When Penguin suggested that I write a travel book about the Outback, my first instinct was to run. Because I knew, without even thinking about it, that I’d be the worst person in the world to even try such a thing.
Although I’d previously written two non-fiction books about amazing people living in the Outback, Women of the Outback and Outback Spirit, I’d always ventured into the Outback in a state of high anxiety – and then returned to Sydney as quickly as I possibly could.
For the Outback is a foreign place to me. I’ve always lived in big cities, close to public transport, and in the middle of inner suburbs with lots of cafes and restaurants and shops. Where I live now, Sydney’s Kings Cross, is even the most densely populated part of Australia’s most densely populated city, with nearly 20,000 people within the 1.4 square kilometres of the area. To go into those vast open spaces with only a handful of people in swathes of land twice the size of an average European country … It fills me with fear and loathing.
I’m a dud candidate in other ways too. What on earth has a vegetarian who doesn’t drink and has an intolerance to wheat and caffeine really have in common with most of those much hardier souls who live on beer and billy tea and damper? I was adamant that this book wasn’t for me.
But then the more I thought about it, the worse I felt for shirking such a challenge. I’ve always loved travel writing, and have spent long years travelling other parts of the world. So why not simply do some of the travel in my own backyard? Surely the Outback can’t be that rough? And even if it is, then it wouldn’t hurt me to toughen up a bit…
As soon as I’d made that decision, I threw myself into travelling, and writing the book Welcome to the Outback, not so much with excitement, but more a sense of utter abandon and, often, sheer recklessness.
I volunteered to fight in Fred Brophy’s Outback boxing tent, even though I’d never fought before. Instead, I went along to a couple of boxing gyms in Sydney for two weeks before, worked myself up into a state of terror, and then went along and gave it all (and his women fighter The Beaver) my very best shot.
I signed up for a cattle drive, even though I’d never ridden before. I entered a drovers ironwomen competition, despite having absolutely no idea what it entailed. I swam with sharks in Western Australia, I trudged over the Larapinta Trail in Central Australia, I painted with some Aboriginal women artists outside Alice, I checked out the brothels in Kalgoorlie, I played drums in a didgeridoo band, I clambered around Karijini, I went goat-racing …
My five months in the Outback turned out to be one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I now feel blessed for having met so many wonderful people in the Outback, and actually surviving everything – punches, snakes, spiders, falling off horses – it threw at me.
Along the way, I loved writing the book, and now I hope that others will enjoy the read, and ride.
Will I ever make a real Outback person? Probably not. But I did give it a bloody good go. And now I appreciate so much more the Outback’s wild beauty, its warm friendliness, and the glimpse of another, somehow gentler, Australia I simply never realised existed. Until now.
I hope that, with this book, I can now bring some of the flavour of the Outback to other urban Australians who’ve lost touch with our great Outback heritage, and hopefully entertain those who actually live there with a fresh look at our Australian backyard through enthusiastic city eyes.
Thanks for having me!