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Full Circle

Day 130: Katherine to King's Creek

Michael Palin - Full CircleKatherine (population 11,000) was named after the daughter of one of the patrons of the explorer John McDouall Stuart, who, in 1860, first successfully crossed the Red Centre of Australia and finally laid to rest the myth that a huge lake existed there. The seven hundred and thirty miles from Katherine to Alice is a lonely ride. South of Alice Springs the Stuart Highway shares the desert with a railway line begun in 1877 and finished in 1929. It was called the Ghan, because it was largely constructed by Afghan cameleers whose beasts were best suited to the harsh, dry, desert conditions. When construction finished the camels were turned loose. They bred so successfully in the outback that nowadays the wild camels of Australia are not only in demand from zoos and game parks but much prized in countries like Oman and Saudi Arabia for breeding and racing.

Today, heading south and west of Alice in search of camels, we stop for lunch at a remote roadhouse called Jim's Place. It's a comfortable, friendly, no-frills establishment whose visitor's book typifies the outback Australian. It's full of entries from those who'd fought fires and been hauled from rivers and helped build roads across the desert, including one man who gratefully records that he got 'drop-dead drunk' and had his first 'naughty' at Jim's ranch. Jim is the son of Jack Cotterill, an English emigrant who became a legend round here. (There seem to be only two fates out in this hard, hot place - to become a legend or to be totally forgotten). On his father's death in 1976 Jim inherited a thriving tourist business and built up a successful ranch. A few years later his young daughter died and his ranch was found to be on Aboriginal land and ordered to be handed back to them. Jim was so devastated that he took a bulldozer and flattened every building, saying at the time that if the Aboriginals wanted the land they could have it the way it was when his father found it.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 130
  • Country/sea: Australia
  • Place: Katherine
  • Book page no: 187

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