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Alice Springs

Blimey! Did you know Jon's New Zealand book Squashed Possums is out now - find out more

Heading into town for an explore, there was a sacred Aboriginal site fenced off by the roadside, sandwiched between a petrol station and an industrial park.

The small hill of scrub land cut a forlorn figure, strewn with spent cigarrette cartons and squashed beer cans. The town itself comprises a selection of Aboriginal art galleries, 'Didgeredoos' $99' - Will post worldwide', and tour companies selling trips to the Rock.

The Todd River runs along the main street, typically it was dry as a bone, I was told that "If you have seen water in the Todd three times, you are a local". Whilst the tourists shop for souveneirs and tours, and the white Australians go from their job to lunch, and about their business, the local Aboriginals - the Arrente, sit around watching the world spin by, families and couples, friends young and old, sit on the grass, chatting.

One afternoon, whilst sitting in a cafe with an Aussie friend, Hannah, chatting over a coffee or two, an old Arrente woman came in, barging past the young wa iter, and approached a couple, waving a painting at them. The cafe fell silent, everyone was uncomfortable at the situation, as the waiter patiently asked her to leave, before taking her by the arm and leading her out. Bizzarely, a man walked past, scraping his guitar along the road behind him.

There is a strong Aboriginal population here in Alice, and there is the feeling that a silent system of apartheid exists here. There are no signs saying "Whites only", but in my few days here, I have perhaps only once seen a black Australian with a white person. The paddy wagons patrol day and night, wire cages at the back of the van, incase they need to pick someone up. They seem more like dog catchers than police. I haven't noticed much trouble, but we did walk past an old Arrente couple, arguing at dusk, "Ged your hends off mee, ale call peelece, heressing me, ged off', the old woman pushing the man away, swinging at him.

My first day in Australia, and I took a leisurely walk towards the old Telegraph Station, some 4km out of town, I walked alone, enjoying the contrast of the red ochre earth, compared to the lush green of New Zealand.

Minding my own business, and in a world of my own, something suddenly hit me in the side of the head, my sunglasses clattering to the ground. Staggering slightly, I looked about, wary and fearful that I had walked into a gang of drunks. There was no-one around, except for a small black and white bird flying ahead of me. I figured the bird was short-sighted, and continued my walk, 'swoosh', and a rush of air close to my ear, I ducked suddenly, and again the small bird whistled past. The small magpie was taking dives at me, like some crazed kamikaze pilot. He perched on a tree, watching me walk past, watching him.

It was quite unnerving, especially since large birds of prey were circling overhead. I hoped they didn't take it into their heads to attack me, or th! ey'd have picked me to pieces! Wat ching over my shoulder the bird came for me a third time, I picked up a stick and threw it towards him, missing wildly. The moment felt like a scene from Hitchcock's 'The Birds', but fortunantly I soon reached the relative safety of the Telegraph Station, and found refuge in one of the old stone buildings.

Blimey! Did you know Jon's New Zealand book Squashed Possums is out now - find out more


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