Surviving the desert…

It was my survival talk. Why did people think they could run away to the desert and leave all their problems behind? I had seen it again and again. If you think you had problems while living in a city on the coast, then by all means come to the desert… and watch those problems become bigger than Ben Hur and wallop you over the head!

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Image: Ormiston Gorge, by Anne Marie McGlasson, 1993

The face sitting across from me might change but the story was always the same. They had problems. They thought running away would help. They especially thought that their problems would go away if they disappeared somewhere remote enough. Sometimes they wanted to be of service, sometimes they wanted to rescue aboriginal people and occassionally they fell in love.

Alice Springs was the frontier. Alice Springs was also the heart of Australia, and that meant that matters of the heart did not magically disappear when you arrived in town, foreswearing all previous experiences. The desert had it’s own magic and it’s own rules. This country was unforgiving to those who didn’t know it.

“OK has anyone given you the survival talk?” I would ask.

And the answer was always “No”.

“OK so let me give it to you…”

Rule number 1: You are no longer living in your Australia. This is Aboriginal Australia. Alice Springs is at the conjunction of 4 different tribal lands and contains many sacred sites. This is sacred country looked after by guardians of the land (spirits of their ancestors). The relationship between aboriginal people and their dreamimg is deeply personal and real. Weird things are going to happen that will challenge your perception of what is real. Be respectful. Get educated. Do a cross cultural course facilitated by local aboriginal people. And if an aboriginal person walks onto the road… give way. This is their country.”

And always a look of “Hey, what?” would come over their face.

Rule number 2: You are living in the desert… YOU ARE LIVING IN THE DESERT! Insects and reptiles are not living in your backyard, you are living in theirs! The desert and her moods influences everything we do. When the north wind blows amethyst dust from the ranges through town, the children run wild and the adults get cranky. Watch the weather. Listen to advice. Do not drive out of town without water in the car… ever. The desert doesn’t care that you are only half an hour drive out of town. If you break down without water, you can die.”

Once someone asked me about ‘group psychosis’… as in, was the whole town crazy?

Rule number 3: The desert is a place of intensity… intense beauty, intense challenge, intense experience. The desert intensifes everything. If you thought you could run away, think again. The desert is going to present you with every painful experience you have ever had in the most intense way. If you want to heal things quickly and find your way to a heightened sense of peace and joy, this is the place to be. But the journey can be rough and the pace uncompromising. It is no shame to go home… and in fact, I recommend it if you don’t want to address your issues. But if you stay, I will help you.”

And the face across from me would freeze between fear and doubt. I would see them ask themselves “Is she crazy? Or is this real?”

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I was the counsellor for the whole town. Alice Springs was a thriving community in 1993. I arrived as a fresh faced young professional seeking opportunities to expand my skills and experience.

I had begun my working career as a rehabilitation counsellor in Adelaide four years before and through good training and sheer stubborness has survived twice as long as anyone else in an occupation that burned people out in record time. At 27, I was considered to be a grandmother in my field and I was well regarded. I also knew I had to get out.

The Universe provided in the form of a replacing a former work colleague going on maternity leave. It was a dream job, but… Alice Springs!

“Wow!” I repeated to myself “What a great job… but Alice Springs!”

I took the job.

I loved the job.

I loved the town.

I loved the people.

I loved the desert.

I had come home.

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Image: Anne Marie at Ormiston Gorge, by Anne Marie McGlasson 1993

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