Drink, Drugs & the War on Reason

‘Man, being reasonable, must get drunk’ (Byron, 2005 [1819])

The legacies of the Enlightenment can be seen at work in almost every facet of contemporary culture. The emphasis placed on reason, during that period of history, has been integral to the development of notions such as freedom, liberty and truth, which in turn have formed the economic, political, and moral foundations upon which modern society is constructed – most notably; capitalism, democracy and ‘human rights’.

lord-byron-man-being-reasonable-must-get-drunk-best-life-intoxication

“Man, being reasonable, must get drunk…” – Lord Byron

It can be easy for the moderate drinker to dismiss grand claims, such as Baudelaire’s “yearn[ing] for the infinite” (cited in Nicholls, 2006: 144), as over-embellishment. However, alcohol does possess the ability to strip us of our reason. If this were not the case then there would be no ‘drink question’, nor the vast array of literature and debate that surrounds the subject. Although different drugs produce very different effects, this argument is still applicable to the majority of intoxicating substances.

get-drunk-charles-baudelaire-one-should-always-be-drunk-time-wine-poetry

“Get drunk!” – Baudelaire

The construction of the self within society involves a process of repression of our basic impulses that takes place throughout our upbringing, for example when a child is taught that it is wrong to fight. It is widely accepted that alcohol breaks down these restraints. In the first instance, this is beneficial in that it facilitates “conviviality: the empirically grounded belief…that drink facilitates free and easy conversation” (Nicholls, 2009: 55). However, continued drinking relieves us of our ability to form logical chains of thought, eventually resulting in the complete loss of reason, and leaving the drunkard to act on singular impulses – what Boothroyd describes as “a kind of snakes and ladders sequential logic” (2006: 119). The drunkard may be able to stumble home, but only in the same way that an animal functions (that is, if we are to believe to commonly held assertion that animals don’t possess reason and that is what separates us from them, which I’m not sure I do). He is without reason; and when he wakes he will have to come to terms with the actions of the night before that no longer make rational sense, whether regretting them, repressing them, or simply laughing at their ridiculousness.

luigi-russolo-memories-of-a-night-ricordi-di-una-notte

“Memories of a Night” – Luigi Russolo

Why then, when rational thinking is the driving force behind our modern world, do we continue to pursue the irrational through drinking and the taking of drugs? It would seem that, as the world continues to develop, so too does the spread of substance use. Robin Room has stated that “psychoactive substance use is deeply enmeshed in human behaviour, and it is unrealistic to contemplate a world without such use” (2003b: 1). This essay will attempt to address the potential reasons behind this long unresolved issue: “Why would a rational person drink,” asks Earnshaw, “when all it could lead to was ‘crime, pauperism [and] insanity’?” (2000: 221).

binge-britain

“Binge Britain”

Throughout history, drugs have a habit of becoming associated with the imagined problems of their era, such as poverty (Warner, 2003: 213); fears over immigrants, minorities and the working-class poor (Davenport-Hines, 2002: 151); the adverse effects of industrialization and city life (Gootenberg, 1999: 126); or “the loss of traditional values…family breakdown and crime” (Dillon, 2002: 304). The Gin Craze of 1736 was the first account of a major scale panic over drink or drugs. However, it doesn’t follow that gin alone could be the sole course of such an uproar. For Warner, “the real fallacy lies in assuming that any drug…is by itself responsible for the poor health and poor behaviour of its users.” (2003: 212). She suggests that it is in fact the other way around; that the “culture in which the drug has taken root” is at least partially to blame. (2003: 219). This is a point echoed by Dillon, who states that “Drug Craze and Drug Panic might be Siamese twins…it might be the very same forces of fear and uncertainty which drove young people to drugs” (2002: 304). According to Warner, “cities are complex and often very frightening places…we are too easily seduced by the notion that the complex problems that come with complex places boil down to a simple and single source, be it gin, heroin, or crack cocaine.” In fact, it is most likely because so many of the issues of modern life remain “unresolved issues” (Nicholls, 2006: 132) that so too does the ‘drink question’.

gin-lane-william-hogarth

“Gin Lane” – William Hogarth

One of the largest of the perceived threats to society is the idea that drink and drug use encourage “unwholesome pleasure-seeking” (Davenport-Hines, 2002: 156) and have negative effects on the mentality of work, labour and productivity that is essential for the functioning of capitalism. Derrida (1995: 241) suggests that this is the reason that drugs are “condemned by a society based on work and on the subject answerable as subject.” Drugs, therefore, undermine capitalism by exposing the inherent contradiction that it tells us to be productive, but also to pursue happiness – in other words, to ‘work hard, play hard’. According to Benjamin, “the surrealists [were] the ‘first to liquidate the sclerotic-moral-humanistic ideal of freedom’” (cited in Boothroyd, 2006: 116). It was Benjamin’s aim to utilise “narcotics to counteract the stupefying effects of life under capitalism.” (Boothroyd, 2006: 116).

Drink and drugs, due to their intoxicating nature, point out a flaw within the concept of freedom through which “individuals not only realize themselves, but also govern themselves.” (Reith, 2004: 285). Drunkenness is a kind of “temporary madness” (Nicholls, 2000). Because to be free in all senses requires a sane and reasonable mind, one is not free when intoxicated. This means that freedom requires restraint (not to drink or take drugs) and so is not freedom at all – by its own nature freedom must be complete and free of limitations and restrictions.

One of my favourite examples of where drink and drug use have provided an insight into the failings of modernity is in the work of Jack Kerouac. Up until his death as a result of cirrhosis of the liver, aged only forty-seven, his work became increasingly obsessed with motifs of the city and its polar opposite – solitude; and with the lack of purpose in modern life once the myth of freedom has been quashed. The following extract is taken from Big Sur, his semi-autobiographical novel telling the story of his mental breakdown, and is typical of the angst, depression and desperation resulting from his search for meaning:

Me drunk practically all the time to put on a jovial cap to keep up with all this but finally realizing I was surrounded and outnumbered and had to get away to solitude again or die. (Kerouac, 2001 [1962])

jack-kerouac-me-drunk-practically-all-the-time

“Me drunk practically all the time to put on a jovial cap to keep up with all this…” – Kerouac

Robin Room (2003a: 3) argues that “addiction…emerge[d] as a way of understanding…the failure of the drinker or drug user to behave rationally…to stop a recurrent pattern of use despite the harm it is seen as causing” and as such is “culturally specific…of the late modern period.” (2003a: 2). He insists that the criteria upon which addiction is defined only “make sense in a culture where…individualism [is] taken for granted, where each citizen has the right to ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ [and] only in the context of a culture attuned to the clock…in which time is viewed as a commodity which is used or spent rather than simply experienced.” (2003a: 4-5). Room suggests that addiction has become “an arena for struggle and triumph.” (2003a: 8) In other words it can give people the conflict that gives their life a purpose. This is where a fallacy emerges in the addiction concept: how can someone overcome an addiction that “proved stronger than [their] will”?

Valverde has asserted that “alcoholism, addiction, and alcoholism’s strange offspring, codependence…as a construct and as an experience, [are] rooted in the perceived opposition between one’s willpower and one’s desires” (1998: 33). Room also addresses this “assumption…that desires are something distinct from the will.” (2003a: 6). The words ‘will’ and ‘desire’ are effectively referring to the same thing but are caught up in addiction discourses that, as already discussed, came into being to serve a particular cultural purpose. A better term then might be ‘conflicting wants’, as it disperses of the myth that one is somehow worth more than the other. It is now clear that in some situations people consider their ‘want’ for alcohol or drugs a higher priority than their ‘wants’ for health, security or perceived success.

Liberalism – the dominant philosophy in Western thought – is heavily based on the notion of “maximum freedom from state compulsion (with the caveat that individual actions must not restrict the freedom or rights of others).” (Nicholls, 2006: 132-3). Already the “caveat” highlights what we have already asserted: that freedom is inherently an unattainable ideal. This can also be seen in Mill’s assertion “that an individual’s ‘choice of pleasures and their mode of expending their income, after satisfying their legal and moral obligations to the State and to individuals, are their own concern and must rest with their own judgement’” (cited in Blackman, 2004: 186-7). Although well-meaning, Mill’s remark is essentially meaningless. Without clarification of these “obligations” they could mean anything, thus justifying any amount of state control and any infringement upon personal freedom. It is not hard to see how his work became appropriated by the temperance campaigners, whom he was in direct opposition with.

As discussed in great depth by Nicholls, these debates around alcohol and drugs flag up the many “complexities…divisions” and paradoxes that remain riddled in the fabric of liberalism (2006: 131). Prohibitionists objected to intoxication because it was “a radically subjective (and, therefore, un-selfless) cognitive experience,” (2006: 136). In other words, what one gains from the drug experience is useless – and sometimes even detrimental – to the development of collective society. Derrida has also pointed out that “The Enlightenment…identified essentially by the motif of publicity and with the public character of every act of reason, is in itself a declaration of war on drugs.” (1995: 250). In a side note, it may be worth considering that the reverse is also true: that persisting drug use could be a “declaration of war” on what Nicholls refers to as “the canonization of reason associated with Enlightenment ideals” (2000). Courtwright (2002: 169) takes these points even further, stating:

The Enlightenment and its legacy of secular philosophies such as utilitarianism, with its imperative to pursue the greatest good for the greatest number, gave rise to a simple but very powerful idea…that private gains, however large…entail unacceptably high and morally indefensible public costs…If alcohol abuse leads to more sickness and premature death, it translates into fewer days worked, which equal so many dollars less in productivity, wages, and taxes. If it causes more crime and accidents, it raises police and medical costs, passed on to others as higher taxes and insurance premiums…

The ‘welfare state’ is an unmistakably liberal idea in that it supports everyone’s ‘right’ to safety, good health and wellbeing. However, it means that how one chooses to treat their body becomes the business of the state. One is no longer free to take personal risks as they may cost others. Morality begins to be measured in terms of money. This is the second paradox of liberty: that freedom, once again, is subject to responsibilities to, and the demands of, the State.

According to Nicholls (2006: 147) there is “near universal agreement on the unacceptability of non-consensual and random acts of violence”. Prohibitionists maintained that the Gin Craze was evidence enough that individual freedom “would lead to anarchic hedonism…‘riot and debauchery’” (2006: 134) and argued that the role of the state was as “educator” and that it should therefore “intervene” (2006: 133). According to Stivers (2000: 38), “the ideology of the movement [was that] immense political and social problems are the result of crime, the principle cause of which is drunkenness…Therefore teetotalism leads to the amelioration of social problems, individual health, and ultimately individual salvation.”

Mill opposed them, on the grounds that while violence is wrong, alcohol, in itself, is not; that it is unfair – ‘fairness’ being another necessary offshoot of liberty and freedom – to impose on, and restrict, the lives of moderate drinkers, who show “irrefutably that drink does not inevitably lead to ruin” (Nicholls, 2006: 140); and finally that prohibition is “‘far more dangerous than any single interference with liberty [as] there is no violation of liberty it would not justify’” (cited in Nicholls, 2006: 141). Mill and others have equated the temperance movement with “tyranny” (2006: 142). This latter point is echoed by Blackman when he quotes Mill as saying that it “assert[ed] an unlimited right in the public not only to prohibit by law everything that it thinks wrong, but, in order to get at what it thinks wrong, to prohibit a number of things which it admits to be innocent” (2004: 186).

Behind the exchanges between temperance campaigners and their critics is another unavoidable paradox. If drunken violence harms and impinges on the rights of others, then prohibition and other forms of state control are necessary. However, this legislation infringes on the ‘rights’ and ‘freedom’ of both retailers and consumers. Therefore, there is no way that society can take a truly liberal approach in all respects.

There are clearly a wide range of instances when the loss of reason, whether fully, in part, or metaphorically, can be put to creative or other productive use, but in addition to this, intoxication is important in defining sobriety, and therefore rationality, through their opposition. It is precisely the fact that drink and drugs impair our capacity for reason that we are so attracted to them. For all the ‘good’ things we lose when intoxicated, we are also freed of all the ‘bad’ – the restricting demands of thinking, of identity, and of the constantly contradictory modern world. Sometimes we want to be no more than those ‘animals’ – simple and free.

We have seen that drugs and the debates around them help to undermine the capitalist system within which we construct our selves, show freedom to be an illusion, and liberty to be unobtainable and therefore unrealistic as a political and philosophical goal. The question is: if or when these concerns, which drug use has brought to the fore, become too compelling to ignore, will society be able to find a way to adapt? What else is there? More realistically though, drinking and drug-taking look likely to remain “key practise[s] in the social construction of the world as it is and as it should be.” (Wilson, 2005: 13).

References

Blackman, S. (2004) Chilling Out: The Cultural Politics of Substance Consumption, Youth and Drug Policy. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Boothroyd, D. (2006) Culture on Drugs: Narco-Cultural Studies of High Modernity. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Byron, G. G. (2005) Don Juan. London: Penguin

Courtwright, D. (2002) Forces of Habit: Drugs and the Making of the Modern World. London: Harvard University Press

Davenport-Hines, R. (2002) The Pursuit of Oblivion: A Social History of Drugs. London: Phoenix

Derrida, J. (1995) ‘The Rhetoric of Drugs’, in Points – Interviews, 1976-1993. [Translated by Peggy Kamuf et al.] Stanford: Stanford University Press

Dillon, P. (2002) The Much-lamented Death of Madam Geneva. London: Review, pp. 294 – 305

Earnshaw, S. (2000) The Pub in Literature: England’s Altered State. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Gootenberg, P. ed. (1999) Cocaine: Global Histories. London: Routledge

Kerouac, J. (2001) Big Sur. London: Flamingo

Nicholls, J. (2000) ‘Barflies and Bohemians: Drink, Paris and Modernity’, Dionysos 10.1

Nicholls, J. (2006) ‘Liberties and licenses: alcohol in liberal thought’, International Journal of Cultural Studies 9.2, pp.131-51

Nicholls, J. (2009) The Politics of Alcohol: A History of the Drink Question in England. Manchester: Manchester University Press

Reith, G. (2004) ‘Consumption and its discontents: addiction, identity, and the politics of freedom’, British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 55, No. 2, pp. 283-300

Room, R. (2003a) ‘The Cultural Framing of Addiction’ Janus Head 6(2). [online] Available from: http://www.janushead.org/6-2/Room.pdf [Accessed 14.1.2010]

Room, R. (2003b) ‘The Use of Alcohol and Drugs: Patterns, Pleasures and Problems’ [online] Available from: http://www.robinroom.net/#full [Accessed 16.1.2010]

Stivers, R. (2000) Hair of the Dog: Irish Drinking and its American Stereotype. London: Continuum

Valverde, M. (1998) Diseases of the Will: Alcohol and the Dilemmas of Freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Warner, J. (2003) Craze. London: Profile, pp. 209-219

Wilson, T. ed. (2005) Drinking Cultures: Alcohol and Identity. Oxford: Berg

Further Bibliography

Burroughs, W. S. (1977) Junky. London: Penguin

Burroughs, W. S. (2005) Naked Lunch. London: Harper Perennial

Carnwath, T. and Smith, I. (2002) The Heroin Century. London: Routledge

Conrad, B. (1998) Absinthe: History in a Bottle. San Francisco: Chronicle

De Quincey, T. (1994) Confessions of an English Opium-Eater. Ware: Wordsworth

Fachner, J. (2003) ‘Jazz, Improvisation and a Social Pharmocology of Music’, Music Therapy Today, Vol. 4, No. 3 [online] Available from: http://www.musictherapyworld.de/modules/mmmagazine/issues/20030613105603/20030613111344/Fachner_MTT.pdf [Accessed 16.1.2010]

Frey, J. (2004) A Million Little Pieces. London: John Murray

Grinspoon, L. (1979) Psychedelic Drugs Reconsidered. London: Basic

Hemingway, E. (1982) The Sun Also Rises. New York: Charles Scribner

Jay, M. (2000) Emperors of Dreams: Drugs in the Nineteenth Century. Sawtry: Dedalus

Kerouac, J. (2001) Desolation Angels. London: Flamingo

Kerouac, J. (1994) The Dharma Bums. London: Flamingo

Lee, M. (2001) Acid Dreams: The Complete Social History of LSD. London: Pan

Plant, S. (1999) Writing on Drugs. London: Faber & Faber

Reynolds, S. (1998) Energy Flash: A Journey Through Dance Music and Rave Culture. London: Picador

Thompson, H. S. (2005) Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. London: Harper Perennial

Walton, S. (2002) Out of It: A Cultural History of Intoxication. (London: Penguin), pp. 239-64

Wolfe, T. (1989) The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. London: Transworld

Categories: UK | Tags: | 7 Comments

Perth Nightlife Guide

After a hair-of-the-dog mango wheat-beer at the Northbridge Brewery, and with a hangover from hitting 17 Swan Valley wineries, breweries and distilleries in one day, me and Ruth met my old friend Oscar (who I hadn’t seen in literally half a lifetime) and Harriet in Ezra Pound, for what was surely one of the most epic catch-up sessions in history (accidentally stumbling into the Pride parade, Mei Saraswati + Band live at The Bird, a peepshow and enough alcohol to bring down a wildebeest…)

Street art outside Ezra Pound bar in Northbridge, Perth, Western Australia

Ezra Pound, Northbridge

Oscar knows the streets of Perth like he knew the backstreets of our hometown (which, I can vouch, was pretty damn well) and like, he assures me, he knows the underside of his left testicle, so without any further ado I’ll pass you over into his capable hands:

Perth Nightlife Guide by Guest Writer: Oscar Phillips

First thing you need to know about Perth? It isn’t cheap, but if you’re in the right place at the right time you can get merry without an empty wallet the next morning.

Perth’s nightlife is divided by the train station: on one side you have the city’s swanky heart and on the other you have Northbridge: Perth’s seedy underbelly, though undoubtedly where all the real action happens. William Street runs through the centre, linking them both.

The heart of the city is buzzing with activity, then the clock strikes 12. Yep, Perth is no 24-hour party-time metropolis, but it does have some gems. Go out and explore a bit, start at one of the bars listed below and find yourself in a bar I haven’t mentioned. There’s a lot of fun to be had in Perth for the drinker and a lot of bars to drink at.

When you’re drinking for effect rather than taste and everyone is looking a whole lot more attractive, and you’ve tried, but you can’t stop your body from convulsing to any kind of music you hear; that, my friend, is your time to experience Perth’s club scene. Air (Fri-Sat till 4 am), Connections (Wed-Thurs till 4 am, Fri-Sat till 5 am) and Mint (Fri-Sat till 5 am) are my pick of a few bog-standard night-clubs on James St – places you go when you’re already pissed and the good bar you were drinking in is closing up. Perth really isn’t a city you come to in search of world-class night-clubs, but who knows, you may have one of the best nights of your life in one of these.

When you’ve exhausted all possible avenues to get another drink in the city and you feel like you’ve got so much more to give to this magical night, splash your face with some cold water, hail a cab and get yourself to the Crown casino, Burswood. If you get past the security with your by-now glazed and bloodshot eyes, well done! Its 24 hour drinking in here.

Northbridge

Love it or hate it, nine times out of ten this is where you’ll end up.

The Northbridge Brewery, Perth

The Northbridge Brewery

Lot Twenty

Start your onslaught of Northbridge in this bar, and you’ll probably never leave. Arguably the most happening place in Northbridge/Perth right now, if I had a bar it would look like this. Yeah, it feels like you’re peering into a hipster’s daydream as you walk over the threshold, but you have to hand it to the guys who have created such an establishment; it’s busy, the seating plan is arranged perfectly and the food is just what you need while getting merry – new-age Australian tapas; order-a-few-dishes-for-the-table-and-all-dig-in kind of food, at a very high standard, yet a reasonable price. What more could you want?

(Mon-Sat till midnight; Sun till 10)

The Mechanics Institute

Across the road from Lot Twenty, down a small alleyway (it’s signposted), you’ll find this reasonably small, multi-tiered bar. It fits in with the new theme of the moment…hipster heaven, though the well- and expressively-dressed do mingle here quite harmoniously. Think lonesome young guy with tight jeans, flat cap and very well-groomed beard on one table while, on the next one, four office guys in suits pop in for a quick one after work. If you only come in for one, please make it a Pappy van Winkle Old Fashioned – executed perfectly, no messing around. Let the top-quality bourbon do the talking, just as it should be… Wow!

(Mon till midnight; Tue-Sat till 12 & Sun till ten)

Frisk Small Bar

I love this place! It serves pretty much every gin ever made and concocts a vast array of different ways to drink them. There was me thinking gin and tonic or nothing… How naïve! This bar will open your eyes to the world of gin. The staff are really friendly and on certain days they have a small barbecue out the front for patrons. A must visit! 103 Francis Street.

(Tues-Sat till midnight & Sun till ten)

The Brass Monkey

There’s no getting away from this place, smack-bang in the middle of Northbridge. I know it’s a Northbridge institution and it’s been around for years, but the truth is, if it weren’t where it is and was down some backstreet…sorry, Brass Monkey, you wouldn’t even get a mention. OK, I guess it tries (a bit): it has meal deals for each day of the week, themed parties on occasion and live music, with an open mic night each week. But I still have to say, every time I’ve been there, it’s been 100% shit.

Pride-FEST parade outside The Brass Monkey, Northbridge, Perth, WA

Stumbling on the Pride parade outside The Brass Monkey

(Mon-Tue till midnight; Wed-Thur till 1 am; Fri-Sat till 2 am & Sun till ten)

Universal Bar

While there are so many bars I’ve failed to mention that are far more worthy, I do prefer it to the Brass Monkey (it’s only a few doors up) and it helped me out when I first got to Perth (broke) so I feel I owe it to the place to shed some light on its plus points. I needed to eat, and damn sure I needed to drink, so the pizza and pint deal they do Wednesday to Sunday from 4 pm for $12 is a real gem. When a pint of cider on its own was $12.50 or you could get one with a pizza for $12, it was a no-brainer. I know it’s to get you in the door, but the crafty backpacker then heads straight to the bottle-shop next-door to buy a bag of goon to drink back at the hostel. I couldn’t believe how big the pizzas were for the price (free) and, at an above-average standard, you can’t go far wrong. Happy hour ($6 for standard drinks) is 5-6 pm everyday and on other nights of the week they do different meal deals – nice, but slightly more money. Give me the pizza any day! Every dollar helps when living in Perth.

(Wed-Thurs till 1 am; Fri-Sat till 2 am & Sun till midnight)

The City (Perth CBD)

The next four bars are all situated along a short (very easy to navigate when pissed) little alley behind the Heritage restaurant on St Georges Terrace.

The Print Hall

A classy, four-floor joint that caters for all your needs. The basement has a coffee shop and bakery called the Small Print, the ground floor has the Print Hall – a large bar stacked with a massive array of top quality alcohol and a fine-dining restaurant joined on to it – the first floor is The Apple Daily Bar and Eating House, serving up contemporary Asian cuisine, and on the roof there is Bob’s Bar – a great spot, surrounded by all the tall buildings of the city. It’s comfortable, friendly and has a good alcohol list with great brands of craft beer and cider. They also have a small Mexican-themed menu with top-quality bar snacks. Bob’s is a great place to start the night – it’s the more casual hangout of the bunch, so shorts and flip flops (thongs) are not frowned upon here.

(Mon-Sat till midnight & Sun till ten)

Bar La Fayette

Think old leather sofas, table service, polished dark wood furniture, pictures in antique picture frames, then throw in The Isley Brothers playing in the background and a spirit list as long as…well, too long really; it makes it hard to decide what to drink, which in turn shortens your drinking time. I don’t mind at all though, because that’s what you need in this place: time. Time to sit back, soak up the environment and focus your attention on just how damn good the cocktails really are. It’s an old world cocktail bar with a modern perspective. There’s live music out the front Thursday and Saturday (and sometimes Friday) from 5 pm to around 8 pm. You think, “this is going to be expensive,” as a waiter seats you, but it’s no more than a cocktail in one of the terrible clubs in Northbridge. I know where I would rather drink.

(Mon-Sat till midnight)

Choo Choo’s

Small, narrow, long, trendy, free popcorn – these are a few words to describe Choo Choo’s. A cocktail bar for the unpretentious. A real mix of music genres play in the background, the bar staff are exceptionally friendly and the prices are…Perth prices.

(Mon-Sat till midnight)

Bobeche

The downstairs bar of the Heritage restaurant, Bobeche is dimly lit with leather and dark wood décor, and late 20s music chiming away in the background. In fact, going for a drink here feels like you’ve stepped back in time, in a good way. The drink prices are high-end but it’s worth going for their happy hour from 5-6 pm. Plus it stays open till 2 a.m. (great for Perth!) on a Friday and Saturday with a 1 a.m. lock out. Plus they serve food till late. Oh, and the popcorn comes free flowing with any drink order. Great touch!

(Mon-Sat till midnight)

The Lucky Shag

Jump off the Perth underground line at Esplanade, come out of the station, look right and you’ll see the glass bell tower. Head towards it and right beside it you’ll find the Lucky Shag. They play sport on the TVs inside and have a wide selection of drink, but this bar really is all about the alfresco area. Large, lots of seating and set out over the Swan River, it’s the best place in Perth to have a daytime-drink or a few sundowners. It does get busy so if you want a seat outside be sure to get there early.

(Mon-Thurs till midnight; Fri-Sat till one & Sun till ten)

Wolf Lane

Shhhhhh…! One of Perth’s best kept secrets is Wolf Lane. If you turn right off William Street onto Murray Street, then keep your eyes peeled, Eight Hundred Arcade is a small lane on your left, only a pedestrian footpath, which leads to Wolf Lane. The Wolf Lane bar is on the corner. Three words to describe this bar: cool, happening and trendy. Nothing more, nothing less. All the walls are adorned with eccentric paintings and artwork and the seating is – well, was – someone else’s home furniture 50 years ago. The barman talked me in to getting a pint of Fosters, saying it was completely different to the English atrocity. He was right; it was damn good.

(Fri-Sat till midnight)

The Nest

Located on William Street, above the Aviary restaurant and two doors up from Jamie Oliver’s Italian, The Nest is as central as central could be and makes the perfect interim point of the drinker’s evening. It’s your best bet if you’re just off the train, about to get on the train, or half-way between the city and Northbridge, or vice versa, and need an in-between bar. Being a rooftop bar, it’s great on a summer’s night, but it does have heaters for the cold nights so, for those like me who like to drink in the fresh air, it’s all go, all year round. Throw in good music (live music some nights), surfing on the big screen, a great selection of drink and a really tasty menu and that’s my kind of bar. Pros? The onion rings. They’re the best I’ve ever had. Cons? When you’re paying $10-$12 for a glass, that glass wants to be a pint glass. Get yourself some, Nest! Australia is moving on from the schooner. Take note! I would hate to see you being left behind.

(Sun-Thurs till ten & Fri-Sat till one)

Street Staffie in shades

Happy drinking!

Oh, and in Perth the last trains of the night are now free.

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On the Scent of Red Dog: The Pilbara Wanderer

Have you ever heard of Red Dog? Read the books? Seen the movie? If not, you should, but here’s the best part to bring you up to speed:

We’d inadvertently been travelling in Red Dog’s paw-steps since Darwin. He also travelled as far south as Perth and pretty much all the roads in between, and – if legends are to be believed – was even once spotted in Saganoseki, Japan. But it was after leaving Broome that we really picked up his trail.

We fueled up at the quirky Sandfire Roadhouse – one of Red Dog’s regular haunts and one of only a couple of small settlements for hundreds of kilometres (the other being Pardoo) in this arid, barren region of Australia known as the Pilbara – “beyond the 26th” (Parallel, that is).

Then the Great Northern Highway runs parallel to Eighty Mile Beach – a 140 mile (220 kilometre) stretch of beautiful, unpopulated beach – though what they don’t tell you is that the highway and the beach never meet and are always separated by at least nine kilometres of unsealed road. Nevermind though, what good is 140 miles of beach anyway? And the region will always have a place in my heart, as Eighty Mile Handjob.

After Pardoo, you can either turn off to Marble Bar, Australia’s hottest town and where, according to Lonely Planet, you can have a drink with someone called “Foxie” in the Ironclad Hotel, or continue on the North West Coastal Highway through Port Hedland, where we encountered the first two-lane roads we’d come across in Australia, twisting and entwining with one another, built by the mining companies. Roadtrains and utes and other heavy vehicles were suddenly everywhere and an all-encompassing haze of reddish-brown cloud hung low enough to choke on for miles in either direction and we drove straight on out of there, wondering whether Port Hedland could possibly be like that all the time.

The first time Red Dog was shot, a bunch of the Dampier Salt guys rushed him the 400 kilometres to Port Hedland (the closest vet at the time). It cost them a fortune in fuel, pub food, drink and of course the resulting drink driving fines.

In the gathering darkness and dust and storm we somehow missed Whim Creek and ended up camping at the free, unsignposted Little Sherlock rest area, which, in case you find yourself in a similar boat, is just a dirt turnoff about 100 metres past the bridge over the river of the same name.

For the intrepid explorer, another route goes inland via the beautiful Karijini National Park to Red Dog’s birthplace, Paraburdoo, and back via Tom Price and Millstream-Chichester National Park, all of which were familiar ground to Red Dog and are covered in a little more detail by Wendy Gomersall here.

Red Dog was born a Red Cloud Kelpie (with a possible hint of Cattle Dog) in Paraburdoo in 1971. His name back then was “Tally-Ho” – “Tally” for short – and he had a restless energy that saw him run home 7 kilometres everyday from the airfield, where his “owner”, Colonel Cummings, would leave him. It was Cummings who took Red Dog to Dampier, thus kickstarting his life of travel, but Red Dog was known to return to his hometown many times, often hitching a ride on the longest and heaviest freight train in the world.

We read by lantern light as the storm rocked us gently to sleep, then woke to a clear day. The storm was long gone, but it had kept the van from getting too warm until about eight-ish. We ate breakfast with cows mooing away as they passed us…then almost brought it back up again as we drove out with the windows open and saw, and smelt, and tasted the dead cow, smashed off the road by a roadtrain, its tongue lolling out and eyes vacant. It had been dark when we’d driven in, so we hadn’t seen it last night, thank Fuck.

Old Roebourne Gaol (jail) and Visitor Centre, Pilbara, Western Australia

Old Roebourne Gaol & Visitor Centre

The North West Coastal Highway eventually rolls into old, historic Roebourne, where the Old Gaol (jail) is also now the Visitor Centre. When Rick Fenny did set up shop as a vet here in ’75, he didn’t know what was going on as Red Dog came in several times, but each time with a different owner.

Aboriginal street art in Roebourne, Pilbara, Western Australia

Aboriginal street art in Roebourne

Over the years, Red even started visiting the vet of his own accord (possibly for Fenny’s bitch) where he would chill out on the porch and brawl with the paying customers.

It was also Fenny who managed to convince the local council that Red Dog belonged to “the people” and so the shire paid his vet’s bills.

Roebourne saloon bar & bottle shop, Pilbara, Western Australia

Roebourne

From Roebourne, swing a right on the Point Samson-Roebourne Road. Red Dog is buried in an unmarked, bush grave somewhere in these parts. Another right will take you to the ghost-town of Cossack, where a six kilometre Heritage Trail leads around the Northwest’s first port, abandoned by the ’50s. On to Point Samson and its Honeymoon Cove, which is supposed to be good for snorkelling. It didn’t look good for snorkelling, or a honeymoon, but we swam. Again, all these towns, and Wickham, across the road, were Red Dog territory.

Back on the highway, a right on Karratha Road leads to Karratha Visitor Centre, where – should you so desire – you can buy the Red Dog DVD, movie soundtrack and some album called Red Dog: A Dog’s Tale by Brian Boyd, as well as Red Dog patches, postcards, stubby-coolers, and even a stuffed Red Dog (toy). There’s also a big plaque on the wall with newspaper-clippings and so on.

The Visitor Centre also has a machine outside offering 50 litres of precious drinking water for a dollar. Be careful, as there’s a time limit, as I discovered only to turn around and find Ruth washing her hair from the containers we’d just filled up.

From the Visitor Centre, the Yaburara (or Jaburara) Heritage Trail leads 3.5 kms over the scorched Karratha Hills, past Aboriginal sites, rock engravings and panoramic views of the city, and ends up at the Karratha Leisureplex, where you’ll also find the Moonrise Cinema. The only problem is how the hell to get back

Head left on Dampier Road and you’ll pass Karratha Community Library on the left. Here they have all the books on Red Dog, plus a big old lever-arch file packed with collected newspaper clippings relating to the hound who got around – though, somewhat like Van Gogh, Red Dog’s widespread fame came too late, so of course almost all of the clippings are from events after his death, such as the statue – and some beautiful photos of him.

Red Dog photos at Karratha Community Library, Pilbara, Western Australia

The real Red Dog! Photo at Karratha Community Library

Even in that day’s newspaper was a piece about Red Dog’s collar and tags – inscribed, “I’ve been everywhere, mate” – being returned finally to the Pilbara.

Photo of Red Dog at Karratha Public Library, Western Australia

Photo of Red Dog from Karratha Community Library

The first book on Red Dog was written by Nancy Gillespie in 1983 and collected the various stories and anecdotes from those who knew him, which now make up the Red Dog legend. It is now out of print, but Perth Library also has a copy.

A decade later, in 1993, Beverley Duckett put together another book – actually little more than a pamphlet – to keep the stories alive. It also featured Red Dog-inspired poetry by Lloyd Reynolds, Pauline Saddler, Pilbara writer Valerie Laughton, Doris Carroll, W. A. Green, whose poem “The Nameless Dog” is one of my personal favourites, and others. One of the best was by Lisa Middleton, aged only 14 at the time, which sounds crazy, but then I thought back to when I was 14 and realised it’s not five and that I’m pretty certain I was smarter at 14 than I am now.

I wrote my own Red Dog song whilst on the road in the Pilbara, but I won’t publish it here as I realised that it was basically just lyrics from The WandererThe End (The Doors) and Maybe Tomorrow (the theme-tune for The Littlest Hobo by Terry Bush) speckled with some Australian vernacular and to the chords of Rockin’ in the Free World, wind noises, a bit of token didgeridoo and some drumming designed to sound like a trembling chassis rolling along the rough Pilbara highway…oh, and with a killer guitar riff and imaginedly sung by X Factor Australia runner-up, Dean Ray. So, in short: great song, not mine at all.

Here’s Maybe Tomorrow and my favourite TV ad of all time, which, since it features a dog, seems almost relevant to this post.

Around another decade later, in 2002, Louis de Bernières – that guy who wrote Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – caught wind of the Red Dog story and wrote another book, beautifully illustrated by Alan Baker. This one you’ll be able to get hold of at home, and there are usually multiple copies in just about every library in WA.

Red Dog illustration by Alan Baker in Louis de Bernières book

Red Dog, illustrated by Alan Baker

Louis de Bernières Red Dog pages 22-23

I’m probably infringing some kind of copyright law here… Maybe it’ll help Louis sell a book or two.

With all this in front of me, I was able to see how the stories had gone from memoir to fiction, embellishments added, characters and chronology changing to suit plot, until the movie – which I still love – bears relatively little in common with what we know of the actual events. What I’m trying to do here is bring all the facts and locations together so that future Red Dog fans can make this journey, whether in person or vicariously through this post.

We hit the “Brey” (Tambrey Tavern) looking for a friend of a friend, and the “Tav” (Karratha Tavern), recommended by Jim, whose daughter worked there, only to discover it was a skimpy bar. Not sure what to say about that…

Be warned, the Shell garage on the main highway no longer allows free camping, so we parked up discreetly outside the public library…amidst an oddly large number of other cars. We were about to brush our teeth for bed when the car park erupted with activity, which then lasted over an hour. There’d been a performance on at the theatre next-door and they’d just kicked out.

Hearson Cove beach, Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula), Pilbara, Western Australia

Hearson Cove…

Just before Dampier, you can take a right on the Burrup Peninsular Road, then again at the Hearson Cove turn-off, then again about 2.2 kms up the road onto a gravel track…only we missed the gravel track the first time so had the pleasure of getting sunburnt at Hearson Cove, where the road ends literally right on the beach and the beach is made of shells.

Van parked on Hearson Cove beach, Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula), Pilbara, Western Australia

…where the road ends literally on the beach.

Back on track, you can park at the end of the aforementioned gravel track (one other car was there when we arrived) and follow the “short walking trail” to the Aboriginal petroglyphs (rock engravings) of Deep Gorge, Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula).

Broken thong (flip-flop) at Deep Gorge, Western Australia

My attempts to fix the flip-flops with grass and twigs only lasted a few steps at a time…

We walked several kilometres through the baking hot gorge, no respite from the sun. Both my thongs broke on the jagged rocks, too hot to walk barefoot and everywhere else needle-like spinifex. I gained a new respect for the Aborigines, and for the kangaroos, of which we saw four. My attempts to fix the flip-flops with grass and twigs only lasted a few steps at a time, and we made slow progress. We were getting burnt alive. Stories of foolish backpackers lost forever in the Australian wilderness came to mind. We crested the gorge and could see the brilliant blue sea in the distance on both sides, and still no rock art or petroglyphs.

Deep Gorge, Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula), Pilbara, Western Australia

We crested the gorge and could see the brilliant blue sea in the distance…

Then I spotted one, but only one. We had to admit defeat and turn around, Ruth eventually running ahead to the van and running back with my other shoes.

Fake petroglyphs (rock engravings) at Deep Gorge, Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula), Pilbara, Western Australia?

Fake?

Sunstroked and about to drive away, we saw the real path. That fucking car had been parked in front of it! We ran over and scaled the mountains of giant rocks, everywhere ancient carvings of people, kangaroos and other indiscernible blotches.

Aboriginal petroglyph (rock engraving) at Deep Gorge, Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula), Pilbara, Western Australia

Aboriginal petroglyph (rock engraving) at Deep Gorge, Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula)

I’ve never been so likely to die in a rock-slide, as I climbed the blood-red rocks that have wobbled and teetered there, high above the gorge floor, for thousands of years. Nobody was anywhere to be seen. Very few people have set foot here. No plaque or road-sign indicated the site’s presence, let alone any health and safety implementation. Love it!

Mountains of big red rocks at Deep Gorge, WA

Scaling the mountains of giant, blood-red rocks

Drinking in the gorge was another kangaroo, “with joey”. It bounded up the rocks and over the gorge with ease, putting me to shame.

Kangaroo at Deep Gorge, Murujuga (Burrup Peninsula), Pilbara, Western Australia

Where’s Skippy?

We drank shit-loads of water and got back on the Dampier Road, past the vast salt fields stretching along on either side, to the Dampier Mermaid Hotel (hotels are pubs in Australia) – Red Dog’s regular haunt back in the ’70s. Though it’s changed a lot since then, with recent renovations costing several thousand dollars (and it’s now a skimpy bar too) it was easy to imagine him in there, eating scraps and entertaining the guys with his latest rebellious antics.

The Dampier Mermaid Hotel skimpy bar, Western Australia

Red Dog’s regular: the Dampier Mermaid Hotel

I asked the Swedish backpacker behind the bar in her underwear about Red Dog.

“Who?”

After a while of this one of the guys sitting at the bar chipped in and explained to her who the red dog was on the stubby-coolers and other memorabilia on sale right next to her. He turned to us and told us that, yes, this was the place.

“The pub in the film’s somewhere in South Australia. A lot of the movie was filmed in SA.”

The Dampier Mermaid Hotel pub, Western Australia

Drinking at the Dampier Mermaid

We had a beer.

The background music sang out:

“…the last thing that I noticed as that old train came around was the city burning golden as the sun came sliding down and I sat there still but in my mind I screamed goodbye, farewell to my hometown. I’m not coming back…”

- Husky

Red Dog roamed all over the Dampier area. He would show up everywhere. Whenever anything was going on – football, cricket, barbies, fetes, showings at the drive-in cinema – he was there. He hung out on Dampier Back Beach, stealing steaks and snags, in the Dampier Shopping Centre, having stubbornly thwarted all attempts to remove him, and in the caravan park, where no chains or fences or rules could keep him out. The caretakers, with their “NO DOGS ALLOWED” signs, promised to have Red Dog terminated.” That night they were run out of town.

Dampier Back Beach, the Pilbara, Western Australia

Dampier Back Beach

However, Red Dog’s real calling was hitching rides. He hitched rides in road-trains, freight trains, company utes, private cars, the water truck, and even the Hamersley Iron company buses, and that’s how he met his only real owner, a bus-driver for Hamersley Transport Section, called John Stazzonelli.

Red Dog would hang around the single men’s quarters and it was here that he first got the name “Red Dog” or “Red” and became “a paid-up member of the Transport Workers’ Union.”

Red would get into parked cars, wait at the roadside, at bus stops, chase down buses ’til they stopped again and even jump out in front of familiar cars to stop them. He was known to be choosy about who he rode with, and often had a specific destination in mind, refusing to get out until his driver had got the right place. Sometimes buses had to detour from their route for him.

However, on the 23rd July 1975, John was killed in a motorcycle accident. Red never settled down again. From here on in he became known as “the Pilbara Wanderer,” travelling further and for longer than ever before, scratching on doors to announce his return, but never stopping anywhere for more than a few nights. This life I know.

On his travels he got dusty and dirty, ill and old. Heartworm took its toll on his stamina, his heart, lungs, blood, coat and other organs. He lost weight and developed a severe cough. Luckily, Fenny caught the symptoms in time. It was decided that the only place to quarantine him was the dog pound, but when the guys at Dampier Salt Ltd (more friends from his travels) found out he was in the pound, they busted him out in the night. However, Red returned the next day of his own free will and made a full recovery.

At Dampier Salt he was called “Blue” or “Bluey” – a common Australian nickname for the red-of-hair – and was made a special member of the Dampier Salt Sports and Social Club and the Metal Trades Union, had a bank account created for him at Wales Bank and was registered with the local shire under the name, “the Dog of the Northwest.”

But not everyone was a Red Dog fan. Midge Sullivan wrote, “It is disturbing and surely an indictment against our society that an appeal for a monument to an animal engenders more public support than the annual Red Cross Appeal…needy children in our state have not rated the publicity nor the financial support accorded a stray animal.”

Obviously what Red Dog’s story represents to the Pilbara, and why it resonates in the hearts of travellers like me the world over, has gone over Midge’s head.

Sadly, like most itinerants, during his lifetime Red had a lot more enemies than friends. He was frequently wounded, in fights, with cats and other dogs, shot at, shot, saved and finally poisoned.

Red Dog statue at Dampier Town Info Bay

The Red Dog statue at Dampier Town Information Bay

On the way out of Dampier we stopped for some surprisingly emotional photos with the Red Dog statue, which is on the left as you come into town, only 100 yards or so down the road from where John died in that fateful motorcycle crash, and is now also the site of the Dampier Town Information Bay.

Ruth at Red Dog statue, Dampier Town Information Bay, Western Australia

Ruth and Red

With Red Dog statue, Dampier Town Information Bay, the Pilbara, Western Australia

Me and Red

Drinking Traveller at Red Dog statue, Dampier Town Information Bay, Western Australia

Surprisingly emotional…

Red died on the 21st November 1979, according to the plaque. (Some sources say the 20th – coincidentally, the same date Ruth’s dad died.) He was killed deliberately by strychnine poisoning (a.k.a. dingo “baiting”) – one of the worst ways to die imaginable. After being found on the 10th, he suffered violent convulsions, permanent brain-damage and a level of PAIN I hope I’ll never know, enduring all this in a semi-conscious state for twelve days.

Red Dog The Pilbara Wanderer died Nov 21st 1979 erected by the many friends made during his travels plaque on statue

The plaque on the Red Dog statue

As I’ve mentioned, he was buried in an unmarked grave, out bush, though accounts vary wildly as to the exact location.

Red Dog statue by Meri Forrest, Dampier, the Pilbara, WA

Red Dog statue by Meri Forrest

The Pilbara is not a place people tend to stay in for their whole lives and as people moved away, the news of Red Dog’s sad death spread throughout Australia, and the world, and with it his fame. He has become a part of Pilbara history, coming to represent the region like no human yet has.

It’s funny how a dog who liked to ride in vehicles has gone on to inspire a story that touches so many people.

One thing’s for certain: it could only have happened here, in this wild Outback landscape, where the distances are so long and the people so transient.

A Red Dog Festival and Relay is held in the region every year around May or June.

We spent that night at the Barradale Rest Area, for one of the most incredible sunsets of our lives.

Sunset at Barradale Rest Area on Yannarie River, Western Australia

Sunset at Barradale Rest Area

Red travelled this road to Perth at least twice in his life; the first time with John. The second time, the people who took him lost him in the city. They searched everywhere, and drove back feeling terrible…only to discover that he’d made it back to Dampier before them.

Red Dog statue from behind, Dampier, Australia

“Can’t stay for long, just turn around and I’m gone again…” – Terry Bush

We set off again, bound for Perth, where our Red Dog journey was about to be laid to rest, but where it turned out an old friend I hadn’t seen in 13 years was waiting…

Categories: Australia, Travel Stories, Western Australia | Tags: | 3 Comments

Matso’s Broome Brewery

For many who’ve travelled throughout Australia, the highlight is a little-known beach-town on the North-west’s remote Kimberley coast. 1,871 km from Darwin and 2,240 from Perth, Broome is literally one of the most isolated places on earth, and, with the possible exception of the Nullarbor, getting to Broome constitutes Australia’s longest and most remote drive. But it was worth it, because waiting for us was one of Australia’s most experimental breweries…and Sarah.

Sampling Matso's beer and cider at the brewery in Broome, Western Australia

Oh yeah, that’s good…

After Kununurra, we cracked out our “solar shower” and got naked at the roadside. Of course no-one passed. The closest person in any given direction may well have been two-hundred kilometres away. Probably not, but that’s how it feels out there.

Not even backpackers and tourists tend to take this road – most who make it out his far opt instead for the more challenging and scenic Gibb River Road (and for the very brave, the Kalumburu Road too).

Bush fire in Australia

Driving towards a bush-fire…

Driving through bush fire in Western Australia

…and then through it…

Roadtrain in bush fire

…and passing a massive “road-train”!

Over another 1,200 kilometres, we battled the monotonous, boab-besieged roads, “prepare to stop” single-lane bridges, wandering stock (cattle) and bush-fires, passed the Wolf Creek crater on the Tanami Road to Alice and got free coffee and fuel in Halls Creek. Also in this region are the Mimbi Caves, Purnululu (the Bungle Bungles) and the “friendly trees“, but I’ve never been one to focus on the “sights”, as I’ve said here and here and plenty of other times.

Wandering stock on single-file bridge in Kimberley, Western Australia

Outback hazards: wandering stock and single-file bridges

Some clever person in the police had decided that signs which read, “LOCAL POLICE ARE NOW TARGETING…” can be easily adapted to add “…DRINK DRIVING”, “…SPEEDING”, etc…but hadn’t expected people to furnish them with the likes of, “...CINDY“, “…GAYS“, “…DONUTS” and so on. How did they not see that coming?

Other than Halls Creek, the only “major stop” on the road from Kununurra to Broome is Fitzroy Crossing. Both are essentially Aboriginal towns in the middle of nowhere with a bad reputation – in other words, my kind of town. Fitzroy Crossing is also home to another of Australia’s historic Outback pubs, the Crossing Inn.

The Crossing Inn, Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia

A brief stop at the Crossing Inn, Fitzroy Crossing

The Crossing Inn is the oldest Kimberley hotel still on its original site – the banks of the Fitzroy River – where it’s been since 1897, when a guy called Joseph Blyth acquired a “wayside house license” for his “shanty inn and trade store”. The Crossing Inn also has an Aboriginal art gallery, selling only works by local artists. According to the tourist leaflet, there’s also “the Gallery Bar where you can sit and enjoy a relaxing beer in comfort and style”…

…So it was with some surprise – actually, after living next to Arnhem Land, I completely saw it coming – that we walked in at 1.30 on a Wednesday afternoon to find hundreds of people – all Aboriginal, save the bartender – already mad drunk and yelling, loud music pumping. The place was wild! It was one hell of a party!

One woman took us and led us to her table. “We were drinking here, when the water was here!” She pointed to the stacks of bricks and watermarks, some higher than the seats, where people had scrawled lines in chalk and marker and signed them and dated them and written other unintelligible nonsense. In the Wet (season), the river can rise to 13 metres above the old crossing. And the water comes through at approximately 30,000 cubic metres a second. At times like this, the pub can only be reached by boat.

We even caught a barra!” She laughed.

Inside the Crossing Inn, Fitzroy Crossing, Western Australia

Inside the Crossing Inn

Another guy tried to convince us to stay for another beer, said he’d been to England, London, not very convincingly, told us about Tunnel Creek, once hideout to Jandamarra, up 83 kilometres of unsealed dirt road. “You’ll make it bro!” He said.

The rebel Jandamarra was a Bunuba man who led one of Australia’s only armed rebellions against the colonials. He was able to cross the spinifex and hot, jagged rocks barefoot while it tore up the boots of his pursuers, and his mysterious disappearing tricks at Tunnel Creek led people to believe he had superhuman abilities. (Only later were his hidden trails discovered. His real power was his knowledge of the lay of the land.) Aboriginal legend said he was immortal, a spirit residing in Tunnel Creek, and that only an Aborigine with equal powers could kill him. This seems to me like one of those “legends” furnished after the fact, since it’s a big coincidence that he was killed by Micki, another famed Aboriginal (non-Bunuba) tracker, at Tunnel Creek in 1897 – yes, the same year the Crossing Inn officially opened its doors. There’s a lot more to Jandamarra’s story. Look him up.

Writing about the Outback (here, here, etc) it seems I’ve fallen into the same trap as everyone else: I’ve described the few “things to do” along the road, rather than the hundreds of kilometres between them – the experience of being on the road itself – the time spent daydreaming, thinking, writing poetry, watching the road go by, re-assessing ourselves, our dreams… In this respect, as a chronicler of life as it is really experienced (which is how I see myself) I’m afraid I’ve failed you.

That night, at Nillibubbica Rest Area, we were settled in for a night of Madras lentils and rice and writing when some French guys pulled up and came over to say hello. It turns out our ‘Patisserie’ van acts as a magnet for French people, who wander the wilderness in search of fresh croissants and, instead, settle for a beer or two. We joined Vincent, Sébastien and…the other one at their camp, drank and shared stories long into the night.

Backpacker van mattress trouser press trick

My new invention: the backpacker trouser press!

There’s also Derby, a short detour off the main highway, if you really like boabs, or if you think that the “Horizontal Waterfalls” are actually horizontal waterfalls.

Finally, we arrived in the pearl of WA. (Broome has a long pearling history. So, yes, that’s a pun.) Broome is home to many beaches from dirty, orange Town Beach – the best place to watch the “Staircase to the Moon” – and immaculate, surf-washed Cable Beach – 22.5 kilometres of flat, white sand that you can even drive up and down (with a 4WD) and which, north of the rocks, is clothing optional. The Roebuck Bay Caravan Park turned out to be $28 per person (not per site – thanks again Lonely Planet) so like many backpackers in Broome, we spent our days jumping waves, sunbathing and taking advantage of the free beach showers at Cable, then parking up for the night on Carnarvon Street, where in the morning we were perfectly placed to enjoy the cheapest eats in Broome, at Coles in the Paspaley Plaza shopping centre.

Cable Beach, Broome, Western Australia

Cable Beach: 22.5 kilometres of flat, white sand

Chinatown, including Johnny Chi Lane, and the cemeteries shed light on Broome’s Asian and multi-cultures and tragic pearling days. Sun Pictures outdoor cinema is the world’s oldest picture garden and a registered historical building (which looks exactly the same as every other building in Broome – corrugated tin). Movies are $17 per person and show at 7 pm. (We saw Gone Girl.)

Sun Pictures world's oldest picture garden outdoor cinema in Broome, Western Australia

At Sun Pictures: the world’s oldest picture garden

Further out of town, at low tides Gantheaume Point (Minyirr) boasts tracks of dinosaur prints that are over 130 million years old. From Gantheaume, the Lurujarri Dreaming Trail – an 82 km “songline” – runs north up the Dampier Peninsula, a large, isolated area of Aboriginal lands, red cliffs and pristine, empty beaches. This is, in my opinion, one of the most interesting journeys in Australia, and Sarah had just made it. You’ll require plenty of water, spares (tyres, fuel, etc) and the necessary permits from both the Department of Aboriginal Affairs (apply at www.daa.wa.gov.au at least three days in advance) and usually also from the community itself (on arrival). You can take the Cape Leveque Road for about 14 km, then take a left on Manari Road up through Barred Creek, Quandong Point, James Price Point and – if you have a 4WDCoulomb Point (Minarriny). You can also take Cape Leveque Road all the way up the peninsula to, you guessed it, Cape Leveque. Roads and communities can close at short notice for “sorry time” so check with the Broome Visitor Centre before you set off.

The Matso’s Brewery

Matso's Broome Brewery, Western Australia

Matso’s Broome Brewery!

At Matso’s we ended up getting through a couple of tasting paddles, several bottles and more. Here are my findings:

Trying Mango Beer at Matso's Brewery, Broome, Western Australia

Ruth trying the Matso’s Mango Beer

  • Mango Beer – Their finest work
  • Chilli Beer – A real kick, but think twice before you order a jug
  • Chango – Literally they mix the two finished products (Chilli and Mango Beers) for those who can’t take the heat of the chilli or the sweetness of the mango. It’s not best brewing practice, but the outcome is good.
  • Hit the Toad lager – Not their area of speciality
  • Pearler’s Pale Ale
  • Session Pale
  • Smokey Bishop – A delicious dark lager. Smokey, malty and toffee-y.
  • Ginger Beer
  • Lychee Beer
  • Desert Lime Cider with Wild Ginger
  • Mango Cider with Desert Lime
  • Amber Wheat Beer – The best wheat (and amber) beer I’d ever had. A five-star beer!
  • Saison – I believe I missed this one, but I hear it was a firm favourite.
Brewer's test tap 4.7% traditional Bavarian-style amber wheat beer at Matso's Broome Brewery, Western Australia

“The best wheat beer (or amber) I’ve ever had!”

[I later came across a recipe by Matso’s Head Chef, Sebastian Schacher, for “Chilli Mussels with Matso’s Mango Beer” which included such steps as, “Open the beer and take a big swig from the bottle…”]

Drinking Chilli Beer at Matso's Broome Brewery, Western Australia

Sampling Matso’s Chilli Beer…

Ruth's reaction to drinking Chilli Beer at Matso's Broome Brewery, Western Australia

…and Ruth’s reaction too.

A text from Sarah said to meet at “the Roey” on Dampier Terrace…only, when we got there, there were two bars – the classier Roebuck Hotel and the Roey, where the barmaids walked around in their underwear – a phenomena known in Australia as “Skimpies“.

“Okay, I feel like, from what we know of Sarah, this is either not her kind of bar or really her kind of bar…”

We text her for confirmation.

The answer came simply, “the Roey”.

We asked in both bars if we were in the Roey and everyone said yes.

Eventually Sarah found us and the drinking commenced. It turns out she works for the same company who own Matso’s and spends her breaks there. What a life! She was now living in a shared house of wild Irishmen and women, who had been out last night (and the night before and the night before that) so weren’t going to go out again tonight…and then promptly showed up anyway. We met Aine, Johnny and Teddy, a great bunch, and a fierce debate commenced about ordering tap water on a night out.

“What’s the f’cking point of buying a f’cking drink if you’re gonna dilute it with f’cking tap water? We drink to get drunk!”

In the end we all agreed that drinking water on a night out is only acceptable in the following cases:

  • Before the night
  • At the end of the night, before going to sleep, to avoid a hangover the next day
  • In certain other, rare situations, for the express purpose of tactically prolonging the night and in order to consume more alcohol later
Swearing at the Roey or Roebuck Hotel in Broome, Western Australia

“How many fingers are we holding up?” (At the Roey with Sarah and Johnny!)

Aine and Teddy disappeared, photos were taken, we got chatting to the bartenders and barflies, Aine and Teddy re-appeared, we crossed paths with another contingent of the Irish house, then all ended up in Skylla (Lounge Bar), which it seems is also part of the Roey and bills itself as “Broome’s premier nightspot” and “the hottest party destination in Broome”, where we danced the night away. Poor Teddy was the first man down, I don’t know what happened to Aine, me and Ruth crashed in the van, parked conveniently just round the back, and Sarah and Johnny presumably walked off together into the sunrise. It had been one hell of a night.

On waking, craving once again the simplicity of the road, we made a hungover exit, Perth bound…

Categories: Australia, Travel Stories, Western Australia | Tags: , | 1 Comment

The Hoochery Distillery, Kununurra

On the road again, we cooled off in Katherine Hot Springs, camped overnight in the bush and the next morning pushed on on the Victoria Highway, west, bound for the Western Australia border.

Katherine Hot Springs, Northern Territory, Australia

Katherine Hot Springs

We passed Timber Creek, where we’d hoped to catch Sarah, only some guy’d jumped behind the bar and threatened her with a bottle (just the tip of the iceberg) so she’d escaped to Broome. More on that later…

In Judbarra (Gregory National Park) we swung off on a three-kilometre stretch of unsealed road, followed by a brief stroll into the bush ’til we came upon Gregory’s Tree – a big old boab sacred to the Ngaringman people and that still clearly displays the inscription carved into it on 2nd July 1856 by Augustus Charles Gregory. (We now know that carving into boabs isn’t such a good idea. The poor thing’s lucky to be alive.) We ate the last of our apples, and honey in sandwiches.

Gregory's Tree, Judbarra National Park, Western Australia

Gregory’s Tree

At the border the quarantine guy asked if we had any fruit, honey, etc.

Then he searched the van anyway.

The landscape had by now assumed the rugged beauty of the Kimberley – Australia’s remote north-western corner and “last frontier”, which, in much the same vein as Kakadu and Arnhem Land, is home to escarpments, rivers, waterfalls, gorges, Aborigines, rock art, outstations and pristine coastline, as well as Purnululu (the Bungle Bungles).

After many kilometres we rolled into Kununurra and headed for the Info Centre in search of seasonal work that we knew we wouldn’t be able to stop and take.

Instead I found out there was a distillery in town – the “Hoochery Distillery” – Western Australia’s “oldest legal still” – so we picked up Weaber Plain Road (you can also catch this directly from the Victoria Highway) and headed north for about ten minutes or so.

Hoochery Distillery, Kununurra, Western Australia

Rolling up at the Hoochery Distillery

The wind shook the palms.

The doors were barred.

We rang a big old bell overhead and after a minute or two a woman (“Desley”) came and let us in.

“There’s a storm coming,” she said.

Desley was nice and friendly – like maybe she’d been on the rum a little herself. She told us about the current owner, “Spike”, otherwise known as Raymond Bernard Dessert (pronounced “Desert”) III (“the Third”).

Hoochery Distillery's Honk and Holler Cafe in Kununurra, Western Australia

Welcome to the Hoochery Distillery’s “Honk and Holler Cafe”!

The distillery’s “Honk and Holler Cafe” blended the vibrant Mexican colours and American styling (wagon wheels) of his southern Californian past with Aussie tin and other recycled local junk.

Kimberley Moon boab tree mooning art

I probably need to credit this artist…

Their Ord River Rum is “Australia’s Best Rum,” having won the gold in Melbourne, 2014. (Bundaberg’s not going to be happy about that.)

For $5 we tried a paddle of three rums:

  • The mahogany charcoal filtered, 56% Overproof Ord River Rum, which is simply gorgeous!
  • The Single Barrel Ord River Rum, which came in at around 78%
  • The Raymond B. Whiskey
Tasting Raymond B. Whiskey, Overproof and Single Barrel Ord River Rum at Hoochery Distillery, in Kununurra, Western Australia

Tasting the Raymond B. Whiskey, Overproof and Single Barrel Ord River Rums

…and finished off with the heady and “famous Ord River Rum cake”, which even though I’m not usually a cake guy is fucking amazing!

Famous Ord River Rum cake at Hoochery Distillery, Kununurra, Western Australia

The “famous Ord River Rum cake”!

The other offerings at Hoochery currently include:

  • Kimbeley Moon white rum
  • Spike’s Reserve limited release, 10 year aged rum
  • Premium Dark Ord River Rum
  • Cane Royale Liqueur with chocolate and coffee
  • Aguardiente Verde Aniseed Liqueur

After saying goodbye to Desley, we fuelled up at the Shell garage (where we encountered our first “free coffee for the driver”) and raced the storm out of there.

Cheers sante prost salud l'chaim barrels at Hoochery Distillery, Kununurra, Western Australia

Cheers!

That night, after dark, we pulled up at the new Muluk Rest Area, where a plaque told us that a 25 year old kid called “Muluk” had recently passed away here. It didn’t say how he’d passed away. Well, at least if we get murdered in the night, this will become the “Roy, Ruth & Muluk Rest Area” …

In loving memory of Vincent George Ramsey Muluk rest area plaque

At least if we get murdered in the night this will become the “Roy, Ruth & Muluk Rest Area”…

Categories: Australia, Travel Stories, Western Australia | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Uluru (Ayers Rock) & Kata Tjuta (the Olgas)

This isn’t a post about one of the “wonders of the world”, it’s a story about the journey to get there – a journey of several days and thousands of kilometres, through the great Australian Outback.

“…all around you is a 360 degree golden Mitchell grass emptiness…the great Australian outback.”

- Ted Egan, Australian folk musician

The Olgas at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

The road to Kata Tjuta!

I woke up. I was in the front seat of the van. Roughly two hours had passed and yet the landscape hadn’t changed. Red earth and a 360 degree golden Mitchell grass emptiness.

It was in this landscape that we came upon Aileron roadhouse. We pulled off the Stuart Highway and came to a rest on the red earth and Mitchell grass. Like most travellers who stop here, we were hooked by the giant Anmatjere man who has been built on the top of the hill – along with a sign that says “AILERON” in the same fashion as the one over Hollywood that says, “HOLLYWOOD” – for the express purpose of enticing people like us to stop.

Giant Anmatjere man of Aileron, Northern Territory, Australia

The giant Anmatjere man of Aileron

There’s an Aboriginal art gallery that was closed, but to our delight the giant Anmatjere man now has a giant woman, with giant child, and spearing a giant goanna, to keep him company, and from a certain angle you can even see the giant vagina.

Giant Anmatjere woman at Aileron roadhouse, Northern Territory, Australia

“…from a certain angle you can even see the giant vagina.”

We passed a herd of goats.

“Wait,” said Ruth. “Do you notice anything strange about one of those goats?”

Goats and kangaroo in Australia

“Wait, do you notice anything strange about one of those goats?”

I scanned them, then saw it: on the right, on all fours, hunched down to goat height and eating the goats’ food with a sheepish look on its face, was a massive kangaroo.

As we watched, two goats were play fighting nearby and one made a charge at their new goat friend, only to realise his mistake just in time and slowly back away.

We ate crisp sandwiches, pissed on the red earth and Mitchell grass emptiness and went on our way, having seen not another human soul.

“I’m 46 miles from Alice
And I’m thousands of miles from my home.”

- Catherine Britt

About 45 kilometres from Alice – and singing “46 miles from Alice” – we crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, where there is a picture of a goat and some informative plaques. This was the first time I’d left the Tropics since India. Also, being a Capricorn and “stubborn goat” myself, this was a very spiritual experience for me. (I’m kidding.)

Tropic of Capricorn Enjoy your rest sign in Northern Territory Australia

“Being a Capricorn and ‘stubborn goat’ myself, this was a very spiritual experience for me. (I’m kidding.)”

Alice Springs (Mparntwe in Arrente) was the biggest place we’d been in over three months. The stop signs, presence of other cars and having to actually look for a place to park, cook or even take a piss stressed me out (yes, I guess road-rage is relative) so we hit a bar in Todd Mall called Epilogue to use the WiFi and charge our phone from a plug-socket in the back.

On our map, the Todd River runs, big and blue, directly through town. It took us a couple of minutes to realise that the vast expanse of orange dust that cuts through Alice is in fact this Todd “River”. A sign warns, “no swimming” and once a year the “Henley-on-Todd Regatta” sees people running Flintstones-style down the dry river bed in bottomless boats. The event was once cancelled, sadly, due to water in the river.

We were meeting Paige and Sanka, but Liquorland and BWS were closed. (Sunday.) We bought some food in Coles and then in Woolworths somewhat optimistically bought some lemonade as a mixer. Then the woman on the checkout said to Ruth, “and do you have a receipt for the items in your bag?”

“What, these things that say ‘Coles’ on them?”

“Oh. Oh, they have ‘Coles’ on them don’t they.” Still craning to check. “Sorry…just procedure.”

Ruth stormed off, but, being of somewhat tramp-like appearance, I’m fairly used to this kind of thing, so took the opportunity to confirm her impression of me by asking where one might find alcohol at 2 pm on a Sunday afternoon. She idly mentioned that yes, only the drive-through bottle shops are open, and gave me crappy directions to one that went: “Do you know [a place]?

“No.”

“Okay, well do you know [another place]?

“No.” I know here. Give me directions from here!

But it didn’t matter. Alice is small, so we drove ’round the corner and found it – the Todd Tavern – and picked up a carton.

We tracked down Paige and Sanka to a caravan plot at Heavitree Gap (Ntaripe, where the East and West MacDonnell Ranges almost meet under the clean, blue desert air like a natural south city gate). They weren’t in yet. We went to the bar and tried to wangle a staff discount (since we’re technically employees of the company) but the chef wasn’t having any of it.

Then we ran into Sanka on his break. He gave us the code and we poached a shower (2389?) and then cracked open the beer (and cider) and joined him. Paige got back and it turns out her parents were wine-makers in the Clare Valley and that we have a lot in common: we’ve both been around a fair bit and hate our hometowns with a passion.

The scrapbooks came out (Paige is Queen of Scrapbooks, at least in the way that Michael Jackson was the King of Pop), we shared stories, learned of her time spent homeless in London playing Thomas de Quincey (Confessions of an English Opium-Eater), their trips to Sri Lanka, New Years’ Eve under Sydney Harbour Bridge with the cockroaches and the Poles and a random gang of Sri Lankan refugees – just one small part of an epic road-trip from Adelaide to Brisbane that we would soon attempt to plagiarise ourselves.

Sanka had to go back to work and, a few drinks later, the rest of us called a cab and hit “the town”. The cabbie, who quite amusingly (for us Brits at least) was called Frank, turned to me and said, “this’ll make you laugh, right, but I just got out of rehab…Yep, this is my first day back on the job in…”

He went on to tell us about “the trouble with the Aborigines” – we passed many – and that “all the taxi drivers are Indian…all called ‘Singh’! Haha!” He laughed a kind of nervous laugh that shook his sinewy arms and his whole, racked body, on which something had taken its toll.

“Ice,” he said. “I gave up alcohol…and then, better late than never, got into the “party substances”…”

He gave us his card (to poach work from his company?) so I was able to negotiate a discount fare for our return. (Frank: 0431111372. Alice Springs Taxis: 131008.)

Bojangles was closed. Town was dead. We headed to Monte’s, where backpackers and locals alike crowded in booths amidst cool, scrappy, unpretentious decor in the beer garden kept cool by glittering misters in the heat of the day, then later by the arrival of night as the sun came down long and slow and barely noticed, spreading out its red glow over the Gap as we drank craft ale, cider, whisky, rum and coke, ate incredible pizza and talked the night away – travel and work goss’ mostly…

Monte's bar and restaurant in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia

Paige, Ruth and a delicious pizza at Monte’s in Alice Springs

Afterwards we called up Frank again, who veered all over the road as he twisted round to speak to the girls in the backseat, gesturing all over the car with one wild, scrawny old arm, the other clasped so firmly on the wheel that his knuckles had turned white.

Back at theirs, we sat outside the caravan, joined now by Sanka.

On hammock at Heavitree Gap, Alice Springs, Northern Territory, Australia

Sanka, Paige and Ruth hangin’ at the caravan

Finally, shattered, we said our thank yous and goodbyes and crashed out in the van in their parking spot.

We woke as the sun came over the tallest tree and (very quickly) began to warm up the van. (7.40 am?)

I got started on breakfast (tea, coffee, porridge oats) at the barbeque area – a tremendous desert wind blew through and tossed a china mug to the floor, smashing it to pieces – then we knocked, but there was no sign nor sound of Sanka, so left a note saying we’ll see them in Europe…

Leaving town, we spotted the Medicare building, so registered inside. Aborigines hung around – inside and out front – covered in various bandages, crutches and splints, scraggly greying hair, big, knarled noses, cowboy hats and dusty chequered shirts, mostly old, many obese.

Then we drove out of Alice, and that same, flat, bright orange Mitchell grass emptiness enveloped us once again.

“…Alice. Alice? Who the fuck is Alice?”

- Gompie

We put the MacDonnell’s behind us, passed strange mesa-hills, stopped for fuel prices at Stuart’s Well and Desert Oak, all roadhouses now blending into one – some I may remember ’til the day I die, but most already forgotten by the time we reach the next one – and the giant hedgehog, (which later disappeared without a trace!)

Out on the road again, we saw red swirling in the distance like a bush fire. No, it was a kind of tornado, whipping up the red earth in its path, coming right for us. We came to a complete stop and it just missed us.

As the sun sat on the horizon, winking goodbye, we rushed for Sandy Way rest area, the closest free camping to Uluru and Kata Tjuta. Yulara (Ayers Rock Resort; twenty-something kilometres further on) is extortionate.

You have to drive over the dunes and along a red-dust track to get to the camping area. It doesn’t get much more Outback than this! We found an out-of-the-way spot on the edge – the beginning of the infinite Australian wilderness.

Sandy Way rest area free camping

At Sandy Way rest area, the closest free camping to Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

A green 4WD camper played accordion, banjo, gypsy music as we cooked a stack of fried egg sandwiches, darkness set in and I tossed the shells into the blackness beyond the lantern light, should a hungry dingo pass this way.

We talked, danced – the music still playing through the “night” – and pissed naked in the starlit sand…surprised to find ourselves drifting off around eight or nine.

We woke to darkness at 4.30 am and started out, back over the dunes, for Yulara – the light from the headlights cutting wedges in the darkness, then fading imperceptibly as the pale blue light of dawn leaked into the sky and gave shape to the landscape, revealing the lone and distant Mount Conner, Uluru’s decoy, which we, like the many thousands of tourists before us, mistook for the big rock itself.

We passed Yulara Airport (and the signs that tell people which side of the road we drive on in Australia, despite the fact that we were thousands of kilometres into Australia in any given direction) and found the Shell garage, but it was closed until 6 am (by which time we – and everyone else who comes here to see Uluru at sunrise – would miss it). So, running on empty, the sky lightening fast and now following the column of rear lights, we paid our $25 each and entered Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park – the woman stressing that we right our “own names” on them “as soon as possible”, fearing what I’d already thought of: we’re going to sell these (or give them away) at Sandy Way on our return. (You get three days.)

We’ve all seen the photo of Ayers Rock, but there’s nothing like seeing it grow and change shape and twist and contort and rise up before you a big indigo blotch against the dawn sky, as you snake towards it through the vast expanse of nothingness.

Approaching Uluru at dawn

“There’s nothing like seeing it contort and rise up before you a big indigo blotch on the dawn sky!”

The best spot to see Uluru at sunrise (without the aid of a helicopter) is the Talinguru Nyakunytjaku lookout, from where you can even see Kata Tjuta some 50 kms away in the distance.

Sunrise at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Sunrise!

Ayers Rock at sunrise in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Uluru from Talinguru Nyakunytjaku Viewing Area, the best spot to see Ayers Rock at sunrise

From there we hit the Mala car park, from where you can pick up many walks, including a foot-beaten trail leading up to the top of Uluru. A locked gate said the path was closed and listed the penalties, while a guy, who’d already jumped it with his kids, yelled back to his wife and friends, “Come on! They’ve just kept it locked to try to scare you. They can’t do anything.”

Actually, he’s right. Climbing Uluru is not against any Australia or Northern Territory laws. But, because it’s not something that is done in Aboriginal culture, the Anangu – who co-manage the Park – do everything they can to try to convince people not to do it, from not opening the gate in the morning to locking it for “adverse weather conditions”, “rescue operations” and mysterious “cultural reasons”. They even sell T-shirts, bumper stickers and so on with the slogan, “I didn’t climb Uluru.”

I don’t have a problem with anyone climbing it – actually it’s exactly the kind of quasi-rebellious stunt I’d have pulled in my younger years – but we didn’t climb it because my days of needing to prove I can get to the top of big things for no reason are over. (Though I reserve the right to retract this statement at any time.)

Oh, and over 35 people have died trying it.

Panoramic of Ayers Rock in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

The classic Ayers Rock panoramic…

Aboriginal rock art on Ayers Rock at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Aboriginal rock art on the Uluru base walk

In the typical photo of Ayers Rock (just Google it) it’s one smooth, rounded red rock. However, walking the base walk – around the caves, rock art, sacred, sensitive sites and Dreaming stories, ephemeral waterfalls, giant pockmarks in the rock as, over the millenia, it dies of some mysterious disease that rocks know – you see the myriad views, colours and textures. Every bend reveals new facets and shapes.

Pockmarks and weathering of Ayers Rock at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

“…giant pockmarks in the rock as, over the millenia, it dies of some mysterious disease that rocks know.”

Texture of Ayers Rock in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

“Myriad views, colours and textures. Every bend reveals new facets and shapes.”

Kangaroo warning sign and Ayers Rock at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

It doesn’t get much more Australian than this!

At the Cultural Centre they play a really interesting documentary about the struggle of the Anangu. There’s a bit where one of them makes the point that selling art and handicrafts and trinkets to survive isn’t helping them, it’s marginalising and hindering them. I knew it! Fuck you, Lonely Planet! In the displays, pictures showing the dead are covered, as is also the custom further north in Kakadu and Arnhem Land.

We found some shade and fell asleep…

…Then made it back to Yulara for that fuel. I forgot which side the tank was on and the guy came out to say I was “stretching the pumps” – even though I clearly demonstrated I wasn’t – and made us move.

“What’s your problem?”

“It’s not my problem, it’s the boss.”

“Tell your boss to get fucked!” (You don’t mess in this heat.)

Since there’s nothing to do in Yulara except exchange money for shit, we headed to Kata Tjuta, all blue – all that sky between it and our eyes. First you come to the Dunes Viewing Area, which is the best place to see Kata Tjuta at sunrise, then the Sunset Viewing Area, which…well, is pretty self-explanatory.

The Olgas from the Dunes Viewing Area in Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) from the Dunes Viewing Area

From here there’s a short, easy hike into Walpa Gorge or the more intense Valley of the Winds, which is probably the best way to get amongst and experience the Olgas, but, like Kings Canyon, has to be started first thing or it gets too hot.

Kata Tjuta means “many heads”. There are 36 domes and the tallest is actually 200 metres taller than Uluru. (Uluru is 348 metres…with a “girth” – which we all know is more important – of 9.4 kilometres.)

Drinking Traveller laying on bench with the Olgas at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

At the Olgas…

Then we split for another aptly named Sunset Car Park, this one at Uluru, then hit the road again.

Ayers Rock Sunset Car Park at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Uluru from the Sunset Car Park

I saw a two metre snake crossing the road but couldn’t swerve and heard it pop and splatter its underbelly against the van’s. Poor thing.

Strong side-winds swept unchallenged across the open emptiness. Another tornado crossed the road right in front of us, scattering bits of dead, dried-up scrub and dust and Mitchell grass, and giving the van a violent shake on its way past.

We stopped at Curtin Springs (Roadhouse) where they allow free camping. Showers are $3, but of course we snuck in anyway, the lights attracting literally hundreds of crickets and beetles that flew at us and swarmed our stuff and we had to make a naked run for it.

We enjoyed a nice pasta dish and then had to pack it up hurriedly as the dust storm came.

I dreamt of storms and life on the road…

Sleeping in backpacker camper van at Curtin Springs Roadhouse, Northern Territory, Australia

Living my dream

Categories: Australia, Northern Territory, Travel Stories | 1 Comment

The Constant Traveller

field-wheat-grass-path-blowing-wind

I piss where I will, as I move, and my tears fall at my feet

I travel overland

Over vast expanse of sea

I howl, cry and roar

Or whistle as I walk

Down hallways, highways

Long and empty

Across them too

Brushing through the trees

Valleys, tunnels, underpasses

That echo as I tread

Kicking up dust

Sand and shit and virgin snow

And think I recognise my own footprints

From long ago.

 

I blow through

At a hundred mile an hour

Shake and stir shit up

Or breeze idly by

But I never stop.

 

I travel day and night

An empty beach in pre-dawn glow

Over rock

Tarmac

Grass

Grain

And rubbish dumps

Leave a trace

Mark a trail

Make a mess

Smash a window

Go by unseen.

 

I piss where I will

As I move

And my tears fall at my feet.

 

I can be harsh, or cold

As bitter Black Sea winter chills

Far-flung glaciares

Saint Petersburg city streets

My mood dark and heavy burdens borne

But what I pick up

I soon drop.

I travel light.

 

Or warm, gentle, favourable

After long summer’s eves

Of orchards, vineyards, poppy fields

Along the riverside

In the clouds and skyscraper hotel rooftop bars.

 

Sometimes I meet others like me

Travel together a while

Become inseparable

Come to blows

Go our separate ways.

 

I’ve been travelling so long

I don’t know when I started

Or how I’ll come to rest

How I’ve changed

What I’ve lost

Or what I’ve gained.

A memory? Idea?

An experience or two?

Have I left it all behind?

Acquired something new?

Made of entirely different stuff?

Hollow and see-through

Is there anything still in me

From those days when I set out

On this endless journey?

I know I’m not the same throughout.

A single cell, particle or grain?

Thought or string or chain?

 

I gave up trying

To steer my course

Control or even choose my path

Leave it to the gods or God or

Nothing in particular.

 

I’ve travelled all over

Seen, touched and tasted

Passed by everything

All but still and stagnant secrets

Which I’ve no part in.

 

Today an eagle

Rested on my back

I helped to push a boat out

And a man, from a cliff

I’ve helped and I have hindered

If you know I’m on my way

Better to work with me

Than try to go against

Sometimes in my anger

I’ll throw it from my path

Or go around, and admit

No-one’s all-powerful after all.

 

But let me roam

‘Cause you may keep me (out) a while

But you’ll never really stop me

I’ll prevail.

I was born to move!

 

I am wild

I’m free

Or as close as we can hope to be.

Categories: Travel Poetry | 3 Comments

Untitled

Tree falls in storm

…falls on death ears, like trees outside, in the storm, that no-one’s ’round to hear…

Is there anybody else here

who understands?

who thinks these thoughts?

who feels the same?

who knows my pain?

 

Is there anybody out there?

 

Imagine plays in this lonely bar,

falling on death ears,

like trees outside, in the storm,

that no-one’s ’round to hear.

 

Universal SoldierAvatar

on Blu-ray, DVD,

they call for war in others’ yards –

the other overseas.

 

I held a mirror to their face,

but they didn’t know themselves

and I realised, you can’t change yourself,

let alone the falling leaves.

Categories: Travel Poetry | Leave a comment

Mango Wine Tasting at the Red Centre Farm

It was a morning of ghosts. After the abandoned aerodrome at Daly Waters we passed Dunmarra, named after a man called Dan O’Mara who went missing here and was never found (the Aborigine trackers pronounced his name Dunmarra), then detoured three kilometres west through Newcastle Waters Station to the ghost town of Newcastle Waters.

Jones Store in Newcastle Waters ghost town, Northern Territory, Australia

Exploring the ghost town of Newcastle Waters

The Junction Hotel – so called because it sat on the junction of the Murranji, Barkly and North South overland stock routes – appeared in the early ’30s when Jack Sargent offered to wipe some of his debtors’ slates clean if they helped build him a pub out of scrap.

Jones' Store wall made of old bottles in Newcastle Waters ghost town, Northern Territory, Australia

The walls of Jones’ Store, built from scrap and old bottles

Any good boss drover kept their camps “dry”, so the Junction did well. The most popular drinks were beer, rum and the “Rankine Bomb” – an 8 oz glass of straight rum, with a head of port.

Max Schober took over after Sargent and a guy called “Harry” worked the bar for him, coming up with the idea of storing a select amount of beer in wet straw to keep it cool. As people got too drunk to notice the difference, they were moved on to the warm beer, thus preserving the precious stock.

The last beer was drunk at the Junction in 1960, when Schober took his business, and the liquor license, to Elliott. The hotel briefly operated a bottle shop, but eventually closed in 1976.

View from Jones Store, Newcastle Waters ghost town, NT

Creeping around the abandoned buildings of the ghost town.

We wandered through the bar and around the simple accommodation buildings, built between 1935 and 1955. Vast networks of cobwebs hang from everywhere. Thick layers of dust sit on everything. Someone’s put an empty brown bottle on the bar, presumably in an attempt to make it feel like you’re “stepping back in time”. The resulting effect is an eerie one.

Brown beer bottle on bar at Junction Hotel pub, Newcastle Waters ghost town, Northern Territory, Australia

A lone beer bottle adorns the abandoned bar at the old Junction Hotel

The “Last Great Cattle Drive” left Newcastle Waters in 1988 for Longreach, Queensland. Since then Newcastle Waters has been practically deserted. What was once Jones’ Store, built in 1934, has been turned into a kind of ghost museum.

Jones Store museum in ghost town of Newcastle Waters, Northern Territory, Australia

Ghost museum: This fella scared the crap out of me!

We fuelled up in “dodgy” Elliott (population: 350-ish) surrounded as it is by Abroiginal communities and outstations, then made it to Renner Springs Desert Inn roadhouse, 100 kilometres from Elliott and another 250 North of Tennant Creek – in other words, in the middle of nowhere – to visit our friend Alix, who was working behind the bar and let us camp free.

The Infamous Renner Rum bullshit placemat at Renner Springs Desert Inn roadhouse, Stuart Highway, Northern Territory, Australia

God, I wish this was a real drink!

We ate parmies and drank and wrote our journals while we waited for her to finish. Two mutual friends, Aliza and Jon, had once left a hat in here and Alix had been looking for it ever since she arrived. I looked up at the hats that lined the ceilings and walls. A conservative estimate suggested at least a thousand hats.

“923, last time they counted.”

Drinking Traveller graffiti on ceiling of Renner Springs Desert Inn, Northern Territory, Australia

I was allowed to write this, by the way. It’s encouraged.

Okay, I thought as I tried to think up the most methodical approach. This is gonna be tough.

I started in one corner and began thumbing through the hats, but after about ten, there it was, in my hand, unmistakably theirs!

“How the hell did you do that?”

Hat at Renner Springs Desert Inn roadhouse, Stuart Highway, Northern Territory, Australia

Finding our friends’ hat at Renner Springs roadhouse

Alix finished at 11, at which point we cracked out the beers, drank more, chatted. Alix is one of those great, genuine people that you can’t help but like. Then somebody brought out weed, peacocks and a dog called “Butternut” wandered around us, I turned ghostly pale and passed out, while the others burst out laughing.

Selfie at Renner Springs Desert Inn, Stuart Highway, Northern Territory, Australia

Selfie with Alix in Renner

I somehow stumbled back to the van.

There was no sign of Alix when we got up (she’s not a morning person either) which was probably for the best since we were caped in sweat and looked like shit. We showered, ate, chatted to a yardie, then used the WiFi password Alix had given us to send her a goodbye message.

The Tanami Desert on our right, the Barkly Tableland to the left, the Tropical North disappeared behind us and the quintessential red-earth Outback stretched out ahead.

Where almost all of us are from, there’s the town/city and there’s the country, with its fields, hedges or fences or walls, planted crops or mowed grass or cows or sheep or whatever, and all these things we call “natural”, but out here, in the absence of those things, you realise that they are far from natural. They are all signs of human presence. Here the occasional roadhouse and even the road itself are but specks in the desert, hemmed in by the encroaching wilderness. Really this land is a raw and wild one, and there are nowhere near enough people passing through to tame it.

We passed Threeways, where the Barkly Highway – the only sealed road from Queensland to the Territory – meets the Stuart; Attack Creek, where Stuart was turned around by the “hostile” Warumungu; and fuelled up in Tennant Creek, the only sizeable settlement (population: 3000-ish) between Katherine and Alice.

Australian farm wind pump silhouetted at sunset at Bonney Well rest area on Stuart Highway, Northern Territory, Australia

Wind pump sunset at Bonney Well Rest Area

We camped 87 kilometres south at Bonney Well rest area, with bore water for cooking pasta and a cup of tea under the great arc of white-gold-dust that is our galaxy, the Milky Way.

As we lie awake in the van, road trains – the only vehicle that can travel at night without fear of ‘roos and wandering stock – thunder by in the night, all lit up magical like the Coca-Cola advert.

Australians, on a global scale, are an early-rising lot, so we had the place to ourselves when, at 7.20 am, I climbed out, pulling on my jeans, desperate for a piss.

We cooked and ate oats with jam and full-fat milk under the shade of a tree, then, when the sun came over, caught a bit of a tan then laid in bed for a while, door open, breeze blowing through, looking out across the barren, rocky, red dusty landscaping with nowhere in particular to go.

Some Italian guys pulled up with a radiator leak, but other than showing them where the water was, there wasn’t much we could do.

The Devil's Marbles or Karlu Karlu on the Stuart Highway, Northern Territory, Australia

Stumbling upon the “Devil’s Marbles”!

Later we stumbled upon Karlu Karlu (the Devil’s Marbles) – an area of granite boulders in a sea of sandstone, believed to have been created by Arranji, the Devil Man, when he passed through this way.

“This is the Devil’s country; he’s even emptied his bag of marbles around the place!”

- John Ross, of the Overland Telegraph Line expedition

Pretending to roll or push Devil's Marble at Karlu Karlu, Stuart Highway, Northern Territory, Australia

The Devil playing with his “Marbles”

The “Marbles” lie at the confluence and traditional meeting place of four Aboriginal language groups (Warumungu, Kaytetye, Warlpiri and Alyawarre) all of whom know the area as Karlu Karlu. After a centuries-long struggle – involving massacres, the unwitting removal of a sacred boulder and, more recently, lengthy legal battles – the four groups now share ownership of the land, which they lease to the Northern Territory government and help to manage.

Devil's Marble boulder split in two halves at Karlu Karlu, Stuart Highway, Northern Territory, Australia

Expanding in the heat and contracting at night every 24 hours proves too much for some boulders.

As with a lot of Aboriginal stories, many of those surrounding this place cannot be told to non-Aborigines (a little racist, I think) but we do know that they believe in “secret people” who live in caves beneath the boulders, are “kind” and playful, but “can make you mad…change you into one of them…say ‘Follow me’, and you can’t go back.” The traditional owners would conduct a ceremony and song to find children who were lost here, but thanks to the effects of colonisation:

“We’ve lost that song now. We’ve got no song to bring children back.”

- A Senior Traditional Owner

Alien riding bull mural at Wycliffe Well UFO capital of Australia on Stuart Highway, Northern Territory

Wycliffe Well: UFO capital of Australia!

Further along the road is Wycliffe Well, a roadhouse and caravan park that claims to be “the UFO capital of Australia”. We got out and walked around amidst staring cows and emus and a distinct lack of people. (All abducted by aliens?) It’s a very strange place, covered in murals depicting extra-terrestrials taking part in otherwise typical Outback activities.

Wycliffe Well UFO capital of Australia on Stuart Highway, Northern Territory

UFOs feature in otherwise typical Outback scenes.

Next stop was the Barrow Creek Hotel, another “eccentric” Outback watering hole in the vein of the historic Larrimah Wayside Inn and Daly Waters pubs. The only customers were half-a-dozen Aboriginal guys sat drinking outside. Inside, the walls were plastered with bank notes and so on – a nod to the not-so-distant days when travelling shearers would leave money behind the bar to ensure a drink or few on their return. In fact, in rural Australia it’s still pretty common to leave your money on the bar unattended while you go for a smoke-o or a piss or whatever, safe in the knowledge that it’ll all still be there when you get back.

Australian dollar bank notes on wall of Barrow Creek Hotel historic Outback pub, Stuart Highway, Northern Territory

Bank notes plaster the walls of the “eccentric” Barrow Creek pub

Just next to the pub is the old, stone Barrow Creek Telegraph Station – one of, I think, only four or five still in existence – built in 1872, so it’s worth the stop. (More ghosts.)

We fuelled up again at the Ti Tree roadhouse (and bar) then not much further on spotted a sign that advertised free mango wine (and ice-cream) tastings at some place called the Red Centre Farm.

“Stop the car!”

Red Centre Wines Shatto Mango A tin shed in the bush, not a castle in France The wine for the time sign at farm on Stuart Highway, Northern Territory, Australia

“Shatto Mango: A tin shed in the bush, not a castle in France”

We really were in the “Red Centre” now. The red earth was redder than ever, and out of it grew field after field of mangoes. It was scorching and dry as we stepped out and approached the little farm shop, which sold out of a walk-in “cool room” vegetables, bread and other basic groceries that seemed to come from Coles in Alice.

I’d never heard of mango wine before, so was duly intrigued.

Tim presents mango wine range at Red Centre Farm, Stuart Highway, Northern Territory, Australia

Tim presents the range of mango wine on offer at the Red Centre Farm

A dreadlocked German kid called Tim locked up the store and led us round to a little tasting area out the back. A couple of German girls arrived, and then an English couple – Andy and Sheila Graham, who’d travelled overland from the UK to Singapore and now around Australia – and so we all did the tastings together (except Andy, who was driving). We tried the five drinks on offer:

Name Description Verdict
Mango Magic A white wine made with mangoes Not good
Mango Mist A sparkling white wine made with mangoes Very nice. Sheila’s preference.
Mango Moonshine A fortified wine made with mangoes My preference, as a passionate lover of both sherry and mangoes. Bought two bottles. Comes with Mango Moonshine cheesecake recipe.
Red Centre Red A standard red wine Not good. Pretty sure it’s too dry for grapes out here.
Territory Tawny A Tawny (now that Australia have stopped using the term Port, a demarcated product of Portugal) Above average. A good Australian Tawny. Nutty.
Mango wine tasting with Sheila Graham and Tim at the Red Centre Farm, Stuart Highway, Northern Territory, Australia

Me, Ruth & Sheila Graham assess the complexities of fine mango wine

Afterwards we all had a good old chat, then the girls set off in the beat-up but fully-stocked, old car for a 4WD track that would take them all the way into Western Australia and on to Perth, where they offered us a place to stay. Andy and Sheila got back on the road to see their journey through to Sydney. (Only after their return to the UK did I find out that Andy had known he had a tumour in his head since Singapore, and yet had chosen to continue travelling, despite the pain.)

We started for Alice…

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Daly Waters Historic Outback Pub

Time for the Drinking Traveller to “go walkabout”. The road became less and less familiar as we passed Jabiru and the turn offs for Nourlangie, Maguk, Gunlom, etc…until soon everything was new again.

Bras on bar at Daly Waters historic Outback pub in Northern Territory, Australia

Bras adorn the bar at the Daly Waters pub, while a “thong tree” grows in the garden.

Passing through the Kakadu National Park gates, we realised for the first time that we hadn’t left the park once in the three and a half months we’d been working there. Not even back to Darwin, a mere 210 kilometres away. I supposed this is what it’s like to “settle down”. For me, a guy who rarely spends more than two nights in the same city – let alone a “town” of population: 20 – this was a big deal.

But the reasons are simple:

  • Kakadu’s huge.
  • We worked a lot.
  • We got all our meals included.
  • I loved it there.

At the end of the Kakadu Highway, we turned left on the Stuart Highway and didn’t give another thought to the crappy old gold-rush town of Pine Creek.

Alice Springs 1263 kilometres sign in Pine Creek on Stuart Highway, Northern Territory, Australia

It’s gonna be a long drive…

The funniest part is that, if you were to give someone directions to Alice from here, they would go: “Keep going straight. You can’t miss it.” You won’t even have to stop at a traffic light, because there aren’t any.

At this point we hadn’t discovered our van had air-con, so drove with the windows down – the forty degree air spanking us round the face at 100 kilometres an hour, like putting your head in a fan-assisted oven…only “spankier”… If it weren’t for two things – traffic and heat – I could drive forever. (Coomer can testify to this, as I once rode for 16 hours straight from somewhere in the Quebecois wilderness to his hotel door in a Chicago suburb, only getting off my bike to pay for fuel.) While there’s no traffic on the Stuart Highway (unless you count the occasional “road-train” – up to four trailers pulled by a single truck), there is plenty of heat, so we switched drivers every couple of hours.

We crossed the Katherine River (which actually had water in it!) ate sandwiches and assorted melon slices, which, despite having been in our cooler, were in a sorry state, then passed through Mataranka (population: 250-ish), which if you’re interested in you can read We of the Never Never by Jeannie Gunn, because that’s the one thing that’s ever happened there.

Bitter Springs

Bitter Springs or Koran hot springs thermal pool near Mataranka, Northern Territory, Australia

Stripping down and drifting at Bitter Springs

Here we turned left on Martin Road, just a kilometre or two north of town, into Elsey National Park (free entry) and stopped at Bitter Springs (“Koran” in Mangarayi, the local Aboriginal language with 12 speakers), which stinks but is absolutely perfect after a long, hot drive.

Mataranka thermal pool in Elsey National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

Mataranka thermal pool

Mataranka Thermal Pool

1.5 kms south of town there’s another turn off, to another excuse to take off your clothes and drift along at an idyllic and consistent 34 degrees: the Mataranka thermal pool, fed by Rainbow Spring and which is even more “perfect” than Bitter (because it’s pristine…and doesn’t stink). Here you also have the Mataranka Homestead (a replica of the Elsey Homestead built for the movie adaptation of the aforementioned novel) and bush walks to the Waterhouse River and a swimming hole called Stevie’s Hole.

Mataranka thermal pool in Elsey National Park, NT, Australia

Ruth at the pristine Mataranka thermal pool

Waterhouse River at Mataranka thermal pool in Elsey National Park, Northern Territory, Australia

The Waterhouse River at Mataranka thermal pool in Elsey National Park

Rainbow Spring at Mataranka thermal pools and homestead resort in Northern Territory, Australia

Rainbow Spring: source of the Mataranka thermal pools

Larrimah Wayside Inn Outback Pub

Another couple of hours and you come to the Larrimah Hotel (AKA: the Larrimah Wayside Inn) – an Outback pub that rivals Daly Waters for quirky eccentricities. You are greeted by a giant Pink Panther smoking a cigar next to an even bigger bottle of NT Draught (as far as I can tell, the Territory’s only beer – extinct but iconic – served in the 2.25 litre “Darwin stubby”) while another Pink Panther flies a glider overhead. The whole place is painted pink.

Larrimah Hotel Wayside Inn pub painted pink on Stuart Highway, Northern Territory, Australia

The Larrimah Hotel & Wayside Inn

Larrimah Hotel, Pub & Wayside Inn, highest bar in the Northen Territory

Stepping inside the Larrimah Hotel, Pub & Wayside Inn

We wandered around a kind of zoo out back, complete with crocodiles, shit-loads of brightly-coloured birds and even a wallaby who stops by of his own volition.

Wallaby at Larrimah Wayside Inn hotel, pub and zoo on Stuart Highway, Northern Territory, Australia

We met this little fella at Larrimah, which means “meeting place” in Yangaman.

I picked up a copy of Peter Camenzind at the book exchange, left some Rimbaud.

With wallaby at Larrimah Wayside Inn Hotel pub zoo ion Stuart Highway, NT, Australia

Making friends with the locals at the Larrimah Wayside Inn

Back on the road, signs warned of kangaroos. As did the increasingly frequent carcasses. I’ve never seen so much mangled, rotting flesh draped with blackened, bloodied fur. The termite hills were dressed in T-shirts. The trees seemed to grow shorter, giving way to patches of spinifex and mitchell grass.

As the sun sank toward the horizon I turned and watched as a seemingly endless herd of cattle were driven alongside us, kicking up around themselves a storm of dust that lit up a blood, gold haze in the setting sunlight. It was one of the most incredible scenes I’ve ever seen.

Daly Waters Pub

With darkness falling fast, cattle in the road and wallabies threatening to join them at the last moment, we decided to pull in at the Daly Waters pub, about three kilometres down a sealed side road. Our fears were confirmed when four wallabies jumped out in front of the car. Luckily I missed them all.

Daly Waters historic Outback pub in Northern Territory, Australia

Arriving at Daly Waters historic Outback pub!

Normally I never pay for camping, but it was our first night on the road, and exceptions have to be made for such an iconic institution.

Daly Waters Pub the reel Outback of Oztralia sign in Northern Territory, Australia

“The Reel…Oztralia!”

The “decor” at the Daly Waters pub is made up of mad, rusty, rustic things – those strange things that somehow find their way out to a place like this but never leave: rego and “ROAD TRAIN” plates adorn the simple tin walls, old pastoral farming equipment lays scattered about and a well-stomped stage stands testament to the nightly, free live music that makes the pub so famous (in the Dry season). The bar is decked out with embroidered patches, bank notes, passport photos and all the other things travellers leave in places in the hope that they’ll be remembered forever…even bras.

Rego and road train plates on walls of Daly Waters historic Outback pub in Northern Territory, Australia

Rego plates adorn the tin walls.

Friendly Irish staff laid some “bush hospitality” on us, while genuine guys in plaid shirts and ‘roo leather cowboy hats stood at the bar eating “beef and barra” and steak dinners like a scene out of Crocodile Dundee (who I realise I’ve mentioned in pretty much every Australian-related post to date). There’s also a thong tree (thongs are flip-flops; sandals; jandals…sadly) and the toilets are bonafied Outback dunnies.

Eccentric bar decor at Daly Waters historic Outback pub in Northern Territory, Australia

Like a scene out of the Walkabout Creek Hotel in Crocodile Dundee

Hot, dusty and tired, we slumped down with a couple of schooners and what has to be the biggest and best pub grub in Australia. (Meals are served from 7 am to 8.30 pm and even include a free, all-you-can-eat salad bar.)

Drinking schooner of beer at Daly Waters historic Outback pub in Northern Territory, Australia

Drinking a schooner as the pub begins to liven up for the night…

Groups arrived. A Greyhound bus pulled up in the darkness outside. A couple of schooners later – the alcohol sucked straight through parched throat into the bloodstream and direct to the brain – we stumbled out, past some kind of helicopter on the roof, cheap old-school disco lights dancing on the dust.

Still in the Tropics, the nights are almost as hot as the days, so we threw open the back door, rigged up a giant mosquito net we’d had the foresight to acquire, and slept softly out in the open desert breeze, waking often to roll over and marvel at wallabies hopping around in the moonlight mere feet from the van and again when a pack of dingoes began to howl not far away in the mystical Australian night.

This is the Outback!

Of course we still had a few bites when we woke; also matching burnt elbows from leaning out the windows all day. We ate tinned spaghetti on untoasted bread with black tea and coffee for breakfast, then spent some time getting the van in order for our new life on the road.

On the way back from the shower I walked past the Aborigine cleaner taking a shit with the door open.

Stuart’s Tree

Just down the road from the Daly Waters pub is Stuart’s Tree. Though it’s really more of an unimpressive stump, Stuart’s Tree has (or was believed to have had) an “S” carved into it by the explorer, John McDouall Stuart, the first person to cross Australia overland from South to North and back again.

John McDouall Stuart Tree near Daly Waters, NT, Australia

“Stuart’s Tree”. My camera died, so I’ve pinched this photo from ntforeveryone.com.au/daly-waters.htm

His route served as the basis for the Overland Telegraph Line, which in turn paved the way for the Stuart Highway – the road we were travelling down on and still the only road from Adelaide (well, Port Augusta) to Darwin. Relatively speaking, still not a lot of people have ever come this way.

Stuart’s discovery of fresh water at Daly Waters (he named the place, by the way) probably saved his life.

Daly Waters Historic Airfield

Also down the road from the pub is Australia’s first international airfield and the Northern Territory’s oldest aviation building – the Daly Waters aerodrome. Though abandoned since the end of the sixties, the airstrip, original Qantas hangar and other structures remain as they were (natural decay and a touch of looting excepted) and it’s generally accepted for visitors to go and have a poke around, despite a sign that warns that it’s an “active airstrip”.

Daly Waters historic airfield, aerodrom hangar and runway in the NT, Australia

Daly Waters historic aerodrome and runway

We strolled around, letting ourselves into old rooms made of crumbling ply wood, trying the taps, playing with the instrument boards, reading some plaques and photos which have been put up, walking the strange, desolate runway under the white-hot sun. The wreckage of a plane lies tangled in the dry, rustling grass and two kangaroos sheltered silhouetted in the shade of some old structure.

Abandoned plane wreck at Daly Waters historic airfield, Northern Territory, Australia

Wreckage of an old plane at Daly Waters historic, abandoned airfield

Daly Waters was the last watering hole on the Murranji track, also known as the “Ghost Road of the Drovers” and the most perilous of all the travelling stock routes that connect Australia from Western Australia to Queensland. The Daly Waters pub was originally opened as a drover’s store in 1930, but came into its own in 1938 when it got a license to serve alcohol to the crew and passengers from the airport. During World War Two, Daly Waters became one of the most important airbases in Australia…with the pub servicing the servicemen, of course.

Urban exploration inside Daly Waters historic aerodrome, Northern Territory, Australia

Inside the aerodrome, left as it was in 1970

Also at Daly Waters, back on the highway, is the Hi-Way Inn. Though it lacks the character of the Daly Waters pub, it’s still a lonesome Outback roadhouse – something you’ll have to experience if making this trip. It occurred to me how strange it is that millions of people travel the USA in search of the open road peppered with old, independent diners, then complain when they only find McDonalds, while here in the Australian Outback is everything they’re looking for…

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