Karen and I had the misfortune to arrive in Tennant Creek on a Thursday, the day when Commonwealth government handouts hit the local aboriginal bank accounts. To prevent this money from being immediately spent on grog rather than food and family, the local authorities have instituted a regulation preventing the sale of take-away alcohol on Thursdays. Does this mean one alcohol free day a week? Does this mean that everyone was inside the pubs drinking when we arrived? Or does this mean that people buy twice as much on Wednesday so they will have enough to drink on Thursday?
There are only two positive aspects to this rather incredible system. Firstly, it demonstrates that the problem has been recognised and that something, however weird, is being attempted to fix the problem. The second positive aspect is that the regulations are the same for everyone, black, white, brindle, male, female, locals or travellers. Of course, the last couple of sentences have been written with the benefit of hindsight. When Karen and I cycled into town, after almost a week of headwinds and over five hundred kilometres on the road, and we were told we could not even buy one lousy bottle of cheap champagne to celebrate our arrival, we were really pissed off!
Yet another example of the generosity of our fellow man was demonstrated on our first afternoon in Tennant Creek. After having a short look at the town and visiting its information centre to pick up some tourist information, Karen and I rode out to a caravan park and set up camp. We then showered and shampooed in preparation for a return to town for some shopping, and maybe a counter meal and a beer. Because the caravan park was less than a kilometre from the main street, Karen and I decided to give our bums a rest and stretch our legs with a short walk back into town. As we left our campsite we said hullo to a couple of travellers who were setting up a camper on a neighbouring site.
"Are you guys going into town?", the guy asked.
"Yep. Thought we might have a meal and a drink at a pub, seeing as how we aren't allowed to buy take-away alcohol today."
"Yeah, it's a funny rule, eh? You're not walking into town, are you?"
"Sure. It's not far."
"Why don't you borrow our car?" he said, getting the keys out of his pocket. We had only spoken to him for about thirty seconds and he was offering us his car! We declined his offer, but his kindness almost erased our irritation about the dry-Thursday grog regulation.
Our first full day in Tennant Creek was fantastic, starting as soon as we had opened our eyes. It is sometimes a truly wonderful thing for Karen and me to wake up with the realisation that we did not have to cycle today. Six days of heat and headwinds had left us with a big dose of the blahs. We were sure, however, that a few days in Tennant Creek would soon have us wanting to get back out on the road again.
Even the wind was wonderful - strong northerlies that we did not have to ride into! All through the Centre the locals had been telling us how unseasonal the weather had been. We had experienced the hottest June night ever in Alice Springs when the temperature was fifteen degrees. The mercury had regularly climbed into the thirties during the day. We were told that a strong, northerly airstream was bringing the heat of the tropics into the centre of the continent. They did not have to tell us - we had been battling it for a week!
We had a leisurely breakfast of real cereal (from a box), real milk (not made from powder), real bread and real margarine (both not normally carried while we were cycling). It was unreal! Later on in the day we walked around the town, doing some shopping, booking a half day tour for the following day and visiting a couple of grog shops - thank God it's Friday! We also re-met Michael, the Confederate cyclist, who had been a couple of days ahead of us all the way to Tennant Creek, and who would be a couple of days ahead of us again as we travelled further north. With all of us going in the same direction and on the same form of transport, Karen and I thought we would bump into Michael regularly in the future, but surprisingly, we never saw him again.
Another unseasonably warm night provided the impetus for yet another hot day. Norm the tour guide picked us up at ten o'clock for the gold tour. The first gold mine we visited - the disused "Burnt Shirt" mine - was a typical hand dug hole in the ground with an exit tunnel in the side of a hill. The second mine had been a surface cut, with a few feet of rock and topsoil removed from the top, the ore body mined, and the original rubble replaced, so there was not too much to see. We did, however, pick up some nice rock and pyrite samples. Like all the rocks we collected, these would soon be mailed back to Sydney. We did not fancy lugging rocks around Australia.
The third mine was totally different again, a working mine utilising the rubble extracted from many other mines in the area. A geologist named John had devised his own method of extracting gold from rock that had already been crushed and from which gold had already been extracted. He was basically washing the rubble with a cyanide solution and removing the gold from the resulting solution via a complicated series of chemical and physical processes. The mine was making a tidy profit, even working on used ore with a gold concentration of as little as one part in two million!
Karen and I were the only two people on the tour, and Norm took us back to his home for a lunch of buttered damper (one slice), corned beef (one slice) and tomato (two slices) - all included in the fifteen dollar cost of the tour.
The only other scenic attraction in the Tennant Creek area worthy of mention is the Mary Ann Dam, used as a water supply for the town, and also as a picnic site by tourists and locals alike. A superb concrete cycle path snakes its way from the town and through some nearby hills out to the dam site. With the temperature well into the thirties, Karen and I enjoyed a refreshing swim in the cool waters of the dam before chatting to some people we had first met at Trephina Gorge a couple of weeks earlier. Meetings such as this were now commonplace.
The bike path to Mary Ann Dam
A brisk ride back along the bike path took us back to the caravan park where we dined on half a French cheesecake and half a bottle of lambrusco each - yum! Afterwards, we spent our Saturday night in conversation with a guy named Wes, from Nyngan in central New South Wales. He was leading a school excursion comprised of about a dozen sixteen year old girls. Despite my pleading, Wes assured me that he did not need any help. A pity.
The night was full of strange noises - a mixture of yells, screams, arguments and profanity. Tennant Creek had finally lived up to its reputation. Early in the morning the northerly wind abated and a brisk breeze picked up from the south-east.
The noisy night and the arrival of the tailwind were our cue to hit the road once more.