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“a board sign which announced in fading paint but one word: STORE. Just in case the traveler might be in some doubt.”
December 5, 2012 7:39 AM   Subscribe

Harrods, in the bustling heart of London, is in a good location for a shop. So is the Macy’s in Herald Square, which boasts of serving 350,000 New Yorkers every day at Christmas time. Whereas down at the Mulka Store, in the furthermost reaches of South Australia, George and Mabel Aiston used to think themselves lucky if they pulled in a customer a week.
The Loneliest Shop In The World

George Aiston died at 64, in 1943. The Birdsville Track is also home to the Great Australian Outback Cattle Drive.
posted by the man of twists and turns (23 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Old Mulka Store Ruins
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:40 AM on December 5, 2012


Mulka Store was literally an oasis for travellers in a predominantly drought stricken landscape plagued by sand storms.

i.e. Australia
posted by DU at 7:49 AM on December 5, 2012 [10 favorites]


Reading stuff like this really makes me wonder why anyone ever bothered going inland.
posted by Deathalicious at 8:13 AM on December 5, 2012


What a story. Never ceases to amaze me the hardship people are ready to endure trying to make a living off of inhospitable lands.

The track begins in Marree, a very small outback town, and winds its way up to Birdsville, a considerably smaller one (“seven iron houses burning in the sun between two deserts”) many hundreds of miles to the north.

Google Map over the area.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 8:43 AM on December 5, 2012


I would have loved to have met the Aistons.
posted by bongo_x at 9:02 AM on December 5, 2012


Great piece, thanks (and thanks to Foci for the Google Maps link).
posted by languagehat at 9:03 AM on December 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


I love that the "Mulka airport" as seen from the Google Maps satellite view is just a smoothed out stretch of dirt.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:21 AM on December 5, 2012


Reading stuff like this really makes me wonder why anyone ever bothered going inland.

When I was reading the early history of Australia, I was surprised to learn how long it had taken before that happened -- successfully, at least.
posted by dhartung at 10:25 AM on December 5, 2012


Doesn't look that bad - there are lakes all over the place ;.)
posted by lstanley at 11:00 AM on December 5, 2012


♫ In South Australia I was born, in South Australia 'round Cape Horn…
posted by Nomyte at 1:09 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Just want to draw this out:
To one side of the shop, like some ever-present intimation of mortality, lay the lonely fenced-off grave of Edith Scobie, "died December 31 1892 aged 15 years 4 months"

I felt a pang reading this. It is difficult not to think of Wordsworth's Lucy.
posted by JHarris at 1:12 PM on December 5, 2012


Reading stuff like this really makes me wonder why anyone ever bothered going inland.

It's beautiful out there. Really beautiful.
posted by awfurby at 1:34 PM on December 5, 2012 [3 favorites]


Although it's not nearly as remote, that reminds me about this solar-powered convenience booth out on an empty stretch of road in east Iceland.
posted by pravit at 1:40 PM on December 5, 2012


Reading stuff like this really makes me wonder why anyone ever bothered going inland.

There was a theory, prevalent during the settlement of South Australia in the 19th century, that "the rain follows the plough". That if you went out to a location and started tilling the soil, establishing the groundwork for agriculture, the climate would change to become suitable for agriculture. So people headed out there, towards the Flinders Ranges (although still significantly further south than Mulka) and started planting wheat. They had a few years of crops, sure enough. But they were simply lucky to have planted during a particularly wet decade; the rains went back to normal, and now the landscape has returned to what it always was - a barren, saltbush plain, freckled with ruins of improbable farmhouses from centuries ago.
posted by Jimbob at 3:14 PM on December 5, 2012 [5 favorites]


The first time I visited Australia I flew across pretty much the entire country (from Singapore to Melbourne) on an absolutely cloudless day. The utter desolation of the outback was an arresting sight from 30,000 feet up; the thing I remember most vividly was the intersection of two roads which vanished into the empty horizon in all four directions. At the intersection there appeared to be a handful of buildings, or trailers at least, and I thought to myself "Who the hell lives there, and how did the poor bastards wind up there?"
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:14 PM on December 5, 2012 [2 favorites]


Just demonstrates that we will be just fine on Mars. Tough to get to, but not really all that much more remote.
posted by sammyo at 4:29 PM on December 5, 2012


Strange, Jimbob - the same thing happened in the American plains states, and during the same historical era. Settlers came out during an unusually wet period, started building farms, and a few years later the whole thing collapsed. The Ogallala Aquifer is the only real reason agriculture still works out there.
posted by Mars Saxman at 4:41 PM on December 5, 2012


Just demonstrates that we will be just fine on Mars. Tough to get to, but not really all that much more remote.

Say what you will about Adelaide, but I've never needed a pressure suit to go outside there.
posted by atrazine at 5:41 PM on December 5, 2012


The outback has a kind of beauty unlike anything else I've come across - it has a very slow, ancient kind of power that's thoroughly unconcerned with you or what you make of it. Other places - tropical reefs, rainforests, rivers and mountains - sometimes feel like they're putting on a show for you, like they exist purely to be beautiful. Not so with the desert - you're simply inconsequential, and for a while that is all you feel. It's desolate, it's barren, and there's nothing to see or admire or enjoy. And it's painful - so hot you're burning from the radiant heat long before the UV can come into play, with dry winds that bake you and sandblast your face. Sometimes it rains - big, sorry drops of warm water, just enough to dampen the dust and turn the next few hours into a sauna.

This is what the visitors experience - a long road, an endless horizon, and a thoroughly uncomfortable existence. They speed through it or fly over it and when they arrive in a town again, with shops and houses and air con, they wonder why anyone would ever choose to live in such a wasteland.

Here's the thing though - the beauty of the outback, and the desert, is different to what you're expecting. It's bigger than you, and older than you, and when you feel it at last it's completely humbling. This isn't a world made pretty for you - this is a world that's raw, and real, and unapologetic. It's a world with the grit and the pulp left in. I've been moved to tears just standing there, overwhelmed with the power of it all. It does have it's postcard moments of course - lightning storms that seem to come out of a sky much bigger than one you've ever known, and sunrises that light up the air with an ephemeral golden glow - but the true beauty comes from the moments of isolation so profound that, for a moment, you can see the world from beyond the frame of your little human mind and your little human lifespan.

It's not for everyone. It's not really for me - I can only do it for a few weeks before it becomes too much for me. But it's something incredible, and something that you ought to experience if you can.
posted by twirlypen at 6:39 PM on December 5, 2012 [11 favorites]


Twirlypen, I feel exactly the same way about the Sonoran desert. There's a reason that deserts seem to attract artists, there is something sublime and utterly abiological about them. They exist in a world that is still on rock time, to which the whole rise (and inevitable fall) of human civilization takes place within a single heartbeat. Some people are just desert people.
posted by Scientist at 11:49 PM on December 5, 2012


> There was a theory, prevalent during the settlement of South Australia in the 19th century, that "the rain follows the plough". That if you went out to a location and started tilling the soil, establishing the groundwork for agriculture, the climate would change to become suitable for agriculture.

Amazing. I recently watched Ken Burns's The Dust Bowl, and they talked about the exact same (apparently insane) theory, with the same catchphrase, being applied in the southern Plains of the US in the early 20th century. I thought it was a local aberration, but no. Who could have come up with this cockamamie idea?
posted by languagehat at 8:58 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


Who could have come up with this cockamamie idea?

The observed mechanism seems to have been: Farmers plow fields. To stop seeds and topsoil from blowing away, they plant trees/windbreaks. Trees then hold the moisture in, somehow. A little confirmation bias seems to have gone a long way, but it was a disputed hypothesis long before the end of the 19th century.

I think in both cases it needs to be examined in the light of manifest-destiny-type national mission philosophy -- it was easy to believe this was true whether or not it was when it was drawing people to the plains by the millions. Something like the internet or housing bubbles -- you see the successes and not the failures, until they become too numerous. My home town still had a billboard generically telling people that your home would appreciate 10% annually until well after the bubble popped.
posted by dhartung at 9:17 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The link about the Pages was quite depressing.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:51 AM on December 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


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