[Extract from Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981]
Lunch time approached and while Dad scouted the street for a grocery store, and a butcher’s that seemed to elude him in a remote town like Alice, the rest of us sought a place to eat. In our restaurant-hunt, we passed three bottle shops. But where were the café’s, the restaurants, and the snack bars?
We reached the end of the block without success. We turned the corner and faced another row of shops and offices devoid of eating places.
‘All I ask for is a restaurant.’ TR rubbed his stomach. ‘Is that so much to ask?’
‘Apparently so,’ C1 said.
‘You could have some beer,’ C2 said.
C1 nudged TR in the side. ‘And nuts.’
TR sniggered. ‘I’m sure the bottle shop has nuts.’
‘Oh, I don’t know,’ C2 sighed. ‘Uncle’s taking his time finding the grocer’s and butcher’s. Doesn’t look good.’
‘I have to go to the loo.’ MB announced and then disappeared into a nearby building. We waited on the footpath, the sun beating down on our heads. He said he’d be just a minute. I looked at my watch. Twenty minutes and still no sign of him. TR’s stomach groaned. I paced the path in front of the building. I was beginning to grow hot, hungry and annoyed. Hurry up, MB!
Minutes of agony and eternity dragged on. I paced. And paced. Back and forth in the mid-afternoon heat, pounding the concrete. Still no MB! Right! This is getting ridiculous. I stamped to the corner. No more waiting for me. He could be hours in there.
‘Hey!’ C1 yelled, ‘Where are you going?’
‘Getting me something to eat.’ I hollered over my shoulder. ‘I’m through with waiting. If I have to get something at the supermarket, so be it.’
I turned the corner and marched along the empty footpath. Thump! Thump! Thump! Looking around I saw TR chasing after me. ‘Wait up!’ He puffed and wheezed as he ran to catch up. ‘I’ll join you.’ His face appeared flushed as he fell in step with me.
‘Yeah, like we’ll be walking all day in circles or sitting around forever waiting for MB to finish his business.’
We strode to the end of the street and stopped to look left and right.
‘Yeah, at least there’s food at the supermarket,’ TR said.
‘As long as they’re open and not taken a siesta to talk on the CB radio.’ We turned the next corner. I squinted in the dazzling light of the sun. ‘Now where is that confounded supermarket?’
‘Dunno.’ TR shielded his eyes and then pointed. ‘But I see a burger joint.’
TR and I made a bee-line for the hamburger place, bursting through its beaded entrance like two Lassiters upon a reef of gold.
‘Can I help you?’ A lanky woman emerged from the hidden depths of the shop. She looked bored as she wiped her hands on her grease-stained apron.
‘Do you serve fish’n chips?’ TR staggered to the counter and stared at the chalk-written menu above her head.
She swished her hand in front of her pale expressionless face. ‘Sorry, we’re about to close for the day.’
TR gripped the counter. ‘Oh, please! We’re starving! You don’t know how hard it is to find a place to eat around here. We’ve been looking for hours.’
The vendor crossed her spindly arms and narrowed her tired eyes at TR.
‘You’re our last hope!’ TR clasped his hands together. ‘You don’t know what it’s like out there. We ran out of food—we almost starved to death.’
‘Yeah, right.’ She waved a hand at the door and nodded. ‘There’s a snack bar over the road.’
I edged towards the door. ‘Okay, thanks.’ TR’s begging was getting us nowhere. I had serious doubts about a snack bar, all I could see was a park. She’s just trying to fob us off. Sick of frying burgers, steak sandwiches and pouring sub-standard instant coffee for the entire population of Alice Springs more likely. I exited the dismal little café with its blue-grey walls and chip-fat smell.
‘Oh, well, thanks anyway,’ I heard TR say.
I plodded over to the park. A battered green bin leant towards the park-bench and my mind seriously considered the scraps in the bottom of the bin.
TR tapped my shoulder. ‘Wait!’
‘What?’ I stopped in the middle of the road. Tumble-weed skittered past and whirled around picking up dust near the bin.
‘The burger joint’s staying open just for us.’
I clapped my hands. ‘Yes!’
TR and I sat down in a booth in ‘The Kitchen’ as the café was called. Half-an-hour we sat facing each other. Neither of us spoke. Too tired, and thoughts too preoccupied with food. And not much in common apart from wallets full of money, a common suffering of hunger and starvation, and a hope that very soon we’d eat.
And no sweeter, more delicious, no, better than delicious, more flavourful meal, did I eat so fast once the Kitchen’s owner set the plates before us. I devoured a beef burger, chips and cup of tea in three minutes’ flat. TR aimed to take his meal of steak and eggs and cider more slowly and savour each mouthful, but his food survived only five minutes.
Satisfied we stepped out of the café and walked over to the bench in the park. My cousins and MB with a grin on his face, sat on the wooden seat waiting for us. They munched on their pies and pasties with the obligatory tomato sauce from the take-away shop adjacent to the park.
The Kitchen’s owner shut the door with a clunk and I noticed the “closed” sign appear in front of the lace curtains adorning the glass door.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Feature Photo: A Most Flavourful Burger © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Photos of Lassiter’s Plaque & Cave © C.D. Trudinger 1981