Nyngan, Australia | 31.5664° S, 147.1948° E | April 19, 2019
After 600 kilometers and seven hours in the car, Alice, Nick and I step into the early evening light outside a single-level duplex. We have just arrived in Nyngan, Australia, population: 2,073. The packed dirt, big sky, and monochromatic beige buildings all remind me a bit of Texas. But the kangaroos and emu sightings on the final stretch of the drive, as well as the massive Welcome to the Outback sign serve as poignant reminders that I am very far from Texas — in fact we’re pretty damn far away from anywhere.
A beautiful, boisterous woman with flowing blonde hair rushes out to the driveway. “You made it!!” she yells, jumping into Alice’s arms. Her partner Toby walks out behind her, grinning. We all exchange introductions and hugs.
Alice and I have known each other for 10 years, and while I met many of her friends when I visited Sydney in 2014, I didn’t have the chance to meet Bianca and Toby, our hosts for the weekend. They are both school teachers and have lived in this remote Outback town for the better part of a decade.
Bianca leads us into the house, and immediately offers up drinks and snacks, exuding the Aussie hospitality I have come to know and love. She hands me a glass of white wine, apologizing that it’s not more chilled.
“You like rice?” she asks.
She plops a few ice cubes into the glass. “Oh, ice!” I say, feeling stupid. “Yeah, ice is great — sorry I’m still getting used to Aussie accents again.”
Bianca smiles and hands me the glass. “We’re not too fancy here,” she says. “If the wine isn’t cold enough we just throw ice in it.”
“I do that all the time at home.”
Over the next few hours, I meet an entourage of lovely Australians — a few Nyngan locals as well as a crew of homies (or “mates”) visiting from Sydney. Taking advantage of the long weekend, ten friends have descended upon Nyngan to throw a proper bush doof.
Because it’s autumn here in the southern hemisphere, the sun dips below the horizon by 5:30pm. After a fun dinner at the local Chinese restaurant (one of the only places open on Good Friday, but also a quintessential staple in most Outback towns) we return to Bianca and Toby’s house, crank the music, and light up the back-yard fire pit. I hesitantly ask about fire restrictions in residential areas, especially in such a dry climate. Bianca flashes a coquettish grin, and says, “oh it’s fine, we do whatever we want out here.”
Cold bottles flow continuously from the cooler as our conversations evolve from work updates and holiday plans to more long-winded stories, including some gritty tales from various corners of the world. Just like my dear friend Alice, many people in this group have spent large chunks of time living abroad.
“What was India like?” I ask Ella. “You were there for a whole year, right?”
Ella tells me a little bit about the ingrained misogyny, and a few alarming interactions she experienced as a western white woman, but she doesn’t allow those moments to define her time there. “I loved it,” she says simply.
Later in the evening, Bruno tells me a little bit about the two years he spent living India, from driving a motorcycle through Mumbai to building up an immunity to water-borne bacteria.
“So you take a plastic bottle cap, fill it with water—and drink that,” he says. “I did that every morning.”
The next day, we recover from our late night with coffee and brekky, then pile into two cars and drive 20 kilometers outside of town to a large sheep farm. John Giddy, a farmer with leathery skin and the thickest Australian accent I’ve heard yet, shakes hands with all 12 of us, and begins showing us around his property, starting with the outdoor bar space.
Giddy tells us a bit about the challenges of being a farmer in the Outback, including dealing with the historic drought that has plagued this region. He shows us photos of what the farm looked like decades ago, and tells story after crazy story.
After a couple beers, Giddy leads us to his collection of off-road vehicles. Adsy and I eye the ATVs (or “quad bikes”) eagerly. “I’m quite keen,” he says.
“Me too — I love these things.”
The group splits up — a few people hop in the Jeep, a few of us clamber onto the ATVs — and as the sun beats down and dust whips our faces, we ride into the Outback.
The afternoon dissolves into a beautiful blur of stunning imagery. Both the abundance and the brutality of life out here is on full display — we watch dozens of kangaroos bound across wide open fields, but we also find a kangaroo caught in a fence. We pull yabbies (the Australian version of crayfish) out of the creek. We watch hundreds and hundreds of sheep kick dust into the dry air.
At the end of the day, Bianca and I take one of the ATVs and head to the front of the pack. Over the roar of the motor and the wind, we chat about traveling around the world, maintaining long-distance friendships, and feeling at home in wild places. We discuss both the magic and the harsh realities of the Outback. My face is caked in dust and sunburnt. I am dehydrated and comically dirty, but I am very happy.
I consider the temptation to compare new places to the places i have been before. Driving out to Nyngan reminded me of other roads trips I’ve taken — around Portugal with Beth and Gia, across the southwestern United States with my brother, through the Cascades with Jon.
But some locations and some experiences simply have no parallel. There is no other place where I could see kangaroos in the wild like this. There is no other group of people with whom I could have these kinds of conversations. And in this moment, there is absolutely nowhere in the world I would rather be.
To see more photos from our adventures across the Outback, head over to my Instagram page.