Oh, God, the ungodly hour. Nothing motivates quite as thoroughly as getting up way too fucking early with a job to do. I’m wide awake because I have a purpose! Bleary and grouchy, the two of us, yet wickedly focused. We pile onto the jitney. Qantas finds a minor problem with our tickets which is quickly resolved. Aloft, a snack is served, a ‘croque monsieur’. Ali discovers a piece of wire in hers. Nice. The flight attendant takes the news like they always do – with zero affect and no attempt to resolve the problem. Are they trained to be assholes when it comes to crisis in service, or does Wire In Croque Monsieur = Emergency Water Landing?
Sure enough, it’s raining when we land in Alice. Aussies leave off the ‘Springs’ because everything has a diminutive in this country, usually ending in ‘o’ or ‘ie’. Hertz offers us a big honking Toyota SUV called a Kluger which this time we don’t decline. Ali takes the wheel and navigates the unsealed, i.e. dirt, highway with aplomb. Our vehicle sends up great plumes of terracotta-colored mud as we tear through vast puddles yelling “Whooooa!” The rain/drizzle we met on arrival has been happening for some days. Out here, the landscape’s like the Southwestern deserts in the US, in that there’s plenty of vegetation but no topsoil: just bright red, dusty country tufted in gold and pale green as far as the eye can see. The desert will bloom, but after we’re gone.
We unlatch a cow gate ahead of us and a couple minutes later we roll up to Ooraminna Station Homestead. Rounding a bend, a small helicopter sits by the road. This is the second non sequitur in the moments since we passed through the cow gate. Before the helicopter, we passed by a ‘frontier town’, Twilight Zone empty. Ooraminna Station is one big film set, it seems. The whole 600-acre cattle ranch is available to serve as a setting for film and photo shoots, as well as a destination for weddings and parties.
It’s only eleven in the morning, due to the ninety-minute time change here in the Northern Territory. What we take to be the main building has a long veranda that leaves the interior deep in shade. No one seems to be about. We slide the door open and our hosts, Nicky and Morgan Lorimer, are inside. Their three youngsters, a boy and two girls, dash in and shake our hands. Ali scores the Tin Cabin and I the Timber one. The stone cabin, ‘The Police Station’, has a gaol, i.e. jail, out back capable of sleeping two more. Timber and Tin each consist of a single bedroom separated from the bath by a breezeway. The bedrooms are filled with a mighty four-poster and both cabins have a porch that looks out over scrubby hills, while rising up behind are great granite outcroppings, and off to the left is a billabong largely for show as it must be refilled with a garden hose.
After we settle in, having been warned about the inevitable plague of frogs in the bathrooms, we tiptoe through the mud to the main house where Nicky has promised us lunch – two hearty sandwiches. Then we judiciously retreat to the cabins for a couple hours of chill. The drizzle is intermittent, the sky is gray, and the air is very cool. This weather is utterly anomalous: the Red Center of Australia is usually blazing at this time of year. Ooraminna is rustic, not in a design mag way, but honestly ramshackle. In the main building, kids’ toys are piled in a corner, on a table there’s an unfinished jigsaw puzzle of Cinderella at her pumpkin surprise moment, and at the bar a pink steer’s skull has pride of place. Nicky is animated and helpful, recounting stories I can’t exactly follow. At dinnertime we drive the hundred yards to the main house; walking back in the dark and mud would have been a disaster. The kids are off at a sleepover, so Morgan, Nicky, and Adele, the Scottish nanny, are our company. We feast on a mammoth lamb shank and vegetables.