I came by plane to Alice. Three legendary friends of mine were waiting for me in the terminal when I arrived: Jess, Sam and Shara. They had also boarded in Darwin, about 20 minutes after me, yet… mysteriously arrived before me. I was disappointed that the sign they made was barely legible. And not only that. They were no where near the arrivals gate. Poor effort guys. For those pondering the mystery of them leaving from the same destination after me, and arriving before I did, chalk that up to Virgin v Qantas.
We picked up our fully sick, Holden Commodore. The lady at the hire car counter beamed when she let me know it was a "series II.” I signed and initialled all these special Alice Springs hire car clauses, including not taking the car off road, waiving insurance for undercarriage damage, not being allowed to drive on open roads during dawn, dusk or dark, not taking the car outside of the city zone, and needing to pay a gazillion dollars for every km over the allotted amount. I sighed, and signed. Fun police.
We packed our bags into the boot, but as we drove toward the exit gate, I realised I had left the boom gate pass in there too. So. I stopped, and by accident, popped the bonnet. I jumped out and tried to figure out to latch to completely open and then close that thing, whilst Shara went hunting for the pass in the boot. But then she realised she didn’t know what she was looking for, so we switched. Jess then jumped out to help with one of those things. And meanwhile, we realised that Sam couldn’t get out because his door handle was broken, which involved all of us going to his door and attempting to open it. So he just sat there laughing at three chicks running around a hotted up commodore, at a standstill in the middle of a carpark. Soon, there was some windscreen wiper rather than indicating action, and then we were on the road.
The conversation on the way to town was really something, then we had a delicious breakfast, and took Sam and Jess to their hotel. On the way, I didn’t really know where I was going, so I should be forgiven for indicating, slowing down, realising I was not taking the right hotel entry, and then fanging it straight on instead. No. The bus behind me was not in a mood for penance, instead tailgating me at about 100km/hour to pay for my sins….ON A SUBURBAN STREET. But the universe forgave me, and rewarded us for this near death experience by dropping some Snoop Dogg on the local radio as we pulled into the Crown Plaza valet parking drop off. We wound down the windows and really cranked that song as Jess and Sam removed their possessions from the car. Sadly, my gangster status was put in its place place about 500m down the road as I trailed a hot pink Commodore with “rev head barbie” emblazoned across the back windscreen. Karama has got nothing on Alice Springs.
In testament to the quality of the morning, we returned to the airport, picked up James, regaled him with the entire conversation that we had on route from the airport the first time, and then went back to the same cafe. Wait. Who is James you ask?! I have been asking my best friend that same question since sometime last year. Finally I got to meet him. But I had accidentally consumed four teas, and two cups of really strong coffee before 11am, so he met a version of me that was slightly more unhinged on life, bad jokes and hysteria than usual.
It was a tough call, but we decided to skip the pub and head to our station to check in. According to the map, it was 10 mins drive.... to the beginning of the road, that is. The drive to the actual station involved 40km of off-roading. In retrospect, there may have been a choice or two; go and get a 4WD or get different accommodation. But in that moment, the only conceivable option was to barrel down the dirt road at a minimum of 90km/h to minimise the impact of the corrugations on the vehicle, of course. For the first 10km, I vividly recalled the clauses I had specifically initialled on the hire contract, whilst my diminishing pride in selecting the Commodore was firmly replaced with a desire to have picked the 4WD. I distracted my brain by cranking some music and talking shit. ‘Soon’ we arrived at a gate, chained shut, with a sign that said “private property do not enter.” There was two abandoned cars off to the side but no one in sight - definitely murdered, we all concluded. Shara and I sat in the car plotting what to do, bemoaning the lack of mobile phone coverage, and the fact we didn't get alcohol or snacks before heading out. James got out, and started pacing around to the fence and back to the road. “He definitely thinks we are going to kill him,” I volunteered. Shara agreed. For a split second I pitied the guy, flying from Canberra to meet his babe of a girlfriend, and ending up immersed in my life and bad sense of humour, which brings out the same kind of madness in Shara. Or maybe she does it to me. Who knows. I also didn’t know who was actually the third wheel on this trip. Though, it’s safe to say probably not Shara. But then I thought, if you had to die, this was definitely a pretty good way to go. At the very least it should make the local paper.
As it turns out, James wasn’t actually concerned about getting murdered. He got back in the car, told us that the chain was dummy unlocked, and reminded us of the tourism sign on the side of the road that said “camping.” So we went in and checked into the homestead. About this time, my brain re-engaged and I remembered I actually had a meeting with a bride and groom in about 1 hour and 20 minutes. So we had to gun it back to town. Somewhere in there, some mysterious rocks emerged from the road and scraped the shit out of the undercarriage of the vehicle. We went to the pub, got prosciutto and cheese, and stocked up on alcohol ahead of Good Friday. We weren't the only one with that forethought; he line in the bottle-o was about 100 deep. A minimum of 7 cashiers tending took care of that pretty quickly. Alice Springs.....
Soon, we were putting another 100km on the odometer and heading back to the station; which was outside the city limits, after dark. That’s 3 for 3 on those clauses for the record. And clicking up three times my daily mileage allowance.
There are some pretty spectacular looking sheds on the station, so I insisted that James and Shara "look at them." I had rehydrated with a few drinks, so I was giving them some solid posing instructions, “Pelvis bones touching. I need more sexual tension.” There is a fine line between being a photographer of weddings and romance, and being a pornography director, however, I don’t talk to paying clients that tactlessly. About this time I realised that I really rated my best friend’s new man. I can tell you exactly when I made that conclusion. It was when he volunteered to get on all fours and drink from a trough, encouraging me to take a photo.
We had a romantic, candle lit dinner for three on the plateau, then called it a night in our cottage.
Because no one (mostly me) had bothered to do any proper research when planning the trip, and realise that the station was so far out of town, we had to get up at 5:30am in the pitch black, so I could drive them 50km back to town to join their tour. With bleary eyes, we loaded in, and as I reversed and turned, experienced two simultaneous sinking feelings as the tyres spun out and sunk into the sand, and my stomach sunk into oblivion. Admittedly, at the same time, I couldn’t stop my brain from thinking, “how convenient if Shara and James miss their bus and have to hang out with me instead.” But instead of resigning them to misery, I got down on all fours and dug holes in front of the tyres with my bare hands. And then James and Shara pushed as I tried to drive out of the bog. I was torn between whether “fanging it” would bog us further, or drive us out, so my half hearted attempt left us a bit deeper in the sand. Eventually I did commit to fanging it. The result, as James so delicately put it, was that there wasn’t any sand left on the ground for us to be bogged in, because I had sprayed it all over him.
We drove to the city, from outside the city limits, on dirt, at the forbidden times, and waited on the side of the road for 40 minutes as heaps of really flash tour buses turned the corner, and kept driving. After we caught pneumonia, standing around in 18 degree celcius air, a bright pink minibus pulled up, a dreadlocked driver jumped up, packed my companions into the bus and drove off into the sunrise. A little while later I got a text from Shara letting me know that the average age of the tour was 17.5. Luckily, Shara and James left their alcohol with me.
I went back to the station for some R&R. But first, the cold winds and red dirt beckoned me for a run. I went exploring down every dodgy little road, kangaroo track, and firebreak I came across, noting I could retrace my footprints in the dirt if I got lost, providing that wind didn't pick up. I then further contemplated the remoteness of my situation, lack of phone reception, and the importance of letting someone know where you go, when you go wandering in the outback. Since there was nothing I could do about it, I sidelined those thoughts by cranking some music, specifically Cemetery Gates by Pantera, Closer by Nine Inch Nails, and Sour Grapes by Puscifer; the perfect soundtrack to a macabre murder mystery in the outback.
I arrived back at the stone cottage, alive, exactly 24 hrs after arriving in Alice Springs. I love running. And then I love the feeling of lying on the ground under the fan. So I did that, drank tea, lied down on the bed and fell asleep to the sound of the wind howling through the tin roof.
And here are some of my other favourite photos....