[Extract from Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981]
Fishies in the Billabong
After relishing the sweet crunch of cornflakes for breakfast, the T-Team drove back to Ormiston Gorge. We hiked through the gorge admiring the red cliffs, ghost gums and mirror reflections in the waterholes, and took less than an hour to reach the end with the view of Mt. Giles, lumpy and sapphire blue.
Settling near a waterhole framed by reeds, Dad built up a fire on the coarse sand while our family friend, TR rolled up his trousers and dipped his toes in the pool. ‘Hey!’ He pointed and did a little dance. ‘A fish! I see a fish!’
Our cousins, C1 and C2 raced over to TR. ‘Where?’ They peered into the pond. I trailed after them, hunting for fish through the plumes of muddied water near TR’s white calves.
‘There!’ TR waved his finger at the middle of the waterhole.
C1 squinted. ‘Oh, yeah.’
C2 waded into the water and peered. ‘I don’t see anything.’
Richard hunted and fossicked through the cooking equipment Dad had scattered around the campfire. ‘You got a sieve? A net? Anything?’
‘What for?’ Dad asked.
‘Ah, you know, those fish can lay dormant in the dry creek bed for years and when the rain comes, they spawn.’ Dad just had to tell us.
‘Well, this little fishy is going to be our lunch.’ Richard snapped his fat fingers together like crab claws. ‘I’ll catch it with my hands if I have to.’ He strode into the pool with such force the waters parted like the Red Sea. ‘Now where’s that fish?’ He said as he sank up to his waist.
‘There it is!’ TR gestured. ‘To your right.’
Richard glanced, his smile faded. ‘Oh, is that all? It’s just a piddley little thing. Not enough for lunch.’ He was neck deep in the water and prepared to swim. He shot up. ‘Ouch! Something bit me!’
‘Better watch out, might be Jaws,’ I said.
‘You didn’t tell me there were yabbies.’ Richard bobbed up and down, then reached down to catch his feet. ‘Ouch! It bit me again!’
‘Why not yabbies?’ C1 said.
‘Now that’s an idea.’ Richard replied.
‘Ah! Shrimp!’ C2 waded towards his cousin. ‘I love the taste of shrimp.’
‘Hmm, yabbies,’ Richard said. ‘We used to catch yabbies all the time when we were young.’ With an explosive splash, he submerged in search of the yabby that had bitten him.
Dad, TR and I waited for the damper scones to cook and watched Richard and C1 turn bottoms up like ducks in the water in their quest for yabbies. C2 waded in the shallows of the pond, a roughly sharpened stick in hand ready to skewer any hapless water-creature.
Soon we breathed in the sweet aroma of baked scones. Dad flipped the foil wrapped balls out of the coals. ‘Lunch is ready!’ He clustered the silver spheres together using a small branch as if they were balls on a snooker table. Empty-handed the lads dragged their soaked bodies from the waterhole and schlepped to the fire place to collect their consolation prize of damper scone.
Richard held his stubby index finger and thumb in the form of the letter “C”. ‘I was this close to getting a yabby.’
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016; Updated 2018; 2021
*Feature Painting: The Other Side of Ormiston © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016