I'm feeling Territorial

Trip Start Jan 16, 2007
Trip End Aug 20, 2007

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Flag of Australia  ,
Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Territory. The Top End. Bugger all. Whatever you want to call it, there is a lot of empty space in the Northern Territory. This, naturally, equates to a hell of a lot of time on the road. The territory is huge (the UK is about the size of someone's farm) and the whole thing has just 200,000 people (so less than Northamptonshire). To travel several hundred kilometres just to go on a day trip is not unusual.

Central Australia was not opened up until the arrival of the Overland Telegraph Line, the internet of its day, in the 1870s, and most settlements are still where the relay stations were, every few hundred kilometres along the road. Apart from that, there are a few tracks to isolated cattle stations, or dirt roads that run for hundreds of kilometres between places. In a marked contrast to the quality of life enjoyed by the majority of the Australian population, there are alarming numbers of Aboriginies living in squalid conditions beside the road - many live in huts made out of corrugated iron, with no running water, power, or sanitation, and the standard appears equal, if not worse, than in many 'third world' countries. For a country that has huge quantities of the worlds resources (such as 40% of all known uranium ore) there is a huge disparity between the majority of whites and (from what I gather) the majority of Aboriginies. There are steps to get them to build up their standard of living, such as the growing Aboriginal art scene, but as with many things, the market now seems extremely flooded, and the quantity of the art produced appears to be inversley proportional to the quality.

As we travelled up through the outback (again, on an organised tour - the distances are so huge that neither of us could be arsed with all that driving) the scenery went like this: scrub, scrub, scrub, tree, scrub, etc for miles. The scrub had huge numbers of termite mounds in it (generally stretching as far as you could see), and as you trundle up the road your mind does wonder on certain things. Such as, how many termite mounds are there in the Northern Territory? (I've since found out, rather geekily, that the weight of all the termite mounds in the NT is greater than the weight of the stock (ie cows, etc) in Australia).

One of the places we passed on the way up was Barrow Creek, whose claims to fame are that it was where a Telegraph Station was (similar to Alice Springs) and, rather ignominiously, where Peter Falconio went missing several years ago. Driving through such harsh country, it is not difficult to see how easy it is to make someone disappear out here. From here, the next place (literally) is the self-proclaimed UFO capital of Australia - Wycliffe Well. Both the locals and the cows round here seem to have a propensity for being probed by strange beings, so who knows what they're getting up to! You can tell you're in Hicksville when the local rag (Northern Territory News) runs an alien abduction story on the front page. There must be something in the water both in outback central Australia and the Southern parts of the USA (where lots of these alien abductions occur). Either that, or the rather limited gene pool could be just playing havoc with their minds. Whatever way you look at it, we'd arrived in loopy-land. The bloke who ran the roadhouse had the spaced out look of someone who says they've recently been abducted, and his collection of newspaper cuttings 'proving' alien existence goes way beyond the normal (I think he lost that after the first few hundred clippings on the wall). Of course, you have to remember that the 130 different types of beer stocked by the roadhouse have nothing to do with the rate of alien sightings in the area....

The next thing of note that we went past are the 'Devlis Marbles', huge balls of granite precariously perched on top of each other (though pretty sturdy when you try and move one). There were absolutely loads of them, but it is easier for me to put up some photos than try and explain them, which is what I'll do.

Though you probably wouldn't think it, there's a surprising amount of wildlife in the 'desert' (tecnhically semi-arid) land between one coast and the other. We saw several wedge-tailed eagles (4th biggest in the world) waiting for their next roadkill meal, and there were numerous other raptors (kites, kestrels, etc) flying around, along with the customary parrots, black and sulphur-crested cockatoos.

Strange things happen out in the middle of nowhere, and one of the strangest/most random places we stopped at was Daly Waters, a settlement that has no more than a dozen houses, and whose roundabout is a slightly bigger piece of dirt than the rest of the street. The tennis court/basketball court looks as though it has seen better days, and the pub/servo looks as though the next gust of wind will fell it. Inside the pub, every spare inch of space is covered with foreign money, ID people have purposefully left behind, and anything else (underwear, spare legs, etc) that people felt the need to leave. However, this pales in comparrision to what the place hides - a relatively secretive US airstrip where the Space Shuttle is permitted to land. Though nothing has landed here of the space varity yet (I'm sure people at Wycliffe Well would beg to differ), the loacls can hardly contain their excitement (I think I saw one emerge from a drink-induced coma at the mention of it). When you try and find the place, that's where the fun starts. There's nothing there that is vaguely accessible or that looks big enough for space craft. No doubt this is a policy to stop any alien-crazed locals trying to beam up off the shuttle (plus, unless you knew about it, there is no way you'd suspect anything that cool could be in a place so retarded).

Pretty much the only other thing between here and Darwin is Katherine Gorge - spectacular when you can go up it, though equally impressive when it's full with water. As the water was 12 metres higher than it is in the Dry, you couldn't canoe on it (you'd be washed away/eaten) or even take a regular boat trip on it (you'd probably die in the rapids) so the only way to see it is to climb to the tip of the gorge and look out over it. Though not a hard climb, the sheer humidity up in the Top End makes it quite an effort. Further down the road there are some pools that are (supposedly) safe to swim in (i.e. no one's been eaten there yet), but the recent flooding meant that salties could have cruised up there and found themselves a new home. The way the rangers check for salties (freshwater crocs are fine - they will probably not harm you as long as you don't piss them off) is not exceedingly scientific. Basically, cruise around in a boat at night, shine a torch into the darkness, and hope you spot a big pair of green eyes looking back at you. That's about it.

After Katherine, not much else happens apart from the Adelaide River roadhouse, where the main attraction is a stufed water buffalo standing on top of the bar. Whilst having a stuffed beast taking up half of your bar (and that's not to mention the clientele) may not seem like such a bright plan, this is no ordinary buffalo. It is, infact, the one from crocodile Dundee, and the locals thought that his 20 seconds of fame warranted such a preservation.

From Darwin, we headed off on yet more driving (no surprise there) to the wetland reserves of Kakadu and Litchfield National Parks, but more of that in the next one.
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