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Friday, 06 February 2009

Uluru or Bust: Adventure in Australia’s Outback - Page 2

Written by Kristen Hamill
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They thought we were slightly nuts.

Six of us, all students at the University of Adelaide — three Americans (Jonny, Kate, and myself) one Brit (Carrie-Ann), one Canadian (Taylor), and one Aussie (Jakob) who had made the trip before — were making a five day round-trip from Adelaide, north through 1500 kilometers of empty desert, in the middle of the Australian summer, without air-conditioning.  We were headed to Uluru, the giant red monolith also known as Ayers Rock, sacred to Aboriginal tribes and as much an Australian icon as the kangaroo.

We made it to the campsite without any further mishaps and decided to tour the town the next morning.  Coober Pedy is a major opal mining town, producing over 70% of the world’s supply. The Aboriginal translation of the town’s name is “white man’s hole”, and buildings and homes are built underground to avoid temperatures as high as 140 degrees. We followed signs for “The Big Winch” to a sandy parking lot decorated with fourteen-foot tall foam pillars reminiscent of the worm-like creatures that shot out of the ground in the movie Tremors.

 

The Big Winch, as it turned out, was a lookout over the center of town; a dusty valley dotted with conical piles of mullock and tin-roofed houses built into the sides of pink sandstone. The lot belonged to a small cabin with a porch that held a disturbing amount of junk: an enormous ring of rusty keys tacked below a sign Uluru or Bust: Adventure in Australia’s Outback, University of Adelaide, Uluru, Ayers Rock, Kata Tjuta, outback camper trip, Uluru’s Aboriginal history, Valley of the Winds, Kings Canyon, Coober Pedy, The Big Winch, Mt. Ebenezer, travel Adelaide, Kristen HamillHave You Lost Your Keys Recently?, a troll doll dangling from another sign Smile You’re on Candid Camera, an ancient computer collecting dust on a rusty swing. The porch looked straight out of an Australian horror movie about an outback-dwelling serial killer we had just seen, Wolf Creek.  Just as we were considering hightailing it out of the Big Winch, the screen door creaked open and a small man in glasses teetered onto the porch. We approached him for directions to the town’s underground Serbian church.

 

“Yes, I’ll show you, come with me,” the man said with a huge smile, and hunched towards the door, motioning for us to follow.  Putting aside our better judgment, we followed the man with the creepy porch décor into a dark kitchen. “WOLF CREEK ALERT!” Carrie-Ann whispered loudly as we winded around a table laden with maps and into the living room.

“We’re really just looking for some directions,” Taylor called out to the man as he shuffled silently down a hallway.

 

Without a word, he led us into a small room packed with opals of every size, color, and shape. The man plucked out a few bracelets from a case and offered them to us, “Good prices!” We backed away apologetically, mumbling excuses as we bee-lined for the door.  He followed us back out in the lot clutching a box filled with pebble-sized blue and green opals.  Jonny, feeling guilty, caved and bought one for twenty cents.

 

Uluru or Bust: Adventure in Australia’s Outback, University of Adelaide, Uluru, Ayers Rock, Kata Tjuta, outback camper trip, Uluru’s Aboriginal history, Valley of the Winds, Kings Canyon, Coober Pedy, The Big Winch, Mt. Ebenezer, travel Adelaide, Kristen HamillWe stopped at the Serbian church to experience the underground life, then got back on the road. After the near-death experiences of the night before, we found a campsite in Erldunda, about an hour from the Northern Territory border, well before sunset.  Like many of the roadside “towns” in the outback, the campsite and gas station at Erldunda was Erldunda. We befriended a blind wallaby and a scruffy cat that lived at the campsite, and spent the rest of the night by the pool drinking boxed wine and dodging giant European wasps.

 

Uluru or Bust: Adventure in Australia’s Outback, University of Adelaide, Uluru, Ayers Rock, Kata Tjuta, outback camper trip, Uluru’s Aboriginal history, Valley of the Winds, Kings Canyon, Coober Pedy, The Big Winch, Mt. Ebenezer, travel Adelaide, Kristen Hamill

 

The following morning we got started early to Uluru. It was a four hour drive, and we were so anxious to get there, every rock in the distance looked like it could be Uluru.  Several false alarms and wasted photos later, we saw a slice of Uluru’s glowing rock face many miles away.

 

Uluru or Bust: Adventure in Australia’s Outback, University of Adelaide, Uluru, Ayers Rock, Kata Tjuta, outback camper trip, Uluru’s Aboriginal history, Valley of the Winds, Kings Canyon, Coober Pedy, The Big Winch, Mt. Ebenezer, travel Adelaide, Kristen HamillLooking like a lonely red monster towering over the flat desert landscape, it was not difficult to see why Uluru is so sacred to Aboriginal tribes. Uluru proved to be more than the smooth hump of red rock I’d seen on postcards and calendars. Up close it is a mass of curves, clefts, and discolored channels where water once streamed. A trail of handholds led up the ridge of the rock, but we decided not to climb what the Aboriginals considered a spiritual object. There weren’t hikers on the rock that day anyways; it was over 100 degrees and the sun was so brutal I could feel sunscreen sizzling on my arms.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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