Big Red Tour
Through Outback Australia

Chapter 5
The Joys of a Camping Holiday

© Jens Hültman

Yulara Campground

Sunset at the Yulara Campgrounds

I guess everybody makes the same mistake when they drive towards Uluru (Ayer’s Rock). First you see Mount Conner and mistake that for the most famous stone in the world. Then you realise your mistake, and then you see IT. One can sneer at tourist attractions where droves of Germans, Americans and Japanese are brought in to be parted from their hard currency; still, there is something eerie and magical about Uluru as it rises above the horizon. Uluru shimmers with a haze around it, large and mysterious.

I drove into Yulara, which is the tourist resort set up to service visitors to Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas ). Before I set out, I had decided that I wanted to be neither an ignorant and indolent tourist, bossed around by some tour guide, nor a dirty little backpacker. I wanted to be an Explorer and Adventurer. It seemed to me that I was in the wrong place as I was driving into Yulara. Everything around Yulara, Uluru and the Kata Tjuta is well paved, groomed and fenced in. The roads are sealed, there are supermarkets, buses that run around The Rock, running hot and cold water and hosts and hostesses who take care of you. It is so well functioning that it makes you wonder whether you are in Australia at all. What happened to sloppy service and ‘She’ll be right, mate’?

To be fair, it could have been much, much worse. I was pleasantly surprised by the relatively low-key appearance of Yulara. Some entrepreneurial Queenslander with his bank account filled with Mafioso and drug-trafficking incomes could easily have turned the place into a horror with tall buildings, too much marble, crystal and fake gold imitations. Like Jappers’ Paradise on the Gold Coast .

At the extremely neat and well-organised Yulara camping ground, I set up my tent next to Neil from Adelaide and his family. If you did not know what 'obesity' meant in the English language, a picture of Neil and his family would have given you a clue to the meaning of the word. Neil was driving a 4WD Mitsubishi van where all the meat of himself, his corpulent wife and bloated children were transported around. He spoke in a tiny, squeaky little voice that seemed disproportionate, considering the huge body it was entombed in. He had, as I set up a meeting with friends the next day, two weeks of holiday from his work as a bus driver in Adelaide . During those two weeks, he planned to do the surroundings of The Alice and then the Simpson Desert . I must have looked hesitant.

'I know what you think, all this rain earlier this year, the Simpson Desert is probably closed down, but still I want to give it a go' .

I had been thinking more along the lines of the tight schedule.... Of course, he was right. The heavy wet season in the tropical north earlier during the year had flooded desert rivers that normally were dry. The desert would be exceptionally green and flourishing, but impassable on many tracks. Neil’s wife was cooking for him on the communal BBQ. I sat down with them and had a soft drink. What Neil’s wife served him was one of the most revolting displays of Anglo slop I have ever seen. She looked real proud when she loaded his plate with three thick pork chops, a mountain of mashed spuds and the ubiquitous tasteless peas and carrots out of a tin . Even the gravy came out of a tin. I had lost my appetite. Neil looked as if this was the peak of the day, and it probably was for him. He opened a red and black .

As long as he gets his stubbies , he’ll be right ’ his wife said, and smiled. ‘ No worries , mate.’

I thought that love has strange ways. Apparently, these revolting creatures were happy together with their bloated offspring running around the BBQ area. I felt like vomiting. 'Aren’t you gonna eat?’ Neil asked me. 'Well, I feel kind of tired’, I begged off. ‘I’ve driven all the way from Coober Pedy , and a bloody long way it is.’ Neil told me he knew what it felt like, since he was doing all the driving in his family. His wife looked at him with appreciation: 'My hero'.

I fetched a snack from Fidelity and asked them about the various roadkills I had seen along the way. Neil explained the behaviour of wedge-tailed eagles to me: The rabbits who were introduced by the Europeans are being eradicated by new manmade diseases, so there is less food for the eagles. The wedge-tailed eagles have gone over to feeding on roadkill instead. They are very slow to take off. You have to slow down a lot when you see them in the distance. Road trains cannot stop for either them or other animals and so smash them up in numbers. I killed a few animals on my journey around Australia—fortunately mostly birds, lizards and one black snake. I would hate to hit a kangaroo and have to kill it afterwards.

Neil was especially keen on seeing Lake Eyre filled with water. He told me it had not happened for the last fifty years. ‘The bird life should be exceptional out on the islands in this lake that normally is a vast salt bed,’ he told me. I listened somewhat in awe of Neil’s stories. He appeared as an unlikely but still genuine Adventurer, compared to the masses of packaged tourists that invaded Yulara.

Neil's family and I bade each other good night. We went to bed protected from ferocious baby-snatching dingos by the Yulara camping ground fences. The night was silent except for Neil snoring in his tent and a young, fat Dutch couple making love loudly in the tent next to me. Grunt, grunt. ’Ooh, ooh.’ Grunt, grunt. ’Aaaaaah, ooooh.’ Ah, the joys of a camping holiday.

The next morning I found Neil sitting in the proximity of the communal fridge with an anxious look in his face. His portable fridge had been taken out of the car. He explained to me that his fridge did not work properly if he did not pre-cool it. Now all the food and the stubbies were in the communal fridge, and the portable fridge was running on the Yulara power. 'How nice Neil’, I stirred him. ‘I just discovered a fridge full of beer. I’ll invite all the backpackers so they can have a cold, refreshing beer each. They’ll love it.’ Neil looked like a mother hen guarding his flock of stubbies as if they were vulnerable little chicks that needed protection from cunning foxes lurking around in the neighbourhood. 'I’m not going anywhere’, he squeaked anxiously. I felt phantom pains where my conscience should have been. Maybe some matters are too serious to joke about—like, stealing a man’s stubbies.

If Coober Pedy is the Backpacker’s Ballroom then Yulara is the Package Tourist’s Paradise. I had a bad feeling about coming to this place. I suspected commercialism and mobs of "Eejits" who had no clue about what exhibits itself in front of their eyes. To my pleasure, many of my prejudices were confirmed, which always is a warm and comforting feeling.

I drove out to Uluru, circled it, and visited the Aboriginal cultural centre. It clearly states that climbing Uluru is something the traditional owners do not appreciate. Neither are they too keen on people taking pictures of it. Uluru is a national park owned by the Aborigines , but long term-leased to the Northern Territory so that the white man can make a buck out of it. Like driving chicks around it on a Harley, as the entrepreneurial ‘Ride around the Rock on a Harley’ does. It could have been even worse. The traditional owners could have been chased off or granted no rights at all. If they had the full ownership and control, they would probably shut the whole place off and make it a no access area to the prying tourists' eyes. Now we have a typical Australian outback compromise: the Aborigines can own it but not control it.

In the information centre in Yulara there are huge instructions on how to behave if you attempt climbing Uluru—bring water, be fit, wear suitable shoes etc. Then there is a small A4-paper with a humble pleading from the traditional owners. "Please don’t climb!" The reason is that the climbing trail follows a songline very closely. Only initiated men are supposed to walk that songline. Climbing Uluru is maybe the most symbolic form of disregard for the Australian Aborigines that you can undertake. Who would go into a Catholic church and piss on the altar? Who would walk into a mosque with shoes on and take a crap? Who would serve pork to a Jewish guest? Even if we do not share other people’s religious beliefs, we can at least respect them. One cannot expect the average package tour tourist to have any insight into the beliefs of the Aboriginal religion. However, the people that run Uluru are more than aware of the feelings of the traditional owners . Shame, shame, shame on them.

Things are improving, though. Many sacred sites at the base of Uluru cannot be approached any more. Signs have been erected that tell you that the sites cannot be photographed. I drove back to Yulara with a lump in my stomach, trying not to look in the rear view mirror at the ant-line of Eejits climbing the Rock. At the entrance to Yulara, I passed a family whose seven-year-old boy was feeding a dingo . I did not see with what. Maybe it was his baby sister?

Chapter 6 →