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troublemag | April 21, 2019

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Greetings from Beyond the Pale: Alice Springs

Greetings from Beyond the Pale: Alice Springs Ben Laycock, Hunting & Gathering (detail) 1998, gouache on paper 30 x 30 cm.

 

Ben Laycock

 

Part Two: Alice Springs, where your intrepid wayfarer meets a real, live blackfella

After bidding a fond farewell to the Big Red Rock I head up the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs, in the centre of Australia. Arriving as the sun sets over the McDonald ranges I seek a place to lay my weary head.

I find myself trudging up the dry sandy bed of the Todd River, that most erratic of intermittent watercourses. Being so far from the sea, the red centre is not blessed by any particular coastal weather pattern, thus missing out on most of the action, like rain. Instead, from time to time, The Alice might catch the tail end of a tropical downpour from the north, or a cyclone from the east, or a winter storm from the south, unleashing a deluge that rushes headlong down the dry sandy bed of The Todd, sweeping away all in its path, the detritus and belongings of the perennially homeless, the beer cans and the wine casks and the occasional sleepy drunk if they don’t have their wits about them.

Being a cleanskin from the big smoke, I lay my swag in the dry sandy bed of The Todd, blissfully unaware of the imminent danger of flash flood that would undoubtedly bring my journey of self-discovery, and my life, to a swift and watery end. Relying on my intuitive understanding that the desert is by nature a hot place, I have judiciously left all my warm clothing at home, filling my pack instead with a vast supply of dried food, just in case I get lost.

As I lie in my swag staring up at the immense universe above, a bitter cold begins to creep into my very bones. Calling on the wisdom of the ancients, I light a big fire and spread the glowing coals in the shape of my body, cover them with sand and settle in for a cozy night’s sleep. Alas, my primitive electric blanket lacks a thermostat so I am compelled to roll over every twenty minutes to avoid being toasted.

When I am woken from my slumber by the chortling of strange birds in the early morning light, I am shocked to find a thick layer of ice in the billy can, but I am also puffed with self-congratulation for surviving unscathed, my first night in the wild. I have learnt one of the most important lessons of the outback: It can get fucking cold at night!

 

Todd River, Alice Springs, 6 March 2009, 08:34, Uploaded by russavia. Author Andy Mitchell from Glasgow, UK - http://commons.wikimedia.org/

Todd River, Alice Springs, 6 March 2009, 08:34, Uploaded by russavia. Author Andy Mitchell from Glasgow, UK – http://commons.wikimedia.org/


 

Now I am off to town, keen to meet the natives. I did not encounter any in the bush; apparently they do their hunting and gathering in the supermarket these days. Eventually I come across a gaggle of our dark-skinned brethren in the local pub. After downing a few ales to help me bridge the gulf between our cultures, I pluck up the courage to approach an approachable looking fellow who is also downing a few ales, no doubt with the same intent. After much banter and small talk I innocently inquire what tribe he is from.

“St. Kilda mate. I’m from St. Kilda.”

Hiding my disappointment I make an excuse to slink away, nursing my disappointment. I certainly didn’t come all this way, risking psycho killers and flash floods, to meet city slickers. Then and there I vow to leave the trappings of civilisation far behind and venture out into the great unknown.

 

Ben Laycock, Hunting & Gathering 1998, gouache on paper 30 x 30 cm.

Ben Laycock, ‘Hunting & Gathering’ 1998, gouache on paper 30 x 30 cm.


 

IN THE NEXT EXCITING EPISODE, your intrepid wayfarer finds himself in Nyiripi: a tiny outstation in the middle of The Western Desert, on the very edges of the known world.

 

Ben Laycock grew up in the country on the outskirts of Melbourne, surrounded by bush. He began drawing the natural world around him from a very early age. He has travelled extensively throughout Australia, seeking to capture the essence of this vast empty land. In between journeys he lives in a hand-made house in the bush at Barkers Creek in central Victoria – benlaycock.com.au

 

Want more? See all of the Greetings From we’ve run to date.