Chapter Nine - Community
Yesterday I did something I've never done before. I filled a 400-litre bus tank with $500 worth of diesel. As the diesel flushed out, I thought to myself, who am I?
Sean, a fun tour guide with an adventurous spirit, and I had just finished a tour together. As the sun was setting and the day coming to a close, we pulled into the petrol station.
Sean knows I can be a bit of a princess, so he said “C'mon Leah, this will be good for you!” Sean is hard to say no to and I thought why not? It might be good for me to do something I'd never done before.
As I pulled the latch up to unlock the diesel spout, I noticed a thick layer of red earth attached to the tank. People had written their names into the red dust.
The tank was enormous, about as big as two large suitcases. As I held the nozzle into the hole, I thought what a difference a location and job change can do to you.
As I filled the tank up, it clocked over $500. I thought about what I could buy with that kind of money. Another pair of R.M Williams, of course.
As the tank was getting full, it splashed out onto my shoes and a little on my hands. I could smell the diesel. I smelt like a man.
Sean and I always have a good laugh together. I sit up the front with him and we chat for hours.
I find myself crying with laughter when we play, “Would You Rather,” a silly game when you present your opponent with two propositions and you'd say what you'd rather do. It's too rude to go into on here, but let's just say it kept us busy all the way from Kings Canyon to Alice Springs.
It was my second Shabbat in the outback. One of the Israeli girls in the hostel was celebrating her birthday, so we decided to have a big Friday night dinner. There were three Jews and about eight people who had never experienced Shabbat before.
Our oven is not reliable, so I arranged for the bakery on Todd Mall to make us a big challah. I asked for two, but somehow the message got misinterpreted and I ended up with a two in one challah, which was about a half-metre long.
It was perfect apart from the rain. It never rains in the outback, but on this night, it poured down. It was like a team of angels were crying. It did not stop.
So our outdoor dinner under the stars quickly turned into an indoor dinner at the hostel.
I invited my new friend Marie to join us. She had never attended a traditional Shabbat dinner before. She absolutely loved it and said she had an incredible night. She loved the food, my friends and the opportunity to enjoy life away from her remote community.
I met Maree weeks before at the bakery, when she taught me an Aboriginal word - deadly. I liked her from the moment she opened her mouth. She was funny and confident.
But then she disappeared for about a month, describing her escape as an extended holiday she needed to take. When she returned to Alice she had decided she wanted to live in South Australia.
At the dinner, there was a guy from my old school, Moriah College. It was interesting chatting to him and hearing about his story and why he was in Alice.
Alice is not like Sydney, London or New York, where people have great jobs and earn good salaries. There are lots of jobs in education and healthcare, but for the rest of us, the jobs are basic.
He was working as a cleaner, while other people at the table were also cleaners, handy men and cafe workers.
We all have degrees, in my case two, but we've come to Alice to experience something different, away from our busy ambitious city lives. It's an existence I didn't know existed until two months ago.
After Shabbat dinner, Maree invited Eric, Will and I to her community.
We drove 25 minutes out of town to Amoonguna.
It's taken me quite a few days to digest what we experienced.
I had no knowledge of what an Aboriginal community would look like. So I came with no preconceptions.
The experience was an eye opener. As we drove through the open gates I noticed a sign that said 'no photography.’
What looked like a once functioning community was now a huge plot of land in disarray. There was rubbish everywhere, cars with their windows shattered and men loitering around.
Marie took us on a tour of the community. She talked mainly in the past tense: 'this used to be a commercial kitchen' or 'this was once an arts centre'. It was sad to understand that what was once something special is no longer.
I'm still digesting what we saw.
The boys loved it. But for me, I walked away sad.
(Image credit - R.M Williams)