To Robert, who is camping in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia with his Geiger counter:
* * *
We camped in the MacDonnell Ranges for a week, took the Ghan [train] from Adelaide to Alice Springs. Does that count?
We weren't surveying for radiation. We were there to see Comet Halley, the Southern hemisphere had the best seats on the planet for the '86 flyby. You needed a desert with documented photometric nights, and unlike South Africa, Australia was not seething with violent insurrection.
In the bar car on the Ghan, when the other passengers realized we were Yanks, one sat at the little piano and everyone sang "Waltzing Matilda" 400 times for us.
At our campground, one day we saw a party of Australians, one with a video camera filming another adult man running through the campground wearing only a giant diaper. We inquired.
They were astonished that we'd never heard of Lindy Chamberlain and her baby. Turns out the Chamberlains had camped in our campground the night before the dingo etc. They were making a homemade video documentary of the famous incident.
As for Comet Halley, after a few grouse nights (that's what the TV weather called it; I thought they were saying it was good bird-shooting weather), the skies cleared, and the comet was startlingly obvious. It was creepy. A naked-eye comet makes you think the sky is broken or damaged.
At a nighttime get-together at a nearby race track, the Alice Springs Astronomy Club had their big portable telescopes set up. It was my first glimpse of the remarkable Southern Skies. Most of the Astronomy Club members were actually Yanks, NSA spooks employed at the Golf Ball Factory (Pine Gap).
A Caucasian lawyer who represented Aboriginals around Alice Springs said the Aboriginals were not at all happy about Comet Halley. They thought it was a nasty old man throwing rocks down at the Earth, and they wanted it to go away promptly.
I very much miss Red Centre beer. Our cans had a commemorative comet over Uluru [Ayer's Rock] on it.
Labels: Comet Halley Pine Gap MacDonnell Ranges Alice Springs Ghan Lindy Chamberlain Red Centre beer