THE OUTBACK AND SO FORTH – Saturday, 10 March

Alice has a renowned Desert Park that showcases the fauna and flora of central Australia. Paths lead us through four environments, but most fascinating are the half-dozen aviaries, home to a gorgeous variety of native birds. These enclosures are small enough that the creatures are readily identifiable. The birds have occasionally been housed with lizard companions, who, because of the overcast and unseasonable cool, remain cautiously en-burrowed. Upon completion of the wildlife circuit, we gnaw on rudimentary sandwiches accompanied by chicken-flavored potato chips.

I want to visit the Royal Flying Doctor Service Museum. God Bless Ali, she’s game. The RFDS was founded in the 1920s by Rev. John Flynn to serve the medical needs of Australia’s remote and scattered populations. A pasty, nervous fellow stands in front of a TV screen that plots each now airborne RFDS flight in real time and delivers a monotonous spiel. Tiny green airplanes whiz slowly across tremendous emptiness. Given that Australia’s mass can fit the continent of Europe from Britain to Turkey within its borders, that’s damn impressive. Before we’re to be ushered into an auditorium to listen to a ‘hologram’ of ‘John Flynn’, we are invited to clamber into a mock-up of the plane currently in use. We sit snugly in a row of single seats on the right side, while two gurneys end-to-end line the left. A German couple who had lived in New Jersey for many years engages us in pleasant small talk. The hologram is truly stupid and the museum more than a little obscure, but we are nevertheless impressed. Impressed with the enormous size of the continent and the ingenuity and spirit of the people. I purchase Ali a small koala in RFDS pilot gear, our co-pilot from now on.

Shopping does not immediately engage Ali, but the Todd Street Mall is reputed to be the place to find talented aboriginal artists. We slip into the first art gallery we see and, after poking around for several minutes, become the audience for a monologue by one of the proprietors. He transcends loquaciousness. Based on vague hints as to our itinerary, he begins drawing us a map of the Great Ocean Road. When he reaches the edge of the page, he just adds another and continues scrawling. Ali manages to sidle away, but I am made to promise that I will text when I have eaten a rock lobster. Not even two scoops of ice cream are capable of wiping the stunned look off my face.

Back to Ooraminna for recuperation before dinner. In the kitchen, I’m put to work frying barramundi for tonight’s large group of guests, a nice young couple and a tedious gasbag. The fish, it turns out, is undercooked but still tasty.

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