Big Red Tour
Through Outback Australia

Chapter 6
Doctor Nigel, I Presume?

© Jens Hültman

Kata Tjuta

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas), WA

Nigel is a friendly and very helpful English doctor who lives in Western Australia . I found an article that he had written while I was searching on the Internet for information about the Kimberley, which is a beautiful region up in north-western Australia. I e-mailed him, praising his article. He started to answer all my questions about outback travelling. Nigel has travelled extensively in the outback, both during his previous work as a forensic pathologist and during holidays. We became friends over the Net. He gave me two hundred and fifty-seven good pieces of advice on what to bring, how to prepare myself, how to behave and where to go. Nigel’s knowledge of how to travel in the bush seemed to be bottomless.

He proposed a route scheduled over about three months. It was a tough but still realistic timetable. I hesitated about going alone on the rough Gunbarrel Highway that stretches nine hundred kilometres from Uluru out over to Western Australia through the Gibson Desert. Nigel volunteered to come and fetch me and help me through this rugged patch of the Australian bush.

Quite amazing.

Quite Australian.

Or as Nigel would put it himself:

Quite Western Australian.

At lunchtime, I found Nigel and his family at the camping ground. I had prepared a "Dr Livingstone, I presume" line. But when we finally met, we got so excited that I forgot all about it. Life cannot be scripted. I moved my quarters over to Nigel’s family. He introduced me to his wife Pat and their youngest children, Pippa and Chris. Nigel’s white Landcruiser and the whole family were covered in red dust. There was nothing wrong with their bush credentials. Soon Fidelity and I would look like that as well.

They had dragged various cars and one bus full of Aborigines out of bogs and breakdowns on the way to Yulara. Pat told me that many vehicles had passed by the bus before they had stopped. No one else had bothered to stop and help them. Nigel had blown two tyres. Travelling in the bush sounded more adventurous than I had imagined. Two spare tyres are the minimum you take along on an outback trip. It is wise to bring a tyre repair kit as well if you travel on very remote tracks like the Simpson Desert or the Canning Stock Route .

We had coffees, chatted and waited for the heat to settle. I left to buy beer. I found to my displeasure that I could only buy a six pack. That would not last long. Then I met two female tour guides who asked for a ride back to their camp. I complained to them about the alcohol buying policies, inflicted for the protection of the local Aborigines, which means that the visitors have to suffer as well. One of the girls went back in with my money and came back with twenty-four green ones. Tour guides have special privileges. I drove them back to their camp where their tourists were missing. Later that night they were taking their protégés to see the sunset at Uluru, to drink champagne and presumably listen to schmaltzy new age music that should accompany any true tourist experience in the outback.

I had promised to meet Nigel in the bar at Sails in the Desert with a blonde package under each arm. The project had not progressed, since I had refrained from attacking the local Helgas und Heidis, ja. These two girls from Melbourne could do as one fox-faced and one rugby ball-shaped substitute. I tried to invite them for drinks. They had to attend to their guests during the evening. They would panic if left alone for a second. For being tour-guides, those girls were quite pleasant compared to many of their paramilitary colleagues that I would meet later.

Dinner at Sails in the Desert was excellent. The hotel is like a sheltered, air-conditioned oasis where there are no flies, no heat, no Fine Examples with tattoos and beer bellies, and no drunken Aborigines. The food is excellent. It is bush tucker-based with emu, crocodile, and kangaroo on the menu. If it had not been for the feral menu, you could have been anywhere in the world. The service is perfect, polite and un-Australian. How to visit the outback with anaesthesia. We called it a day at an early hour. I was still sleeping in my tent. Nigel, Pat, and Chris slept in swags under the stars. Pippa also slept in a tent, due to fear of ferocious animals. I refrained from making any dingo jokes.

Next day we had planned to have a look at the Kata Tjuta. I met Neil at the showers and chatted about today’s plans.

See, I of got a problem with my knee’, he squeaked. ‘I can’t walk up there, neither can I climb the Rock.’

I hummed in sympathy. Knee problems seem to be epidemic among Australian males. It appears to stem from a certain rotundness around the abdomen.

We drove to Kata Tjuta. Some sections of it are closed due to the demands of the traditional owners. This makes the place just more interesting to me. I wish they would shut off Uluru as well, so that no Eejits would be able to climb on it. I was sent out to walk the Valley of the Winds. Walking among the chasms and great formations of Kata Tjuta is a great but yet another slightly pampered experience. Although I would have many just as good, if not better, experiences during my journey, this was my first encounter with the magnificence of the Australian outback. No matter how many paved roads and signs they put up, they won't take away the beauty.

In the evening we drove out to Uluru to watch the sunset. We were not the only ones who had that idea. The parking lot filled quickly. Not everybody left his or her car. The fresh air proved to be too much of a natural experience for them. Nigel opened a bottle of Australian champagne (watch out for French imitations). The stereo in the van next to us blasted Vivaldi on synthesiser. We sat in front of our television sets and look at nature through a lens and screen, accompanied by schmaltzy music. Somehow, people expect nature to be like that, well groomed and set up with comfortable seating and music to accompany the experience.

One is supposed to go oohing and aahing when Uluru changes colours during sunset. Even the sourest touristofobic has to admit that this light show is an amazing picture that Mother Nature paints. Though any old rock will glow in the sunset, Uluru has something almost overwhelming about it. This was it, the most famous Australian landmark, the most famous Australian sunset. I had survived the visit to the Package Tourist’s Paradise without being too revolted.

Chapter 7 →