Beyond the Black Stump
You want to know what it’s like out there? I can tell you. I’ve been. A few times.
You’ll hear different things from different people. Some will tell you of our native drop bears, their dangerous habit of dropping straight down out of trees onto unsuspecting travellers. (Don’t walk under the trees!) Or the bunyip calling from some lonely waterhole to entice you in. (You won’t come out again.)
Some will warn you about wild dingoes – which might sound more mundane, more believable. But though they look like dogs, they’re far from tame. Or you’ll hear about herds of marauding camels which could rampage through your campsite any night. And snakes and scorpions, too.
You'll be told to take much more water than you think you’ll need. A car repair kit would be handy as well. Also a good blanket; the desert nights are freezing. They’ll say, tell people where you’re going: your route, your destination, your ETA. They'll tell you over and over: if you break down, never leave your car. No-one will ever find your body out there.
Yarns to scare the tourists? Only one of those things isn’t true.
Someone might mention the deep red earth, stretching flat in all directions; the grey-green scrub; colourful rocks rising suddenly out of nowhere in gigantic curves; anthills as big as trees; the white bark of the ghost gums.
The silence of the desert night. Impossible crowds of stars, so clear in that enormous sky.
If they went through in a good year, they’ll have seen evidence of rain – birds thronging the pools (water in the pools!), flowers blooming in the scrub.
They might describe a natural spring, deep outback where you’d never expect to find any such thing – skin temperature, surrounded by lush vegetation, deep and wide enough to swim.
Perhaps someone will whisper of rock paintings so old no-one knows their date; of special rituals for greeting the earth in particular places; of the spirits of ancient elders who might appear; of a mighty rainbow serpent … or mutter about mines wounding the land.
Tales to dazzle visitors? Only one thing I’ve listed is a lie. (It’s not the bunyip. It’s not the rainbow serpent.)