[With acknowledgment to the creators of this ‘card game’ Keith Lamb and Louise Howland.]
Q: Have you, or would you like to, travel to a destination important for its literary connections?”
A: Ever sine reading A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute (Norway) as a thirteen year old, I had always wanted to visit the great red heart of Australia: Uluru – Ayers Rock – Alice Springs. The very names sent a chill through my bones and the image of red earth, vast landscapes, looming monoliths and Aborigine paintings was enough to make me decide there and then that I would some day, some how, live on a desolate and inhospitable ranch in the middle of the outback fending for myself and my family against the ravages of the weather and the climate and the suspicions of the tough settlers of the outback towns of any soft-born city-bred outsider who dared to try to pit her wits against such a foe.
Please bear in mind that I am from the north of England, and at that point in my life had no chance of being any closer to Australia than the moon, and my future should have held only the echoes of the life of my parents. But still I had this dream, this thrumming in my ears, these visions every time I read this book – and I read it many times – the sound of the Australian twang, the buzz of the flies in the bank, the slow way of life came through the pages and captivated me. And I never considered for a moment the other half of the book that is set in Malaysia at the start of World War II. There was no compulsion at all to travel there, perhaps because the most unpleasant sides of humanity are presented in that section of the novel, and suffering and hardship and loss. I don’t know, but it was always Australia for me.
And then, many years later, I got to go! And it was just as amazing as it had been in my imagination; actually, even better. Until you have been, you can have no concept of the word ‘vast’. To drive from Alice Springs, now a modern, fully-fledged town quite unlike its literary counterpart, to Uluru takes about six hours; six hours of scrub and other surprising vegetation – it’s not all desert out there. There are trees and enormous termite mounds and rather large lizards that keep you company during your visit to the roadside facilities, clinging to the bathroom wall in a rather precarious and threatening manner. When it rains – it RAINS – and floods, explaining the reason for the signs warning of low-lying areas of road; frightening but also a pleasing reminder of the flooded rivers that occurred in the novel; and the lightning lights up the entire area for miles around, and you feel very, very small in such a landscape in your little tin box careening along a road that you hope will not be flooded around the next bend. And then there are the camels – real live ones not mentioned in the novel but surprising enough to stop the car and watch and they lollop away into the vegetation; and the dingoes who are not dogs although they lie in the road and pretend they are for any unsuspecting traveler who might get the urge to pet them.
I would go back there in a heartbeat; back to Uluru, back to Alice Springs, back to the Outback. This was one time when the setting of a novel was completely and utterly surpassed by its physical reality. I felt awed, excited, terrified, and strangely at home. I envy those who do call it home.
Anyone out there have a literary destination they have visited?