Brittany and I didn’t arrive at our Airbnb in Alice Springs until 8:30 pm. We were renting two bedrooms in a house for two nights. The homeowners live there too, so they welcomed us. Biliegh and Nathan were in their 40s. Biliegh had short, red hair. She was fit and tall, with a sense of confidence about her.
There was a pool table in the living room, while trophies from pool tournaments adorned a case. They had a half dingo dog, who took a while to warm up to us. The couple had described the dog’s training as “very difficult.” He was three years old and had pointed ears. He could be intense at times.
They showed us a packet of travel brochures that showed many options of things to do and see in the area. We only had one full day and only had time to skim through our options. Biliegh made recommendations. There is a small, old aboriginal town nearby. She made a comment saying, “It gives me the creeps.”
Brittany and I drove to get some Chinese food takeout, and while we waited for our food, Brittany pointed out the comment that Biliegh made. When we first left Melbourne, we had both been told by Australians and New Zealanders that the Australian outback is full of racists. They likened it to the American south, full of rednecks. I didn’t like the assumption, because I don’t believe in lumping a large group of people together. I wanted to decide for myself whether someone was racist or not.
Before arriving in Alice Springs, Brittany, and I debated how much truth there was to the comments we heard. I errored on believing people weren’t racist. Brittany errored on thinking they tended to be more racist than in cities. When we heard Biliegh’s comment, we both looked at each other. What did it mean? Britany felt that Biliegh’s comment was racist. I use that word cautiously. I pointed out that we don’t know what she meant by that. We didn’t know anything about her. Maybe I’m just an optimist, but I don’t want to believe that people are racist.
When we arrived back at the house with our food, we talked with the homeowners. Nathan was from Queensland and has traveled a lot. He met Biliegh in Melbourne (where she’s from) four years prior. Biliegh majored in anthropology (the study of human societies and cultures and their developments). They came to Alice Springs because of her work. Biliegh works with the aboriginal people, helping with their land rights. She explained that the Northern Territory gives the aboriginal people more land rights than any other state, so it made sense for her to be there.
I asked Biliegh why she thought that the town that is open to tourists gave her the creeps. She told us that it’s not a good representation of their culture, it’s run down, and there was strange energy there.
I was relieved. Biliegh wasn’t racist. In fact, her job is to advocate for the aboriginal people so they can get more of their land back. She went on to describe herself as a hippy. Biliegh loved the west coast and all of the free camping available. There was a framed picture of her on the wall where she laid naked on a boulder.
It was getting late, so we went to bed. In the morning, we cooked up some eggs and veggies, did some laundry, and then hung the clothes outside on the clothesline. Brittany was still healing from being sick, so hiking in the heat wasn’t a good option. Instead, we went to a desert park.
It was an animal park that was spread across the arid desert. We had most of the place to ourselves. The kangaroos slept in the shade under the trees to avoid the heat. Dingos raced around the yard. We saw birds, lizards, and snakes. There was an entire building about the nocturnal rodents that crawl around the desert.
Once we finished checking out the animals, we ate lunch at the Watershed. It was an old shed converted into a restaurant. The metal roof and sides are famous in the outback. The metal has stood the test of time and is useful in combating the harsh conditions.
Brittany and I drove to the downtown area and walked around. We saw an art gallery with aboriginal art that had unique dot designs. As we strolled through the main street, we came across a candy store with funny boxes of candy in the window. I paused and noticed the candy boxes said things like, “Blue Balls,” “Roo Balls,” and “Possum Poo.” It piqued my curiosity, so we walked inside.
The woman behind the counter was the owner. She was short, had short blonde/white hair, was in her 60s, and was extremely hyper. She talked fast and jumped from sentence to sentence. Perhaps she had too much of her product.
The owner was helping the customer at the counter until a group of aboriginal teenage boys walked in. She left the customer at the counter while she walked over to the boys to “help.” She quickly tried to get them to select candy while keeping a hawk-eye on them. She rushed them to pay and leave. Brittany and I looked at each other with concerned expressions.
Once it was just Brittany and me in the store, the owner asked us rapid questions:
“Are you nurses? In the medical field? Do you want Blue Balls, Roo Balls, Possum Poo? Feels like it.” For some reason, she looked at Brittany when she asked about being a nurse and looked at me when she asked about the “medical field.”
We were so confused by this woman and could barley get a word in. I had a bag of musk candy in my hand, and the owner said she could give me a sample taste of one. She put a small square piece in each of our hands, and we ate it. I thought it was chewy, so I bit down. It was awful! I kept seeing “musk” flavored candy in Australia, and I only know of musk, the perfume. It tasted like old lady perfume. I couldn’t help but make a disgusted face. The owner was offended and said, “What did you eat it already?! Wow. Did you already swallow it?” Brittany explained that her piece was inside her cheek. I said, “I thought it was chewy.” I put the bag of candy back as fast as I could.
The owner started talking non-stop as Brittany, and I looked around the store. She told us that her husband has diabetes (strange owning a candy store). The woman kept talking, “I have to be very careful when the local aboriginals come in here because they steal a lot. They will come in with a hoody when it’s hot outside. They purposely distract me so they can steal. Our government gives them handouts, and they just waste it on drugs, alcohol, and candy. They live over there in the park.”
Confused by the entire conversation, I asked her, “Are they homeless?” I had seen some people in the park, and they appeared to be homeless. Their health was in poor condition. The woman answered, “They don’t have to be.” She walked over to a candy section and continued her rant, “See those? They’re missing. I didn’t sell them today. They stole them. It’ll be on my camera. Wait, my camera isn’t on.” Realizing that the cameras were turned off, the woman ran to the back to turn them on.
The owner told us that an aboriginal woman came in recently and had items clearly in the front pocket in her hoodie. The owner asked her about it, and she pulled out a phone. The owner said, “The other side.” The woman pulled out candy and gave it back.
The owner continued her rant as she followed us around the store. She pointed out vampire blood in an I.V. bag and said, “This might be good for my husband.” Wait, I thought he had diabetes?
Continuing still, the woman told us that a boy broke into her friend’s car, ran into traffic, and could have been hit by a car. If he did, it would have been the driver’s fault. Brittany and I were uncomfortable with her rants, and our non-verbal expressions showed it. The woman tried to explain that she feels guilty about her comments but said, “It’s true, and I have to watch out for my business. Every society, at some point in time, has ended. You need to take care of yourself. You can’t expect a handout.”
She justified her remarks by explaining that some other shops in town charge aboriginal people more for products, especially when they get their government checks. Some places charge $75 for a blanket when it’s only $50. She felt proud that she did not do any up-pricing.
I listened to the woman without interjection because I wanted to know her real thoughts. Brittany listened because she didn’t know how to get out of the conversation. The woman suddenly asked us, “So you’re not going to tell me what you do? Is it too secrete or something?” We were both taken aback. We never answered her question about whether we were nurses because we couldn’t a word in. We said, “We’re just travelers.”
As we paid for our candy, the woman told us that she recently moved to Alice Springs and bought a house with her husband. She insisted that “It’s a great place to live. Really. With all of this, it is still a really great place to live.”
Brittany and walked outside and around the corner. We were shocked at what had happened. Brittany asked, “Do I look like a nurse? What I’m wearing says, nurse?” I asked her, “Apparently I’m medical? What does that mean?” Neither of us supports the racist remarks from the candy lady. I was disappointed and didn’t want to believe it. I had been right about our Airbnb host, but Brittany was right about the candy lady.
I understand that it’s a small city, and she knows the people she is referring to. Some have stolen from her, and being the owner; she is out that money. However, she shouldn’t be characterizing people by race. She was crazy all around. She knew we were uncomfortable, which is why she tried to justify her comments. I would later go on to find out that it’s estimated that 70% of Australians have never interacted with an aboriginal person.
Brittany and I went back to our Airbnb and rested for an hour. Just before sunset, we drove to a lookout point on Anzac Hill that our host mentioned. We found a spot on the side of the hill and broke out our cheese and crackers. We made drinks with rum and ginger beer.
We talked about the day and our experiences in the outback. Alice Springs has two large, long, wall-like rocks guarding the entrance to the south. We had driven through it when we arrived, but it was dark so we couldn’t see much. Being on top of the hill, we had views of the city and the rock-mountains. It was like there was a small doorway with a road going through it. The formations completely protected the south part of the town.
The sunset was remarkable. On one side, the colors were orange, yellow, and red. On the opposite side, the colors were blue and purple. During my entire time in Australia, I witnessed some of the most beautiful sunsets that I’ve ever seen.
Once it was dark outside, we drove to a restaurant/bar for dinner. We sat at a tall table, and the vibes were that of a remote country town. Once we finished eating, they started music bingo. It was free, so we participated. It was fun trying to guess the songs played and hopefully win bingo.
Alice Springs was an interesting city. It’s the heart of the Australian outback. There were some beautiful parts to it, but the vibe and energy that I was getting from it weren’t for me. It was good for a quick stop, but I was happy that we were hitting the road the next day to start our outback camping on the Oodnadatta track.
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