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Writer Loretta Bunning shares the sights and sounds of 12,000 km through Australia’s red, hot and dusty backyard.
Text and photos by:Loretta Bunning
Country: Australia

n 1993, when I was 12 years old, along with my mum, Jackie, dad, Bruce, and elder sister Johanne, I was lucky enough to experience the Great Australian Holiday, 12,000 km through outback New South Wales and on to the red centre of Australia known as the Northern Territory.

This was no ordinary family holiday—many dream about it, but few make it a reality. It took meticulous planning to get us on our way through this incredible desert landscape, which was barren and dry, yet beautiful. We departed in July, in winter, and travelled from Sydney, through mining towns like Broken Hill, all the way up to the Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, and back home through the town of Mount Isa, Queensland. We drove for one month in a 4×4 pulling everything we needed in a trailer behind.

The trailer contained tents, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, lanterns, an esky (cool box) for storing food, spare tires, first aid equipment, spare parts for the car and even extra water in case of an emergency. We were going to travel through “no man’s land,” and we needed to be prepared for anything. Most days we would have no contact with other people because the area was so sparsely populated, and we had to rely on ourselves. However, there was one thing my sister and I forgot to pack: music. We brought only one mix cassette tape, featuring songs “Jump” by Kriss Kross, “I Wanna Funk” by Kylie Minogue, and “Tears in Heaven” by Eric Clapton to name a few. This one cassette tape was fine in the beginning when the radio signal was strong. As we travelled out farther and farther into the desert, there was no radio signal, and we had only this one tape to listen to over and over again. To this day, the songs are still burned into my brain.

As we travelled farther north, the red dirt and sand of the desert became more intense, and so did the flies. These flies were no ordinary flies; they seemed to possess a gift for seeking out humans and bothering us incessantly. It wasn’t uncommon to have one buzzing in your ear or trying to find its way up your nose if you didn’t wave them off fast enough. The worst was catching one in your mouth while talking. We soon invested in “hat nets.” They are made out of a material similar to mosquito netting, and as you naturally move your head, the material helps wave the flies away. First, we would place our hats on our heads, then we would attach the net over the top with elastic. It would cover our entire faces, ears and the backs of our necks. This small piece of netting gave such relief from these pests. However, when having a barbecue around the campsite, the only way to eat your food in peace was to hide in the tent with the flaps zipped up, which I did on several occasions.

Every couple of days, we would arrive at the camping grounds of a new small town and would set up our tents. Most days this was a fairly easy task, although sometimes the ground was just too hard to drive the pegs of the tent into the dirt. We would use a hammer to dig them in because the earth was so dry. My sister and I shared a tent and air mattress for two people. We each had a sleeping bag to snuggle down in at night. One evening in the first week of our trip, we unknowingly set our tent up on a bindi (prickle) patch. The bindies stuck straight through the floor of our tent and punctured our air mattress, letting the air escape slowly. We learnt our lesson not to make camp on bindi patches and spent the next three weeks lying on the hard, red dirt.

With each new camp site came a new town to explore. One of the most interesting houses I had ever visited was in the small mining town of Coober Pedy in the state of South Australia. A few of the houses there were built partially underground to help combat the intense heat. This style of house was called a “dugout”. Walking down the stairs into this house, I could immediately feel the coolness seeping from the stone walls. The difference in temperature was incredible. This house had all the modern necessities and was of a decent size: a couple of bedrooms, bathroom, living room, dining room. But, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw an in-ground swimming pool, an oasis, dug out below the hot desert above. It was so lovely just to sit and enjoy the cool air, but alas, it was time to put our fly nets down and venture back out to the red dirt above.

That night in Coober Pedy, we learned that some of the local residents liked to play golf at night when the temperature outside had cooled. The players were all equipped with head lamps to keep their hands free while swinging their golf clubs, and they would all use glow-in-the-dark golf balls so they could see where their ball had landed. The people of this town had adapted to live well-rounded lifestyles in the desert heat. However, I was still a long way from being accustomed to it all, and so was my mother.

One night my Mum woke up in her tent around 1 a.m. She could hear what she thought was someone walking around all our camping gear in rubber thongs. She could hear the thongs clicking and clacking as they snapped back on this person’s foot. At this point she became quite worried, thinking this person was trying to steal from us. She then woke my Dad up to go and check what was happening. They both unzipped the tent flaps and peeped out to find a small kangaroo jumping around our gear foraging for leftover food. We all had a good laugh the following morning over the mysterious visitor, and we were lucky enough to have a few other inquisitive kangaroos come visit from time to time in the night.

Traveling along in the car, we saw many wild animals: kangaroos bounding by the hundreds on the side of the road, emus running, eagles flying, and herds of wild camels in the far off distance. What desert adventure would be complete without a ride on a camel? My sister and I decided to go on a camel ride at one of the local farms. These creatures are much larger up close and have a habit of spitting. Our camels were very well-behaved, but this didn’t make mounting any easier. The camel lowered down to its knees so I could get on. When it rose to its feet, it rocked so much I thought I would fall off. Once we were walking along, I was surprised how smooth a ride it was. The camels in the outback are bred more for their meat than for work and transportation purposes these days. However, once a year there is a camel race that brings hundreds of tourists into the area to watch and make a bet on who will win.

My great Australian holiday into the outback was an experience I have never forgotten. Although it wasn’t always easy packing and unpacking our house every couple of days, as a child it was the most magical family holiday, full of adventure, new places and faces. Just by exploring our own country, we learned about so many new things right there in our own Australian backyard.


An Australian Road Trip .

In 1993, when I was 12 years old, my family and I traveled through the Australian outback. In total we traveled 12,000 km together through outback New Southern Wales and into the center of Australia, known as the Northern Territory.

This was no ordinary family holiday! Some people dream of beaches, but we dreamt of desert landscapes. We started in Sydney and drove through the mining towns such as Broken Hill, all the way up to Kakadu Park in the North. For one month we traveled together in a Jeep pulling everything we needed behind us in a trailer. We had tents, sleeping bags, cooking equipment, food and emergency materials in the trailer. We were traveling through “no man’s land,” where no one lived, so we needed to be very prepared!

We had some difficulties along the way. First of all, the flies were so bad, we had to buy special hats so they wouldn’t bother us. Secondly, one time we were woken up by a kangaroo looking for food! My mother was very worried at first because she thought someone was trying to steal our things. Luckily it was just a kangaroo! The other problem was that the dirt was so hard that it made holes in our air mattresses. In the morning we woke up practically sleeping on the ground!

Apart from those challenges, Australia was absolutely amazing. At each camp site, we were able to explore a new town. The houses were very interesting; some were built partially underground to help keep them cool. Australia is extremely hot! The people who live there do some activities at night because it’s too hot during the day. For example, it is common to play golf at night! They play with florescent “glow in the dark” golf balls so that they can see where the ball goes!
Our experience driving through Australia was truly incredible. We saw so many wild animals and amazing desert landscapes. We were able to learn about the country in a way that many tourists aren’t able to. It was a family adventure that I will never forget!



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Road-tripping through the outback



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An Australian Road Trip


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