Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Australian Outback Wears a Deserted Outlook ; the Farrands, Whose Rabbit Flat Roadhouse Is Billed as the Country's Most Remote, Are among the Few to Defy the Urban Lifestyle

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Australian Outback Wears a Deserted Outlook ; the Farrands, Whose Rabbit Flat Roadhouse Is Billed as the Country's Most Remote, Are among the Few to Defy the Urban Lifestyle

Article excerpt

Driving on the dusty Tanami Track "highway," is like riding on an old wooden rollercoaster, without the adrenalin-pumping shifts and swoops. Hour after hour you rattle along on red dirt, passing termite mounds and the occasional Aboriginal community, until you reach what's billed as the most remote roadhouse in Australia - Rabbit Flat.

It's a quiet place, if you ignore the din of the generators that supply the electricity. But in a country gaining attention for its urban attributes, Rabbit Flat is a loud symbol of the harsh place that much of the country remains - and of the growing divide some see between Australia's prospering cities and its struggling remote areas.

Rising out of Rabbit Flat's desert scrub are a few rusty fuel pumps and cinder-block buildings and a $1.20-a- night campground ($2 Australian), the sum total of Bruce and Jackie Farrands' outback business.

"People in the city haven't got a clue what life is like for us," says Ms. Farrands, who with her husband has run the roadhouse for 31 years and is still in love with the isolation and stunning landscape of the desert.

For all the gastronomes and fashionistas, feeding and clothing a mostly suburban population of nearly 19 million, much of Australia resembles sparsely settled places like Rabbit Flat, inhabited by pragmatic iconoclasts like the Farrands.

Yet in recent years Australia has been getting more attention for the cultural revamp that has turned the Crocodile Dundee cliche into a more cosmopolitan creature. Australians don't wrestle crocodiles anymore, it seems. They prefer to wear faux versions of their skins.

In May, for instance, Texas supermodel Jerry Hall strutted up and down a catwalk in Sydney, decked in the latest creations by Australia's top fashion designers. The Australian press crowed about the attention the country was getting from the fashion world and Mick Jagger's ex.

But it all seems ludicrous to Jackie Farrands. She left the comforts of Paris and a job where she was forced to wear high heels and tight skirts. She came to the outback to flee Paris and, she says, found a place where she could finally be her opinionated self.

Now she dons surplus camouflage handed down to her by her two sons in the Army (twins delivered by Bruce at home in Rabbit Flat 25 years ago) to tend to her desert vegetable patch.

Somehow she pulled a bumper crop of asparagus from the desert plot this year, which seems a bit like extracting oranges from the Siberian permafrost.

The Farrands, who met while they were working on a cattle station nearby, established the roadhouse in 1969 to fill the need for a fuelling stop halfway up the Tanami Track. But even three decades later, in a supposed age of convenience, life remains hard.

The mail and some fresh food come twice a month by plane. …

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