Sunday, 26 August 2012

Way out there, who would have thought?

Lying on my back, eyes open just a crack. Headache, dry mouth, urrgh. I looked around the bedroom. What the hell, where was I? I’d spent each night for the past couple of months in my little green tent. But this was no tent - I was in a single bed in a tiny room. Make-up and moisturiser bottles lined up on the shelf. A girl’s bedroom? Swinging my feet to the floor I saw I was fully dressed except for my shoes and jacket lying at the foot of the bed. I ran my hands through my hair and stood up to look in the mirror. Why was my face painted blue?

I’d been staying at Arkaroola, at the northern tip of the Flinders Ranges for a few days. A privately owned property, run as a low-key eco tourism place, Arkaroola sits on the edge of the desert. Rugged hills lined with layers all skewif stand to attention around the landscape. The air is clear, the colours sharp. Hillsides are dotted with spinifex, grasstrees are everywhere. Kangaroos, wallaroos, emus. In the sky wedge tailed eagles circle and glide.

It’s a remote place. The journey could be said to start at Port Augusta, which is itself isolated enough. Port Augusta is the town at one of the country’s major crossroads – where the main East-West highway meets the main North-South highway. A small, dusty town where the caravan park is surrounded by a tall barbed wire fence.

From Port Augusta I drove north-east towards the dry centre of the country. Through small town Quorn, through tiny Hawker and past Wilpena Pound, the main camping area in Flinders Ranges National Park. Then I turned off the tarmac and onto the dirt road which took me the one hundred and eighty kilometres to Arkaroola at the northern end of the ranges.

I camped down the back and had been hiking the rocky paths by day and staring into the campfire by night. Flaming wood crackled, smoke drifted upwards and shooting stars arced across the sky.

On the third night I’d booked in to visit the observatory and was excited because the night sky fascinates me, though I’ve never troubled to learn much about it. I went up to the bar to have a beer to get in the mood. There’s a little bar, restaurant and motel type accommodation to cater for the guests who weren’t camping or caravanning.  I got talking to the girls behind the bar, and learned they were Veronica and Kim from Alice Springs, best friends since primary school.

‘There are three of us. Kate’s here too, but not working tonight.’

Then it was time to go. The tour was good, we saw Saturn’s rings, noted that Alpha Centauri is not one but two stars, and observed a globular cluster that was some incredible distance away. It ended at nine thirty and I was all wired up, in the mood to discuss space and aliens and life’s big questions, but all the old folk filed out and into their motel rooms and caravans.

The door to the bar was locked but I could see Veronica and Kim were still inside cleaning up. I knocked on the door and mimed ’drink’ ‘quick’ ‘?’. Veronica came and opened up for me.

Yeah, no worries she laughed.

Half way through my glass of port Kim said ‘we’re having a dance party tonight and you can come if you want.’

 ‘You might have to wear something crazy though.’

They locked up and I walked with them to Veronica’s room. The two of them dived into the wardrobe to search for something appropriate. There were African pants, red high heels, a fluffy dressing gown. A pink scarf was thrown onto the bed. ‘You can wear that Steve’ Veronica said as she ran into the bathroom to get dressed. They came out with headscarves, lurid makeup and other Veronica (another one from next door had shown up) had a sort of Pocahontas thing going on.

They grabbed some drinks and Veronica handed me a cask of wine and told me to drink it. We walked up to the room where Bobby, the Welsh chef, stays. His room was about three metres by two and he’d decorated it with signs and pictures over the walls, and space for people to draw self portraits. He was wearing a tuxedo jacket and half his face was painted blue. Kate was there with blue hair and eyebrows. She was wearing a pink onesie. Kim pounced on a silver sequin jacket that belonged to Bobby, and put it on proudly. The stereo was an iphone – there were other workers sleeping nearby so volume was a problem.

‘We need some of that blue stuff’ Kim said. ‘Want some Steve?’

‘So, brought your Grandma’s pink onesie all the way from Wales because...?’ I asked.

‘Because you never know’ he said.

‘And the sequin jacket?’

‘Same reason.’

These guys had been working there for a few months, doing long split shifts six days a week. They seemed to love the isolation, the feeling of not really being part of the bigger world. One of them told me that on a recent trip to Port Augusta she'd had been frustrated by all the traffic lights - but I remember only seeing two sets of lights in the whole town. 

They'd created their own little world where they spent a chunk of their salary on Tim Tams and chips from the little store, drank lots of wine any night of the week and they improvised their entertainment.

There was dancing on the bed, some fast drinking to catch up with the others who’d been at it for several hours, and about a thousand selfy photos, before someone decided we’d better go to the games room to make some more noise and not annoy all the sleeping staff. Plenty of room there for handstands and a few rounds of a game called beer-pong. When it was time to call it a night I’d become such a lurching, squint-eyed version of myself that it was decided by the council of the wise that I was in no condition to either safely drive or walk the eight hundred metres to my tent. Kim let me stay in her room while she stayed with Veronica.

The headache in the morning was bad, but I didn’t regret it because I asked myself if I’d ever I again be invited to a party of this unique flavour? I guess you never know.


1 comment:

  1. Last photo steve, oh man you've got me lol-ing (yes, i said loling)! You bloody drunked genius you.

    xo em