Exploring Australia's Red Center

Going Out Back
By Melissa Sperl
  |  Gorp.com
Page 1 of 4   |  

About 56 miles south of Alice Springs on Central Australia's Stuart Highway, one of the two roads to Ayers Rock, lies Jim's Place. It's a simple home out in the middle of nowhere. To the left rests a large building—at least it's bigger than the average Outback stop—where Jim corrals the travelers who stop in for a chat and tries to sell them Aussie trinkets. To the right is a giant pen filled with hurt and elderly kangaroos and emus that Jim found and decided to nurse back to health—Outback orphans.

In the center of the driveway, though, sits the monument that demands every visitor's awe: Jim's father's truck. In 1960, Jack Cotterill took his 16-year-old son Jim to check out an unexplored canyon 156 miles southwest of Alice Springs. The enormous crevice (enormous by standards of an otherwise flat Outback, anyway) contained not only waterholes but palm trees. Jack and Jim took their truck and cleared out the roads to the now-famous Kings Canyon. This is the truck.

Jim Cotterill stands proudly to the side of the rusted, dusty metal beast and tells the story of this event, absentmindedly stroking head of his pet dingo, Dinkie di Dingo.

The Land Down Under
To find down-home living out in Australia's fabled Outback came as a surprise to me. But then, Central Australia is plagued by misconceptions: For example, the boomerangs used by the region's Aborigines didn't return—no need, since the bent wood used to stop kangaroos and emu were much better suited to day-to-day needs. And, no matter what the trinket shops would lead you to believe, the native people in the Red Center did not use didgeridoos. (Nomadic peoples carrying heavy tubes through the desert? A bit like trekking across Siberia with a tuba.)

But then, "The Outback" itself is usually misconceived: More than just Alice Springs and its surrounding landmarks, the area is everything "out back" of Sydney's and Melbourne's coasts. The area that surrounds Alice is Central Australia, and it's probably the Outback you picture: Cattle stations. Miles and miles of dusty road, colored occasionally with spots like Jim's Place. Bright pale green spinifex, topped by vibrant rust sand and rock face, then blue, blue sky. It's the sand that earned the region its name; the Red Center is 186,000 square miles (Australia as a whole is almost 3 million square miles), stretching from Devils Marbles to the South Australian border, and from the Olgas to Old Andado.

That's where I went with Contiki on their 4WD Outback Adventure—to find out what the Outback is really about.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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