(MOZZIE BITES is on holidays)
Stuarts Well stole my heart. And kidnapped my imagination. I got big brain, a friend’s term for when your imagination gets so big it stretches the contours of your brain. This happens most when it rains.
But let me start at the start.
My feet had been feeling really itchy. Completely unrelated to the rash on my neck though, which according to long term Alice Springs residents is probably due to the water here, “Oh yeah, everybody gets some sort of rash-dermatitis-type-thing when they get to Alice”. Great.
My initial weeks of kicking around with not a lot to do soon turned into a pot luck dinner, gig, exhibition opening or backyard fire, every night kind of weeks, leaving me gasping for down time and craving some wide open spaces with 100s of kilometres between the next stop and me.
Was I getting nostalgic for my last home at the truck stop? Maybe a mini road trip would sort me out?
So a friend and I drove out of Alice Springs one drizzly afternoon and, music blasting, tore up the highway till we took the turn off for Rainbow Valley. The drive till then was without incident, a feat in itself considering the road trains careening our way. Turning onto the shatteringly corrugated red track, the country took on a breathtaking glow as I caught my first glimpses of the setting sun playing charades with the red-splintered cliffs. I thought that dinosaurs could still be living up there and nobody would know.
The fish curry cooked over the fire was delicious, and the expanse of cloudy sky, lit here and there by a barely visible moon enveloped us in its wide grasp.
After some sunrise pancakes we called into the Stuarts Well roadhouse for a cup of obscenely over-priced instant coffee, which was perhaps worth the money as it took me straight back to my old truck stop. Even as a seasoned barista, there is something about instant coffee and white sugar that I secretly enjoy.
The roadhouse is a curious joint, of an architecture defined by generations of expansions and add-ons of haphazard materials and a dried up pool in the courtyard. A piano sits centre stage in the dining room whose walls are lined with dusty photos and news clippings, most of them dedicated to Dinky, the internationally renowned singing dingo that has made it as the subject of a Trivial Pursuit question.
We got talking to Jim, the owner, about a photo that looked like a big crop circle in the middle of desert. He told us all there is to know about the lucerne field and its circular shape, apparently a water and energy efficient irrigation design.
Over the next hour the dining room filled with people as we listened to Jim tell stories and to his dingo sing. I like a passionate person who tells stories as though everybody else is just as passionate. Before we left, he casually let loose the biggest story of the day, “The road house is for sale. Any of you mob interested, make an offer”.
My eyes must have rounded and I felt my heart race and skull tighten as big brain set in, imagining all the possibilities for the place. A self-sufficient oasis! A menu inspired by whatever’s in the market garden! (So no huge trucker breakfasts or mixed grill plates.) Star-gazing pool parties on suffocating summer nights! WWOOFAs in earth bag domes! A venue for music and art events, workshops, artist retreats and, and, and … the potential as expansive as the country around it. I could feel my lack of road trippin’ being cured by an urge to create something, something as inspired as the country around me.