Thursday, June 18, 2009

Into the Outback

Like Eskimos with their proverbial avalanche of words for snow, Australians have a colorful range of synonyms for “the middle of nowhere.” A partial list includes:

The bush
Woop woop
Mallee scrub
The dead heart
Back of Bourke
In the backblocks
Beyond the black stump

I mention this because on the train, Pipi and I became acquainted with nothingness more quickly than I expected. The Indian Pacific left Sydney in the mid-afternoon, and spent the rest of the arvo (see; it really is a different language) snaking through the suburbs of the largest city in Oceana. By sunset, we were in the Blue Mountains, which, though rural, are a popular getaway for Sydneysiders, and still felt pretty settled.

In the morning we woke up in the outback. We were still in the state of New South Wales, but we were hundreds of miles inland from Sydney and a world away. The ground was flat, red, and dotted with sparse, scrubby trees that didn’t grow more than 20 feet tall. It looked like Texas allowed Arizona to give it a makeover--nothing dramatic, just a little color and a few arboreal accessories. It was exactly as lonely as I’d hoped, and I felt like I could take in the emptiness for a little while longer before I would feel the need to discover an outback town.

(A special thanks to Pipi, who researched the list of nowhere words, using the excellent book The A-Z of Australian Facts, Myths & Legends, by Bruce Elder.)

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