Ever hear of the Ozzie wave? It’s not a friendly greeting. Not even remotely sociable. But you see it a thousand times a day, every day, all through central Australia. It’s a constant side-to-side wave you do across your face. And why does everybody do this?
Well, let me tell you about the flies. The flies in the Australian outback aren’t the mild-mannered, laid-back, Clark Kent variety most people are used to. No way. These babies are thirs-TY! Until you happened along, two or three thousand of the little suckers were dying of thirst. To them, you’re a life-saving oasis — a six-foot-tall, portable cooler filled with all their favorite flavors of Gatorade!
Ever had a dozen flies, all at once, sucking moisture out of the corners of your eyes? No? Well, you’ve missed a really sensuous experience, let me tell you. And no little wave of the hand is going to scare these babies away from such a liquid treat, no sir. In fact, nothing short of a direct hit with your fist will make them even budge. So, assuming you don’t want to spend the afternoon socking yourself in the face, here’s what you do. First, you literally scrape your face clean of flies. You have to tighten the fingers of each hand into little scoops, and, starting at your forehead, you pull them down your face, pressing very close to the skin. Then, the second they’re all gone, you instantly cover your face, with your hands pressed as tightly to your skin as possible. Then you sit there like that for the rest of the day, unable to see, unable to speak, unable to open your mouth, until the sun goes down.
Think I’m kidding? I’m not kidding. The only time we took our hands away from our face was to have a quick drink of hot grapefruit juice. So we sat with our heads bowed, our faces covered, in silence, at that empty intersection of two empty roads, for 4 hours.
Now you know why nobody hitches through central Oz in the summer. Welcome to the Great Red Center!
Luckily, there’s a Code of the Road in the Outback. Any car that sees you out there hitching is going to stop. It can be a dangerous place to be alone without a car. So the first guy who came along stopped for us.
[Same code applies in the far North. Once I was in south-central Alaska with some friends when our car broke down, miles from nowhere. It was wintertime, which means permanent darkness. And this was in the days before cell phones and 911 numbers. So we started walking, and the first car to come along was driven by an elderly lady, all alone out in the wilderness. Did she stop for us? You bet. There we were, three husky guys in heavy parkas that made us look like a trio of grizzly bears — OK, two husky guys and one scrawny beggar — and this woman stopped and picked us up and drove us to the nearest garage 50 miles away. You don’t pass people up in the Alaskan winter. Never happen. A stalled vehicle in the extreme cold up there can mean freezing to death.
About a week later, we got a chance to return the favour. We saw a car stopped on the highway north of Eagle River. Of course we pulled over to see if we could help. It was another elderly lady, and her car had a flat tire. So we bustled out and changed it for her. After we’d finished, she thanked us and said, “By the way, my name’s Sarah London. I’m Jack London’s daughter.”
You never know whom you’ll meet, out in the middle of nowhere.]