Well I’ve made it home safe and sound from my wonderful outback adventure to Julia Creek, a speck on the map about 250 kms east of Mt Isa in nar north-west Queensland. The flight from Brisbane took about 2.5 hours and I was lucky enough to have a window seat to watch as the body of Australia sprawled out before me, all man-made straight lines at first till the lines became fewer and further between, eventually giving way to the softer curves and tendrils of river systems now dry, the veins and arteries of this wide red-brown land.
Kelly, the community nurse in Julia Creek, had googled binge drinking, found my name and organised for me to make the trip. I arrived in Mt Isa, “Man Land”, populated by rugged types who worked in the mine that dominated the town, but it was still a long drive ahead. It was a steep learning curve going from my three cylinder Daihatsu charade to my rented 4WD that felt like a truck. I was glad to have it though as the road loomed in front of me empty but for 5o metre long road trains. The landscape between Mt Isa and Cloncurry took me by surprise with its beauty, red rock mountains dotted with dark green. After Cloncurry the land flattened out and all the way to Julia Creek the horizons stretched endless and flat.
It wasn’t the red desert I’d been expecting however, but grey-green pastureland, home for thousands of head of cattle, mainly Brahmin, that graze on properties bigger than some European countries.
I lost count of the number of dead kangaroos by the side of the road, swarms of crows and hawks lifting up and circling as the car approached.
Finally I arrived in the one wide and empty street that is Julia Creek. I went expecting a tough indigenous community, like my sisters had experienced in Aurukun,(Paula Shaw, Seven Seasons in Aurukun), but instead found myself in an episode of McLeod’s Daughters (an Australian TV drama series set on a cattle station populated by beautiful, blonde, young women).
The “Ladies Pampering Night” (disguising a drug and alcohol awareness and STD information event) was held in the council chambers in a ballroom with polished wooden floors. I did my interactive session based on the “Bloody Virgin” chapter in Thrill Seekers, and had everyone talking and laughing by the end. Then Kelly the nurse followed up with a talk about Chlamydia (and yes, she succeeded in getting everyone to pee in jars before they left!)
We all then got to the pampering that included free eyebrow waxing and tinting, foot massages, nail painting, clothes shopping, and information stalls on domestic violence and drug and alcohol abuse.
I met nurses and teachers and governesses and local teens, and even real live cowgirls! But the people who made the biggest impression were two indigenous women; Shirley who educates people about domestic violence prevention in Mt Isa and Leann who raises awareness of drug and alcohol issues. Strong brave women doing a world of good. I hope I’ll get up to Mt Isa again to work with them both.
Everybody got to take home a goodie bag filled with condoms and lube and information booklets, a copy of Thrill Seekers and one of Fifty Shades of Grey. I’m hoping some of the best-selling success will rub off!
The next day I had a book launch for Thrill Seekers at the local library where we sat around in a cosy group chatting about the book and I read again, this time “Mates and Mushies“.
After that Kelly drove me out to a nearby cattle station where I met Edwina the farmer and her family. The kids had a governess and a pet kangaroo called Jeff, as well as calves they roped and led around.
They showed me their school house where they had lessons by phone and then the water feature fed by artesian bore water that they swam in every afternoon. The water comes out of the ground so hot that in summer they use their hot water systems as cooling units.
Everyone I met in Julia Creek was unfailingly warm and welcoming. They loved their tiny town and its community and I was honoured to be their guest, if only for a short time. I am very grateful to Kelly Lemon, the community health nurse for hosting me and making my trip so memorable.
Thrill Seekers is finding its own way in the world, from the women of cattle country to teachers in India. I look forward to where it will take me next.