I did say I would write-up my Uluru trip – so here it is
It was a change to my normal travel style – flew out to Uluru and stayed for a weekend and then drove out on to a remote Aboriginal Community to see a friend.
I will try not to wax lyrical about the trip – but I can say that is was way outside of my comfort zone – had a case of culture shock that I haven’t had since I first visited Bali years ago.
Flying to Yulara (the town where Uluru is) is not cheap thanks the Qantas stranglehold but it’s a quick flight of less than 3 hours on a little Boeing 717, 100 or so seats and no aerobridge.
First impressions were of lots of red dirt – it’s full of iron oxide so it’s dark orange/red and is really fine – the dust gets in everything. It’s what I imagine Mars would be like.
The weather was pretty good –it was a pleasant 18 degrees most days, although the nights can get down to single digits. I stayed at one of the 7 or so hotel/motels that they have. As Yulara is only there to service tourists visiting Uluru (Ayres Rock) or Kata Tjuda (The Olgas) it’s pretty much a resort town –like a ski field without the snow.
I did what most people do when in Uluru – which is drink. All the surrounding communities are ‘dry’ which means alcohol is prohibited and you can only buy it at one place within the town; luckily it was the one I was staying at. There is a really convivial atmosphere and everyone seems really happy to be there. I was with teachers from the Ngaanyatjarra Lands Schools who have spent the last 5 weeks working hard in some really remote schools – so the long weekend was a good excuse to gather and relax.
Once Monday rolled around it was driving time – and it’s a 4 hour trip out to the community I was staying through some pretty rough track. I have only done a little bit of 4 wheel driving so wasn’t really prepared for the constant bouncing over dirt tracks – not to mention my tendency toward car sickness, which I held at bay with ginger biscuits and sheer willpower.
The drive itself was through NT, South Australia and then back into WA. It’s very big and very blue and full of feral camels. They are the special needs animals of Australia – stupid looking and even stupider acting, won’t get out the way when you are beeping the horn… I can imagine why they need to cull them – there are supposedly a million of them roaming the outback making a mess of it.
Now after a 4 hour trip I was a little scrambled but I did get a good look at the community driving it – and realised I was definitely remote! It’s pretty hard to find on a map of WA and that’s because it’s about 5 streets. There is a school, a store, a nurse station, a cop shop and 15 or so dongas (demountable accommodation) and that’s it. On the outskirts are a car graveyard and the rubbish tip –where you get to burn your trash. I am a pyromaniac so that was a highlight for me – being able to set things on fire without getting in trouble!
I stayed in a donga that was pretty average for the location – the doors are 2 inch steel and there are bars on all the windows to prevent the kids from breaking in, although it doesn’t stop them trying as the door had splits where an axe had been swung and sliced the metal. The accommodation is provided by the Department and I would say it’s habitable, but not by much. Most furniture is really basic serviceable stuff. I was not there to stay in luxury though – I was there for the experience.
It was pretty wild – it’s a complete contrasting place. On one hand it’s so incredibly peaceful, quiet, and natural and the air is so clean. On the other hand its dirty, confronting, hard work and depressing.
I found the local store to be somewhat of a revelation – the place I experienced the most culture shock, walking down a dusty path to a squat concrete building, past feral camp dogs, naked babies, and a burning 40 gallon drum to a bunker with a steel cage at the front – that was the shop. Only open 4 hours a day stocking pretty much the bare essentials and non-food products are behind glass & locked down. Obviously the prices are much higher than they would be in Perth – freight out is by plane and truck from Alice Springs.
I spent the week there pretty much trying to fit in and not do anything contrary to the local customs. It was close to 3C every morning and getting out of bed was a chore. I did what I would normally do if I didn’t have to work… bake and clean! I made choc-chip cookies, brownies and scones plus a roast dinner with all the trimmings in this horrid electric oven.
I even assisted at the school, covered some books, laminated things and pitched in. The teachers out there do an amazing job; there are no cleaners or support staff (except one front office admin) and they pretty much live and breathe teaching… there is no going home after school for a beer and wind down; home is school and vice versa, and there’s no booze!
The week did pass quickly and before you know it there is another 4 hour drive back to Yulara and civilisation…my last day or so was spent drinking wine, eating kit-kats and just enjoying myself.
Overall I think it really opened up my perspective of what the interior of Australia is like, it’s a place I would recommend visiting just because it’s so different to other parts of the world. It also makes me want to visit Kakadu and northern WA, just not in summer!
Pictures are to follow shortly.