There’s no denying that Outback Australia provides travellers with many long stretches of road or track devoid of anything much to make conversation about. It’s also a well-known fact that having something to do or to chat about during the two-hour drive to the next point of interest makes the time pass much more rapidly. It’s therefore not surprising that Aussie travellers have come up with a variety of ways to inject a spot of entertainment into the journey.
One is cairn building. There must be many hundreds of cairns – piles of stones – in conspicuous places around the Outback. Often on the top of a steep hill, they can sometimes provide a challenging 4WD climb to reach the site of the cairn. “Hey, looks like people have driven up to the top of that hill. Let’s give it a go!” Next thing, you’re in low range, and grinding upwards to the spot where you’ll lob a few more rocks onto the top of the cairn, take a selfie or two, and then start wondering whether the brakes will work on the way down.
The motivation for cairn building may have something to do with the yearning for immortality – when you return to that spot in ten years’ time, “your cairn” will probably still be there, albeit a bit taller than it was. Maybe in 100 years …… ?
Another popular activity on the Oodnadatta track is “sleeper art” – spelling out names or words using the sleepers from the old abandoned railway line. I’m sure “LEVI” is secretly chuffed by the thought that several hundred people have by now seen his name right out there in the desert, and there’ll no doubt be many more in the years to come. But he’s unaware that some bright spark has already come along and changed it to “EVIL”.
Then there are “public collections” – items hung in a place that will be seen by many people, some of whom will be moved to stop and add to the collection. The venue is usually a tree, and the items thus displayed may be hats or footwear or t-shirts – even underwear.
But on our recent trip to the Kimberley and the “Top End” (roughly speaking, the top one-third of the Northern Territory, north from about Daly Waters), I realised there’s another important genre which I hadn’t previously seen: the “mound people”. These are termite mounds to which have been added various items to make them look like people.
There are of course hundreds of thousands of termite mounds just waiting to be turned into mound people, although we’re not sure whether the termites are happy about this trend.