Even though it’s always 40+ degrees, dusty as the inside of a vacuum cleaner, and there is nothing to do except work and avoid getting bitten by something poisonous, I love living in the outback.
Here are ten reasons why, in no particular order and by no means exhaustive:
Not to wax cliché about sunsets and stars or anything, but Central Australia really is gorgeous. One night on my way to bed, I looked up into the night sky and within a few minutes I had seen three shooting stars. It’s hard not to feel awestruck and blessed surrounded by such beauty.
2. Status Quo
There is a refreshing lack of pretension. No one cares how they look or about the clothes they wear – we wear the same increasingly ratty clothes day in and out and are almost always dirty. Most of our customers look like they’ve never even heard of a hair brush and many don’t bother wearing shoes. The harshness of the outback separates the wheat from the chaff. These things are just not important.
3. Air Conditioning.
I have a deep and meaningful relationship with my air conditioner.
4. The Kids.
The kids are hilarious. They run amok, tiny crazy-haired imps, half or completely naked (we have a rule in the store that children must be wearing pants, or at least a diaper). They cajole their parents for candies and ice cream and shoot each other with water pistols and cap guns. They’re tough as nails, too, barely losing momentum when they fall down or hurt themselves. I’m glad that I am not the babysitter, just the amused observer.
5. Relationship to Insects.
A brief scene from a slow afternoon at work:
Flo: Hey, did you guys see that huntsman spider in the sink?
Jamie: Yeah, I was playing with him.
Lincoln: I just killed him.
Flo & Jamie: Aw!
Lincoln: Ha. You know you’re in the outback when everyone has a story about the same spider.
The only creepy crawlies that really get my ire up are the ants. Crafty bastards get into everything.
On my day off last week the house phone rang and, still blurry from sleep, it took me a few minutes to register that it was a phone ringing (ours doesn’t ring much). The shop manager was on the other line: “Hurry! Get your butt over here”, he said in lieu of a greeting. Some of our customers had brought a baby kangaroo into the store. One of the best ways to start a day: cuddling a joey.
Very much related to Number 1, but enough of an awesome event that it warrants its own category. I’ve always loved a good storm, and the ones out here are legendary. When it rains the roads are all but impassable, creating a somewhat post apocalyptic feeling, like we’re the only people left in the world.
8. Local Delicacies.
A person has to make their own fun out here, and hunting for lizards is a great way to kill some time. The Aboriginals hunt and eat the local goannas, leaving only the head and claws untouched. Also wildly popular for the barbecue are kangaroo tails, which are put into a hole in the ground and slow roasted by the fire all day.
After the last rainfall, my coworkers – a lovely German couple called Rainer and Sylvia – took their four-wheel drive out for a pleasure spin, and got bogged in the muck. Lucky for them, they’ve got a satellite phone for such emergencies, otherwise they would have had to walk back. They called Andrea, our bookkeeper, to come and help them out, and she too got bogged. So they called the backpackers and told us to come out after we closed shop. Thankfully, the third vehicle was only mildly and temporarily bogged. The whole episode took the better part of five hours. Instead of getting frustrated and bothered by the inconvenience, we had a good time with it. We ran around barefoot, squelching the gooey red mud between our toes. Andrea smeared herself with mud like an extra in Braveheart and we joked about us girls mud wrestling. We took photos of people standing chest deep in the crater left by the tire. And when the truck was finally freed, everyone clapped and cheered. Every time I jump into a vehicle, I feel like an olden days explorer, off to chart new territory.
Lately, I’ve been reading about minimalism: people who make the lifestyle choice to do with less, to reduce the clutter in their lives (and minds) and shift focus from material possessions to experiences and relationships. I’ve always had these tendencies – packing up my apartment and getting rid of everything before I left home was one of the most cathartic things I’ve ever done. Living in the outback is like an extreme form of minimalism; there isn’t really any other choice. The absence of television, cell phones, malls and the majority of the creature comforts of civilized life creates a space in which to reflect on life, think about what matters, about the past and the future. For that, all of the above, and more, I am so grateful to be here.