Your correspondent has just had a weekend of Gran Turismo. For the uninitiated “Gran Turismo” does not, in this context, mean the fine vintage vehicles of the days when motoring was a pleasure and the pastime of the well to do. No, Gran Turismo refers to those travels, in the company of many others, organised and structured to a degree only known to graduates of 21st century hospitality colleges, to visit “cultural” or other natural or man made icons, together with milling hordes, steeped in the belief that travel broadens the mind. Perhaps, in truth,travel broadens the mindless, when the purpose appears, in many cases, to be to check off against some personal list : “been there, done that”. The flock-like herding hither and thither, onto buses, into queues, over to “cultural centres”; walks with trite placards declaiming the importance of this piece of harsh desert dust or that. (And yes, your correspondent knows that there are insects and reptiles hidden away in the dusty plains, never to appear when the punters are abroard, searching for goodness knows what revelations).
Quickly now, back on the bus everybody. “Hello. My name is Fred but my friends call me Shorty. Can’t imagine why. I’m your driver today to take you all of five minutes drive back to your hotel”. Well, he didn’t actually say the “all of five minutes” bit, but you get the point.
The only redeeming feature of Gran Turismo is that it is usually possible to find a comfortable bar or restaurant at which to slake the desert dry and take nourishment of a less academic kind, at, of course, a price pitched to have you wondering if the cost of transport, storage, wastage, petty pilfering and everything else can really justify the exorbitant cost. The onslaught on the wallet is unremitting. A visit to the icon, sir? Of course. Just a fifteen minute drive in our, usually, air conditioned minibus. We then leave you to walk around in the desert heat for two hours before we hope to pick you up again, assuming of course we haven’t miscounted, in which case you’ll have to wait for the next bus. How much? Fifty-five dollars, and oh no, that doesn’t include the park entry fee of twentyfive dollars. No, you can’t pay by card. It must be in cash. (Insert your own developing country joke here). But, stay the starting tear, a lot of people make a very good living out of Gran Turismo. It is just not immediately clear who.
Indeed, the question to whom the spoils are accumulating is surely moot. The subject location prompting this epistle is owned by an indigenous land corporation. So was an expectation of evidence of some local people too much to expect? Sadly, few, if any, were to be seen. Checking the punters in? No. In the kitchens? No. Driving the buses? No. Bell hops? No. Selling in the souvenir shops? No. Waiting at table? Well, a couple of indigenous wait staff were in evidence one lunchtime. But that is all. Sure, there was one woman doing dot painting outside the Cultural Centre, in the so often demeaning “native reserve” sort of way. Perhaps the locals were all beavering away in the administrative offices. Perhaps, indeed. The only positive local aboriginal interaction in the whole experience was a truly inclusive “Welcome to Country” by an inspirational local elder (who also played a mean guitar). This in the context of two concerts which had been the prompt for your correspondent’s investment in the tourism sector. But let’s be fair, here. There was one other intervention of genuine aboriginality, in the ample form of William Barton, didgeridoo player and musician extraordinaire who can single handedly evoke a spirit from the most barren social environment.
But these two exceptions simply serve to underline the problem with Gran Turismo. It is ersatz. Even if the landforms can be viewed in theIr raw, unedited, state there is this terrible realisation: the view, the impact, is better at home, via David Attenborough.
And the $50 bottle of wine consumed in front of the TV is real quality, not some heavily marked up supermarket plonk.