A fine town called Alice

THIS was my fifth trip to the Alice for the National Road Transport Hall of Fame and I never tire of the event or the place.

Flying into the town you have to wonder how the aborigines, much less whitey ever found the joint in the first place.

This time around we managed a few extra days which put our normal haunt out of fiscal reach.

Instead we booked a two-bedroom cabin at a local caravan park that was recommended by friends.

Somewhere down the line this was changed to a 'very comfortable' one-bedroom cabin. Upon arrival we eagerly picked up keys to cabin 10 and drove around the corner to find...a shipping container!

Now this wouldn't have been so bad if park management had taken a look at a 20ft caravan - or any caravan - and copied its layout. We looked for the wardrobe and there wasn't one. Hooks to hang our clothes? Nope. It did have a separate bathroom but going to the toilet was a bit like mounting a horse - lack of knee room meant you had to swing a leg over. The bed was more comfortable than many motels we've stayed in, but every time we got in it rolled from one end of the 'cabin' to the other. It had a table and two chairs that folded - and they needed to because there wasn't enough room inside to set them up! Claustrophobic is a good description. Must admit that we were a bit deflated that first night. However we accepted our fate and I christened the joint Stalag 13. If you remember Hogan's Heroes will know what I'm talking about.

The eight day trip was spent bouncing backwards and forwards to the Hall, meeting up with old friends and new, and catching a couple of the sights.

An essential on the 'to do' list is Bojangles Saloon. Owner and truckie, Peter McVeigh is a story in his own right. Pete saved the pub from extinction earlier this year, thank God, because it is without doubt the best pub in Oz.

It's easy to spend an hour looking at memorabilia hanging from the walls and the roof. The beer garden is a work of art in rusty metal. The beer is cold, the food is terrific and the atmosphere is great.

Each year at this time a bunch of bikies go on Fish's Run - celebrating the life of Terry 'Fish' Gill who died 14 years ago while riding his beloved Harley out on the Ross Hwy.

The monument to Fish on the highway is a Harley Davidson - the tank which holds his ashes - and a concrete burn-out pad for bikies to pay their respects.

The run finishes up at Bo's where 50 or more bikes do a run-through, through the public bar, the dining room and the beer garden. Burn-outs in the public bar are the order of the day.

In the beer garden that afternoon I met 'Froggy', the Hog's Road Captain who also doubles as a copper.

On our last day we took a trip to the Ross River Resort. Carl, an Irishman and helicopter pilot talked us into a five minute flight which went for 15. This must-do brings home the isolation of the outback.

As we were about to leave, Graeme, a wool classer from Melbourne who spends six months of the year working at the station, insisted we jump in his 4WD and took us on a half hour run through the various gorges.

Not for money, but just because he loves the place and wanted to share it with us.

The spirit remains in the folk who inhabit this space. Go and experience it for yourself.

As the locals will tell you: "We're only a couple of truck stops up the road."

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