Joined: Nov 2007
Location: Hamilton, New Zealand
Birtles vs Australia
ACT 11 Three Ways to Alice Springs
In which we learn Aboriginal place names, see balancing rocks and aliens, farewell Thermy, and meet Kota.
Kunjarra (Devil’s Pebbles) is a quiet place, which is understandable. Why drive off the
main road to see a miniature version of the Devil’s Marbles when the real thing is just a bit
further on, next to the highway? It lacks the grandeur of the five big attractions of the central area:
Uluru (Ayers Rock),
Kata Tjuta (The Olgas),
Karlu Karlu (Devil’s Marbles),
Watarrka (Kings Canyon),
Tennant Creek YHA (Tennant Creek YHA).
But right now, for me, that is a good thing. When I arrive there is nobody else
here and it stays that way until I leave.
We are at Kunjarra because earlier, at Three Ways, Birtles turned left and headed
south down the Stuart Highway rather than following the original plan and turning
right / north to Katherine and then Western Australia. It is a pity to miss seeing WA,
but with the time lost on the diversion to Brisbane, going around WA would mean a
series of long riding days with little time to spare. The Quilpi to Brisbane stint showed
what back to back 350+ kilometre days would be like: pack up camp / ride for 7 hours /
set up camp. Heading south allows time for the sightseeing that is the purpose of
the trip and for more than one day at locations that appeal. There are locations east
and west of Alice that really appeal, and who knows, the Oodnadatta Track is down
that way, isn’t it?
Sue’s advice from back home to “Be safe and have fun” had already swayed me towards
the less rushed option, and Grimpeur’s comment outside the Three Ways roadhouse
confirmed the decision to head south -
“Climb, Climb! … Climb Uluru…. please?”
Swallows are clever little buggers - I couldn’t make a home out of mud and spit.
It is quiet here in the sense that there is an absence of noise. There are sounds - birds,
insects, wind - in harmony with the environment and non-intrusive, although this
suggests that while the sounds blend in, they are still separate to the visual scene.
They are not. The sounds here are like pieces of a jigsaw - essential to complete the
picture and if missing their absence would be more obvious than their presence.
After walking around the Pebbles, I sit and try to engage with the area, to appreciate
what it meant to the original inhabitants - a place that influenced and enforced customs
and rites that a westerner would label “religious” or “spiritual”, but were in fact as
inseparable from everyday life as the sounds around me are from the scenery.
Surely I can empathise with it?
It doesn’t work. I cannot open a space in my mind big enough for the old to enter.
The comfortable baggage of my life is piled high and resists being pushed aside,
even for a moment.
One thing that can be appreciated is the time it must have taken to decorate
these 44-gallon drums that serve as rubbish bins ….
… and my bushtracking skills are definitely improving.
Once this would have appeared to be just a confused jumble of boot prints,
but now I can interpret the finer detail … it’s a confused jumble of boot prints
and a motorcycle track !
What made these 4, 3, and 2-toed foot prints I do not know.
(Actual footprints, as photographed).
Tennant Creek. Other travelers seemed to see TC as a place to avoid. True, it
does have a presence about it that could be intimidating. People here act in
unexpected ways that the outsider can regard positively (as local ambience)
or negatively (as threatening behaviour).
I go for the local ambience interpretation but still have a struggle to suppress
my reactions to some of what I saw.
Even better decorated bins in TC. Won’t be long before these are being
sold as works of art.
Drumming performance by a school group in TC. They are good. At one
point there seem to be two strands of rhythms at slightly different tempos,
interweaving, now reinforcing, now negating each other.
It’s the Tennant Creek YHA for the night to see if the reviews on the internet
about the place are true. Yes, it is grubby, but it is cheap and friendly and that’s
about all I expect. Eccentric decorations and sculptures fill every nook and cranny.
Just out of TC we stop at a mining museum and Birtles spots just the job
for his next tyre change.
The Devil’s Marbles are unavoidable unless you drive with you eyes closed.
Their reserve abuts the highway and the unenergetic can stay in the car with
the air conditioning on and still be able to say they have been there, seen that.
I turn off Birtles’ air conditioning and wander into the reserve through needle sharp spinifex.
At Wauchope pub-come-roadhouse old meets new in this telescopic-sighted spear.
This is he only four-trailer road train I see. It passes me a couple of kilometers
out of Wauchope, still working its way up through the gears.
This is what greets you at Wycliffe Well, but don’t be put off, it gets much better
around the back in the camping area which is brilliant - except for the animal
poo all over the place.
Aliens, Elvis, the Hulk and gangsters are some of the statuary. There is a real
steam locomotive, Brahman cattle and lots of bird life. There are the sad imprisoned
birds but at least the enclosures are large, free birds in the trees above, and a flock
of wandering bantams who find my tent irresistible. There are emus that strut about
and boom, and a tired looking donkey - the author of all that poo.
The shop is staffed by two cheerful Japanese girls who operate as a team,
playing table tennis with my english words until they have a translation that
fits the situation. Making a purchase is slow if you want anything that cannot
be pointed to. White Chocolate Tim Tams are particularly difficult.
While they volley “Tim Tams” back and forth there is time to read the walls.
Not graffiti but decades of newspaper clippings reporting local paranormal happenings.
Hundreds of them. There didn’t seem to be a mention of Min Min, but everything else has
been sighted from saucers and almond shaped eyes through to The King. When I
tear myself away from this imaginative social record the girls are level pegging at deuce.
I make it easy on them and change my order to something that can be pointed to.
The donkey poo, the aliens, the girls playing ping-pong, the icy swimming pool ….
Wycliffe Well is just the thing to break the monotony of the Stuart Highway.
The cooling waters have come too late for Thermy, my Boys’ Own Thermometer
who has cracked up in the heat. We should have seen it coming, his temperature
had been high for days. To give the rest of the party a better chance, we decide
not to carry his body with us but to inter him in a rubbish bin at Wycliffe Well.
On the way to Barrow Creek a group of eagles challenge Birtles’ passage.
They observe our approach and stay put, probably judging that since there
are four of them, they can finish off the whole kangaroo well before we get to
them. At fifty metres three lose their nerve and fly off leaving one to clean the
plate. He (no discrimination against female eagles is intended: the bird is being
referred to as “he” simply for convenience, and “he” could just as easily been
“she”, but I had to make a choice as “it” sounds so impersonal, don’t you think?)
is unhappy. He glares at me, Birtles slows to a crawl. At twenty meters he rises
into the wind, doesn't make forward progress from the standing start but rises
high enough to pass over my helmet. There is a brief close-up of long powerful
legs and talons that could take my helmet clean off. I imagine him carrying it high
before dropping it on the road to crack it open for a second course, a little
something for when the kangaroo is all gone. Birtles wobbles off into the bush
with the rest of me still aboard.
But… not before being seen by several Grey Nomads who report their sighting.
Soon another clipping appears on Wycliffe Well’s para-normal display:
"Headless Alien on 2-Wheeled Saucer".
Barrow Creek. Some strange goings on here a few years ago, too. By the number
of cars at the road house, it’s been good for business.
Ti Tree. A troupe of peacocks parade through the camp ground, fluffing up their
tails at anything that moves. Later they fly onto a water tank stand and a windmill
tower. Brian at camp (not the “looking for” Brian, unfortunately) knows about
peacocks and reckons that they came from India and spend their nights on the
highest thing around to avoid predators.
I’d do the same thing if I were in India.
That guy on the hill sure has a big spear. Aileron locals have taken the art of
stane-stack a few steps further. In the interests of modesty I avoid a frontal
view of the full-buttocked figure.
The winds are not so modest. South of Aileron they are fully frontal and ferocious.
Birtles struggles at full throttle to reach 55kph, yet Kota Takagi is making headway
into the wind at the rate of 90 kilometres per day.
He is on a long straight about 70kms from Alice when I pass and give him the
thumbs-up, then decide to stop. He quickly catches up, not showing any signs of exertion.
He doesn't need water but is hungry so I dig out my food cache and offer him
cheese and a packet of mixed nuts. Just down the road is a rest stop by the
meridian sculpture so there we have a Spartan lunch and find out about each other.
Kota is a Japanese student taking a 42 day break between his third and fourth
years of study to become a criminal lawyer. After the fourth year he will go straight
into a job. Holidays in Japan are regular but short so this is his one chance for an
overseas adventure. Riding a pushie from Darwin to Adelaide with a schedule of
90 kilometres a day no matter what is not everyone’s idea of a holiday to remember -
as with Bazza back at Barkly I think this guy must have something special.
To be continued ……….
BigZoner #096 (English Chapter)
"Keep brotherhood till die"