A Rock Consort

This was turning out to be a vastly different excursion to the last time I’d visited Ayers Rock back in Year Nine, 1985. Back then, we’d trekked across the vast plains of New South Wales via coach – along the bone-jarring corrugation of the Oodnadatta Track, past Coona-bloody-bara-bloody-bran, up the Stuart Highway to Alice Springs – camping out under the stars and over a variety of uncomfortable dirt surfaces.
Now Ainslie’s videoing my confusion in the Qantas Club as we await our 3-hour tour (our 3-hour tour). During the flight, she’ll reveal precious few other details. I’m along for the ride.
The weather is picture-perfect at Ayers Rock airport. It’s a bit warmer. I encounter the first fly I can remember swatting for many, many months. Ainslie lobs another surprise – telling me to watch for a shuttle bus for the *5-star resort* Sails In The Desert – the accommodation we’d lusted after all those years ago when pitching tents on the red sand of the Ayers Rock campground. The treats haven’t stopped coming, yet.
‘Sails’ is a low-rise oasis in the outback desert with beautifully-kept grounds which are disturbingly green. In fact, the entire landscape is a lot greener than I remember it. There’s been some recent rain, it seems, so the entire colour scheme has been updated. The grass really is greener.
Ainslie has planned another treat; the ‘Sounds of Silence’. It looks brilliant – an open-air formal dinner which is timed for sunset – so you can drink champagne and watch the colours change on the rock. We dress to the nines and get out to a bus to be taken to the back of nowhere for a few hours.
This is Ainslie’s first encounter with The Red Dirt – the bane of any excursion to the outback: it gets into everything. Ever the stylist, she’s given me another present; a pink tie which matches her new outfit beautifully, which in turn matches the colours of the desert sands at this hour of the evening. We step off the bus to the sounds of a didgeridoo and the clink of champagne glasses. Amazingly, we have mobile phone services out here – so I call the kids and tell them what I’m doing. The sun goes down, and we’re ushered to our tables.
It’s no longer possible for me to look at the Olgas the same way since someone pointed out to me on this trip that the formation ‘looks like Homer Simpson lying down’. Gaah.
The table we choose has the words ‘Reserved’ in two places. We sit down and introduce ourselves to our fellow diners – Jenny and John are an older couple, Simon and Priscilla seem about our age, and Claire and Nick claim the ‘reserved’ seats next to us. They’re the star couple tonight – a couple of locals celebrating the first anniversary of their meeting at the Rock, and looking toward a wedding late next year. They’re good friends with the wait staff, and have been there before, so they fill us in on the details.
Over the course of the next few hours, it’s anything but the sedate, reflective evening the brochures would have us believe. We learnt each other’s stories and gasped in horror at the story of a terrible kidnapping in Perth just a few hours earlier. Nick and Claire told of how they’d each picked each other out of the crowd at the local club at roughly the same time. We found out John and Jenny’s wedding – almost 50 years ago – had sent Jenny’s father to bankruptcy at the time. Priscilla and Simon — I think Ainslie spoke to them. (Sorry, guys, if you’re reading this!)
Part of the evening featured some periods of quiet reflection… which were all but ignored by the crowd that night. When asked to sit and listen to the sound sof the desert, we were treated to a cacophony of burps, farts, belches, wheezes and giggles worthy of a primary school outing. During a presentation of the star formations above us in the sky, in which it was pointed out that the nearest star would take 130 years to get to – travelling at the speed of light, of course – a lone voice rang out an awestruck ‘faaaaaark’ to the chagrin of the speaker and the amusement of all.
By the time the evening was complete, we were being led in impromptu, alcohol-fuelled choruses of ‘Waltzing Matilda’ and the Australian National Anthem Which Ends With ‘Oi, Oi, Oi’. It had descended from high culture into Australian football-crowd madness, and Ainslie and I were holding our sides in laughter.
A great, unique night out. Go there. Do it.

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