The Wrong Side of the Fence

Trip Start May 19, 2009
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Australia  , South Australia,
Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Any tourist worth his overpriced visitor's guide would say you'd be hard pressed to beat Uluru.  Unless, of course, said tourist happens to be a long-haired German backpacker called Andre.

Never mind crossing into our third state here in the land of Oz, the comparitively verdant South Australia; Andre was wholly fixated on a landmark whose glorious photo in the Lonely Planet put others to shame.  Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you the Dog Fence.  Yes, sadly, you read that right.

The new wonder of the World, according to Andre, was the 4850km fence that runs across Australia to keep the dingoes of the North from attacking the sheep in the South.  In my book, whichever way you looked at it, it was just a bloody long fence.  But still, in the spirit of diplomacy, we drove through the night to reach a vantage point for amateur photographer Andre's shot du jour at sunrise.

Of course, the next morning we overslept.  But, fret not, there would be another chance. 

A new day meant the next leg on to Coober Pedy, an opal mining town with an average summertime temperature of 50 degrees.  It took me a while to convince Andre that we wouldn't need a whole day in Coober Pedy, as after Tom Price, the Amazon and I had pretty much had our fill of the mining World.  We weren't wrong.

It had its idiosyncrasies.  In such sweltering heat, many residents took refuge in underground homes, and businesses dug their premises into the relative cool of the terra firma.  What was utterly fascinating, however, was how this isolated town seemed stuck in an eighties timewarp, complete with retro cars on the road and cassette tapes on sale.  Unsurprisingly, it turned out that Coober Pedy had been used at the set for various 'end of the World' films, like Mad Max and Pitch Black, and the highlight of the day turned out to be posing by a spaceship left hanging around by a laxidasical La La land Art Director.

Heading out to the mountain range The Breakaways, more parched and desolate landscape stretched before us, but lo and behold Andre had his chance to snap the Dog Fence at sunset.  Unsurprisingly, Cat and I decided to pass and instead cooked pasta on the gas stove before trying to drive out on an unsealed road in the twilight, wondering why it was so dark and taking at least twenty minutes to realise that Randy's headlights had given up the Ghost.  Cue another night spent parked up next to a random monument at a highway rest stop. 

Hitting the road again in the safety of daylight, our penultimate stop would be the Flinder's Ranges, a set of peaks apparently forming a remarkable vista that earned them a "must see" in the Lonely Planet's Australia guide.  Perhaps we pitched up at the wrong time of year, but we soon found ourselves sweating through unrewarding hikes with only one other group of French backpackers for company, who were also clutching their guidebooks and looking utterly confused.  I started to wonder if the photoshop wizard at Lonely Planet Publishers had been on a roll for this section of the guide, but at least our ambles afforded me time to mentally pen a strongly worded letter of complaint to the Editor.       
Still, it wasn't all dull as dishwater.  Whilst the parched landscape of Flinder's meant the rivers and waterholes remained dry, the wildlife apparently thrived in the unforgiving conditions.  Within the space of a day, the Amazon had been (almost) attacked by a two metre long snake and Randy had been frisked by a family of emus and a particularly inquisitive kangaroo.  In a purely scientific experiment I discovered that the Roos have a liking for beer, which was all thoroughly entertaining until one started to physically wrestle Cat for more.  At least it gives her a bit of preparation for Friday night kicking out time at the boozers in London when she comes to visit. 

On our last night before the bright lights of the city, we detoured to a country town called Wilmington to giddy up at a local Rodeo.  Donning my Jillaroo hat from Newcastle Waters, I took a ringside seat safely removed from the action as cowboys took their lives and, most likely, their future fertility in their hands as they straddled bucking bulls and horses before an eventual and inevitable appointment with the dusty earth. 

It was an apt ending to a trip through the untamed outback of the vast land down under that had seen us cover 14,000kms so far - incredibly, the distance by air from London to Darwin - but we were only just over half way through.        
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