A family of five set out from Broken Hill to Ayers Rock in September in the family car. It would take us four days to get there but the journey was half the fun. I was only nine.
Very young for such a big adventure
I was a little confused at first because I knew where Ayres Rock was, it was north-west but we were on the road to Adelaide which was south-west.
Somewhere along the way we turned off and cut across, west to Port Augusta. Along the way, Dad informed us that we would drop in and see some distant relatives in the Flinders Ranges.
A deserted farmhouse
What we found spooked me a bit; the doors were open, and the lonely farmhouse was clean but totally deserted.
There was no phone, but Dad had written a letter telling of when to expect us.
There was paper lace hanging from the mantle above the fireplace which had been made from newspaper. “How backward, I thought”
I just wanted to leave but we hung around for half an hour. “They might even have been murdered” I wondered, or maybe they saw us coming and were hiding in the bushes”.
Eventually, we left. We never saw a soul.
From there we went north-west. All the roads before Alice springs were dirt. It was a long time ago so I don’t remember every place we stopped, but the route we took went something like this:
From Broken hill to Ayers Rock
- Port Augusta
- Coober Pedy
- Alice Springs
- Ayers Rock and Mt. Olga
Apprehensive in Port Augusta
As we ate breakfast at the hotel where we had spent the night, I remember being a little worried about the road ahead. “This is the last piece of civilization,” I thought. “From now on it is going to get rough” I surveyed the surrounding furniture, the salt and pepper pots, and the sugar bowls.
We set out for Kingoonya.
The Kingoonya Giant
Somewhere along the way when we had stopped for petrol (not gas, as you North Americans say), someone was giving Dad some advice. He was told that he needed chewing gum and pepper, and definitely a spare fan belt. He was able to get pepper and chewing gum, but not a fan belt.
The chewing gum was for patching the petrol tank if ever it was punctured, and pepper for the radiator if it ever developed a leak. (Now that I’m older and wiser, I would add spare radiator hoses to that advice, especially for a hot climate)
I don’t know where Dad got this, but he started telling us the story of the Kingoonya Giant. I didn’t really believe him, so I don’t remember any of the details about a mythical being that had troubled the one-horse “blink and you’ll miss it” pit stop, in the middle of nowhere.
When we got there, around 3 pm, Dad asked about fan belts and was directed to the mechanic’s garage nearby. So we drove there but it seemed deserted, so Dad honked the horn a couple of times… still nobody. So we checked in to the small motel, in between the petrol station and the pub.
Later that night I ran into an older local boy and his sidekick. He started giving me grief for driving around honking the horn and being arrogant. We got into a pushing tussle. Fortunately, it didn’t become a fistfight because my father came along.
Dust Storm in Coober Pedy
Modern underground accommodation in Coober Pedy. There was nothing like this when we passed through in the 70s.
Coober Pedy is an opal mining town, and it was like nothing I had ever seen – that was the next morning, we got there at night. There was a really bad dust storm, I knew things were gonna get rough.
The room we got didn’t have a bathroom. There were communal bathrooms and a lot of almost naked old men getting about in nothing but towels, and wooden slats to keep feet off the sloppy, muddy, dark cement, poorly lit, hallway floor. The wind continued to roar as I fell asleep, I could hear the sand hitting the outside.
The next morning: like being on the moon
By morning, the weather was fine. Looking around I was reminded of Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon.
The landscape has been subdued and cultivated a heck of a lot since then as you can see from the satellite image below, but I can assure you things have changed a lot.
Everywhere I looked was mostly white and utterly desolate. Wandering around I saw through partly open doors shady deals going on. Relatively well-dressed agents with rough-looking characters, buying locally mined opals.
The rocks were kind of round, so I put in some time, practicing my spin bowling for cricket. There were also a lot of flattened drink cans about the place, which made for really good frisbees.
Chucking things at signs and other kids ( kids almost never got hit, but a lot of blood when they did, but I never hit anyone), was a popular pass time in Broken Hill. Later playing for Geelong College in their 1st Eleven cricket team, I had the best throwing arm. I was also a vicious pitcher in baseball, but baseball isn’t very popular in Australia, so I never went on with it.
The most interesting feature of Coober Pedy was that most of the people living there – enough for a supermarket and other shops, hadn’t built their homes, they had dug them.
Because of the extreme heat during summer, people were much better off living underground. “Need another room? Just dig one out.” We were there at the beginning of spring. We saw some of these homes and they were great.
As we left, Dad announced that the next stop would be among the owls and kangaroos. “Great!” I thought. Australian owls sound great. They go “moke poke!” not “who? who?”.
Setting up the amazing camp toilet
We stopped at a windmill and tank next to a dry creek bed. When I look back, I wonder if my father had planned it or it was just dumb luck. A tank full of water in the middle of semi-desert? We got there about 2 hours before sunset.
My little brother was on crutches because he had Perthes disease (he’s okay now), and after the sun had gone down he asked Dad about the toilet he had mentioned, and so Dad sprung into action.
He gathered a toilet seat, some electrical tape, the folding chair without the straps to sit on, a shovel, and a Dolphin torch. Us kids followed him into the creek.
He taped the toilet seat to the seat and dug a hole over which the seat was placed.
The process took some time, and all the while I was marveling, “how clever”. My sister didn’t say anything, and neither did I.
We camped near a windmill and tank next to a creek bed.
All the while, my little brother kept telling Dad to hurry up!!!
Dad worked as fast as he could, and I was a little concerned.
The instant Dad stood back, my brother shuffled up and urinated very accurately through the center of the seating area.
Dad was flabbergasted.
I couldn’t help but laugh, shaking my head. What a strange little kid. I don’t remember what my sister did. I think she was laughing too.
My little brother did go on to get a degree in multimedia.
In the night we heard some noisy owls that Dad threw stones at and some horses.
I didn’t hear the horses.
This toilet was easy and cheap to build. You could easily add a bag instead of burying the waste.
My brother says he doesn’t remember, but he always says that. He was a funny little guy.
I hope you enjoyed my story and if you have any questions or comments please leave them in the space below. I promise I’ll get back to you.
Coober Pedy today.
Much different now. Much bigger and nicer than 35 years ago
“Say Goodnight” Hunters and Collectors
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