Australia A place called Alice
Masiko's face reflected in the glass of the bus window. She sat in front of me. Numb, had left her meanwhile, kilometre after kilometre, the tiresome and monotonous landscape slid across the Greyhound Pioneer window. Green bushes coloured by the glass alternated with endless rows of huge termite nests on either side of the road. Through the reflection of his face crossed the long and wild road-trains, long combinations of tractor cabins with a row of three to five trailers one after another, even the same bus move away to a nonexistent hard shoulder.
The last road sign I had seen indicated forty kilometres to Katherine the nearest town. For the following, Alice Springs, were missing one thousand six hundred. And nothing between.
I watched Masiko. And her reflection. Through her, distance didn’t pass by. Maybe not even time. He was slept in a closed innocent glance.
I decided to go from Darwin to Alice by bus. I wanted to appreciate the subtle changes in the landscape along the route between the north and the centre of Australia. I leaned on the glass window scanning the horizon. I look again at Masiko. And I also slept.
I woke up in a place called Alice, where Australians call Top End, or Down Under, between Arnhem Land, near the Arafura Sea and the centre of the island continent: the Never-Never. Where there is nothing, not even a desert. In the late nineteenth century, Jeannie Gunn, recently married, moved from Melbourne to Homestead, in the Northern Territory, to take charge of a cattle farm. There, in a region she named with one more superlative: behind the back of beyond. She described the area and the life in an essay of manners where narrates the relationship with Aboriginal and daily routine in the nothing: We of the Never-Never. Today an Australian classic.
Of course it’s not entirely true that there is nothing. Flies. Thousands of flies. Anytime. Everywhere. Maybe with the exception of Todd Street Saloon, where I was trying to watch a Parramatta Eels Australian football match, with a good Cooper’s beer between the bar and my lips.
Alice Springs began as a station on the Overland Telegraph Line, between Adelaide and Darwin, long before he became the main city of Australia’s Red Centre. Today, about twenty thousand inhabitants congregate on the streets surrounding the mall, near the hill where the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) monument commemorates the participation of Australian and New Zealand troops in the two World Wars. From there is seen the calm and even the hot air hanging on the city. Alice is the gateway to the Mounts Olga, Ayer's Rock and King's Canyon, where happens the last scene of The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, a Stephan Elliot comedy, in which three drag queens travel the Australian outback having some Abba tunes in the background.
I left Masiko by Alice and Alice by Olga. The Olga is a set of thirty six impressive domes of red conglomerate and basalt extending over twenty-two square kilometres southwest of Alice Springs. The higher top reaches nearly 3500 feet. Ernest Giles named Mount Olga in 1872 in honour of Queen Olga of Württemberg. Natives called it Kata Tjuta, or the many heads.
East of Kata Tjuta, stands on the plain Ayer's Rock, the huge red mole also red, one of the most famous landmarks in whole Australia. The natives of the area, the Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara, known it by the name of Uluru and consider it, especially the top, a sacred place. Each year, thousands of tourists climb inconsiderately up to the top. I just wander the six miles walk around the impressive cliff.
Uluru turns even more red at sunset, when daylight declines and sun shades lends further intensifying crimson and vermilion colours of the rock, awakening memories of the time of dreams, the Dreamtime, when, according to Aboriginal cultures, world was created.
In the morning, when I wake up, I left again Alice, this time for Adelaide, one thousand five hundred kilometres southwards.