Oodnadatta
Collage of Mannahill.

What can be said about Oodnadatta that hasn't been said before. Most Australians will be aware of the iconic Oodnadatta Track, a trading route older than European settlement, used by local Aborigines, then explorer John Stuart and also the famous Ghan Railway. The natural springs that lines the route provides life-sustaining water for travellers in a stunning, semi-desert environment.

Perhaps mention should be made of the 'Pink Roadhouse' - the isolated, outback service station has graced many postcards and filled endless empty fuel tanks and stomachs. Their "Mission Bloody Statement: To provide travellers with correct, up to date, toll free phone information for enjoyable access to an area Australians are yet to learn to love."

You may be aware of Oodnadatta's strong ties to the Afghan Camel Trains of yester-year who provided essential supplies to towns and pastoralists in this remote northerly region of South Australia.

You have possibly heard of Oodnadatta's atrocious summer temperatures. The town holds record for the highest ever recorded temperature in Australia - 50.7°C. As this article is written Oodnadatta's midday temperature is 43.2°C and expected to pass 45°C later in the day.

What you may not know about Oodnadatta and Australia in general, is that the colony had a reputation for the odd bit of cannibilism. It's a debate that has raged between historians and the descendants of Aboriginal groups for over a century, but there are hundreds of documented cases indicating that the practise occurred as a result of religious and cultural beliefs and plain old starvation.

Looking around Oodnadatta it's not hard to believe that people could be driven to eating each other out of pure nesseccity. The Simpson Desert is an unforgiving place and it displays a lack of generosity when revealing edible vegetation and water.

We're not suggesting that prior to European settlement that the indigenous people around Oodnadatta ran around eating each other on a regular basis but an observer in the 1920 Portland Guardian indicates that it may have occurred. Of course, it could all be based on colonial mythology -

"...For some years Captain A. S. White has been exploring unknown Australia, and the account of his adventures by Dr R. W. Schfeldt in 'Travel', introduces to general readers a new group of odd fellow-citizens of this diversified world. Resident in Oodnadatta, a hitherto unexplored part of northwestern Australia, these odd people, to anybody but themselves, never have need to worry about the high cost of clothing; red ochre answers the purpose, and to paint oneself occasionally takes less time than dressing and undressing at least once every 24 hours, Here the men wear their hair long, and the women wear their hair short; and a man would feel eccentric, and be so regarded by others, who failed to follow the fashion of wearing the wing bone of a buzzard, or perhaps an ornamental stick, pierced through his nose. They proved a friendly people to the explorers, and made no hostile demonstration with the thick sticks, sharpened by fire, which serve them as weapons; and - they attracted admiration by their physical development, their agility, and the remarkable degree to which they had developed the sense of sight and hearing. All in all, they seemed a happy sort of people, fond of their children, with whom the men spent a good deal of their time playing games, which on examination are found to be educational, according to local ideas, and therefore oddly suggestive of the kindergarten in more complex communities. A roving people, their homes in wet weather are temporary shelters somewhat like the tepees of the North American Indians. And sometimes, one regrets to add, they eat their enemies."


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