by Peter Nelson
A land of incredible contrasts — dust so thick you can drown in it, water so brown you can walk on it. Empty river beds. Cattle ranches where they don’t talk about the number of cattle per acre the land can support — they talk about the number of acres required to keep one animal alive!
We wanted to head west out of Alice into the great red heart of Oz. And we knew there’d be no traffic for hitching, so we rented this little number called a mini-moke. Looked just like a golf cart, but could go a bit faster.
First stop from Alice Springs was Ellery Creek Gorge, with the deep blue pond glistening in the desert air. After hundreds of miles of eating the driest dust on the planet, when you see water, you don’t bother looking for signs saying “Beware of poisonous snakes”, or “Cattle urinating upstream”. You just run right in. I guess civilized people probably take off their clothes first. The rest of us can’t be bothered. After all the dryness and dust, the very sight of water is a tonic. I always thought they were exaggerating in Western movies when John Wayne says the cattle stampeded “because they could smell the water.” But you really can smell it and for quite a distance. And it really is the stuff of life.
Picture this. The great red center of Australia is one of the driest, flattest, most barren spaces on Earth. Kansas is mountainous by comparison. It’s dead flat for a thousand miles in every direction. No buildings, no people, no power lines. Hardly any plants even. Just this dusty greenish-brown spinifex. Apparently you can grind up the seeds and make seedcakes. Or you can burn it. Pretty useless.