Prairie Hotel, Parachilna
It was too early for lunch, and we hadn’t long had breakfast by the campfire, but we weren’t leaving. We eagerly swatted away armies of flies to get a taste of this rare outback meal. We were waiting outside the Prairie Hotel at Parachilna for lunch service to begin.
I try my best to research our journey as we move forward – not wanting to miss out on hidden gems or secrets. – and in my readings on Parachilna and nearby outback towns, I had discovered the pub’s famous ‘Feral Feast’. This is an antipasto platter of emu, kangaroo, camel and goats cheese (along with olives, grilled vegetables and chilli jam of course) and I was determined to have it! Cheese platters and wine are my two main food groups and I was not going without my nutrients today…
We eventually merged inside when it was closer to 11:30am and cracked open a local brew in anticipation. My appetite was slowly growing and as I wiggled on my barstool and said g’day to the sixth lot of tourists to pass through the pub doors, the publican swooped over with two plates – ‘’One Feral Feast and one camel burger – enjoy guys’’. Lunch was served.
Prairie Hotel’s ‘Feral Feast’ antipasto platter
This feast was beyond phenomenal. I hadn’t expected so much flavour and so much… meat! I began shovelling it down and my mouth watered at the changing flavours on my tongue. The spicy tang of the kangaroo coupled with the subtle smoothness of the emu pate… The salty bite of the goats cheese with the sweet spice of the chilli jam. YUMMMM! These guys truly know how to capture the modern tourism market and show off flavours of meats we’d normally steer clear of. Bravo.
This stop was in fact a special celebration to mark the start of our journey to the centre of Australia. We had reached the outback well and truly. My boots were on, my Akubra was on and I was ready! Now time to hop in the Cruiser, crank ‘Life is a Highway’ and venture down the long, straight road of the Outback Highway.
There is something so special, so real and so raw about outback pubs. The local watering holes each with their own locals and their own stories. The pictures hanging on the walls, the quirky country décor, as well as the beer they’ve got on tap all help to expose what runs deep through the veins of these remote communities. Most spectacular of all, the local folk always feel like old friends in the local pub.
It as a quick stop past the Marree Pub for a look – we didn’t go in, only checked out the camping area out back. The Marree Hotel is an example of a pub doing everything right to capitalize on outback tourism. It offers free camping out behind the hotel with a hot shower – all they ask for is a donation for the Flying Doctors. Most travelers will pop in and have a pub meal for dinner, along with a few drinks – and there you have it. Some decent earnings for the night.
Marree was actually our starter marker for the Oodnadatta Track – our first proper taste of corrugation and bull dust! This is an outback track not to be missed by anyone with a decent vehicle to do the job. Off we went.
As we moved our way forward along the track (which had been fairly beaten down by Finke Desert Race-goers), our eyes widened as the landscape became more and more vast. The odd emu or two pacing off in the distance, the odd whirly wind stirring up dust a kilometre ahead. It was a sight I could not comprehend. There was just nothing – but yet everything. I could see the blue in the sky and the red in the sand. I could see the odd eagle soar overhead and I could see the desert shrubs stringing together to make patterns in the dirt. I could see the dingo fence pushing its way along the track and the marks in the road from humans and animals who had travelled before us.
We spent a night on the side of the road and watched the most beautiful sunset and sunrise we have ever seen. Uninterrupted and completely pure. We watched the stars emerge after dark and their twinkles felt so close, you could almost reach out and grab the milky way in your hands. Complete silence and complete peace.
As another day broke, we found more road, more dust, and another outback pub. This one is a popular one – standing strong and proud in the middle of William Creek – also home to the world’s largest cattle station which spans nearly two million acres and is larger than Israel.
William Creek Hotel, Oodnadatta Track
We had a beer here and looked around at the quirky memorabilia and business cards tacked to the ceiling. This had to be a fun place. The bar tenders were cheerful and welcoming and again we found ourselves in a place we didn’t want to leave – but we had to move on.
From here, our trek ventured away from the Oodnadatta Track towards Coober Pedy. We will get to the ‘opal capital of the world’, but first, our final stop along this famous outback track and our final pub to sink a cold one. We were where it all began. In Oodnadatta.
This one looked the epitome of outback pub. A corrugated iron roof, dated exterior and its very own town dogs hanging out in the afternoon sun. We could hear cackling laughter coming from inside and we knew we’d be in for a treat. We were instantly welcomed by the publican who was one of the friendliest chaps we’d ever met. Warren (friendly publican) showed us the free camping and showers out the back, he showed us how to access WiFi and walked us through the kitchen, behind the bar and back out the front. He told us all about the history of the area and we chatted about our own histories. He and his wife manage the pub which is co-owned by the local Aboriginal community.
The cackling laughter had come from the pub’s local celebrity. A tall Aboriginal man with a beaming smile yelled g’day from the corner of the pub, and we were introduced to ‘Possum’. We’re not sure how old he is or where he’s from, but we heard all about his time growing up and working at stations all over – even at Diamantina in Queensland. He cracked a joke every second sentence and invoked a contagious laughter which would make anyone chuckle with him. We learnt about how he’d starred in a couple of indigenous movies and insisted I get a photo with him and the film poster.
Possum and his film poster (he’s bottom left)
Possum and Warren are the epitome of outback culture. We could travel hundreds of kilometres and see endless desert plains and kangaroos and sunsets and say we’d seen the outback – but half an hour in a little old pub with these two gentlemen and we had been graced by the true spirit of the outback. There’s no photographing that. And while we venture forward to delight in some popular tourist spots which are more likely to pop up in your Instagram feeds or travel brochures, we’ll move forward humbled by the warm presence of your everyday bloke in your everyday pub – those who call these desert lands home and want to share it with you in their very own, special way.
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A collection of pieces that describe the inner workings of my mind.