Making My Way to The Desert

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I have been in airports a good number of times in my life, and every once in awhile, I’m sitting at my gate, maybe reading, listening to music or eavesdropping on the nearest conversation feeling all smug about how early I am when I see someone sprinting down the hall, trying to hold up their shoulder bag, maybe yelling at their girlfriend/husband/kids/etc. to hurry up as a voice echoes overhead “This is the final boarding call for flight BA 247 to Barcelona. Would all remaining passengers please make their way to Gate 15. Final boarding call for flight BA 247 to Barcelona.”


That was me. I was the idiot sprinting down the hall in Sydney airport, running to the front of the First Class check-in desks to beg the woman to let me get on the flight, getting stuck at security TWICE because I forgot to take out the nail scissors and bottle opener from my hand luggage, desperately searching the screens for my gate number which has already been taken off the screen because I’m so late, red-faced and panting as I get to the gate just before the staff members close the doors and getting all the haughty looks that I give out myself so often to that last guy who gets on the plane and can’t find a place for his bag overhead because it’s all full already. Yikes.

But I clearly did make the plane (just), and was on my way from Sydney to Ayers Rock. For whatever reason, I didn’t really pay attention at all to how long my flight was about to be, but when I realised that I would be getting a meal AND watching a film, it started to sink in how far I was really flying. And I wasn’t even going across the country; I was just getting to the middle.

I had a window seat and there were no clouds at all, so in between watching the film (The Invention of Lying, by the way, not a bad movie) I kept an eye on what we were flying over. Which was…nothing. Miles and miles and miles of red sand, bush, dry riverbanks, and nothing else. For the ENTIRE flight. I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s Down Under and in that book Bryson points out that “Australia is the driest, flattest, hottest, most desiccated, infertile and climatically aggressive of all inhabited continents. (Only Antartica is more hostile to life.)” So that’s what I saw. Dry, flat, red land.

After a few hours, it was there. Ayers Rock (or more traditionally, Uluru) was passing by my window, and what seemed like a stone’s throw away (it’s actually 20 kilometres) was a tiny line of little white tents – Longitude 131, my new place of work. I first heard about “Longy” when I wrote the article linked earlier during my time at Black Tomato. It was quite another thing to really see this place from the sky.

I was met at the airport by Kristy, my restaurant supervisor, who drove me around Yulara (the resort-town) to help me get a grasp of where everything was. Yulara has less than 2,000 residents and almost nobody here is actually from the Northern Territory. The ‘town’ is essentially one ring road with one of everything you need. One Post Office, one petrol station, one bank, one small library, one supermarket and so on. The ground is nothing but bright red dirt that now colours most of my clothes, and the bushes that cover the land seem to thrive despite all the odds. In fact, a lot of the bushes around here are completely blackened from previous fires and yet they are green with new leaves. In the middle of the ring road is a hill that gives you a good 360 degree view of the place and the hundreds of miles of nothingness that is behind every building. You can also see Kata Tjuta and Uluru (usually just called ‘the Rock’ around here) which are everyday sights since they’re both only a few kilometres away. After all, the only reason this town even exists is because of these huge monoliths.

I have never been quite so literally in the middle of nowhere.

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