The Australian Adventure
Across Australia on a bicycle
During the last months I’ve often imagined what it would be like in Australia. I have dreamed of the outback, of open space and of Freedom. Especially as I struggled for every centimeter of space for me and my bike on the busy and noisy streets of Java, Indonesia.
Now I’m here and have the road all to myself. The landscape spreads flat as a big slice in all directions around me – as far as I can look. High above me the sun, and in between us the Eagle circling and watching the lone cyclist – a small dot on a long straight line, constantly moving. Push for push, I push the pedals, the chain transmits energy, the wheels roll.
Everyone who ever did a sport with repetitive movements knows about the energy-giving effect. I don´t mean the physical force that we need to expend in order to move our bodies or the energy consumed by our bodies. I speak here of the inner strength, the life energy that we raise in us. After a long day on the bike, although I am physically tired I feel this deep inner satisfaction, this aliveness in me.
Here in the Australian outback, this effect is strong. On most of the days I feel a great deal of satisfaction and peace of mind. I feel that I perceive my environment much more intensly. Especially in the morning and evening; the soft and warm light of the sun lets the world shine in an almost magical way.
While cycling I feel free as rarely before but right here in the outback that freedom is limited and illusory. Of course I can cycle in the middle of the road, I can sing loudly and pitch my tent everywhere, but if I don´t want to die of thirst, I should cycle at least 100 km a day to get water.
Here in the northern territory, it is fortunately rather common to have a water tank at a rest area. Sometimes it is collected rainwater but mostly water from a bore. Although signs warn of possible contamination, I have never had problems. Most of it tastes reasonably okay and only one or two times has it tasted weird, then I use it instead only for cooking and washing.
Sometimes when I stay at these rest areas it is convenient for me to sleep on the tables. By doing this I don´t need to pitch my tent and I´m nevertheless safe of at least snakes. It doesn´t help against the insects though. Ants, beetles and other creepy crawlies make their way under my blanket – yet they are mostly harmless.
I definately want to avoid being bitten by a snake. I would have no chance to get help in time, especially if it was the brown snake which is considered to be aggressive and dangerous. But the risk is not very high. The only snake that I get to see is already dead and flat, overrun by many cars.
At the last roadhouse before Alice Springs – it is only 250 km more – I want to fill my water canisters. It’s dark already but I would like to cycle a couple of hours more. I can´t find a tap outside so I go in and ask in a friendly manner for water. The young girl behind the bar said she has been instructed by the boss not to give out water. So I ask for the boss, and I repeat my request for water. I declare that I am traveling by bicycle and also quite thirsty. At the last roadhouse the bore water was so salty that even I thought it was undrinkable. Thankfully one of the aborigines there gave me a bottle of water (which he had bought) and so I had made it here.
Again water is denied me. Just to make it clear, I ask here not for bottled water or collected rain water, but for the ordinary water that comes straight from the tap.
The woman says I have to buy the expensive bottled water or to pay the camping fees to use the tap in the caravan park. She goes on by saying those who plan such a trip must also have enough money to buy drinking water. She wouldn´t change her mind and couldn’t see why she should give me some of her water, because she would indeed have to work and pay for it.
I´m totally perplexed and don´t know how to react. Such a thing has never happened to me. No matter what country, no matter who I asked for water, I always got some. And now here in the Australian outback, in the desert where water is so vital, it is denied to me. Because this woman has a problem which I don´t understand. Confused and frightened I leave the roadhouse. It is not so much the fact that I now have no water that scared me, but rather the fact that this woman doesn´t want to help me. It would cost her, if at all, only a few cents to fill my canisters to. Less water than to flush a toilet and she isn´t charging her customers for that.
I reconsider my options: To buy the overpriced bottles of water is no option for me. I would have the money but out of principle I don´t buy water, and certainly not at these prices. I think water should be free, free to anyone, anywhere.
I could ask cardrivers or sneak onto the campsite and use the tap.
But fortunately there is still another building a few hundred meters further. It is a small shop and the owner just shakes his head and sighs when I tell him about my experience at the roadhouse. Of course I can fill my bottles here and continue cycling into the night.
John McDouall Stuart
It is not far to Alice Springs and next to the road stands a monument for the explorer John McDouall Stuart. It is reminiscent of the adventurous expedition of the first white man who crossed Australia from south to north. At that time there was no highway, no path at all. Mr Stuart made it only after the third attempt and needed nine months for the route from Adelaide to Darwin. Only with a few mates and horses he ventured this great adventure. The monument also marks the geographic center of Australia, at least in the north-south extent. From here it is just as far from the coast in the south as to the coast in the north. I´m half way (theoretically).
Alice Springs – The desert city
Alice Springs is the only real city between the coasts and has 28,605 inhabitants. A river runs through the town but for most time of the year it is dry. It is actually quite a normal town with a mall, supermarkets, schools and people. But the realization that there is no other big city like this in a radius from 1000 km makes it special for me.
Once again a supermarket is the first attraction for me. My stocks are completely depleted, in the morning I had cooked and eaten my last portion of rice. Next step is to get me a map of South Australia. I can´t get really lost, there’s only one road, but the map gives me a good overview of the distances and the places where I can get water. Finally the water determines how far I have to go every day.
I briefly consider to ask around for a job but then I decide to go first to Adelaide before it gets even hotter. Somehow I made it this far and my rice and oatmeal diet is quite inexpensive. But things turned out differently: While walking trough the city a woman comes straight to me and aks: “Are you a backpacker? Do you need a job? “” Why not ? But that depends on what kind of job.” I reply.
The next morning I find myself in a large hall with paint bucket and brush in my hands. The whole building needs to be renovated to sell it. Trevor has been a few weeks here to bring it up to scratch and had help of Marie. But she is sick and Trevor needs replacement for the next few days. I can sleep behind the hall, there are also a kitchen and a bathroom. Trevor and I work hard, 10 hours a day, there is not so much time. The work in the heat is not nearly as strenuous as cycling, it is a kind of recreation for me. After five days, I have not only earned enough money to make it to up to Adelaide, but also gained a new friend. Trevor will help me later on in Adelaide.