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Mataranka to Alice Springs

Written on: Sunday August 24th, 2008

A journal entry from: Around The World Without A Plane

A steady, unrushed pace allowed us to travel from Mataranka down to Alice Springs in just two days. In all honesty there's not a whole lot to keep you from driving straight through on this road. One stop of note was the oldest pub in the Northern Territory in Daly Waters. A very quirky, typically outback pub with hundreds of wind-chilled girl's smalls adorning the bar, a gazebo exhibiting flip-flops nailed all over it and an abundance of interesting objects littered in all corners including people's donated passport photos and the eager-to-entertain Frank Turtan. A Southern Australian of birth Frank has done the rounds at festivals and events around Australia for years and has become somewhat of an outback legend earning the nickname 'Chicken Man' because of his fascination with chickens, one of whom he travels around with looking after and feeding as his adored pet. A big Johnny Cash fan Frank was earning his keep at the Daly Waters pub by playing a spot of guitar and singing for the entertainment of the visiting lunchtime public and filling in in-between with many an anecdote. We camped in the middle of nowhere at the side of the road on the way down to Alice, where we met and awoke to one of the strangest Australians I've yet to meet. Our Tasmanian neighbour found it incredibly amusing that Loz and I were from England and proceeded to sing the full first verse of God Save the Queen whenever he caught a glimpse of us, which included a full salute first thing in the morning as he crooned away immediately outside our tents. He also gave Coco his nickname of Billy which has since stuck in recognition of Coco's similarity to Billy Connelly. How we failed to notice this before I don't know as truly the resemblance is uncanny. Otherwise it was the Devil's Marbles that were the main highlight on our 900km drive. The marbles are a vast collection of granite boulders that have over time somehow littered the side of the highway. Local Aboriginals explain their presence as the eggs of the Rainbow Serpent who features in the Aboriginal Creation stories, whereas those dull, lacking in imagination scientists give a much duller explanation of the gigantic rocks as the leftovers of molten lava that has been eroded over millions of years. I'm going with the snake eggs, but looking at the size of these rocks I wouldn't want to meet the snake any time soon that could lay eggs this large. Since the Creation times it seems the local Aborigines interests have evolved somewhat as the burnt out, corroded remains of a pick-up that has been smashed in to one of the 'marbles' is undoubtedly down to a few of them getting smashed on cartons of cheap wine (goon as it's known over here) and enjoying what seems to be the kind of regular hobby to them that playing bowls in the local park is to many an English suburban pensioner. You'd have trouble keeping count at the number of burnt out cars on the roadside between Katherine and Alice. We had a fleeting visit to Alice Springs, the Anzac memorial at the top of Anzac Hill, giving a panoramic view of Australia's central city and then bed down for another cold night in the tent. Although only 1500km south of Darwin the evenings especially are so much colder than up in the north so the socks were needed to keep my blood-deficient feet cosy throughout the night. Failing that I'd have to snuggle up and bury my toes in Billy's beard.