Wednesday, September 06, 2006

6 - September 2006

"It's not even possible to say quite where the outback is. To Australians, anything vaguely rural is 'the bush.' At some indeterminate point, 'the bush' becomes 'the outback.' Push on for another two thousand miles or so and eventually you come to bush again, and then a city, and then the sea. And that's Australia."--Bill Bryson, In a Sunburned Country

On the 3+-hour flight from Sydney to Alice Springs, we watched the ground beneath us turn from densely populated harbor city to sparse bushland to nothing but parallel ripples of deep red sand (it's little wonder they call this the Red Centre). We spotted some cooler-looking, darker areas--water, we wondered?--but soon realized those were just perfect replicas of the cloud formations above. We had definitely arrived in the outback, and we were mighty glad we hadn't driven there; monotony would have overcome us for sure (though I do dream of one day taking the Ghan Train from Adelaide to Alice or vice versa).

Alice Springs, our destination for the night, is an overwhelmingly flat and dusty place with little more than dingy shrubs to break up the landscape. We strolled around the rather desolate town--mostly security-barred strip malls, low-end hotels with tour and airport shuttles idling out front, and a few familiar chains like K-Mart, Woolworths, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and McDonald's (there appeared to be no McCafe at this one)--and visited some Aboriginal art galleries and shops at "the mall." Local Aborigines wandered with us, some selling their detailed and colorful dot paintings to tourists, some loitering quietly and seemingly aimlessly, and several shouting to one another in their native tongue--they rarely made eye contact and didn't seem particularly comfortable around tourists. There was a huge and very modern-looking hospital; we heard there's a great, hands-on reptile center and we were intrigued by the rather large library, but our time was limited and booked.

Tonight we held tickets to the Red Centre Dreaming Dinner and Show, which delivered an evening of Aboriginal song, dance, and culture as well as a three-course meal. Under a nearly full moon and at the base of a mountain considered sacred to the local Aborigines, we started the night with champagne and orange juice. Black-footed rock wallabies hopped around and nibbled food behind the ceremonial platform (we figure they feed them before shows to satisfy tourists dying to see local wildlife). The show began with a demonstration of various Aboriginal tools and weapons such as the boomerang, spears, and a hatchet; an explanation of the stories behind dot paintings; and a great deal of talk about witchetty grubs, honey ants, and kangaroo meat (all foods gathered and hunted by local Aborigines).

We enjoyed soup (pumpkin capsicum soup must be in season, as it's offered on nearly every menu we've seen in Australia!), bread, and a full buffet dinner before sitting back to take in the rhythmic, earthy drone of the didgeridoo (those players perform the extraordinary feat of circular breathing--the music never pauses! Women don't play or even touch the didgeridoo in Aboriginal culture, incidentally) along with tapping and chanting. An Aboriginal tribe (oddly based in northern coastal Australia--the local tribe gave permission for them to be here) performed for us, and they told beautiful and engaging stories as they danced by the fire. The evening came to a close with tea and dessert.

(Yes, that's a white guy you see--but he was welcomed into the tribe as a child and is every bit a part of them.)

It was a memorable, spiritual evening, and it was the perfect welcome to the outback and an ideal introduction to the Aboriginal way of life.


Sonya said...

When I went to school we would have aboriginal tribes visit us often to explain their culture and demonstrate their dance and music. They would take the boys aside to demonstrate the really serious stuff that girls weren't privvy to. Then they would tell us, "No Ma'ams, you can't touch the didgerido, you'll get pregnant!"

Needless to say, most of us young girls were terrified to touch a didgerido! I'd say it had the desired effect! Kind of like avoiding walking under a ladder for bad luck........just to be safe, you don't!

10:26 AM  
franzen family said...

I seem to be fixated on food/drinks (always am) but rice bubbles cracked me up. The little translations are my favorite part of the blog to read. :)

2:12 PM  

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