North From Alice
Alice Springs was interesting and colorful, but it was also kind of seedy and I was glad to leave and get back out on the highway -- so much for my
childhood fantasies. I thought about driving all the way up to Darwin,
which is about three full days from Alice Springs, but for several reasons I
decided not to go up to the "Top End." I wanted to
see some places up there like Kakadu National Park (where they filmed the
waterfall scene in "Crocodile Dundee"), but it was still the Wet Season and I'd
heard that a lot of the roads there were still flooded. Apparently it was also pretty
hot and sticky up there and motel rooms are pretty expensive around Darwin.
Also, I was getting road-weary and I didn't want to tack on another week of
driving across this very large continent, so Darwin will have to wait until my
next visit to Oz.
After leaving Alice Springs, I drove all day
north on the empty two-lane Stuart Highway, passing a roadhouse every hour or two.
Around 3 p.m. and with the thermometer hovering around 95
degrees, I pulled into Tennant Creek (pop. 3,500), a mining town with a large
Aboriginal population. Indeed, it was the only semblance of a town that I
passed through all day. After filling the tank, I found a motel across the
street and, after chatting with the pleasant owner for a bit, got my key and
hefted my duffel bags into the room. After closing the door, I cranked
all the way, turned on the radio and listened to the local country music station,
and proceeded with my typical post-drive ritual:
By dusk it had cooled off 10 degrees outside, so I emerged
from my nice-and-frosty room and wandered the quiet streets of this
pleasant little town that sits alone in the desolate Outback.
On the way back to the motel, I stopped
at a store where I bought some groceries, enough to get me to the coast.
left: Crossing the Tropic of
Capricorn near Alice Springs. I was now officially in the tropics.
center: Memorial to John McDouall Stuart alongside the Stuart Highway.
right: I guess this is why they call central Australia "The Red
left: The Devil's Marbles near Tennant Creek, a large area of
granite boulders way out in the middle of nowhere. This area reminded me of Joshua Tree National Park in California
without the crowds.
Creek is the only town between Alice Springs and Katherine – a distance of 800
miles. There isn't much to do here... except spend the night in a
About half the customers in the Tennant Creek
grocery store were Aborigines, and one scene in particular was memorable.
A white woman and an Aborigine family who were obviously dear friends but
who apparently had not seen each other in a long time embraced with
unrestrained happiness and excitement. What really struck me about it was
that, although I'd seen plenty of Aborigines in Australia during the past
few weeks, this was the first time that I'd seen whites and Aborigines
interacting so joyously. The event made me think more
deeply about the Aborigine situation in Australia and so, being in the
middle of the Outback, I thought this would be a good place to discuss it.
don't see many Aborigines on the east coast of Australia or down in Victoria,
but you do see a lot here in the Outback. The Aboriginal story is very
complex and I've been trying to figure it out during my drive through Australia.
In many ways, their plight is similar to that of the Indians (oops, I mean
Native Americans) in the U.S. but in some ways it's an even sadder story.
I'll try to summarize what I've learned here, but I'm sure it's going to
the first white settlers landed in Australia in the late 1700s, Aborigines had
been living here for over 50,000 years. Unlike in America, where the white
settlers recognized Indians as native inhabitants, the first white settlers
here viewed Australia as an empty continent. They just moved in and took
over, while enslaving and killing thousands of Aborigines in the process. Unlike in
America and in New Zealand, the native tribes in Australia didn't mount a
coordinated resistance to the white intrusions, mainly because there were dozens
of separate Aborigine groups, many of whom spoke unique languages.
the early 1900s, the whites tried to extinguish the Aboriginal race by breaking
up families, forcing children into boarding schools, and outlawing the language
and customs -- a policy that largely failed. Over the past 30 years, the
Australian government has tried to make reparations to the Aborigines, including
returning some of the land to the original tribes. Although a lot has been
done to heal the wounds of the past, there's much that remains to be done.
Australian Aborigines today, like Native Americans in America, face a lot of problems, including
discrimination, poverty, and high levels of unemployment, alcoholism, and substance
abuse. From what I've seen, and save for a few chance encounters in
grocery stores and such, there doesn't seem to be very much social
interaction between Aborigines and whites in Australia. It's probably for the same
reasons that there isn't much interaction between Indians and whites in America:
a difference in culture, a lack of understanding, and some degree of mutual suspicion. It's
certainly a sad situation, but it does seem to be
getting better... slowly.
leaving Tennant Creek the next morning, I turned off the Stuart Highway, my companion for the
past two weeks, and headed east on the Barkly Highway. I pulled in that evening to the mining town of
Mt. Isa, just inside the Queensland border and the site of one of the richest
copper, silver, lead and zinc mines in the world. There isn't much else to
say about Mt. Isa, so I won't. No, actually it's not that bad of a
town. In fact, the fish & chips dinner that I had here was pretty darn
There's a rhetorical saying in the U.S. that goes, "Have you ever seen anyone
wash a rental car?" The implication, of course, is that if you don't
actually own something, you don't feel attached to it or responsible for it.
Well, I've been driving my trusty Hertz Camry for a month now and I feel both
responsible and attached to it. So the next morning, hot and glorious it
was, I did, indeed, give my rental car a much-needed washing. Shortly
afterwards, I filled the tank at a BP and left Mt. Isa, continuing my eastward
journey across the Outback.
There are a couple ways of getting from Mt. Isa to the coast:
the quick way and the interesting way.
I chose, of course, the interesting way which is called Route 66, better
known as the Matilda Highway. After
a few hours of dodging Road Trains, including a quadruple that was over 200 feet
long, I pulled into the hot, dusty hamlet of McKinlay.
If you’ve seen the movie “Crocodile Dundee,” then you’ve seen McKinlay
because the town’s only pub, now called “The Walkabout Creek Hotel,” was
used for the bar scene in that movie. (By
the way, a “hotel” in Australia, unlike in America, is an older pub with
simple and inexpensive accommodations that are usually on the second floor).
really enjoy visiting towns where movies were filmed, and in the past few years
I’ve been to Mystic, Connecticut (site of “Mystic Pizza” – don’t
laugh); Florence, Arizona (site of “Murphy’s Romance”) and most recently,
Coober Pedy, which is where the Mad Max movies were shot.
I didn’t see the second Crocodile Dundee movie but, like many
Americans, I really enjoyed the first one, so I had to see the Walkabout Creek
I know it’s been a
few years since the Crocodile Dundee films were made, but I was still expecting
to see at least a couple of tourists poking around taking pictures. When I walked into the bar, though, I was surprised to see just a barmaid
and a few local guys sitting at the counter drinking beer and watching the horse races
on television. I spent a few minutes looking around the pub, which is pretty
much like it was in the movie. The
walls are covered with several risqué posters, some candid photos of Paul Hogan
taken during the filming and a few pictures of his co-star, Linda Kozlowski, wearing the skimpy-but-oh-so-memorable
black thong at the crocodile pond. That
thong made a big impression not only on me but also on Hogan, I
guess, because shortly after he started raking in money from “Crocodile
Dundee,” he dumped his wife of several years and married Linda. Last I heard, Paul and Linda were living in southern
Unfortunately, Crocodile Dundee's gone Hollywood.
pub was interesting but it wasn’t worth spending $25 on a “Walkabout Creek
Hotel” t-shirt. I didn’t buy a
beer either since I still had about 200 miles of driving ahead of me that
afternoon, so after chatting a bit with the friendly folks there (none of whom,
unfortunately, looked even remotely like Linda Kozlowski), I got back in the Camry and hit the road as the thermometer
left: "Three Ways"
is a big dot on my map but as it turns out, it's just a roadhouse north of
Tennant Creek at the junction of the Stuart and Barkly Highways. Not surprisingly, it's where you can go three ways. I said goodbye to the Stuart Highway here and headed east on the Barkly Highway.
center: The Barkly Roadhouse. As you can tell from these
photos, the semi-occasional roadhouses are among the few highlights of driving across the
were guys in the bar here drinking beer – at 10 o'clock in the morning.
right: This sign used to say "460 km," but these
"only" 260 km to the next gas station.
left: The grassy plains here
reminded me of Kansas.
Above center: Entering Queensland...
Above right: ... where the highway quickly deteriorated. It's
no fun to meet a Road Train on a single lane of blacktop.
left: One of the millions of
termite mounds in northern Queensland.
center: "Beautiful" downtown Mt. Isa, a mining town with about 25,000
people in the middle of nowhere. The smokestack is from the lead smelter
and, at one time, was the tallest smokestack in the world. Lovely town.
right: A memorial to Burke and Wills, the "Lewis and
Clark" of Australia. They passed through this remote area in 1861...
and died shortly afterwards. I was hoping to have a better fate.
left: The Walkabout Creek
Hotel, made famous in "Crocodile Dundee."
right: Cheers, mate. Here's the inside. Note the photos
of Paul Hogan on the top.
an hour later, I pulled off the highway and, following the signs, drove about
miles down a deserted dirt road and pulled into an empty dusty parking lot for the
Combo Waterhole. That name probably
doesn’t ring any bells, but the Combo Waterhole is the billabong made famous
in the song, “Waltzing Matilda."
A.B. "Banjo" Paterson
(1864 - 1941)
Andrew Barton Paterson was born on a sheep station in the
Outback of New South Wales. His parents sent "Barty," as
he was known, to Sydney when he was young to get an education.
Afterwards, he joined a law firm in Sydney as a lowly clerk
but worked his way up, and by the time he was 22, he was a
solicitor for the law firm of Street & Paterson.
Andrew vicariously escaped the drudgery of his desk job in
writing stories for local publications about his beloved
Outback, using a pen name of "The Banjo," referring to his
father's racehorse. His first famous poem, "Clancy of
the Overflow," was published in 1889 and paid tribute to a man
who lived an unfettered life in the bush:
And I somehow rather fancy that I'd like to change with
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cashbook and the
But I doubt he'd suit the office, Clancy, of the Overflow.
A year later,
Banjo penned a poem called "The Man From Snowy River," about a
cowboy's life in Victoria. In 1895, while visiting the
bush in Queensland, he co-wrote the song "Waltzing Matilda"
with Christine McPherson, a woman he had become romantically
involved with. It never made him rich, though, because
Paterson sold the rights to it in 1903 for just five pounds.
Paterson returned to Sydney, married, served in World War I,
retired in 1930, and died in 1941.
Paterson remains one of Australia's greatest literary talents
and, through his poems and stories, chronicled life in the
Outback better than perhaps any other writer. He is an
inspiration to writers like me, whose pathetic attempts to
adequately describe the mythical Outback greatly pale in
left: Banjo Paterson.
right: Banjo (right) camping in the bush.
you’ve been following my website, you know that “Waltzing Matilda” is one
of my favorite songs. Indeed,
learning that song in the First Grade planted the seed
for my eventual trip to Australia, although I never figured out what a Matilda
was or how exactly one waltzes with it.
During the next 24 hours, I learned the story behind the song, so here
in 1895, a poet from New South Wales named Banjo Paterson visited Queensland for
the first time and came out to this waterhole one afternoon with his fiancé,
Sarah Riley, and Sarah’s father, a local rancher.
Yes, it’s that same Banjo Paterson (how many could there be?) who wrote
the poem, “The Man From Snowy River,” whose path I crossed a month earlier
heard a lot of stories that afternoon while picnicking next to the Combo
waterhole with the Rileys and shortly afterwards wrote the words to “Waltzing
Matilda,” which was loosely based on some of these stories, including a
sheep-shearer who committed suicide during the ill-fated sheep-shearer's
strike in the 1890s, and another man who'd recently drowned at a nearby waterhole.
Over the next few weeks, Banjo wrote the words to the song
while Christine McPherson,
a good friend of Sarah’s who was also visiting the Rileys' ranch (or "station"), wrote the tune.
Apparently, Sarah didn’t take kindly to her fiancé Banjo working so closely with
Christine on the song, so she split up with poor Banjo a short time later and
called the wedding off.
No one's sure exactly what happened, but
Sarah refused to speak to her friend Christine ever again and shortly
afterwards, Christine's brother ran Banjo off the station.
case you were wondering, as I was, the term “Waltzing the Matilda” means
being on the road and carrying a swag (a bedroll), as many traveling sheep-shearers
did back in those days.
you recall, the song is about a jolly swagman who stops at a billabong and,
while he’s waiting for his billy to boil, spots a jumbuck and stuffs it in his
that into English, it’s about a transient worker who visits a pond and, while
he's making some tea, spots a sheep, which he stuffs into his food bag (he apparently
had a very large food bag). Soon
afterwards, troopers arrive to arrest the jolly swagman, but vowing never to be
taken alive (and probably not so jolly anymore), he jumps into the billabong and
drowns. According to the song, if
you visit the billabong today, you can still hear the swagman’s ghost singing
driving all that way out to the Combo waterhole, I was pretty disappointed not
to see any jolly swagmen there. In
fact, no one was around except for a voracious mob of bushflies who eagerly greeted me.
Even though it was pretty darn hot and despite the swarm of bushflies, I
had lunch here overlooking the billabong “under the shade of a coolibah
tree,” just like in the song. Although
this place was a lot drier than I imagined it would be, I could almost see Banjo
sitting here and listening to stories about the bush.
complete the experience, I took out my “Lazy Harry Sings
25 Australian Favorites”
CD, popped it into my CD player, and listened to “Waltzing Matilda” sung in
Harry’s nasally Australian accent – in fact, I played it about five times.
As I finished eating lunch, I turned off my CD player and, after all was
silent once again, I listened closely. During
that moment, I thought I actually heard the swagman’s ghost singing
“Waltzing Matilda.” More
likely, though, it was the drone of a hundred bushflies.
Here's Lazy Harry singing
RealPlayer. If problems, see
Matilda (By Banjo Paterson)
a jolly swagman camped by a billabong
the shade of a coolibah tree
sang as he watched and waited 'till his billy boiled
come a Waltzing Matilda with me?"
Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
come a Waltzing Matilda with me.
sang as he watched and waited 'till his billy boiled
come a Waltzing Matilda with me."
came a jumbuck to drink at that billabong
jumped the swagman and grabbed him with glee.
laughed as he shoved that jumbuck in his tuckerbag
come a Waltzing Matilda with me.
came the squatter mounted on his thoroughbred
jumped the troopers, one, two, three.
that jolly jumbuck you've got in your tuckerbag?
come a Waltzing Matilda with me.
swagman he got up and he jumped into the billabong
never catch me alive, said he.
ghost may be heard as you pass by that billabong
come a Waltzing Matilda with me.
left: The Combo waterhole,
the inspiration for "Waltzing Matilda." Those are real, live coolibah trees
on the banks.
center: I had lunch here under the shade of a coolibah tree.
Just me and a hundred bushflies.
right: After popping a CD into the stereo here, I listened to
"Waltzing Matilda" -- about 5 times, in fact.
Amazing Little Town of Winton
complete my experience on the Matilda Highway, late that afternoon I pulled into
the small town of Winton, Queensland. Winton,
with a population of about 1,500, is a very pleasant Outback town and, I
decided, was a good place to spend the night. Amazingly
enough, this tiny town sitting alone in the Outback is the birthplace of not
one but two of the most famous symbols of Australia:
“Waltzing Matilda” and Qantas Airlines.
April of 1895, shortly after Banjo and Christine co-wrote “Waltzing Matilda”
at the Riley’s ranch, the song was sung in public for the first time in
Winton’s North Gregory Hotel. The
song was an instant hit and spread across Australia like wildfire, eventually
becoming the country’s unofficial national anthem.
In the 1970s, Australians decided that they needed an official
national anthem, so they put it to a vote. I guess Aussies didn’t think the words of “Waltzing
Matilda” were dignified enough to represent them at the Olympics (can you
imagine a gold-medal winner standing on the podium while proudly singing about
billabongs and swagmen?), so they gave the nod to a rather bland tune called,
“Advance Australia Fair.” You
know how I would’ve voted.
other important event in Winton’s history happened in 1921, when a couple of
pilots got together here and formed the “Queensland and Northern Territory Air
Service,” which they abbreviated to Qantas.
The first meeting of Qantas took place in the Winton Club, which still
stands (although part of it today is a takeout Chinese restaurant -- seriously).
Qantas soon afterwards moved their headquarters to Brisbane, but without
the encouragement and financial support of the Wintonites (er, Wintonians?), Qantas
would have never gotten off the ground – quite literally.
two important events in Australian history occurred here in this tiny town in
the proverbial "middle of nowhere" I
found to be quite amazing. That’s especially true since the most famous thing that my
hometown of Portland, Oregon -- with a population of over one million people -- is
known for is being the home of that baton-wielding Olympic skater, Tonya Harding.
In case you haven’t heard, by the way, Tonya was arrested a while ago
for throwing a hubcap at her boyfriend -- yes, I’m serious.
But at least she hasn’t stuffed any jumbucks in her tucker-bag.
yet, anyway. But I digress…
hadn’t stayed in any hotels yet while in Australia but I couldn’t pass this
chance up, so I walked into the pub of the North Gregory Hotel and booked a
room. That evening, I strolled
along Winton’s empty main street and watched the blazing sunset, then returned to the hotel
where I’m writing this entry now. It’s
about 9 p.m. on a very warm and breezy Saturday night, and I’m on the
second-floor balcony overlooking the hotel’s courtyard where an outdoor
barbeque is finishing up. The North
Gregory Hotel is a pleasant place to stay, the staff here is very courteous,
and, best of all, you can almost hear “Waltzing Matilda” playing through the
left: Downtown Winton, a pleasant little town in the Outback.
center: Sunset at the North Gregory Hotel, where "Waltzing
Matilda" was first performed back in 1895.
right: The pub of the North Gregory Hotel. That's the
friendly owner, David Strang, standing with the phone. I had a nice chat
with him before I headed over to the Waltzing Matilda Centre.
left: Inside Winton's
Matilda Centre," the only museum in the world dedicated
to a song.
center: That's A.B. "Banjo" Paterson, author of "Waltzing
Matilda" and "The Man From Snowy River." By the way, Banjo
was named after his father's horse, not a musical instrument. Good thing
he hadn't named his horse "Daisy."
right: It's an interesting museum, but I probably learned more about Waltzing Matilda than I
left: Back outside, this is
Arno's Wall. Arno is in his 70's and immigrated to Australia many years
ago from Germany. He's put everything, including literally the kitchen sink, into
center: Qantas was founded here at the Winton Club in 1921. Part
of it is now a Chinese takeout restaurant.
right: Leaving Winton on one of Queensland's single-lane
highways. Fortunately, I didn't meet any Road Trains on this
road. Only six more hours until the coast!
25, 2002 (Port Douglas, Australia)
13, 2002 (Alice Springs, Australia)
11, 2002 (Ayers Rock, Australia)
8, 2002 (Coober Pedy, Australia)
5, 2002 (Port Augusta, Australia)
1, 2002 -- Part 2 (Robe, Australia)
1, 2002 -- Part 1 (Robe, Australia)
18, 2002 (Bega, Australia)
7, 2002 (Auckland, New Zealand)
2, 2002 -- Part 2 (Taupo, New Zealand)
2, 2002 -- Part 1 (Taupo, New Zealand)
25, 2002 (Hokitika, New Zealand)
20, 2002 (Geraldine, New Zealand)
16, 2002 (Te Anau, New Zealand)
12, 2002 -- Part 2 (Dunedin, New Zealand)
12, 2002 -- Part 1 (Dunedin, New Zealand)
1, 2002 -- Part 2 (Christchurch, New Zealand)
1, 2002 -- Part 1 (Christchurch, New Zealand)
24, 2001 (Wellington, New Zealand)
20, 2001 (Auckland, New Zealand)
16, 2001 (Auckland, New Zealand)
14, 2001 (Aitutaki, Cook Islands)
10, 2001 (Rarotonga, Cook Islands)
3, 2001 -- Part 2 (Bellingham, Washington)
3, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bellingham, Washington)
18, 2001 -- Part 3 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
18, 2001 -- Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
18, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
6, 2001 (Fort Lincoln State Park, North Dakota)
30, 2001 -- Part 2 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
30, 2001 -- Part 1 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
September 15, 2001 (Bismarck, North Dakota)
30, 2001 (Webster, South Dakota)
18, 2001 (Watertown South Dakota)
17, 2001 (Walnut Grove, Minnesota)
14, 2001 (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
10, 2001 (Battle Creek, Michigan)
8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 2)
8, 2001 (12 Days in Syracuse: Part 1)
6, 2001 (Manlius, New York)
23, 2001 (Middleton, Massachusetts)
22, 2001 (Boston, Massachusetts)
20, 2001 (Pomfret, Connecticut)
18, 2001 (Denton, Maryland)
16, 2001 (Cumberland, Virginia)
14, 2001 (Roanoke, Virginia)
9, 2001 (Sevierville, Tennessee)
8, 2001 (Fontana Lake, North Carolina)
5, 2001 (Manchester, Tennessee)
30, 2001 (Hohenwald, Tennessee)
29, 2001 (Corinth, Mississippi)
27, 2001 (Natchez, Mississippi)
24, 2001 (Austin, Texas)
20, 2001 (Canyon de Chelly, Arizona)
18, 2001 (Clay Canyon, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 2 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
15, 2001 -- Part 1 (Zion Nat'l Park, Utah)
14, 2001 (San Diego, California)
11, 2001 (San Jose, California)
2, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
19, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
30, 2001 (Hillsboro, Oregon)
19, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
5, 2001 (Bellingham, Washington)
* * * * * * *
Travels (2001-02) >
Australia Trip >
March 16, 2002