Alpha is a township of about 400 which, as far as I’m aware, exists because navvies needed somewhere to stay as they built the Great Northern Railway from Rockhampton to Longreach. The line is finished, yet the town inexplicably remains. It has a grocery store, a pub, a pharmacy, a butcher, a baker, a tourist information centre, and a railway station which gets two cattle trains a day and two passenger trains a week.
The town takes the form of a ## of roads lined intermittently with bungalows, bounded to the north by the railway and to the east by the Alpha Creek. Almost all the buildings are raised about a metre and a half off the ground on stilts, to aid airflow in the pitiless summers. They’re mostly bungalows; only a couple of buildings here have two storeys, and you wonder why they even bothered. The only tall things in town are the mobile masts and a couple of silent, well-oiled aermotors. The Capricorn Highway bisects the town, running east to west; there’s a road headed north to Clermont, but we tell people not to go down it.
While fly-speck tiny in terms of population and (to be blunt) substance, in actual geographical terms Alpha is disproportionately huge and sprawling. The roads, named after various British writers, are staggeringly, gratuitously wide. The high street, which I’ve not seen more than one vehicle moving on at a time, is as broad as a four-lane motorway back home, and Milton and Dryden streets, the other east-west passages, are even wider; you could easily land a plane on either. There’s a shed on the west side of town marked Alpha Airport, with no runway, so I suspect they may do exactly that.
The place is as dusty and forlorn as the Oklahoma panhandle in the mid-30s, which is an interesting coincidence because “the mid-30s” is also what the thermometer says most of the time. The sunlight is pitilessly bright and heats all exposed metal to a fingerprint-removing degree, but it’s at least a dry heat; a fan, a bottle of water and a house on stilts have kept me fairly comfortable, though I need to buy a hat for outside ventures.
The house, which is right by the Gateway and which I share with two other foreign workers (Coworker J from Hong Kong and Coworker K from England), is on the corner of Shakespeare Street and Capricorn Highway; it’s large, dilapidated and filthy, in the fashion of many buildings whose occupants know they’re only there temporarily; there’s an ant road outside the front door you have to walk over, and the kitchen is full of another, smaller breed of ants. Annoyingly from an ant-nerd perspective but quite fortunately from a living perspective, both are small, boring, inoffensive non-stinging types. Down the front door steps and over the ants, there’s a trellis-lined ground-level porch area, which holds the (apparently violently truculent) washing machine and a table surrounded by sofas, most of which have been wrecked beyond any sort of comfortable sitting.
There are three good-sized bedrooms and a fourth mini-bedroom which is basically a shoebox lined with linoleum, dust and fluff; I’ve been put there, though I imagine (and hope) this is a temporary measure while they make sure I’m not going to ditch them and run away for actual employment. I call it a shoebox, but only relative to the rest; it’s not much smaller than my room back in Mason, though considerably less lavishly furnished. The windows are odd green-tinted glass-Venetian-blind things which seem designed to allow in determined arthropods, and there’s a fist-sized hole in the wall by the bed which has been honest to god taped over, with sellotape. Mosquito coils and a fan borrowed from the next room have so far protected me from bites. The place also has a small kitchen/living room, and a bathroom with a drain that’s literally a hole in the middle of the floor.
The “town water” that comes out of the taps is alright for washing, but not potable, so we get rainwater from a special tap in the garden in big plastic tanks. The kitchen has the necessaries: toaster, kettle, microwave, fridge/freezer and, best of all, a real gas stove, although it burns bluer and hotter than I’m used to and obtaining groceries is going to be either difficult, expensive or both. But I can, thankfully, cook for myself, although I seem to have no appetite in this heat.
Overall, Alpha is everything I expected, and perfectly exemplifies the main selling point of outback roadhouse job postings all over Gumtree: you can save up a lot of money here, because it’s not like there’s anything to spend it on.