I recently heard a saying that went along the lines of “An experience without reflection can be a wasted experience”A few weeks ago I dragged myself out of the office chair and headed off on a Central Australia Journey with a group of school students. I was the program manager (AKA the responsible adult)For most  teachers and people who work in our area this has been a busy term so the thought of two weeks out of the office was both bitter and sweet. Bitter in that I was going to miss the time to finalise quotes and future programs, not to mention I would be away from my family. Sweet in that I would be returning to places that I love and have become part of whom I am. Rather than provide a diary of what we did, where we went and who did what, I am going to share a few stories and experiences.

So here is the background:

13 days

28 students/60 if you count the kids in the day ahead group

8 staff

2500 km

28 caterers

On our second night in the Flinders Ranges we had rain… lots of rain. It was the most rain in this area for two years. Everything was wet, we packed up and left hoping to get away from the wet. On our trip out I suggested that we pull over and wait for the other vehicle, what we managed to do was pull over and get really well bogged. The pressure was then on to save face and get the bus back on the road. With appropriate use of asnatch strap, special towing block and some digging we were going with 30 minutes. Pride restored! First unexpected adventure.

Halfway between Marree and William Creek we broke our trailer. When we started out that day we had the bikes on the trailer with a lot of camping gear… all in one piece. After one particularly rough patch the draw bar broke completely. We were inundated with assistance, most of the kids wanted to help. Me, being the competent outdoors person that I am immediately enlisted their support because, at that stage we were looking for ideas. Team effort, two star pickets, 2 fence droppers, 10 cam straps we were reloaded and off. Our plan was to drive/limp 100km to get it fixed. That plan did not work because no one could fix it until 1000km later in Alice Springs. All the expert advice we had was “@#** mate, thatal getcha back to Melbourne”. We had it fixed in Alice. We were asked this  question by a few well wishers, what will you do if it breaks again? My first answer was we will worry about that then, my final response is, It didn’t break again so there is nothing to talk about now. All full of pride. Second unexpected adventure.

We camped at Coward Springs (by camped I mean swagged).  This is where the students really gelled. They moved away from being a group of individuals who were trying to meet their own needs to a team of young people who worked as one to achieve the best outcomes possible.

Aboriginal contact. There is no formal Aboriginal program in this journey, unless you count the Welcome to Country and conversations at Wilpena or the chats at Marree, maybe the music at Oodnadatta, stories and meetings at Uluru. Learning that there are over 200 separate mobs throughout Australia all with varied traditions, culture and language. Perhaps trying to follow a conversation in Pitjantjatjara helps us understand this complex area as well.

At Algebuckina Bridge (really halfway from very little and halfway to less) we had the most awesome meal. A meal that was totally planned, purchased, prepared by the students. It was organised 3 days before. Our group sat down to fresh cooked corn beef with mashed potatoes and stir fried green vegetables followed by an iced cake cooked in a pot on the fire. One of the most amazing meals I have ever seen… until I saw another group spit roasting lamb over the fire on the metal spit they had made out of a hose stand bought in Leigh Creek. This was accompanied by fire roasted vegetables. The meals just got better from there. These guys were so creative with the food.

Then there was the cattle station, Curtin Springs. Lyndee took us on a tour of the yards with cattle in them. The following day Aimee showed us the generator room and much of the back story to running  a 1 000 000 + acre cattle station (That is 100 miles by 40 miles) before making paper out of the native grasses. Ash even insisted that the staff take home some ‘extremely’ good port.

We visited the big places, Lake Ayre, Uluru, Kata Juta and Watarka. We know some of the stories associated with these. Yes, they are impressive but then so is the journey of discovery we took to get to them. The students organised, purchased, prepared, cooked most of the food. They loaded the trailers… great story here, on day 1 they packed 24 swags on the trailer on day 13 they loaded 60 swags in the same space and tied them down, and they stayed on the trailer for the 2500km trip home.

On the last day we drove the group to Ayres Rock Airport for the trip home, nice words were said as we farewelled the group to return to Melbourne. As they walked through security there must have been something in the air, there were damp eyes and not much noise as the journey came to an end… maybe it was just the dust.

The journey was one of absolute contrasts, rain that soaked everything through and then later that day the sun was shining and we were wearing t-shirts, minus 5 at night and 25 degrees during the day, staying in fully resourced towns and the next night in swags in the middle of the desert, meeting people from Outback Australia and camping next to cosmopolitan travellers from the other side of the world, sharing  the dreams and stories with the Indigenous communities. In every case finding more similarities in the differences that you could ever imagine.

It is so difficult to summarise a trip like this

In the end, are kids any different from having this type of experience? Well, I am not the judge of that, they go back to families, lives and school to continue their life journey. We hope with a greater understanding of themselves and the world around them. So are they different?… how could that not be the case!

In summary, was it worthwhile for me?… Absolutely and a resounding YES. I reconnected with myself through the experience and sharing the journey with this amazing group of people. I visited friends that I have made over the past few years. I watched the stars pass overhead. I saw sunsets and sunrises that were beyond magnificent. We overcame challenges that called on all our prior experience. So much in such a short- time.

This was truly a journey of the mind, body and soul.

Footnotes… I unpacked my swag at home and out came the desert smell and more of the dust. Just a memory now but it still caused my eyes to become damp… must be an allergy.

To those who were delayed in getting their quotes and programs I will say I am sorry they will be with you soon… sometimes there are more important things in life, sometimes you have to take the time to smell the roses.