Chapter Five - Discoveries
I can't believe it. I did it. I thought I'd never do it, in fact I didn't think I could stomach it.
But when Eric suggested heading out to dinner at Red Ochre Grill, I thought: if not now, when?
The restaurant, one of the more upmarket places to eat on Todd Mall, is usually full of tourists wanting to taste authentic, native bush tucker.
And when I took a bite out of my first dish, it was like something I had never experienced before. It tasted like chicken. It looked like fish covered in seasoning.
I was eating crocodile.
What have I become? I've eaten emu patte, kangaroo steaks and now a full plate of plum glazed crocodile spare ribs.
It was Eric’s idea. When we decided on Red Ochre Grill, my dining companion had just built shelves for my new room and had worked up an appetite. I was happy to try something new.
But if my parents knew what I was eating they would not approve.
I grew up in a kosher home and as a child I didn't go near this type of food. But I believe in the unknown, and being a 'bush girl', it's all part of the experience.
But everyone has their limits. I put my foot down at camel burgers.
When we leave Kings Canyon there is no wifi or reception, so we often stop at the servo to call head office to see if there are any messages. Often it's to pick someone up from the turn off from Alice Springs or to bring more towels to the camp.
This time it was about me.
The other guide, Suzanne, approached me and said: “Bad news Leah, you need to stay an extra night at the Canyon “Dani, our colleague, was sick and couldn't do the shift, so they needed me to step in.
I didn't mind, but then I was told I'd have to wait for six hours for the next bus. I wondered what the hell I was going to do in this tiny community.
There is only a pub, pool, servo and a helicopter pad.
What was I going to do for six hours?
I was chatting to the lady behind the servo counter and she said she was finishing her shift in 15 minutes, so she'd take me to the staff quarters for a cold drink.
In the half an hour that we hung out, she told me about everyone in the Canyon. After three hours, I was practically a local. I hitched a ride (twice) with a Chilean guy and then a Mexican guy. I did laps in their pool.
I met the helicopter guys, who gave me a free 15-minute heli ride over the Canyon. It was incredible.
I bought the house musician beers at the pub and he reciprocated.
As 4pm rolled around, I had managed to do everything there was to do in Kings Canyon.
My days off start the same way. Sleep in till 9am (I need the sleep after waking up on tour at 4 and 5am), dust and polish my R.M's and then ride my new Kmart bike to the Botanical Gardens cafe, order a coffee and sit there for the next few hours writing.
It's my favourite place to write, surrounded by desert flowers, rocks and red earth. It's outdoors and under a canopy of gum trees. The coffee is good and my friend Moaz works there, so it's always nice seeing a friendly face.
There is a resident wallaby that nibbles on people's left over lunches. She's quietly confident as she jumps from table to table with a little Joey in her pouch.
Once I feel suitably fed and watered, I head to the local heated swimming pool. The Alice Springs swimming pool is the perfect place to swim and stretch after long days of driving. The pool is warm and clean, so I spend most of my free time here.
Usually after my swim I head to Todd Mall, but something strange happened yesterday. I was riding my bike and I noticed a flock of jet-black crows attacking a pigeon. They we're trying to eat the little thing alive.
I instantly jumped off my bike and shooed the crows away.
I looked down at the pigeon, unsure of what to do next. It wasn'tmoving but it's eyes were open and I could see blood marks on the arch of his back. I looked at him for several minutes trying to figure out what to do. I knew if I left him, the crows would come back and eat him. I was his only chance of survival.
I called Eric. He was good with animals and would know what to do. On his instructions, I took the pigeon to the vet hospital.
I wondered how I was going to pick it up without touching it. I don't like touching birds.
I took my laptop out of its bag, used the case to hold the pigeon and support his weight.
It was a sight to be seen. Walking down Todd Street, holding a pigeon on my laptop case.
Some indigenous kids scooted past and asked if he was ok, they patted the bird that was obviously still in shock. The kids were gentle and kind.
Another lady walked past and yelled, “That's good meat, can I have it?” I refused and scurried off to catch a taxi to the hospital.
My taxi driver asked me a bunch of questions and also said that in his culture they would eat it.
So far, I'd saved this little pigeon from a flock of crows, a woman on the street and now my taxi driver.
I called the hospital on my way to let them know I was coming. Over the phone the vet said they might need to put him down. That made me really upset. I planned to help and and rehabilitate the little bird.
So when we both arrived at the hospital we were suitably shaken. I handed the pigeon over and waited for the prognosis.
As I waited, I wondered what the bird’s future would be.
With a sigh of relief, I was told he would survive and be taken to the wildlife services.
My job was done. Saving one bird at a time.
I got my first pay. I thought there was a mistake. Coming from a corporate background, I was used to having a certain amount of money in my bank account. I looked over the slip several times, trying to figure out what was wrong. I did the math and unfortunately it was correct.
Luckily there isn't much to spend your money on in Alice Springs, just rent, food and booze when I'm in town.
I was going to need to rein it in. No more indigenous artworks and no more online shopping.
If I were to figure out my wage and divide it by the hours I am working (sometimes from 4:30am - 9:30pm) I think I'd be in negative numbers.
I'm not complaining though, I'm very grateful to have this job and the experience. I’m the most creative I have been in a long time, writing every day, making new friends and experiencing the very best of the outback.
It's a dream life.
(IMAGE CREDIT: The lovely Jennifer Bader)