Letters From Lockdown: Life in the Australian Outback During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Australian Outback COVID 19

If you’ve been following my blog for a while now you’ll know that one of my favorite regions on the planet is the Australian Outback. I first visited the magnificent Red Centre in 2010 while participating on a journalism exchange program in Melbourne. Camping and hiking through the otherworldly landscapes of Uluru, Kings Canyon and Alice Springs hardened me into a traveler and the bright desert sands, distinct cultures and spiritual energy of this sacred region awakened in me a desire to see the world. 

In the Australian Outback the land stretches for miles and, apart from the roads, you can often drive for hours without any evidence of humanity in sight. Stretching over 520,000 square miles, the vast region is more than six times the size of the entire United Kingdom. It takes six hours by car to travel from Alice Springs, one of the larger towns and tourist hubs, to Uluru, and 15 hours to Darwin, the territory’s capital on the northern coast. 

Life in the Australian Outback During the COVID-19 Pandemic

During the coronavirus pandemic Australia has taken some of the strictest lockdown measures in the world, shutting down entire cities, closing borders between states and issuing infringement notices for those who breach self-quarantine rules. This has allowed the country to manage outbreaks much more effectively than in the United States and the entire country has seen less than 1,000 deaths. However, the approach has made survival in remote regions such as the Australian Outback even more difficult as communities have been cut off from the outside world and vital supplies.

This Week We’re Talking To:
Christine Breaden, Australia

Christine Breaden is a Luritja woman representing one of the world’s oldest continuous cultures. She is a multi-talented artist in dot painting, wood working and traditional branding techniques. Along with her husband Peter, she operates Karrke Aboriginal Cultural Experience and Tours, set on her ancestral land near Kings Canyon National Park. Their tourism business aims to help preserve the Luritja language, cultural knowledge and heritage for future generations.

Christine lives three and a half hours by car from the nearest city of Alice Springs. As memes about a lack of cleaning products flooded the internet last year, access to food for her family became a real issue. Read on for our letter from lockdown conversation to learn what life has been like in the Australian Outback during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How would you describe your life before the pandemic hit?

My feeling was good for me and my partner. We was happy sharing our cultures through our tourism business. Running my own business on my land and country gave me a sense of hope and security for my family whilst earning an income from it.

What has life been like in the Australian Outback during the COVID-19 Pandemic?

[It’s been] a bit scary at times as the virus put us under a lot of worry. Our community was closed off from the outside world and we were worried about how we are going to survive not [being able] to go into town for food supplies with the government setting up biosecurity zones that locked us out of travelling in and out of Alice Springs.

Limiting supplies of fresh fruit and vegies as well as meat was a constant worry. My community was supported  by the nearby Kings Canyon Resort and Watarrka Foundation with essential cleaning and pantry supplies and the resort [helped] stock up on food for the communities in the area.

At what moment did you realize we would be in this for the long haul?

When we were witnessing it on the TV news on the virus going up on the number of cases and loss of life.

Nature has been very healing to me during the pandemic. What is your favorite natural attraction near you?

My surrounds of my country Peter and I staying on [near Kings Canyon]. My country gives me my strength, security and safety.

I’ve also been spending more time in the kitchen. If there’s one recipe or dish from your culture that you’d recommend others try to feel like they are traveling what would it be?

I haven’t any recipes to share. I enjoy kangaroo and when I’m in the kitchen I like cooking curry dishes from other cultures (smiles).

Are there any aspects from your culture that have helped you cope with this pandemic?

For healing I go out on country and get bush medicine to sit in the healing smoke to take away all worries of what’s been going on around me and having my family.

A smoking ceremony is an ancient custom among the Luritja aboriginal people involving herbs found on the land. The smoke is said to have a cleansing affect and help ward off evil spirits.

Are there any revelations you’ve had about life during the pandemic?

Love the people close to you and look after me first cause I’m no good to anyone else if I’m not well.

When it’s safe to travel what are the top things you recommend someone do in Australia’s Northern Territory?

Come and see us and visit Uluru and Kings Canyon you’ll never experience anything else like it.

Visitors can learn more about Australia and Northern Territory by booking a holiday to our region seeing all our natural wonders and attractions we have here, they can experience an enriched understanding of one of the oldest living cultures by coming to see us…PALYA!

There’s great news for Christine and Peter – they have been able to reopen their business in early February. For more information or to purchase entry to their cultural tour visit karrke.com.au.

About Letters From Lockdown

As we approach the year anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic it becomes more and more evident that, despite the promise of vaccines, life won’t be returning to normal anytime soon. The world has been disrupted in a myriad of ways, the depths of which will only continue to unravel as time marches on.

What I’ve missed most about traveling this past year has been the opportunity travel presents to connect with people from other cultures. In living a locked down life in California I’ve found that as the bubble of humans I interact with has shrunk, so too has my worldview. It’s been easy to sink into an existence where the issues that concern me are hyper-local, or at least confined to the United States. It’s been easy to get lost inside myself and forget that there’s a whole world out there beyond my doorstep with people who have been impacted by the global health crisis in ways similar and yet different to me.

With this in mind I’m pleased to launch Letters from Lockdown, a new series of interviews where I reconnect with people who impacted me in my travels and hear what life has been like for them and their home towns during this unprecedented chapter in history.

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