Story Archive



Posted on August 9, 2012 by
on the road at
Atitjere Aboriginal Community
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Tom and I drove out of Alice Springs at 6 am with a clear and precise destination in mind, the Queensland town of Boulia, 800 ks away. I anticipated a taxing drive after horror stories of endless corrugations along the Plenty Highway that offer the same level of comfort as sitting cross-legged on a jack hammer.

With little fuel available along the way the tank has to be topped up as regularly an actor's confidence. For that reason we stopped at the Atitjere Aboriginal Community Store, just 150 ks from Alice. Tommie and I had lunch in a park where three young girls watched from a distance and giggled. They, like every other kid patrolling the streets, should have been at school.



Here's a tip for a traveler with a deadline. Don't think - I'll just have a bit of a drive around this Aboriginal community for a few minutes. Things happen in communities to lure you in.  Street life is robust and chance has a speaking part.

Four young Eastern Arrernte boys were walking down the road and waved. You going to the races Mister? ... Oh oh .... What races? ... Big race day, people come from everywhere ... can you take us to the racecourse please Mister?  Mister knew he shouldn't but he did.

Even as my resolution to keep going to Boulia hardened on the outside I felt it softening on the inside. Like tofu that's been fried too quickly.

The Harts Range Racing Carnival was being set up. Huge Maori bouncers were already on the gate to admit people who should be driving to Boulia like me. Whitefellas were setting up stalls and horses were grunting.

All that happened after I got bogged for 2 hours at a waterhole the boys wanted to show me. By then we were a tight sand-digging team and the avalanche of can you stay for the races Mister'? and can we camp with you Mister had won. I was staying. They were staying with me. What your name again? ... Raymond ... We camp with you Raymond.



These were lovely kids. Gentle, respectful, childlike. They would have witnessed violence and death and unspeakable things but the excitement of the races swamped everything. I can't fool myself. They needed protection against the drunks. Race days are big drinking days, for white and black. The youngest kid said as much. He also wanted to sleep in my roof top tent with me. Fat chance.

Our camping spot was sandwiched between two groups of nurses. On my left were two gay girls who traveled Australia doing three month stints in Aboriginal communities. They were off to Fitzroy Crossing after a gig in Cairns. They had previously spent 2 years in Alice Springs Emergency Ward and so knew what to expect. We do trauma very well one of the women told me.

The other nurse was a male one. A very male one called Seton who stands at 6'4" and weighs 140 ks. He was as gentle as he was huge and works at the Utopia to the north. This is a healthy community where the soft dots of the famous Aboriginal artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye  are reflected in the gentle nature of the people.

A traditional man with Seton, Llewellyn, didn't just inhabit the moment but reclined in it. He was so quiet. I had never been as aware of how much I talked till I was aware of how much Seton didn't. They left early because Llewellyn's pregnant wife had been having bad dreams and he was worried. Traditional people take dreams seriously rather than dismissing them as anxiety.

The young boys spent both days at the Races and always made sure I knew where they were. They came back at night and talked like New Yorkers for hours until they all dropped off to sleep simultaneously, like lemmings off a cliff. Well not quite but it was sudden.

The bull riding and horse races were brilliant without tempting me to become either a full jockey or a steer breaking cowboy. The latter 'sport' is just madness. Ten seconds of jerking, kicking, life-threatening hysteria.

The blackfellas love it. The cheers for their own cowboys lifted the roof of the desert sky. Tough cowboys walked around like slim John Waynes.

I left early on the Sunday. I am uncomfortable with lunatic drinking and a huge group of whitefellas had camped beside us. They signaled their intention of getting blind drunk by kneeling before funnels in which their mates poured beer, undoubtedly unaware of the homo erotic nature of their position.

Tom and I made an escape after dropping the boys off home ... can we come with you Raymond asked two of them? A huge part of me wished I could have said yes.

Instead I hit the road that had seemed so urgent two days before. About 100 ks later we established camp amongst a beautiful gidgee forest. I remembered something I had once heard ... if you want to make God laugh, show him/her/it your plans.

I could add, especially in a desert.

c ya


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Ray, that was just amazing to read. What an experience, especially with the young men, it sort of breaks your heart. Adventures like that are usually so much more wonderful because they are unexpected. Look after yourself Ray.
Thanks Barb. They were lovely kids. They told me they were the good guys... We had a great time and they are my mates now.
Love the photographs, wonderful faces, bull riding, Cafe Yobbo, priceless (or at least I can't see the prices from here).
Hey Helen. It sure was something partner ... and they had both kinds of music -- country & western .. R
Thanks for taking time out to go to the races and give us a glimpse of that world. Any chance you can go to Utopia and tell us what is happening there? All the best, Raymond
Hi Heather. Yes I intend to on the way back to the desert. I got an invitation from the Traditional Owner. The art is fascinating there as well which is an extra motivation.
Thanks for sharing your experience, pictures and blog from your dog... its amazing how things happen when you are not planning them...great that you were able to give those boys such a great time and companionship and fun and laughs...for their life contains so much hardship and pain... never want to hear or see this for the children of our world ... but its there...not all of us are rich in money but rich in love for one an other... I look for in reading more blogs of your travels with Tommy and the pictures too ... have not had the opportunity to travel to Australia yet... so you are giving me the chance now...thank you :)
Hi Diane. Delighted to get your comment. I aim to tell a deeper story of Australia. These boys one of the neglected stories of our country. We live in a complex continent and I become more and more in love with it as the years go by. Glad you are on the journey with us. Raymond
Kate lester
Love that bit about chance having a speaking part. Glad your journey is more than your destination!
Hi Kate .. if you are saying "its the journey not the destination" then I will have to ban you for 2 weeks. We have a blanket ban on that saying. See you in a fortnight. You can still come to the book launch though. Rx