to Alice Springs to get the windscreen repaired and may base ourselves here for a little bit. There is so much more to explore around here. The kids are ecstatic to be somewhere with a pool and a little bit of grass. We are all getting used to the heat (which is far easier with a pool nearby) and becoming far more tolerant of new and different conditions. (Well, me in particular – in 40+ heat, I have made the HUGE leap from red wine to white wine…I am nothing if not adaptable)
I thought I even heard the kids mention how lucky they were – and their iPads were only on 10% charge. It’s quite unbelievable – but our brainwashing, anti-little shits mission may actually be working. We’re not expecting our kids to suddenly wake up and appreciate their good fortune in life, but hopefully with their frame of reference expanding everyday, they are starting to realise what are, and what definitely are not, problems. Our hope is that they can carry this with them even when we stop travelling – and that they grow up resilient, tolerant and not sweating the small stuff.
*For example, the bad blood between the Aboriginals and some of the white folk in the town was immediately evident, and we heard more about it – loudly and graphically – from both sides as the evening went on. But I am in no position to really say much more than that given my total first hand experience of these issues is having witnessed one drunken argument.