amThe sun is strong. Not a cloud on the horizon. From the top of one of the surrounding ridges I observe Arkaroola. The few constructions which constitute the village seem very fragile in the middle of the desert environment. The red of the earth, the dominant color, fascinates me. I get lost in the contemplation of the landscape. The place is magnificent. Since the beginning of July 2017, I am working in South Australia at Arkaroola Wilderness Sanctuary. It is a private nature reserve which shelters a small village and camping lost in the north of Flinders Ranges, one of the longest mountain range of Australia. The first nearby location is a three hour drive away. And it takes seven hours to reach the surrounding “big” city, Port Augusta. Almost no sign of civilization for miles. Just the semi-desert nature, the rolling hills dressed in red and a feeling of absolute calm.
Located 600km north of Adelaide, the arid and dry region records the passage of time and history. Many geologists come to the area to decipher the history of the rocks lining the ground. Sometimes it is the fossil of an animal dating back millions of years that is discover. Under my feet are millennial stones. Some of the trees I come across have seen the centuries go by without notable changes. When I look at photos from fifty years ago, I do not really see any differences. Apart from vegetation which is now denser due to the owners’ efforts to protect the environment. Arkaroola was once used as a “Station” (a property used for livestock production) and the vast majority of native plants and trees had disappeared. Today production is greatly limited and the environment of the reserve has returned to its natural appearance.
Living in Arkaroola is living in the past, the present and the future. I have only been living in this Outback resort for two months but I have the impression that time has stopped. I arrived on a beautiful day in early July after nine long (very long) hours in the car. Amy and Stephen, two members of the staff visiting Adelaide came to collect me and my backpacks. The car was an old 4×4 trembling at the smallest pebbles. On the asphalt it was fine but once we started on the damaged track crossing the Flinders Ranges and the desert, it turns into a long agony. I welcomed the arrival at Arkaroola, in the evening light with great relief. Suddenly, there in the middle of the desert, was a piece of civilization. The buildings looked old-fashioned and rudimentary, but I immediately liked the song of the cicadas and the peaceful atmosphere that emanated from the place.
The resort is built in the middle of the desert at the end of a valley surrounded by small hills. Here, the soil is red, dusty and stony. Eucalyptus make up the majority of the vegetation. The staff lives in a small rudimentary barrack set up at the entrance of the village. A restaurant-reception-store-service station, a shed, a swimming pool and five buildings housing the accommodation for customers make up the village. A little further away are several spaces for caravans and camping. And perched on the hills around, there are three observatories to watch the stars when the sky is clear. All around it is wilderness that spreads out. The great calm, without any noise of civilization. Semi-desert, the landscape of Arkaroola does not lack charm. In July, August it is winter in Australia and the places take advantage of the occasional rainfalls and more pleasant temperatures to regain some color. The trees are all green and many flowers deposit pretty touches of purple, yellow and red in the landscape. In summer, the temperature rises to 50°C and rain is very scarce.
Between our working hours, Amy and I take advantage of a little free time to concoct “energy balls”. Small round energy bars full of goodies. Outside the staff room, the village lives quietly among the hills. The temperature already begins to rise at times reaching 30°C. Around Greenwood Lodge, Quandong trees expose their pretty red fruits to the heat of the sun. Once ripe, the fruit can be eaten as it is or, more traditionally, transformed into jam. I had the opportunity to taste it and it is pretty good. Although very small, the Quandong fruit is very nutritious and contains twice the amount of Vitamin C of an orange.
In the heat of the late afternoon, the cicadas start their screeching concert. Perched at the level of the Dodwell Observatory, a little higher up at the back of the village, I observe the life of the village unfolding around me. Mark returns from his afternoon guided tour, the Ridgetop tour, a 4×4 ride through the wilderness of Arkaroola (popular with tourists). Some wallabies jump in the bushes in front of me in search of food. Newly arrived tourists settle quietly in their respective accommodations. A barbecue smell comes from the caravan park. The swimming pool attracts birds and young people looking for refreshment. And the staff prepare the restaurant for the coming evening. The memories of observing the sky last night come back to my mind. In the company of Doug, the owner of the resort and some guests, we went to look at the stars. Light pollution being minimal in Arkaroola, the stars appear very well in the sky free of clouds. On this side of the planet, the sky has nothing to do with the one I regularly contemplate in France. In Australia, the positions of the stars are reversed and the Milky Way appears brighter.
Village life is mostly very peaceful and quiet. Between my work at the reception, behind the bar, in the restaurant service, in the kitchen and cleaning the rooms I never get bored. The days are busy and rarely boring. I chat happily with customers, generally Australians, more rarely Europeans and Asians, always a little surprised to find a French girl here. And then I develop my capacity to prepare drinks, beers, hot chocolates, coffees, take orders and serve customers, prepare sandwiches and do the plates cleaning, while helping with the reception, cleaning and preparation of bedrooms. I am also getting used to the Australian accent and pretty funny expressions, like asking for juice to talk about petrol. The first time I heard this expression, I naturally believed that the customer wanted orange juice! Generally clients arrive with families or small groups and are all friendly. The arrival of a large group of tourists on a tour or motorcycle rally is always an event. One of those memorable days was the arrival of a hundred bikers on postie bikes. The group was on a four-day motorcycle trip to raise money to build hospitals in the area. It was a very lively evening, the bikers exchanging joyfully with each other or with the staff.
During my rest days, I stroll around, exploring the region, alone or with Maggie, a young American living in Australia and arrived at the same time as me in Arkaroola. We also spend a fair amount of time with a group of young apprentice geologists who have come to the reserve for a month to do mapping and study the soil.
The rays of the early evening lights up the surroundings in a warm color. I can’t take my eyes off the sight. The places are so beautiful and the atmosphere is so peaceful! When I decided to come and work here three months ago, I did not expect that much beauty. Arkaroola is probably one of the most beautiful corners of Australia and I am glad I found it!