A Coach Safari to the Center of Australia
By Awake! correspondent in Australia
HAVE you ever cruised down a crocodile-infested river? Have you ever enjoyed a sing-along on a moonlit night, hundreds of miles from civilization? Have you ever shared in Christian meetings while motoring along a highway at 60 miles [100 km] an hour? Such experiences are just a sample of those enjoyed by hundreds of delegates from various localities traveling by coach safari to a district convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses at Alice Springs in the sunburned center of Australia.
“The word ‘safari’ was appropriate,” said one delegate, “because we slept outdoors in two-person tents. By the time we got to Alice Springs, we could erect our tents in less than three minutes! It was almost like watching a video on fast-forward: The coaches would stop, and an empty park would suddenly sprout dozens of little tents.”
Welcome to “The Alice”
Alice Springs (“The Alice” to locals) is a thriving oasis besieged by a red desert. It has a population of 23,000 and lies just south of the geographic center of the Australian continent. It is now a tourist center that uses as a predominant theme Australia’s indigenous Aboriginal people and their unique art.
To the Witnesses, however, the highlight of the whole safari was the three-day convention itself. For some of them, it proved to be an opportunity for many joyful reunions. A steaming hot cup of tea is one of the symbols of outback hospitality in Australia, and the convention kept this custom alive with its unique billy-tea-and-damper refreshments tent. Billy tea is simply tea brewed over an open fire in a smoke-blackened tin can known as a billy. Sometimes the boiling water is stirred with a eucalyptus, or gum, tree twig as the tea leaves are poured into the billy. A eucalyptus twig placed across the top of the billy prevents smoke getting into the tea.
Damper is a simple type of bread. The only ingredients needed are self-rising flour and water and salt. While still hot, the damper is cut into thick slices and then spread with a generous supply of butter and golden syrup. The billy-tea-and-damper tent proved to be one of the most popular meeting places at the convention grounds.
Faithfully Serving in Isolation
The Alice Springs Congregation consists of 72 Witnesses and takes care of some 77,000 square miles [200,000 sq km]. Darwin is about 1,100 miles [1,800 km] to the north, and Adelaide is nearly 1,000 miles [1,600 km] to the south. Visiting delegates were amazed to see firsthand what a challenge living in the outback presents in view of the extreme distances, the constant heat, the dust, and the isolation.
An outstanding example is the uranium-mining town of Jabiru. Only one Witness lives here, and she is 160 miles [260 km] from the nearest congregation. Yet, isolation has not weakened her spiritually. Her presence at the convention proved to be of encouragement to many others. Also, from the remote Aboriginal community of Jilkmingan, on the edge of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, four Bible students traveled to be among the 26 that were baptized at this convention.
Delegates Let Their Light Shine
The convention over, all the coaches headed north to the top end of the Australian continent. A highlight of this leg of the safari was a boat cruise up the fresh, clear waters of Katherine Gorge en route to well-known Kakadu National Park. This afforded the travelers their first glimpse of crocodiles in the wild. Fascinating, but a little scary! Then, after a pleasant night at the Northern Territory capital city, Darwin, the safari’s next stop was Mataranka Station, famous for its palm-lined, crystal-clear thermal springs and pools.
Sight-seeing, however, did not crowd out spiritual activities. The coaches became mobile Kingdom Halls. A Scripture text and printed comments were discussed each day, and the normal weekly congregation meetings were held en route. One of the coach drivers who was not a Witness was so impressed that, on his own initiative, he purchased an extension cord, microphone, and plug to connect to the coach’s public address system so that those commenting during these discussions could be heard more clearly.
During the tour, an elderly traveler became so ill that she needed to be rushed to a local hospital. A friend remained with her, but the coaches had to press on. Two days later, after her recovery, she and her companion were downcast and very disappointed at having missed out on the rest of the safari. But Christian love cut their sadness short.
Two of the local Witnesses who were pilots became aware of the situation. Then things happened quickly. Soon all four were airborne in a light aircraft, heading for the town of Port Augusta to catch up with the coaches. One of the travelers exclaimed emotionally: “We were filled with love and appreciation for the wonderful brotherhood we belong to!” But this was not all. Upon the arrival of the aircraft, a number of fellow delegates volunteered to share in contributing financially to cover the pilots’ expenses! The coach driver was visibly moved at this display of brotherly affection, saying that he had never seen anything like it before.
“Reflecting on the three weeks spent on the Alice Springs tour,” said one of the travelers, “I found it to be the most encouraging and faith-strengthening experience I have ever had. What stands out above all is the spirit of togetherness we all enjoyed. It would not have mattered where we went geographically—the real treasure was our unity of mind and spirit!”
[Map on page 18]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Routes of safari tours to and from Alice Springs convention
New South Wales
Uluru (Ayers Rock)
Kakadu National Park
[Picture on page 16, 17]
Aborigines were among those awaiting baptism at the Alice Springs district convention
[Picture on page 17]
Campfire with billy tea and damper
[Picture on page 17]
Crocodile basking in the sun at Kakadu National Park
[Pictures on page 18]
Uluru (Ayers Rock) 290 miles [470 km] southwest of Alice Springs
Typical scene in Northern Territory’s Kakadu National Park