A survival guide to the outback for the French traveller
This article is in English. Click here to read it in French.
Every expedition into the outback starts with warnings and puzzled looks. A French person venturing off the beaten track inspires curiosity – apparently there isn’t anything out there. I am from Bordeaux, and I have never seen anything quite like it.
Okay, the myth of the outback as a place where one disappears is a bit worn-out. With films like ‘Wolf Creek’ and ‘Razorback’, and the nervous prose of Douglas Kennedy, Australians have taken brilliant advantage of the goldmine.
Although times have changed and Australia’s main roads are now sealed, a small survival guide should keep the French traveller sane.
The desert: bordering on madness
‘Peopled by strange, disturbing figures, filling the hollow places of your heart with dread and desolation’¹, the outback has never won any awards for hospitality. Everything screams ‘get out’.
The morbid visions of eagles and crows spinning in the sky, the sweat with which you learn to cohabitate and the large quantities of burnt-out cars can only mean one thing: the end.
In France, silence struggles to exist. With real estate madness taking hold of the country, my wildest nightmares see the French suburbs blending into one. This metastasis has no mercy for rural areas. The countryside is becoming just a succession of roundabouts, sinister house lots, and these all-you-can-eat Chinese restaurants that are the industrial zones’ best kept secrets.
The roads in Australia are an experience in itself. Crossing the Nullarbor seems endless, and the hours spent watching the Stuart Highway stream past your eyes will put you in a state of trance. And if you happen to show any signs of dysfunction, the solitude of the outback can drive you nuts. Or make you a better person.
The gastronomy: deep-frying oil and burnt meat
The Australian desert isn’t the only confronting element of the landscape. Forget the gourmet trips through the French countryside looking for local cheeses, the cassoulet Toulousain or the wild pig from Dordogne.
If the outback holds some culinary treasures, they seem to seduce the tourist more than the local. The majority of the roadhouses’ meals swim in deep-frying oil and are invariably teamed with the devil itself: gravy.
The meat is always overcooked, often to the point of cremation. Forget the red wine with dinner too; it doesn’t match the heat. As for the beer, served without its head, it doesn’t stay cold very long so you might as well learn to drink it fast.
Don’t plan on following your diet in the outback. The keyword is ‘adaption’, and it will almost certainly mean loosening your belt.
The harsh reality for French travellers
If 18 years spent in the Médoc made me savvy to the myth of the bucolic countryside, I have reached a superior level of understanding during these months spent working and travelling through the outback. The bush changes you. For a French girl a bit too attached to her manners, this was a tough test. I left the outback with more testosterone than when I arrived.
As for those who meet you with baffled looks when you declare your intention to disappear in a cloud of dust beyond the neon and the noise, they don’t understand anything. You don’t often get the chance to meet gold diggers in France.
What has been your experience in the Australian outback?References:
1. John Birmingham, Leviathan, Vintage, 2000, p.124. Image credits:
All images by Cécile Mazurier.
1. On the way to Clare in South Australia.
2. Between Cockburn in South Australia and Broken Hill in New South Wales.
3. Kulgera Pub, Northern Territory.
4. On the way to Leonora in Western Australia.
5. The Stuart Highway in South Australia.