Driving out of the Roadhouse that day I didn’t know what to think. Right then, anything was possible. Six months into a Working Holiday Visa in Australia I had just experienced being sacked from a job for the first time in my life. After only a few weeks there, in the middle of nowhere, I was being sacked from this lowly role with the words, “you weren’t flirtatious enough with the miners,” kept repeating in my head.
‘Wasn’t flirtatious enough?!’ I incredulously thought. It hadn’t been explained to me that the premise of the job and in order to fit in, that that was an essential requirement of my role.
“But you didn’t tell me that was a pre-requisite of keeping this job!” I exclaimed back. “Had you done so, maybe I would have done it!”
Me woman, me must know what is needed for men folk, stupid woman must know place in life.
This was the desert, I remembered, there was nothing. Still, being the owner of femininity didn’t automatically mean I was going to be some play-thing-doll for some lonely-dusty-bored men. In an hour my bags were packed and I was offered, along with my friend, a lift back into Darwin, two hours drive away. Right then the only option I had was to skulk back to living in a tent somewhere closer to the city.
As I sat in the back of that car anxiety flushed through me. Here I was having been sacked, in the middle of the Northern Territory desert after having previously lived in a tent with nothing, being driven back into the outlaw city of Darwin by the kitchen guy, Lance, whose eyes for the last few weeks put me on edge, Wolf Creek style.
Prior to this Roadhouse, to get free housing my friend and I had found one of the oldest ramshackle houses to live in, approximately 10 kilometres outside of the city on an industrial estate, in exchange for cleaning tour vans. This house when I got there was full to the brim with rats. They were everywhere. Their droppings left in every single hole you could find. My room? A sponge bed in a hallway, Bogan-Bong-Loving Dan on one side keeping us up with the guttural exclamations about which latest girl he had fucked, and on the other side a living room with no windows and a broken front door. On the first day of cleaning vans the owner of the yard took it upon himself to point out that I didn’t look like the type to get naked for their enjoyment. The only conversation I had previously had with him consisted of me telling him I had just finished my degree in Journalism and Human Rights.
Nudging his friend, Joey, known for being a pimp for Aboriginal women in the city, he guffawed, “Hey! We aren’t going to get this one in a bikini washing vans any time soon!”
Chortling to themselves I turned and confirmed their assumptions, “No you won’t, I will be keeping my clothes on thanks-very-much,” in my best hoity-toity-English-accent.
As we hurtled through the Outback, sat in the back, my friend in the front I stared out of the window racking my brain wondering what to do next…. Suddenly Lance stopped the car.
“Get out,” he confidently told us. So we did. Mind running into overdrive I figured running is the next best option, my bag could be left. What’s a few clothes in exchange for your life? I was tired, hungry, bewildered and as a result, on red-alert. In reality I knew that we still had a long way to go to get to the City, so running into the blistering Outback was probably not the greatest choice I could have ever made.
I looked around, we were officially nowhere. My heart starting to beat faster as I got out of the car, I followed in the direction of my friend and Lance. After some very long minutes of walking into the desert we stopped at what appeared to be a lone plinth. As we climbed to the steps I thought about how I had spent the last few weeks living with this man who merely stared at me from the kitchen and smiled weakly out of the corner of his mouth, we continued ascending the plinth together. “See?” he said. “Isn’t it beautiful?”
The three of us stood at what we had been looking at below, except this time we could see it all sprawled perfectly out in front of us. Yes, yes it was beautiful. I sighed a big release and mentally admonished myself for previously deciding this man was a cold-bloodied killer.
Ahead of us was a nothingness that made you not think. There was nothing but the sun beating down consistently drying the earth out. Every so often nature would speak up and I would catch the sight of a bird, a rustle, a scamper of something. At this time of year the earth was a shell of its former wet-season self. It was all dried out but it is a landscape of survival. Once the wet season kicked in, it would all regenerate itself and life would encapsulate this ongoing territory.
In that moment there was nothing else to worry about. My anxiety dissipated, I took in the view and Lance it seemed whilst the owner of unruly creepy eyes, really did just genuinely appreciate a good vista. As he stood there quietly breathing it in, I watched him as I understood how a perpetual Roadhouse worker, living in a lonely existence with nothing but nothingness around them could go on loving this land. Despite it being the same as what we were looking at in the car…. and I had a new job to find… this arid land was rough and tough, and that’s what made it fascinating. The trick to staring at the nothingness was to accept that there isn’t anything ahead, because there doesn’t need to be. Simultaneously it has to be with this way for life to regenerate. It’s just a cycle. Being dried up, doesn’t necessarily mean the end.
Our moment of Outback meditation was interrupted with Lance saying we should get back in the car. There wasn’t a single sound to be heard for miles around. If your senses caught the sight or sound of something.. a butterfly, a bird, a snake it really held onto that token of activity. Quietly we got back in the car and continued onto Darwin. I sat in the back of the car, grateful to be inside and on our way again. I sat thinking that moment back there raised my appreciation for this odd-ball human I found myself travelling with. My judgement had run my mind away. Suddenly my thought process was broken. “Wanna bong?” Lance asked as he lifted the lift of a seat compartment and showcased the smoking apparatus.