Getting to Know Alice
|Roughin' It, Ooraminna Style: One of the Cattle Ranch's Outback Cabins. (Leanne Mitchell)|
In 1884, William and Mary Hayes arrived in Alice Springs alongside a team of horses and bullock burdened with steel poles to replace the original wooden poles suspending the Overland Telegraph Line. They completed the job, and they never left. Six generations later, the Hayes family remains, though the cattletheir prime source of income for decadeshas long ceased to be lucrative. So, in 1995 the current owners, Jan and Bill Hayes, decided to shift from raising cattle to tourism by opening the Ooraminna Homestead within their 1,700-acre Deep Wells Cattle Station.
Drive the serpentine road up to the property and the first thing you'll likely see is a collection of ramshackle buildings that look straight out of a movie. Truth be told, they are; the windmill, saloon, and the other corrugated-metal sheds were built for the Aussie Outback flick, The Drover's Boy, as were the Police Station and Gaol (Jail), located elsewhere on the property. These latter two structures have been converted into residences, the former with a king-sized bed and bathroom, the latter a more rustic alternative requiring hurricane lamps to stave off the ink-black Outback night. Two other Outback Cabins are nestled among the rock-strewn property, each with king-sized beds, verandas, and bathrooms with hot tubs.
The day my photographer and I arrive, Ooraminna was hosting a group of American high schoolers. As we ate a late lunch of grizzled, delicious steak, the school kids hooted with glee, rushing from learning how to cook damper (bush bread) in an open fire to another "station" to learn how to use a whip. After that, they'd learn how to set up their swagan Aussie Outback bedroll with a mattress, linen, and blankets all enveloped within warm canvas. Then they'd eat a buffet-style Outback feast, learn about the Southern-Hemisphere constellations, and sleep under the stars after listening to a few stories by campfire.
Ooraminna, named after the rock-hewn mountains surrounding the property, typically hosts group events, from daylong conferences to dinner throw-downs at the old film set for as many as 800 people to smaller groups of international school kids. But the independent-minded traveler shouldn't let that serve as a deterrent. The best part of our stay was dinner. The food was goodheavy on meats, and none too subtlebut the company stellar. We sat at a long table with owners Jan and Bill, a few of their staff, and a couple who came to visit six months ago and never left. They talked of raising cattle, droughts, the Alice heat, the difficulty of assigning appropriations to the Aboriginal community, the economic struggles of transforming a cattle station into a tourist attraction without becoming some Disney/Outback hybrid, and loads more now lost to that quiet, true, peaceful night.
A lot has changed since their relatives first planted those steel poles over 100 years ago, but the family's love for the surroundings hasn't. "We pay dearly for the lifestyle we love," Jan told us as we sipped on coffee after clearing the table. Sitting on the wide veranda, in the silence of the night, it was clear her family made the right choice.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication