IN 1980 my family moved from Adelaide to Alice Springs. My father was seeking to escape the rat race and ‘‘getting ahead’’. When I think about it, as a parent myself, I believe my parents were brave to make this change, leaving friends and family, to move to a remote part of Australia.
I was only 10 when we drove our gallant station wagon, with the backseats lying flat surrounded by sleeping bags and pillows, on that long dirt road from Adelaide to Alice Springs at night, as the daylight hours were so hot. I remember my parent’s eyes being glued to the windscreen looking for kangaroos or cattle, as the roads were unfenced. And I remember fighting with my brothers over space, blankets, touching, a can of Coke.
Alice Springs had nothing, and I think my mother had a mini-breakdown when we arrived. We had gone from living in a capital city with four television stations, big chain supermarkets, the arts, traffic lights and multiple radio stations to a place with a piggly-wiggly supermarket, hotels and lawn bowling clubs, no traffic lights, one commercial radio station and ABC TV that shut down at 10pm. We had left Adelaide’s gentle weather and a three-bedroom rental with a yard filled with apricot, apple, peach, nectarine and fig trees for a three-bedroom flat on the third level of a unit block surrounded by saltbush and desert. Gone was the gentle twitter of swallows and magpies; now we were surrounded by crows and galahs, their squawks loud at dawn.
Although my mother was ‘‘completely isolated’’, she remained hopeful and resigned to the change. But when I think back I remember this time as an exciting adventure.
To say I loved our new environment would be an understatement. Even as a child I knew I had found home. We awoke every morning to brilliant blue skies that contrasted with the red earth, and the gum trees released a eucalyptus perfume that enhanced the pure air. The water was filled with minerals from the artesian basin and we were protected by the MacDonnell Ranges that sheltered the town from the desert. We did not need to worry about changes in the weather, so our wardrobe consisted of shorts, singlets and thongs. The reliability of the weather and the slower pace had a direct impact on our life: there was no rush any more, we had all the time in the world.
My circle of friends grew and so did our childhood freedom. We could walk or ride to school, there was no uniform, we addressed some of the teachers by their first names and we were free to create our own entertainment. This changed with age. In the beginning we found caves in the hills and read books, followed tracks, swam in each other’s unfenced pools, and even climbed into drains that went under the roads. As we got older we became interested in sport and rode our bikes to training and the games. Our parents rarely asked us what we had been doing. I guess there was an expectation that we could work it out for ourselves — although if we couldn’t my mother would ‘‘save’’ us from harm.
Now I am an adult with children of my own, I moved my family from the Alice because the cultural climate of my home town has changed and I felt that my offspring would benefit from the resources a capital city could offer. To be honest, I am undecided. When I look at my daughter, a laptop perched on her knees, iPhone in hand and Foxtel offering multiple channels, I wonder if this is better.