Chapter Six - Characters
I used to shop at Gorman, Camilla & Marc and Seed. As a travel industry publicist who worked in the city, I needed to look the part. But out here, I'm not spoilt for choice. It’s Target, Kmart or the Salvos.
Most of the clothes I brought with me are now stained by red dust or the hostel washing machine. So I find myself in a situation where I need new clothes.
On Saturday, I head into town to go shopping. I'm on a strict budget after my last pay, so these shops suit my wallet.
I start at Target and am genuinely surprised by what I find. I buy a couple of pairs of shorts to wear to work. I decide a yoga mat is also a good idea, as I haven't saluted the sun in a while.
Next on the spree is Salvos, a collection of old clothes from Mickey Mouse waistcoats to formal ball gowns. The shop, almost as big as a football field, is crowded with rows of coloured cloth.
I find a pretty floral dress and a denim skirt. The Salvos has the greatest variety of brands, although I've not heard of any of them.
The denim skirt seems practical and is a good deal at $30. But when I take it to the counter, the woman asks me for $3. I misread the price and my denim skirt and floral dress come to $6. They may as well be giving it away!
Being out in the bush you meet a lot of interesting characters. Everyone is friendly and always up for a yarn. I often find myself listening to the ins and outs of someone's life story.
My most recent conversation, with a man in his mid-60s, reminded me of the love and dedication a parent has to their child.
I start talking to Theo at the Thirsty Dingo Pub in Kings Canyon. He's dressed all in leather and has jumped off his motorbike for a cool beer. He brings his drink and sits one table away from me. He's chatty and friendly. He's on a motorbike trip from Shepparton in Victoria to Darwin. He's already ridden thousands of kilometres and has several more thousand to go.
A doting father, he tells me about each of his five child and then his grandchildren.
He leaves telling me about his son to last. I listen to Theo speaking about his son’s drug and alcohol problems. “But that's in the past now”, he says. “He's 5 years clean.”
He tells me his son was in rehab for 8 months. Going to rehab meant getting clean and after years of abuse he turned to his father and asked for help.
They took him to a rehab centre three hours from the family home. Every single Sunday for 8 months, Theo would drive three hours to visit him and another three hours back home. He didn't miss a single Sunday for 8 months.
Love has no boundaries and the unflinching dedication reminds me of my father who would do the extract same thing.
Thankfully, he's never had to.
The lodge has many colourful characters. I've come to know most of them quite well, in particular Max.
Max is in his early 20s and lives in a caravan opposite my place. I actually met him about three months ago when I did my trip to the Red Centre.
Max is great, he calls it like it is and has taught me a lot since I have arrived. He taught me the concept of 'napagi napagi', which is an indigenous way of paying someone back.
For example, Max gave me three dollars for the washing machine and said 'no worries, napagi napagi'. It doesn't only apply to money, but broader things as well. The idea is, I've got your back, but when I need you, you'll have my back too.
Max and I have a lot of fun together. He’s transgender, so he was born a woman but could never resonate with his gender, so he decided to transition to a man.
You would never know if you met him. He's as manly as they come, but having a friend that understands women and men is quite unique. We've done at-home fashion shows, bonded over washing up and helped each other with applications.
Max is a natural teacher and is opening up a window to me I never really knew much about. I'm finding it fascinating and very grateful Max is sharing it with me.
Even in the most remote parts of Australia, transgender people are alive and well.
I have become an expert in cooking 4 meals. My list includes: burritos, a green chicken curry, burgers and a traditional Aussie BBQ.
My job is very formulaic when it comes to the cooking component. We get a rationed amount of food that matches the number of passengers.
The food is already prepped by a professional chef and sealed in bags. My job is to chop veggies and then mix it all together.
It looks and smells like beautiful homemade food, so when people say, You're such a good cook, I smile and say thank you.
Last week, we had a couple of young French guys on the tour. It was as if they hadn't eaten in a long time. They were so grateful for home cooked meals that one declared I will make a terrific wife some day.
It's true; the best way to a man's heart is through his stomach. When there are young guys on the trip, they gravitate towards the kitchen, happy to help where they can.
I ask them questions about their travels and they share their stories. Keeping busy in the kitchen while we chat, I realise how privileged I am to be on their holiday.
Some people have saved for years to afford a trip to Australia. They are all so excited to be out in the bush and meeting Australians.
On that same trip, one of the older women suggested the boys clean up.
So by the time the meal came to a close, I had four grown men in the kitchen, washing and dying dishes to 1970s disco music.
It was such a treat to have my job done for me.
(IMAGE CREDIT: R.M Williams)
(My friend Max was happy for me to write about him)