“Have a nice day” – in Alice it can be like this …

By ERWIN CHLANDA

 

I had a nice day yesterday.

 

It started with breakfast at the Roadkill Cafe (mission statement, “You kill it, we grill it.”) at the National Road Transport Hall of Fame: bacon, fried egg, snag, toast, beans, prepared as usual by volunteers to cure the hangovers from the previous night’s dinner for 600 of the 1000 delegates who are in town for the Hall’s annual ReUnion.

 

Anyway, that’s the explanation by Liz Martin, the lady with the Midas Touch who’s parlayed the Hall into a multi-million dollar operation. She and I get a trucky’s life story as I devour this outrageous violation of my diet in the very pleasant Bush Kitchen. I make a mental note to emphasise vegetarian the next three days.

 

Liz takes me for a tour. I meet three blokes from Kenworth who’ve just dropped off their latest $300,000 addition to their collection worth $10m at the Hall.

 

We say hello to a big bloke with big hands and a handshake to match. Liz tells me he’s one of the trucking tycoons at the gathering. When she had problems with her internet connection he sent two of his IT gurus in his corporate jet to Alice to fix it.

 

We walk past a newly developed side tipper. It’s the kind of machine you’ll be using when you move the dump, I say to Liz, one of the town’s eight councillors, and currently the Deputy Mayor (a 12 month gig). I can’t bring myself to using the euphemism “landfill”.

 

“It’s not going to happen,” says Liz gloomily. “We’ll have the dump in the middle of town forever.”

 

Mental note: Ask all councillors what their position is on the relocation of the dump to Brewer Estate (or a similar location out of town) and put numbers to it. Are you a visionary or a bean counter – a question something like this.

 

With my wife and colleague Kieran Finnane, I have morning tea with friends who’ve just retuned to Alice after two years away. The young woman has a month old baby girl in her arms – their second child born in The Alice.

 

We sit in the comfortably sized garden of their Old Eastside home, surrounded by trees in bloom. The winter glory unfolds as it does in The Centre more agreeably than just about anywhere else.

 

Our friends have very concrete plans to further develop their respective skills, right here in town. They will soon move into a workshop cum showroom in the industrial area. Mental note: Do a story as soon as they are ready!

 

At noon Kieran and I set off on a wonderful venture – yet it exemplifies the absurdities of Alice Springs: driving on the town’s worst roads we make our way to one of its most amazing attractions, blissfully ignored by the powers that be.

 

In fact some are proposing for the rubbish dump to encroach upon these treasures even further: the southern flank of the Mount Gillen range, with its spectacular gullies and ravines. We climbed most of these gullies around 10 to 15 years, when our two kids were young.

 

Now most of the vehicle tracks are overgrown and we have to walk a couple of kilometres through dense scrub to get to the base of the range.

 

But then there was the gully, big boulders and steeply sloping shelves of rock shining in the sunlight between the two walls, hardy trees, delicate flowers growing their crevices.

 

An hour and a half later we climb out of the ravine onto an upper flank of the range, less steep and with smaller rocks. We thread our way between large lumps of spinifex. The top of the ridge is always further than you think. The buffel grass is now behind us – sadly, it is colonising the lower more sheltered, moister reaches, including the little rockpools, now dried out.

 

It’s a challenging walk, but not dangerous, hard enough to make you feel good to have done it.

 

And then we’re at the top, the town below to our right, the Larapinta Valley in front of us, and the magnificent MacDonnell Ranges stretching to our left and right. It took us two hours – someone fitter (and younger) could have done it in a lot less.

 

The only blight on the landscape, to the south, are the sewage ponds, that flagrant, unforgivable waste of land and water by the Power Water Corporation.

 

We email a couple of “selfies” to our family, have a sandwich, and watch the swallows – I think that’s what they are – helped by the updrafts of a light northerly breeze, showing off like mad, circling us, diving  at us.

 

Are they just being cheeky? Or are we too close to a nest? Dunno, but sight of them makes a great moment perfect.

The descent takes us an hour and a half, and we get back home just in time for the sunset.

 

Another day in paradise. Final mental note: Tell all my friends! And ask the powers that be why we don’t promote the wonderful experiences of the natural world that are right on our doorstep, to locals and visitors alike?

 

PHOTOS (from top): Blossoms. Agully on the southern flank of Mount Gillen. A few peaks in the West MacDonnells. Kieran resting after the climb to the top of Mount Gillen. The Alice in the background, and the range winding its way to the east. A selfy to prove we made it.

 

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  1. John Childs
    Posted August 28, 2013 at 4:05 pm

    I recently climbed one of those gullies for the first time, wonderful, recommend it!

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