Excerpt from 'THE CLOCK OF TIME" by Gertrude Ruston. (pp 232-235)
"We were allocated seats on the bus and told by our driver that everybody had to change seats each half day so that everybody had a chance of the front seats People on the right side of the bus moved forward one seat and those on the left moved back one seat.
We were practically all in the grey-haired retired age group, and most of the tourists were married couples. There was one young man who was being given the trip by his parents so that they could enjoy his company for perhaps a final chance as he was being married n a few weeks time.
There were three odd women of whom I was one, and I was paired off with a Miss Law, a retired school teacher, and sister of retired R. and I. Bank Commissioner, Sam Law. We had to share accommodation as single rooms were not available.
It was a very pleasant and eye opening tour of our enormous outback. I had crossed the Nullarbor several times before by bus, 'plane and train, but this time we saw it at its best, had good meals, comfortable accommodation and, when we reached Adelaide, toured the beauty spots including the Barossa Valley. (This is Adelaide in 1980):
We went through vineyards, sampled the wine, bought souvenirs, and lunched at a wonderful German type restaurant complete with a German band. We were waited on by "Gretchens" in their attractive customes, all part of the tour. (Vineyards in the Barossa Valley):
When we left Adelaide we struck out across the back country towards Coober Pedy, Port Augusta and Alice Springs, stopping at various interesting spots on the way. We bought fruit from caravan barrows and enjoyed morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea at pre-arranged stopping places, ending up each night with comfortable accommodation. (This is Coober Pedy):
At Coober Pedy we stayed at the Opal Inn Hotel which was air-conditioned. The place was crowded and as we move in others moved out. The same thing applied when we moved out; people were sleeping on mattresses in the foyer waiting to take over our rooms as we vacated them. Accommodation was excellent and the food good.
The *opals found in this area are said to be the most colourful in the world, and 93% of the world's opal supply comes from this spot. We were able to see the gems in their raw state as well as the cutting and mounting of the stones.
It is extremely hot here and many of the people live in underground homes which are unique, interesting and comfortable. There are no windows, of course, but they are air-conditioned and have all facilities for cooking, eating and sleeping. In one which we inspected there was an underground swiming pool and even a small church. There was also a small restaurant.
People come from many countries in search of opals and one hears many foreign languages, but we were wold that few people stay permanently. The opal field is well worth a visit.
Port Augusta was rather a disappointment, particularly as lunch which had been ordered for us there had been served to another touring coach in error. However, the Manager was absent and the daughter of the place was getting married that afternoon, which probably explained the confusion.
The driver of our bus asked them to do their best to provide us with a meal and, after waiting about twenty minutes to half an hour, we had soup, cold meat and salad followed by cheese and biscuits and coffee.
The hotel staff and the tourists made light of the affair, and when w heard tht one of our waitresses was the prospective bride who had delayed her hair appointment to help us, we made a collection and handed her about thirty dollars as a wedding present.
There were many attractive spots on our way to the Alice but everything was dreadfully dry owing to the drought, and we wondered how the stray cattle in paddocks were finding anything to eat. It was possible to become aware of vehicles coming or going in the distance because of the dust they were creating. This is the Land of the Never Never.
The drivers of tourist buses help to maintain contact between civilisation and the homestead people on the way, dropping off papers, magazines, and parcels. At one such stop a small boy was waiting for us, climbed up to sit on the driver's lap and was allowed to 'help' to drive the bus for a short distance round the homestead building. He was about three years old and most matter-of-fact.
At one station they were shearing and our passengers were permitted to go through the shed so long as they did not interfere with the work. A number of our people were interested but I had seen it several times before in the north of Western Australia so did not bother to make what was to me the rather difficult climb out of the bus and return.
Alice Springs is somewhat of a surprise. It is a sizeable, well developed town and, as would be expected, has a large aboriginal population mixed with white Australians. One of the first things I noticed was that the many delightful parks seemed to be occupied by aborigines - no white were visible. I did not discover whether this was from choice or whether certain of the open spaces were given over entirely to the aborigines.
All through the outback one saw crowds of natives driving around in old cars. We were told that they are driven until they break down and they are then discarded. Nobody bothers about repairing them and, while they are running, they are always overcrowded.
The tour included some trips near Alice Springs which were too rough for me to negotiate, so I used my time in and around the town. One unforgettable experience was a visit to Panorama Guth. This attractive building contains a circular painting on canvas viewed from a central platform This is reached by a spiral staircase which gives the impression of a lookout. The painting depicts many scenic attractions around Central Australia. It is six metres high and sixty metres round.
One day, from our hotel window I noticed a line of cars opposite into which the police were packing aborigines I was told they were drunks rounded up by the police who would drive them about 50-0 miles out of town and leave them to walk back, by which time they would have sobered up. This was apparently one way of preventing the gaols from becoming overcrowded."
After Alice Spring the tour moves onwards and upwards so more about that in the next episode.
*Mum brought me back a nice little opal pin which I never wore as for some stupid reason I am superstitious about opals. I kept it for some years and eventually gave it to our #3 granddaughter who was born in October so opal is her birthstone. She is not one to wear jewellery but I know she will keep it as a memento as she was very fond of her grandmother, as were the other grandchildren.