Note: Last month I embarked on an epic roadtrip, driving solo from Adelaide to Alice Springs, via Uluru, across the vast Australian outback of South Australia and the Northern Territory, and stopped at some rather interesting points of call. The next few blogs will be about this. Bust out your bugspray and mozzie nets, we’re going bush.
After driving all day, in a campervan slightly larger than my old London flat, on the left side of the road (for the first time ever), in 100 degree heat with no one to talk to (other than cursing the emus which ran in front of the car), I was pretty tired and ready to call it a day.
With the prospect of another few hundred kilometers of bleak nothingness that is the South Australian outback, or a town called Woomera, Woomera it was.
I take it back. To call Woomera a town is a bit unfair to towns everywhere, as town implies a population, commerce, a sense of community- this was more of an empty shell in the shape of a town.
Woomera does, however, have a unique history- the Australian Air Force used this land as a testing ground for missiles, rockets, and various aerospace type things. The town, pop 450 (possibly including wallabies), looks exactly like a town you imagine that a military would build-dreary, grey, cookie-cutter houses, the essence of function over form. I like to think there’s a bit of a Roswell vibe going on here, but as sure as superior life forms took one look at this place, they’d quickly turn back from which they’d come.
But still, it was the only place to stop before my next destination of Coober Pedy, so there I was. After figuring out how to actually park and hook up a caravan into a powered campsite, much to the entertainment of the park receptionist, I decided to go exploring. There was an open air museum featuring air and space artifacts from Woomera’s past. As this was also the only thing to see in Woomera, I thought it may be a good place to go for a walk and stretch my legs.
My walk though Woomera went something like this: the heat, although excruciating, bore little annoyance against the constant barrage of flies. These flies were literally aggressive, flying into my nose, ears, eyes, anywhere they could manage, and no bug spray known to man could contain them. Determined not to be outdone by the local wildlife, I pressed onward.
Attempting to make the best of Woomera, I kept up my stroll through town. Passing the rows of homes, I noticed a lazy dog lounging on a front porch. Paying it little mind, I kept walking. A few minutes later, I noticed the dog was slowly trailing behind me. I should also mention at this point that the town was literally deserted- no other tourists had arrived to camp for the night, zero people out and about, not even any cars on the street. I keep walking, the dog still trailing behind. I crossed the street to get away from him, and got a closer look, and for some reason this a sense of uneasiness came over me. A funny looking dog, possibly part dingo. Immediately I decide this dog is going to attack. I don’t know why, something about his pointy ears at attention, or the mental image of a pack of dingos devouring whatever they could get their paws on. I cross the road again, the dog follows. I arrive at the military museum, easing in and around 1950’s Cold War missiles and god knows what else. The dog does the same, following from a slight distance.
Now, I love dogs, and we’ve always had them as pets, but for some reason this dog terrified me. It was as if he was just waiting for the right moment to lunge at me, its dingo genes determined to rip the meat off my bones as quickly as it could. Maybe it was the surreal weirdness of the town, or the complete lack of any other humans, but I had had enough. In Woomera, there is no one to hear you scream. By this point I had lost all interest in the museum, had no doubt of my imminent demise, and started to head home, battling heat, flies, and dingo-dogs.
Walking as fast as I could to outwit the flies, but slow enough not to inspire this monster to break chase, I made it back to the caravan park, dog in tow. I was literally terrified.
By this point, a small crowd of locals had gathered at the caravan park bar (if you can call a group of plastic lawnchairs next to a dumpster a bar), and were sitting nearby. I hear a woman yell, “There you are, I’ve been looking all over for you!”. The dog, in an abrupt change to the killer I had made him out to be, runs up to greet the group, and happily makes the rounds, getting friendly ear scratches and handouts from the group of Woomera-ites.
That’s when I realized- this dog wasn’t trying to kill me, it was just lonely! Poor dog probably spends every day alone on the front porch of a deserted town, finally finds a new person to play with, and my reaction is not one of sweet ear scratches but one from a horror movie. Figures. Possibly, a long day of driving on a road that never bends (welcome to the Stuart Highway), has taken it’s toll on my mind.
At this point, I couldn’t help but recall a quote from one of the best movies, Big Fish:
“It was that night I discovered that most things you consider evil or wicked are simply lonely, and lacking in social niceties.”
Poor dog. With that in mind, I tucked into my caravan for a nice canned tuna dinner and good night’s sleep, and day one of Katie in the outback was complete.
(I apologize if I have offended anyone in Woomera. I’m sure it’s a lovely town, once you get to know it.)