13 Things I Learnt From Living In The Australian Outback

I spent three months wokring and living in Mataranka in the Northern Territory and as that’s something not a lot of people do, I thought I should share a little bit more about my experience’s of living there and who doesn’t love a list post?

1 – If you don’t drive/have a car you are quite screwed. It is very difficult to explore the place by foot, there is no public transport and everyone will think you are crazy for walking everywhere, it was a half hour walk from our house to the town and people would always stop and offer us lifts home which we would usually turn down wanting the extra exercise. My housemate and I even walking to the bitter springs, everyone was shocked when we told them we walked 11km in 34+ degrees heat, but if we hadn’t done it I would never of got to see the springs.

2People in the outback love a drink. However it can sometimes be difficult to get alcohol in the Northern Territory because of the alcohol restrictions they have in place. No alcohol can be served before 2pm on a weekday or 12pm on a Saturday and if you want to buy a box of goon (cask wine – very popular with backpackers and aboriginals because it’s cheap and gets you very pissed) you are limited to one per person per day and you have to show valid ID, in the supermarket we had to write everyone’s names down on a piece of paper to make sure everyone just got one.

3 – Aboriginals are very angry drunks. It is difficult to explain what the aboriginals in Mataranka were like without coming across as racist. I am not racist, I just feel sorry for them. This is just my experience of them so far. The majority of them in the town don’t work, they get all their money from the government for land rights and they just sit around waiting for the bottle shop to open at 2pm then they proceed to get horribly drunk. You would see one run past the store carrying a crate of beer and there would be about 7 people following them in to the bush to drink it as quickly as possible as it was illegal to drink within 5 km of a bottle shop. Working in the supermarket meant I had quite a few run ins with them when they were angry. You refuse to serve them alcohol because they have already had too much and they get angry, one had been banned for trying to attack one of the girls because she refused to serve him and yet he kept coming in trying to get alcohol and he would kick off every time when asked to leave.

4 – There’s not much to do so big community events are everything. If you don’t go you really will be missing out on what is for us backpackers anyway a once in a lifetime event. While I was in Mataranka, I went to the Katherine Show, the Territory Day fireworks show and the Mataranka rodeo.

5 – You will never be truly clean in the outback. The intense heat means you are constantly sweating and the vast amount of dust mean that even when you have showered it’s not long until you feeling dirty again.

6 – The Bugs! Fuck me I have never seen or even imagined so many bugs in my whole life. Flies, mozzies, moths, grasshoppers, beetles, spiders, the lot. Having to walk outside to go to the bathroom at night was always a thrilling adventure, will you be attacked by a grasshopper? Will there be a spider in the toilet? Who knows? 

7 – You will embrace other types of wildlife. We had wallabies begging for food, bright coloured parrots and huge Hawks in the bush, our family of geckos that lived in the kitchen, massive cane toads sneaking up on you in the dark, the herds of Guinea fowl that when they run away from you as you get near them it reminded me so much of the stampede scene in Jurassic Park! We also adopted various neighbour dogs, we had Missy from the neighbours on one side who spent the night during a storm, Alan (who I named Sam before finding out his real name) who would come and join me and Lucy for our work outs, and then there was the heavily pregnant dog that appeared at my door when I was in the house alone, it wouldn’t leave and I was panicking it would give birth there and then. It eventually went home and its owner informed me that it gave birth to 7 puppies the next day.

Willow The Wallaby

8 – The sky can put on a great show. From the bright blue sky, to fantastic sunsets and a breathtaking amount of stars at night.

9 – Fishing is actually cool! During the dryer cooler months, people will spend as much of their free time fishing in the rivers as possible, catching some massive and very tasty barramundi.

10 – There is no better place to get fit than the outback. You have nothing else to do with your evenings and you don’t need fancy gyms and equipment to get fit. All you need is some outside space, a few tyres and a friend to push you.

11 – When it rains it pours! And trying to sleep while there is torrential rain battering the roof of the tin house you are in and the humidity is rising because there is no air con as the rain has made the power go off isn’t something I want to experience again any time soon.

12 – You will meet some real characters that you will never forget. They will share some fantastic stories with you. There was one elderly aboriginal gentleman that I will never forget, he was called Eric or Gang gang, he often worked with my bosses partner Geoff (who was a character in himself! He had two dogs that would follow him everywhere), he would come into the store to get some cigarettes, I would usually greet him with a “hello trouble” and he would just go “smoke” to me or Emma, our response would usually be “smoke please?”. He was a very funny guy, once telling us in a hushed voice how he saw that the police were out in the town taking away the alcohol they were drinking so Eric decided to climb a tree and hide it up there!

13 – The outback isn’t for everyone. But if you take a chance and are willing to embrace it for what it is it will change you in a way you could never have imagined.

The Australia Chronicles – Mataranka – We Of The Never Never

Out on the wastes of the Never Never

That’s where the dead men lie!

There where the heat-waves dance forever –

That’s where the dead men lie!Where the dead men lie by Barcroft Boake

The Never Never is used to describe a vast remote area of the Australian outback. I spent 3 months living and working in my never never. A very small place called Mataranka in the Northern Territory. It is 6 hours drive south of Darwin and is on the Stuart Highway, which runs right down the middle of Australia, from Darwin via Alice Springs and all the way down to Port Augusta in South Australia, because of this many people only end up stopping in Mataranka for fuel, a bathroom break and to grab some food so they never really experience it in all its outback beauty.

There is one thing Mataranka is famous for, a book called We Of The Never Never by Jeannie Gunn. Which I have never actually gotten round to reading.
It has become part of Australian Folklore and details the journey of Jeannie, who was the first white woman to settle in the Mataranka area accompanying her husband who was the station manager at Elsey cattle station.

The town is really into milking this book for everything, The towns sign says “Mataranka – Capital Of The Never Never”. If you are entering the town from the north on the Stuart Highway you will pass a park on the left filled with statues of all the main characters from the book.

In the 80’s they made a film about the book and they built a replica of the homestead Jeannie lived in and it still stands to this day near the thermal pools.

That’s another thing Mataranka is famous for, it’s two hot springs. There are the Thermal Pools and Bitter Springs.

One weekend my housemate Lucy and I walked the 6km from our house to go for a swim in the bitter springs. It was incredible, the water was so blue and so clear. You start at one end of the springs and using a pool noodle to float you allow the current to carry you to the other end. A little azure oasis in this red dusty place, well it was until about 40 school children showed up.

The Bitter Springs. No filter or editing needed, it really is that blue!

I didn’t manage to get to the Thermal Springs as they are up by the homestead and as we didnt have a car that would of been about an 11km walk each way, which isn’t particularly doable or sensible in 35 degree heat. I do know that the Thermal Springs are a lot more of a man made structure, a little bit like a heated swimming pool, surrounded by lush greenery.

Other things of interest in this tiny town that I think people should see if they are ever in this part of the world are the worlds largest man made termite mound! There’s a button on it and it’s suppose to tell you all about the town but when ever I went there is wasn’t working.

The stockyard gallery and garden cafe is a quaint little place, complete with another statue of a character from We Of The Never Never. Caricatures of aboriginal people line the wall above the counter and the gallery is filled with books, aboriginal art work and souvenirs, you can enjoy a good BLT for $8 while sitting in a tropical garden, be careful though as the locals birds that fill the trees may come and pester you for some of your lunch, they did when I was there!

And finally I think everyone who comes to Mataranka should pop into the Mataranka Store and Service Station and it’s not just because that’s where I worked!

The owner Judy has owned the business for 40 years and the store contains everything you could ever want! It’s really like an aladdins cave!  It always amused me when British tourists would come into the store because they always ask me how exactly I ended up here! It’s like they can’t image how anyone from back home would find a job in such a small place in the middle of the outback. The Aussies are funny as well so many have said to me “you British really do get everywhere!”

The Australia Chronicles – Mataranka – Life in the Outback

After my first month in Australia I found myself in a position I didnt think I would be in so early on. I was now going to be a solo traveller.

I left my friend at Cairns airport waiting for her flight back to the UK while I flew to Darwin to start my outback adventure. I had managed to find a job via gumtree in a general store in a town called Mataranka, in the Northern Territory. It’s a very small place of about 400 people, 6 hours drive south of Darwin and it was going to be my home for the next three months. I spent the night in Darwin a very dingy hostel and was woken up three times in the night by a French girl because I was snoring and waking someone up to tel them they are snoring obviously means they will stop doing it. I can’t bloody help it, I wish I could. It’s quite an embarrassing trait to have when sharing dorm rooms with people and has always made me very anxious. A Danish girl in Airlie beach said she was amazed by my snoring as it sounded like a bear! 

Found my street in Darwin

The next day I caught the greyhound coach to Mataranka. I’m going be completely honest with you, that coach trip was probably one of the worst journeys I have ever taken, not because of the actual coach ride but because I was absolutely terrified to do this whole travelling thing alone. One thing I was confident of was that I knew that if I had joined my friend in returning home it would have been the biggest regret of my life and I would of always wondered what if I had just had the guts to do it. I didn’t know if I could do this alone but I had to try and I’m so glad I did. My friend going home to the UK turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me, I just didn’t feel like that at the time.

When I got off the coach at the United Service Station in town the driver looked at me quizzically and said what the hell are you doing staying in a place like this?! I told him I had a job here and he wished me luck saying I would need it.

The sun was starting to set as I was picked up from the service station by Toni, my landlady, she gave me a quick tour of the two roads in the town then drove me to the house I would be staying in. We drove down a road surrounded on both sides by the bush, wallabies leaping in front of the cars headlights, Toni not even flinching.

The “street” my house was on

Now when she told me I would be staying in a four bedroom house with the other workers I don’t know why I had in my mind that it would be a nice two story house, all mod cons, with a Veranda and a nice little garden that I could sit and sunbathe in. (My Welsh housemate thought that same thing!) You can image the shock I had when we pulled into the driveway and I was met by what is basically a tin shed!
She showed me around the “house”. The bathroom that’s outside in which she once had to rescue a girl from a snake, the kitchen that is filled with plastic cutlery and plates, the broken sofas that have only been here a month, before that they had no furniture in the living room/kitchen. Finally I was shown to my room, a metal box, with a concrete floor, the only furniture being a bed and a chest of drawers (with two condoms in for some reason was one supermax and one ultra thin!?!?) no curtains, no homely touches. Nothing. Purely the basics.

The house

Now I’m not ashamed to admit this but when Toni left I sat on my bed and cried. For about an hour. The shock of the house being completely the opposite of what I expected, realising I was actually doing this alone, the fact I was in the middle of nowhere and couldn’t contact anyone to let them know how I was because only one phone network works here and my phone was still locked to a UK network. It was all very scary at that point!

I was still in panic mode up until I met the three girls I live with. I knew they are gonna be the things that make this place bearable. There was Skye the German, Lucy the Welsh and Shauna the Irish. Sounds like a bad joke right?

That first night I didn’t sleep well, the new strange noises of my surroundings preventing me from reaching the land of nod. The crickets, the dogs barking in the distance, the strange rustling coming from the bushes surrounding the house.
It is a very odd feeling to find yourself in the middle of nowhere with no one familiar to talk to but we change, we adapt, we evolve to deal with the curve balls that life throws at us and I for one was going to try and make the best out of this bizarre place I have found myself in.