I wake to the sounds of mastication. Dry, heavy, enjoyable, brazen and blasé mastication. Something or someone is masticating outside of my tent. It’s 1am.
I have two options – confront the beast or ignore. Antagonize or provoke me whilst asleep and risk the wrath of my sharp tongue, or in dire situations, my icy hand. Ergo, I step outside into the pitch-black night. The sky is dripping with stars and envelops my scantily dressed and weary body into a translucent celestial glow.
“Who’s there,” I aggressively cry, awaking my resting boyfriend from inside the tent.
I walk over to the side of our disheveled, plastic and torn tabernacle and in turn come face to face with an enormous kangaroo.
Unfazed by my presence, he remains erect and nonchalant, and continues chewing. Evidently, he enjoys the proceeds of pasture that rests underneath our tent.
No attempts of feminine ‘shooos’ or stamping of my foot will tempt him to move. He’s firmly cemented, like a Madonna crucifix that hangs above the bed – so too was this kangaroo performing a similar pious duty. But, rather than be a source of comfort, he was an annoyance, a masticating beast with an unfamiliar temperament and very long legs.
In defeat, I return to my plastic gazebo. Pockets of sleep I will catch as the burning sun impatiently approaches and interrupts the sullied night.
The Northern Territory is an Australian anomaly. Situated in a land mass of 1.42 million km – equal to the combined size of Spain, Italy and France – but with a population of only 211, 945 people, it’s the epitome of an untouched, unspoilt and uninhabited land.
Roads are far and few, outback towns are punctuated with two pubs and a tin gas station, the air is dry and the sun is scorching. The ochre sand infects every facet and orifice – toes, car, clothes, hair – nothing’s left intact. After 2 weeks, you slowly morph into the personification of Australia’s top end.
It’s a trip that I am incredibly grateful for, in so many ways. Firstly, it’s given me a chance to witness my country in its purest and rawest form. I really do hail from a ‘sunburnt land’, but as a resident of the coast – how often do I get to experience this pure heat?
Secondly, it’s an area that perfectly encapsulates the uniqueness and originality of Australia. Aforementioned, it is uninhabited and home to a vast variety of Australian local fauna – crocodiles, kangaroos, boars (read my near-death experience here), spiders, snakes and copious amounts of other fascinating creates that possess the bite of death punctuate the land and water.
But, there’s something far more important in visiting this ancient land. It’s home to Australia’s indigenous people, the original custodians and founders of this land. Moreover, a race of people that continue to be overlooked and unconsidered.
During my travels in the Northern Territory, I encountered many indigenous people who’ve remained unchanged and unaffected by modernization, and white settlement. Yet, I also bore witness to something very, very tragic.
An ancient race infected with problems of alcoholism, drug abuse and domestic violence, and why? Because there has been systematic abuse of Australia’s indigenous population for hundreds of years, and which has only been addressed in the last thirty. The hangover effect of such mistreatment is potent.
It was tragic to witness and personally quite shaming for myself, I had unintentionally been a prosecutor in this racial demise. I won’t go into too many details, I feel I couldn’t do justice to it, but I will state this – it was heartbreaking to see that one of the world’s most ancient groups of people continue to be so affected by systematic and institutionalized abuse, now being addressed but still relevant nonetheless.
Despite this, the Northern Territory is really a must-see place. If you want to explore Australia (and you should!), my advice is to get away from the coast. Visit Sydney and enjoy its beaches, but get away from the confines of the sea. It’s beautiful to be sure, but there’s so much more to discover.
Go outback or ‘bush’ and see Australia in its most untainted and original form. The people, language, landscape and land – this Australia is stripped back and bare, without the trimmings of fashionable Bondi cafes or rolling white wash surf. This is the Australia written about in books, spoken and stereotyped. Visit and see it for yourself, and only then will the words: ‘dusty red soil plain’ resonate.
Additionally, if there’s any way to encapsulate the beauty of this place with words, I must call on another. Banjo Patterson’s Australian Scenery:
‘A land as far as the eye can see, where the wavering grasses grow,
Or the plains are blacked and burnt and bare, where the false mirages go
Like shifting symbols of hope deferred—land where you never know.’