Olly heads to the Northern Territory
Somethingyousaid.com’s Oliver Heath (pictured, above) navigated his way outta Sydney and into the Northern Territory, trying not to swallow too many flies along the way:
The Alice Springs desert is physically the furthest I’ve been from the sea, furthest I’m likely to get, but there are still models and makeup artists here. I’m on the planet at the end of the Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and I’m directing a fashion video. My usual gauge of destination strange is if I feel like I should be reaching for foreign currency. That’s always unsettling when it happens at home in Australia. Melbourne sometimes feels that odd; the taxi hire lights are inverse to Sydney, the beers poured small and expensive, the people friendly. This red place might as well be Mars. I’m 7th generation Australian, a whitey with no ancestral home, yet I know my ancestors would’ve have looked out on the desert and remarked “I don’t think they take pounds”. I feel like I’m reaching back in time to say yo to those sunburnt convicts. Aussie mongrels belong in frontiers.
Looking around the gas station en route to our first location I want to get amongst the party that’s happening on the front page of the NT News: “Neighbour shaved my pussy”, “Croc found in kids’ sandpit”, “Horny roo stalks NT women”. Holy shit, the dingo stole my sex toys! Buying regular stuff with my city currency at the gas station feels proper strange. So’s the hefty “we’re in the middle mate” price tag. Eating my expensive candy bar I feel the heavy looks of dudes who really love their cars and get back in the 4×4. I’m sure they were just wondering what band I was from, not what post they could tie me to. Whenever I’m in a situation where I get them feels like my highschool class is going to start chanting “it’s not okay to be gay” I introduce myself as a musician. A musician is an acceptable kind of weird, I’m pretty sure fashion filmmaker’s another kind of faggot. In fairness to Alice, that’s true of any place they don’t make hipster jokes about.
Sonny gets back in the car and starts the engine. Sonny’s a hirsute surf wizard and our photographer. He came up early to location scout bush bash pioneer. The dude has a manner that puts him at home anywhere. Lives for the road and waves. I’m more of a boogie board guy and I don’t even have a driving license. Driving through the outback with him I felt like I was with Alby Mangles. Cheers Sonny, the journey’s the adventure and you made it rad. I heard from some locals that it’s gotten dead since tourists started flying direct to Uluru and skipping Alice. For fuck’s sake if you’re going to go to the rock, fly into Alice. Go overland. Stop on the way. I’m not saying you’ll enjoy all of it, but you’ll have an experience. Otherwise just wait till they build a replica in a Macau casino.
After taking a shortcut that gets us there after the less adventurous drivers we hike 1km with our gear. It’s the height of fly swarm season, and out in the red dust desert our fixer Amy doesn’t wear fly nets. Laughing with her at a bunch of fashionistas dressed like bee keepers, I initially shun the nets too, but then I swallowed two flies. If you manage to cough them up they leave a metallic taste in your mouth like licking a battery, or blood. Amongst the stone monoliths, the crunching ground, absence of daylight wildlife and buzzing of flies, it’s hard to imagine it being anything but strange. I like the clear way the unfamiliar air smells. Amy was born here but says she only fully appreciates the beauty of the outback now that she spent time elsewhere. My city wanker’s Akubra, RM Williams, cowboy drag seems ludicrous next to a local wearing runners and athletic shorts. I dress like this always, but I’m sure it looks like an attempt at outback authenticity. They all dress like lads. Sunglasses are also a good way to mark you from elsewhere. These guys prefer a sun-licked squint.
I ask squinting Amy if locals ever wear sunnies and what they do about the flies. “Just for driving” and “you swallow them” she replied earnestly. “They taste horrible if you if you cough them back up, so you just have to commit to swallowing”. This wasn’t some kinda weird innuendo, there’s nothing sexy about a walking fly swarm. If it was an elaborate prank where the local swallows one fly only to see the townies swallow flies for days, I never found out, it was my cue to join the bee keeper crew.
Sans fixer we made an unscheduled stop at a ‘Station’ for a feed and some directions. As far as I can gather Station is Aussie for ranch, but in practice it’s a lodge/truck stop. We sat at the bar. The ten-year-old son was walking behind us playing with a machete-sized blade for “skinning cattle”, the publican dad made Wolf Creek jokes. While dad was busy moving my pie from the warmer to the freezer, his pink clad preschool-age daughter was busy swinging from a beer tap that looked like it was coming loose.
“Careful, that’s coming loose” I said.
“I’m not a goose, I’m a princess!” she howled and with that she stopped swinging off the beer tap. I would have ordinarily been relieved, but then she leaped to the front of the bar and, on all fours with back arched like a cat, proceeded to hiss at me. “Hiss hiss”, “hiss hiss” went the princess-pink cat.
I thought yobbos didn’t start hating me till they were older, that it was an acquired trait, apparently it’s genetic. The children were feral. I began to fear that it wouldn’t be the child’s hand that accidentally met the machete when the father returned to find his daughter hissing at me. Fortunately when he came back she instantly started nagging him relentlessly about candy.
I paid $27 bucks for a pie with ice in the middle, packet of crisps, beer and water. I took it on the chin and would have just put it down to a really hectic remote location tax, but my cameraman Fin ordered a bunch more and paid less. Maybe he got our bills mixed up, maybe I was paying for the beers old mate was sneaking now that his wife had gone out. Maybe I should have spoken up about the ice cube in the middle of my pie and the bill that didn’t add up. But I got the feeling it was wanker tax. For fuck’s sake, even his kids could smell the city snob on me. I got off lightly and happily left the secret drinker, the future amputee, and feline princess behind.
The highlight of the places we stayed at was the one that was initially the most worrying. The Glenn Hellen “Resort” had bad reviews online, particularly mentioning the drinking water. From my road grumpy disposition it looked like a discount school camp. By the light of day and buoyed by a good night sleep I was able to take in just how wonderful it was. It was a rustic motel set next to a water hole and a cliff face that loomed like a stone glacier. The kind of humble, wild Australia that a romantic foreigner might seek, only to lose heart in a maze of cities and faceless tourist developments. It wasn’t a shitty school camp, it was the rose-hued kids’ adventure camp you saw on TV. Spectacular. The Aussie manager was incredibly helpful, as was the Korean staff (notably in comparison to the service we got in town). I got the vibe that the foreigners felt they were in paradise. The waitress confessed that she didn’t drive. You’d have to think it was paradise to live out there without transport. I peaked into the kitchen when I heard QotSA playing… such a relief from the constant John fucking Williams that had been lurking me. There was another asian dude in the kitchen. He was the one who had made my kangaroo in plum sauce to look like a kangaroo’s head when it was arranged with the veggies on the plate. Bless. Totally woulda tried to chill with you cats if we’d been staying longer. Cheers for the good grub and hospitality. As for the water, it had the heavy sodium taste that much of the water around here seemed to have, but there was definitely some other brimstone to it also. It was the worst water I’ve ever had, but it didn’t make me like the place any less, it was so bad it was hilarious. I was hoping that showering in it would be a good fly repellent. Maybe this was the secret that Amy was hiding from me while she was trying to trick me into eating flies.
The scenery around Alice is something you’ve gotta see. The videos turned out spectacularly. As for the town, I imagine it’s be tough not to be disgruntled working in a hard to land minimum wage job in a town where beers cost $6.50 and tourists like me pass through town to look at rocks and down their noses. I’d like to go back and check out more of the town. I saw signs for discount hot air balloon rides and, drag races, and the graffiti at the abandoned drive-in cinema hinted at youth making its own fun. These isolated places produce all kinds of art and music out of necessity. Next time.
On the servo on the way out of town I looked at the cover of the NT Times wistfully, mouth still agape in awe at the tabloid headlines, and when the fly flew in my open gob I didn’t spit. I swallowed with my all. I’ll try most things once. Prank or no, it was an improvement on tasting it twice. Welcome to Alice.
Thanks to Mother & Father PR and Tourism NT for putting the trip together. You can check out the campaign video that I made on this adventure with Fin Lizzy for Bless’ed are the Meek here.
Words by Oliver Heath. Pictures by Fin Lizzy.