The Red Earth

By Deborah Bitzer

Reproduced with permission from her blog: A Warm Resting Place 

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On Thursday morning we set out on a ten hour bus ride to Condobolin, New South Wales. Each of us carried a sleeping bag, a book bag, and a spirit of adventure as we prepared for a four day visit to the remote Outback of Australia. Along the way we visited an Aboriginal reserve and got to see how Aborigines synthesize their ancient culture with the current culture of Australia. The place we stopped was a meeting house for community and political collaborations. All over the building there were beautiful paintings depicting aboriginal values, spirituality, and daily routines. Many paintings and carvings incorporated a goanna and a snake, which oppose one another as enemies, in order to represent the value of making peace and coming to agreements with those who are different than you. It was a cheerful, thoughtful, and tranquil place to be.

After our short trip to the Aboriginal meeting house we continued on to our final destination, which was a 35,000 acre farm in the middle of nowhere. As we pulled up to our living quarters we could see spindly eucalyptus trees standing proud in the vast landscape, bright yellow wildflowers sprouting up all over the fields, clumps of dead thistle bushes, and stretches of dirt roads the rich orange color of a harvest moon. The sheep station we were staying in stood out on the flat expanse and it was sitting next to the welcome sight of a roaring bonfire, a peaceful river, picnic tables, and a few dirt-covered pick-up trucks, known as utes.

This was indeed the Outback.

After a delicious dinner of burgers and ice-cream for dessert, we went on a kangaroo chase in the eerie darkness of night. We all piled on the back of the ute and held on for dear life as we zoomed across the property, all the while being blasted in the face by the night’s wind and the dust of the dirt road. As we drove along, screaming and laughing from our excitement, we eagerly followed the path of the spotlight until finally we found what we were looking for. The enormous, quirky silhouettes of kangaroos were bouncing along in the distance, hopping and leaping huge lengths, and causing us to cry out with elation. We found a few more groups of kangaroos jumping along in the fields and eventually we drove off the road into the fields and chased after a solo kangaroo, who was showing off by using his tail to walk and stopping to pose for us.

This was indeed the Outback.

It doesn’t get much more authentic than driving along in the back of the ute, getting gusted in the face by a constant flow of freezing, dusty air, and chasing after kangaroos. It was like something out of a travel brochure, yet for the family who lived there, it was a normal way of spending the night after a long day of working on the farm. And this wasn’t even the last of it!

For the next few days we went on even more adventures that helped us see and understand how the Australian land shapes the culture of the people who live off it. The children at the elementary school we visited were basically all related and they talked about their favorite activities which included motorbiking, swimming in the river, and riding horses. During the property tour we saw the vastness of the country and how difficult it is to master the unpredictable, wild Australian land. At the main site of the farm we witnessed the shearing of a sheep and learned about all the hard work and attention that goes into caring for the cattle and making the best use of their resources. At night we laid beneath the most brilliant expanse of stars I have ever seen and we were filled with amazement by the constellations that are familiar to us yet upside-down and backwards. During free time we relaxed by the fire and shared stories that brought our souls closer and helped us understand one another and, in turn, be better understood.

We didn’t spend time on the internet or in front of the television. We were not bombarded by advertisements for the latest fad or pictures of beautiful people who remind us how imperfect we look. We were not mocked by the media or deceived by the constant stream of distorted messages. We were not entrapped by the poisonous grip of pop culture or lost in the hustle and bustle of the city.

Instead we had room to breathe, space to think, and opportunities to be discover. We felt free to communicate openly and vulnerably. We could be seen for who we are rather than judged according to what we have or what we can offer. In the Outback, it doesn’t matter what you look like, who you know, or what you have. What matters is who you are.

Our time in the Outback was the most beautiful and special part of this adventure so far. It allowed me to be known by the other students in the program. To be known by the Lord. To be known by my own soul. To be known by the land itself.

I may not have predicted how exactly I would experience the Australian country, but once I did, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was indeed the Outback.

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