Host: Kadaitcha Pastoral Company
Written by James Christian
Since moving from the station to the bustling metropolis of Alice Springs I’ve had to adjust to a number of lifestyle changes. Some of them are probably for the better, some of them make my mother happier, and some of them I could do without.
My commute is now a 21km drive across town instead of a 400m walk from my goondy to the workshop. And, let’s be honest, I used to drive to the workshop instead of walking, because driving let me sleep for an extra five minutes. Crossing from one side of Alice Springs to the other, through the Gap and down the highway, reveals myriad elements of Territory life. If the sun isn’t up then fires are visible throughout the Todd River, ringed by people standing, sitting and sleeping. The Sturt’s Desert Peas in the nature strips house freshly drained VB cans. Road trains weave their way along the bitumen ribbon of road, hoping they’ll get all green lights and won’t have to hit the picks, change gear, or pull in to the weighbridge.
Town roads are dangerous things, even when compared with unfenced station roads with unpredictable livestock hidden in thick scrub. If you drive anywhere in the NT after 08:00 and before 16:00 between April and September you’ll probably get run over by grey nomads. In town they take up both lanes of the road, often indicating after turning, and pulling out into intersections before checking it’s clear. Then they get onto channel 40 and start bleating ‘Does anybody know where the cheap fuel is?’ and ‘No don’t turn there, turn at the next one. We’ll wait for you,’ which is often met with both blinkers going off simultaneously as Mrs Nomad starts calling the manoeuvres and signalling directions across the face of Mr Nomad, in case he decided to think for himself. You really need to keep your wits about you!
Instead of relying on the station social club, Spit Tin ceremonies or the dinner table in the quarters for maximum interpersonal activities, Alice Springs has pubs, bars, sporting venues, cafes, supermarkets, the casino and houses. Each venue is perfectly capable of holding a get together, illicit or otherwise. So, rather than being limited to the jokes and antics of other ringers, the cook and the gardener, town life provides whole new cohorts of people to swipe the unfavourable way when playing Tinder, a game I am yet to master.
We often sat in the meat house in summer because it was cooler than the quarters and right next to the cool room. If only that mincer could talk…
After the November Spit Tin ceremony, Todd tried to justify how and why he got lost.
People in town wear clothes other than Wiggles-coloured half-button shirts and torn jeans, and the fruit salad that is our society further reinforces the line from the Groove Armada song ‘if everybody looked the same, we’d get tired of looking at each other.’ The people-watching in Alice can be unreal.
Sideburns, moustaches, beards and a mullet. Tanami Desert eat your heart out.
The Alice Springs workforce has a revolving door similar to that at The Lodge: every couple of months new people full of vim and vigour shift in to save the world; and the burnt-out skeletons of those who realise the world can’t be saved shift out. Happily, the new nurses, teachers, doctors, social workers and cops are enthusiastic to go to rodeos, camp in the bush and watch the Finke Desert Race trackside. Swags, Akubras, eskies and anything made by ARB or Oz Trail are jammed into vehicles and rattled across corrugated roads at full tilt, the driver and passengers delighted with the fact they’re likely to see more stars than they’ve ever seen before, and it won’t even matter that the steaks get burnt by someone testing their limits with how long they can reach over the hotplate with six inch tongs.
Apparently this was yoga. It could easily have been Riverdance meets YMCA to the Best of Aussie BBQ Tunes. The outfits weren’t too bad though.
On a side note, it amazes me how many people have bought four wheel drives on the off chance they’ll go camping around Alice. Any number of new or second-hand “four wheel drive” vehicles have been retrofitted with millions of dollars of camping equipment and trinkets, only for the tek screws holding the tent to the roof racks to rattle out, the Wormwood sawdust to come out of the gearboxes, and the vehicles’ ground clearance to be approximately one grasshopper. My theory, and I’m happy to take all comments and criticisms here, is there are only three cars required in the NT: LandCruiser utes, Holden Commodores, and Ford Falcons. Pastoralists prefer LandCruisers because they’re (relatively) easily maintained, can tow heavy trailers, be loaded to the gunwales, and have pretty good ground clearance. On the other hand, in the Northern Territory there are literally thousands of Holden Commodores and Ford Falcons crossing country nobody would ever try to take a Toyota. Commodore and Falcon spares can be fashioned out of spinifex, mulga and shopping trolleys, they run for hundreds of kilometres on flat tyres, the only tools you need are a hammer and a butter knife, and they can fit entire families in them with plenty of extra space on the roof for the kids if they’re being naughty. At roughly $4,000 each (second-hand) I reckon they’re a bargain!
Now I’m no longer on the station I need to buy my own food and cook my own meals. The benefit of having meals prepared by someone else isn’t valued highly enough. Luckily for me my parents taught me how to cook quite nicely, but bloody hell. Twenty-one meals, assuming no smoko, adds up in both time and monetary senses. Additionally, when you have to pay for your own beef, Christ on a bike! At Woolies the other day rump was $23/kg. I’m not writing the price to keep the ‘the bastards charge too much for beef when we only get $X/kg’ fire going because, frankly, I think that fire is silly. But if you want to keep eating the best meat in the world it’ll damn near bankrupt you! Chicken is OK if you like flavourless food; lamb’s alright if someone else cooks it; and bacon goes nicely with eggs. The station system of having food prepared for you in exchange for hard work and washing up is one I support absolutely.
If you take nothing else away from this article please heed this warning: stay on a station if you want to keep sinking your teeth into beef for free – shifting panels and getting knocked off your motorbike is worth it.