Posted by: Megan | July 31, 2007

“On The Trail of Megan – Queen of the Outback”

Renewed driving confidence – bolstered by the experience those many hours spent on the I405 provided me with – gave me reason to believe that it was time to hit the road again. This time on a ‘Great Australian Road Trip’ – a compelling self-named story: “On the trail of Megan, Queen of the Outback”

I accepted an offer to visit a *friend – working in the medical field in a remote *indigenous community in Northern Australia – approximately 724km from Darwin.  Given the location and the living situation, at first he was reluctant to invite me to a place that could potentially shock me!  Knowing though that I was well traveled was what eased his mind and brought forth plans for me to proceed with the journey. I had very little idea of what to expect yet I had learnt lessons from my previous travels that would help me in other journeys – such as this!  More often than non I like to travel mindfully – without expectations and to simply take with me (besides my coffee plunger + freshly ground coffee) an openness towards any experience that life may invite me to – even if it does break my ‘comfort zone’! I was not sure how would I feel in an indigenous community.  If isolation would take its’ toll?  If the terrain would become too much?  What the beauty and remoteness of the Outback would un-earth was what I had to find out …

After the flight from Melbourne, I arrived into a four-bedded-stuffy-female-dorm at the youth hostel in Darwin at 3am – which not only initially broke my ‘comfort zone’ but too questioned the status of my ‘back-packer-mojo’! I had to remind myself that it was all about the journey – seriously

Morning light could not come fast enough for me to hurdle off the top bunk, take a final sip (in the form of a latte) of civilization to then begin my epic journey that would eventuate down a road less travelled –  away from most modern amenities.

The next section of the journey was to drive – in a hired Nissan X-Trail – 350km to Katherine – along seemingly an endless stretch of road, aligned with a deep-rich-red-mud-clad edging. A possible allotment for a sign – such as McDonalds – was sighted and transposed for; “We like our Lizards Frilled – Not Grilled”!  I couldn’t help but ask myself if this particular one was accredited to the traveling ways of previous Japanese?

On arrival into Katherine, I finally began to feel more and more like my sojourn had thrown me further into the Outback – although at this point I was still able to somewhat function in a quasi-civilized-state. It was hard to ascertain what actually threw me out of my ‘comfort zone’ at this point.  The heat?  The communication meltdown?  Should I have said “Nescafe” and not “latte” – in the only cafe on the main strip? The honest fact was though that as an Australian, I felt distinctly a foreigner within a country I grew up in!  Spending another night in a youth hostel was not that dissimilar to the first one. As a night’s worth of entertainment in Katherine, I gave the establishment  ‘Bucking Billy’ a miss – unfortunately, it was all too indicative of what Katherine had on offer.  Needless to say, it was another night that was not conducive to bringing back my back-packer-mojo at any fast rate!

Katherine Gorge (also known as Nitmiluk) was the jewel of what I experienced as an otherwise harsh introduction to the region! Just 29km from the town centre, the gorge is bestowed in the rugged Outback country with deep rainforests, rocky cliffs and escarpments, and the water habitat of unique birds and animals, not to mention the slither of the freshwater crocodile. Straight from a Melbourne winter I found the heat of the sun pelting down on my temporary pale skin intense as I walked around taking in some of Australia’s most stunning natural scenery!

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Above: Katherine Gorge.

Finally, the real part of the adventure was about to take place – the one I had been warming up to and – very much looking forward to.  Leaving Katherine behind, I veered off on to the Victoria Highway – another long stretch of road with widespread views of an open Outback Australia that marveled me with its’ solitary natural beauty. After approximately 200km, I pulled over at truly the last point of civilization before reaching my destined point.  Resting on a plastic chair under the propelling fans that tried to combat the heat, I waited for my friend to arrive in his 4WD troupe with several Aboriginal women who he had taken to have mammogram testing done. Pending his arrival, some of the finest people watching moments took place before me – iconic of the Outback; long-bearded local men with a full rounded belly sporting a wide brimmed Akubra hat sitting aside the petrol pump eating their Aussie hamburgers!

The Australian Outback climate has a distinct dry and wet season.  Fortunately, I was travelling in the dry season for the concluding stretch of road, to which I followed my friend in his troupe along, was an unsealed dirt road rugged enough – let alone being subject to flooding and potentially being bogged as a consequence! In fact – it is often an impassable road during the wet season. And at this point, I truly reveled in the journey as it was wild – panoramic views of soaring red escarpments that came in and out of view amidst the dust stirred up by his troupe in front of me. Listening to an eclectic mix of music in my vehicle from classical to upbeat I was in a world of my own as I drove even more into the unknown.  And that was just it – it really was quite unknown – to a place that until the permit system on indigenous communities (such as where I was headed to) is revoked it was not possible for other white Australians to freely visit.  Under the pseudonym as a nurse – same as my friend – I was privileged to be privy to the ways of a lifestyle that so many other Australians would not know nor understand!

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Above: Off road traveling to get to the indigenous community.

Initially missing the turn off to the town (giving the ladies in my friend’s troupe a heartfelt laugh for the day) as my friend’s vehicle hid in a cloud of dust at the turn off –  I almost missed out on my experience! Two full days (as opposed to just over two months for my friend) in this particular community (of approximately 350 people) barely touched the surface in terms of my ability to understand these indigenous locals and their ways on their land.

While I experienced nothing but an open warm and friendly reception from the locals who I met, their glowing white smiles easily masked their take on a living situation that was far from ideal anywhere in the world – let alone Australia – a 1st world nation.  It is sad that these people in remote indigenous communities not only suffer some of the worst health in the state but too have the highest incidence of health-related problems. Witnessing scruffy dogs, and pigs roam the dusty streets of the town, disparate housing conditions to what they should be, extreme limitations of civilization and materialistic possessions of quality was conclusive to easily be 3rd world conditions.  Did what I see shock me – my friend asked.  Sure, though I had been exposed to these situations before though in South East Asia.  And sure, because no-one should live in such conditions, especially in a developed country – that I agree with.  At least there is a community health centre in operation for 10 years now – where my friend and one other nurse works.  Personally, I believe that it takes a special kind of person to work out there in isolation, and as adventurous as I am I admit that I would struggle to sustain living there for the time he has.  I’d have had that singular flashing light on top of the local 4WD ambulance twirling in haste as I headed out of town with guilt of “sorry” in my dust.

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Above: Typical local housing in the community.

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Above: The local shop – poorly stocked!

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Above: Some of the lovely locals!

On a lighter side, my most priceless (and hilarious) moment was when on the Sunday night I heard Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” blasting out of the Ghetto Blaster on the basketball court – in the town centre – aiding dance moves from the kids that would even take Michael Jackson himself aback! Music and grooving moves that were all a part of the tri-weekly local disco that brought all the kids together in a bond of pure and simple fun.

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Above: Myself at the local disco – one of a kind!

Was it worth it (the journey) – my friend also asked.  Indeed – it was.  Look, whether or not it was incredibly exciting or rated highly on the “wow-factor”, to me it was all about the journey into the unknown, and again being open to another life-experience. A ‘life experience’ that opened my eyes to a slice of Australia never experienced before – spending time with our own indigenous people.  As travelers’, we can take away at least ‘something’ from every journey, and I certainly found this one to be an eye-widening experience that … I enjoyed.

So after leaving behind this particular friendly indigenous community, their ways, my friend, and the stunning sunsets over the surrounding escarpments behind I am now sitting back in a place I am all too familiar with.  ‘Comfort zones’ – are not a bad thing to have broken now and then for me to re-appreciate what I have!

*Name of my friend and name of indigenous community not mentioned out of respect to both.


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Responses

  1. I take it that it was a “dry” community that you visited?

  2. Hi Rock,

    Yes it was a dry community. I’m curious – why do you ask?

    Megan


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