Camooweal to Alice Springs.

Devil's Marbles

The “Devil’s Marbles.”

Camooweal was a huge disappointment. Shopping was less than what was offered in Burketown. No fresh veg or fruit for us. Do you have any idea how embarrassing it is to have a tantrum in the middle of a dusty street in a town in the middle of nowhere because you cannot get any lettuce? I do. I told Derek if he pulled another stunt like that we were going home, no more road trip for him. It is so hard to have to tell a grown man to be quiet and eat the junk food.

Those little stores in those little towns try so hard. I feel awful walking in, looking around and leaving without buying anything. It would help if someone explained perishables and the need to clear them from their shelves. If, when you pick up the capsicum, your finger goes through it and embeds into some kind of goo that is glowing and smells terrible …. it has perished. I promise you it has. Throw it away. Make a nicer display of your candy bars. People will eat them if they are hungry enough. They also will drink that forever canned milk that has that greenish glow to it and those cakes that last forever – even with cream inside them. People will eat big fat grubs if they are hungry enough – but I don’t recommend putting a jar of them up on the counter. That is taking it a bit far. Let them find out that personal detail about themselves when they are face down in the dirt, clawing their way for help across the desert and it is, “eat the thing or die,” time. However, some people find out at that same moment that death is not the scariest thing in the world and that dying can sometimes feel incredibly freeing. Let me interpret that for you. I am never going to eat a big fat grub. I would rather eat the dirt.  I would rather die.

Caravanners can be cruel. We weren’t the only ones that just walked in and looked around and left without buying anything. Those poor store owner’s faces, they all looked so hopeful and then . . . nothing … not even a tin of baked beans. We are all horrible people. I don’t know where Hallmark got all those cute little grandma and grandpas with twinkles in their eyes, baking cookies and always holding the hand of some small child. Getting older does not make you softer and kinder. It makes you heartless. We are all heartless grey nomads, dashing the hopes and dreams of all those poor people in those little towns. Shame on us.

Derek talked about turning around and going back to Mt. Isa to stock up and then …. Brainwave!! Instead of doing that and killing time to get to Katherine, we would head to Alice Springs now. We could see a doctor there, get the scripts filled, pick up our forwarded mail we needed and then head on to Katherine at our leisure. Loved it!

We stayed at Tenant Creek and then headed out the next morning towards Alice Springs. We stayed that night at a roadside stop with about a half dozen other vans and then set off for Alice Springs. It was another “shake the available travelling caravan peep’s names up in the hat and pull out a dozen or so and they have to make a “team” for the night. Most people think the object is survival, in that you all come together to agree that you will all survive through the night no matter what the dark throws at you. You will fight off the Wolf Creek man, you will share your water, you will not hog the toilets, and if you are really successful you might share food and/or wine/beer/rum/vanilla extract/cleaning fluids. That is not true. The goal is to survive one another. There is a reason that you do not invite other people to “stay over” in your caravan for a night or so. It is a miracle that husbands and wives survive being locked up in such small spaces, you cannot risk other people’s lives.

We practice at home before we go. We role play. We knock on the door and ask to come in for a whole variety of reasons – we hit a kangaroo on the road and our partner is bleeding out, we need a cup of sugar, we really want to be friends, we are into wife swapping, our partner is delivering a baby, we want to help you give your life to Jesus . . . We practice until we can say “no” to everything. NO-ONE but the two of us ever get into the cone of silence – the inner sanctum – THE inside of our caravan. All good caravanners know this. All the park owners know this is a necessity for the survival of the grey-nomad, but do they stick to the rules? Do they act with care and caution? NO!! They take these delicately balanced little eco-systems called caravans and they purposefully insert everyone into everyone else’s private space.  They pack us in like sardines so that while we might not be able to see everything that we are all doing at any given moment, we hear it and smell it.   People’s habits and ticks grate on you . . . a cough, a voice, clearing their throat every two minutes, the way they laugh, how they click their false teeth together at night when they sleep, how they flush the toilet and other personal sounds, including things like someone yelling out in the late dark, “bring it home Brixxy! Make Momma proud!” I don’t think playing baseball in a caravan in the dark is a really safe thing to do.

I don’t think playing baseball in a caravan in the dark is a really safe thing to do.

So, survival requires diplomacy.  The free caravanners give each other space.  They look off into the dirt or the yonder tree lines when they sit outside.  They are polite but distant.  We all talk and laugh and go our own way, quietly into the dark and in the morning, we linger, point out things to one another like “you left your antennae up” or “your ‘Mrs’ seems to be making some kind of hand signals from the bathroom window” while you try to drive off. (I wasn’t “trying.” I swear in hand language fluently and my signals were flawless and perfectly executed.) When people are obnoxious at a free camp, you pull everything you can across the windows, including the washing machine and the stove. You turn up the television. You do anything you can to drown out their existence. You do it because in the morning you will all go in separate directions.  No-one exchanges names or tells where they live, and, you never linger. You are awake at 2 AM and must stay in bed until there is enough light that you have some chance of seeing the kangaroos on the road and are safe to go. You leap in your vehicle and leave as soon as you can and you really don’t care who might be left in the bathroom or anywhere else. It is every man for themselves. Those are the tough nights when they really picked the wrong names out of the hat.

Derek and I sometimes spend our free night making up stories about the other people staying there with us. When you don’t have television you do things like that. We get out the hand puppets, we bounce off one another with witticisms that keep us howling but probably sound like pathetic, unfunny rude stuff to other people. That is why we do not invite other people into our caravan. They would not survive. Derek, Fluffy and I are tight. We get each other. We complete one another.

We finally made it to Alice Springs.  It is set in the midst of rocky hills and broad dry river beds. The town has a large Aborigine population but was not at all incorporated like we had seen in Burketown. Tenant Creek had been the start of the definition between the two communities and Alice Springs was more so. Here the Indigenous people seemed to sit and stand around, gathered in groups of 3 or more. People wonder why they don’t do something, like get a job. Very few every spoke any English, especially not with one another. They did not make eye contact or even acknowledge you. It made me feel like they were physically here in the same world as me, but they “lived” in another one completely, a world where I did not exist for them. I am not offended by that, to tell the truth, it intrigues me. It is not a “rude” feeling, it is genuinely like you are not there.

Like Tennant Creek, there were walls and fences protecting property and keeping “them” out. Police stood guard at liquor stores. There were strict rules about supplying liquor and where and how it could be consumed. Bathrooms were locked and some even cost money to attend. Rules were in place that soon became apparent were for “them” and did not apply to whites but “we” pretended they did. I am not a bleeding heart and neither am I oblivious to the problems that are suffered by both parties. Canada has many of the same issues that all countries are struggling with concerning their “First Nation” people. And I do not mean that the First Nations people are the cause of all the problems either. I do, however, take real issue when we stop treating one another with basic respect that all humans deserve. I wondered about what chance the children would have being raised in a way where it was clear to everyone that their people were a “problem.” How does a people integrate when they are treated like animals and kept away with barbed and even razor wire?

It was hard for me to believe this was the same Australia I had been living in as I had not been subjected to any of this. We spent considerable time and will continue to do so, listening to those who have lived here and hearing their take on the issues that concern them. I wish it was easier to engage the Aborigines in conversation but it has not been, thus far. I have heard all kinds of comments from “whites” about the problem and their ideas for solutions. Some of them are worth listening to, some make little attempt to hide their racist attitudes.

As a stranger to all of this, coming into a town where police stand guard at liquor stores and homes are protected with high fences and strong gates, it makes you feel uneasy. When people point to the Aborigines with whispers and suspicion and signs and rules ban them, you start to also become “vigilant” around them. People living in fear is dangerous – especially when that fear is directed at another group. Fear explodes. It gets in the way of reason. It assumes things. I found myself starting to assume.

We had the opportunity to speak with the police and to hear their ideas of the solutions and why they are around the liquor stores etc. They were actually helping to implement a programme that was approved by the tribes and the state. It was not intended to be a permanent thing, but to aid in the transition. It made sense and in speaking with them, the ones on the front line of many “issues,” a lot of the hysteria sort of settled.

Alice Springs is one of those towns caught between its own growth – its need to address the Aboriginal people’s progress and also to accommodate the scores of tourists that pour through it on their way to see Uluru, The Devil’s Marbles, King’s Canyon and Stanley Gorge. Alice Springs is a natural stopping place, providing a much-needed break from free camping and doing without. People resupply and have repairs made. They can be seen at the hospital or pick up mail. It is just a great stopping place and clearly, from all the caravan parks and everything geared for tourists, the town makes the most of the financial opportunities.

I was blown away at the numbers of caravans from all over, many carrying people from other countries completely. What a great opportunity to meet other people. It is like the biggest and most liberating “nursing home” ever … and the “inmates” are running the show. Love it!

(more wrecks proving speed kills, people should not drink and drive, they should not text and they should stop and revive.  Also, there are many useful things to steal from off a car. I wonder how long it takes for these vehicles to be picked clean? )