Chapter Four - First timer
First Outback Shabbat Dinner
There are not many Jews in the Outback, but there is a sprinkling and I've made it my business to find them.
It had been three weeks since my last Shabbat at my parents’ house in Sydney. Without fail, every Friday night my family comes together to share the Shabbat experience. It's not only a family tradition but a Jewish tradition that has been followed for thousands of years.
At a Greengarten Shabbat there can be anywhere from 5 to 25 guests. As Jews, and especially when it comes to food, we don't do things in halves.
Everyone gets involved. The women light the candles, the children bless the challah (braided bread) and my father makes the blessing over the meal.
I'm not religious at all, but feel a very strong spiritual connection to Judaism. I grew up keeping kosher, but at 18 in Barcelona I tried mussels for the first time and have never looked back.
Wherever I go in the world, I try and bring the Shabbat experience with me. So when I was invited to an Outback Shabbat dinner I jumped at the chance. The invitation came via Moaz, my Israeli friend.
The host for the evening was Howard, a friendly man with a snow-white beard that Moaz had met at the Olive Tree café. Howard is a Melbourne doctor and author who was town to launch his latest book. I met him briefly at the cafe and instantly liked him, along with his wife and mother-in-law. As far away from home as we were, we realised we had many friends in common – not an unknown phenomenon when you put Jews together. I'm sure the 6-degrees-of-separation game is the same for Italians or Greeks too.
The Shabbat was beautiful. There were 15 guests and each one was requested to bring something to the table: a story, song or poem. I described how I came to be sitting at their Shabbat table in Alice Springs. I had taken a holiday to the Outback, returned home and quit my corporate job three days later. While on holiday I met Maoz at a cafe, bumped back into him when I moved and subsequently received an invitation for dinner.
The night was magical and crowned in tradition. I'm hoping it was just the beginning of many more Shabbats in the Outback.
Henley on Todd
Despite its name, the Todd River in Alice Springs holds no water. It 'flows' through the town and has become a place where people, particularly Indigenous people, hang out under the river red gums. At night it's not safe to cross but during the day it is beautiful and a nice wander from one bank to the other.
Annually, Alice holds the Henley-on-Todd, a play on words referencing Henley-on-Thames, a town in England with a well-known regatta. The Henley-on-Todd is a boat race down the river. But there is no water, you say. Well, this is the only boat race in the world with no water and the only boat race to be cancelled due to rain.
Teams come together and race a makeshift boat, kind of like in The Flintstones when they use their legs to propel cars along. It's a pretty funny sight to see and the crowd is massive, with people drinking and eating sangas with chips and gravy.
It's taken me a whole month, one hotel stay and countless shared rooms to give myself an upgrade. I decided it was time to put down roots and be more permanent in Alice, so I've checked into a private room at the hostel. I have a shared porch, a double bed, a fridge and a bedside table.
Most importantly, I have my own little space to call home. Over time I'll decorate with Indigenous artwork, shelves and some nice bed sheets, but for now it's just perfect.
My New Friend
I first met Maree at the local bakery. I was buying a croissant when she walked in with a friend and loudly declared that 'this bakery is deadly!' I'd never heard that expression before, so I laughed and said hello.
She is charismatic, confident and friendly. She told me she had quit her job that day and she was 'getting out of Alice'.
As we chatted, I found out she was doing the Henley-on-Todd Welcome to Country and she had written a speech, which she was happy to share with me (and you).
I really liked her, so I asked if she was free for a coffee next week and she gleefully accepted my invitation.
Up until this point I really have not had that much to do with the Indigenous people of Alice Springs. It surprises me how segregated white people are from Aboriginal people. You don't often see the two mix.
Having grown up in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney, as far as I know my only interaction with an Indigenous person was with Cathy Freeman for a charity event in 2010.
I'm excited to meet Maree and get to know her culture a little better.
It's about time.