Way before the sun had even thought about rising, we gulped down our porridge and then set off for the Eastern Side of Kata Tjuta. Dad was on a mission to capture the prehistoric boulders at sunrise. We arrived at the vantage point just as the sun spread out its first tentative rays, touching the spiky tips of spinifex and crowning the bald domes with a crimson hue as if they’d been sunburnt.
I dashed a hundred metres down the track to photograph the “Kangaroo Head” basking in the sun. We stood in awe as the glow of red on the rocks deepened.
Every few minutes Dad exclaimed, ‘Ah, well, that’s it, that’s as good as it’s going to get.’ He packed the camera away, only to remark, ‘Oh, it’s getting better,’ then retrieve the camera from the bag and snap Kata Tjuta flushed with a deeper, more stunning shade of red. The rest of the T-Team, waited, took a few shots, waited, mesmerised by the conglomerate mounds of beauty, before taking more snaps of the landscape.
Family friend, TR patted Dad on the back. ‘Well, the early rise was worth it.’
[Last few days filled with cold weather and rain. But today the sun has come out just as in 1984, after the rain in the Flinders Ranges the sun emerged offering a beautiful day for the T-Team The Younger to explore Chambers Gorge…]
Doris sidled up to me and asked, ‘Do you have a boyfriend?’
I shrugged. ‘Sort of…maybe…um…not really.’
‘Come on, you can tell me. I bet you have.’
‘Nah, just a lot of bad luck.’
‘Oh, like what?’
‘Nothing…no one,’ I replied. ‘What about you? Are you and Barney…?’
‘Are you kidding? No way!’
That shut down the conversation in romance and we hiked along in silence. Up the gorge. Towards Mount Chambers.
‘Cor!’ Barney exclaimed. ‘What’s all this rubbish? It’s like Chamber-Pot Gorge, not Chambers Gorge.’
‘I wish people would clean up after themselves,’ Doris remarked.
I gazed at my brother, Rick who was racing ahead. He seemed oblivious to the discarded soft drink cans scattered on the dry creek bed, plastic stranded in the sand, and toilet paper fluttering on prickle bushes.
‘Where are all the campers?’ I asked. But for all the litter, there seemed a distinct lack of people that morning as we trekked to Mount Chambers.
Barney sniggered, ‘I guess the rain the previous night had flushed them out of the gorge.’
‘Not literally,’ Doris added.
‘I remember our mate Mel saying how when he and his family camped in the Flinders, at the first sign of rain, they packed up their belongings and were gone.’ Barney clicked his fingers. ‘The rivers in outback Australia can flood, just like that.’
‘Yep, they don’t call it flash-flooding for nothing,’ Doris said.
‘We survived,’ I reminded them. ‘We’re not floating down Chambers Gorge in Rick’s Charger, are we?’
‘We got to higher ground,’ Barney said.
Doris smiled. ‘We were lucky.’
‘Yep, I guess we were,’ I sighed and thought, I wish such luck translated to romance.
More silence as we trudged along the creek bed, the dry creek bed; all the rain from last night had been absorbed into the sand. The gorge had narrowed, and Barney had disappeared; absorbed by the copper brown cliffs and pale yellow shrubs.
‘I heard there’s some rock carvings on Mount Chambers,’ Doris said.
‘That should be interesting,’ I muttered. ‘Just my luck, Rick would’ve left us behind, and we won’t find them.’
Sure enough, as we rounded the bend in the gorge, there Rick and Barney sat, perched on a tree stump.
‘Do you know where we are going?’ I asked.
Rick pointed. ‘It’s that mountain up there.’
The T-Team stuck together as we hiked down the narrowing gorge. The cliffs towered over us, too dangerous to climb.
Rick gazed up at the cliffs. ‘I think we’ll have to go round and climb up the hill.’
The rest of us groaned.
‘If we keep going this way, we’ll get stuck,’ he insisted.
‘Oh, alright,’ I sighed. ‘Don’t want to get stuck.’
‘Okay, everyone,’ Doris gestured to us to line up, ‘Gretchen time.’
I took a photo of Rick and Doris’ Gretchen pose to mark the end of the hike in the creek before we commenced our climb.
So, after back-tracking, the T-Team laboured up the slope. My shins ached from the steep gradient. While Rick sprinted up, my two other companions struggled up the slope. Before Rick would vanish over the lip of the hill, I had to take a photo of this priceless moment. I raised my camera.
Doris turned. ‘No, that’s a boring! Come on everyone, let’s dance.’ She waved and hollered, ‘Rick! Come on, dance-photo time.’
Rick, Doris and Barney took their dance poses and I snapped a couple of shots.
My brother then pointed at some caves. We took the slight detour and well-deserved rest break. Near the caves we ate our scroggin (nuts, dried fruit and chocolate), and admired the Indigenous rock carvings.
Refreshed and energy restored, the T-Team of Chambers crusaders, marched up the hill to the summit of the mountain.
Doris chuckled, ‘Remember Mount Ohlsen Bagge when Mel kept saying to his girlfriend, ‘Just five more minutes’?’
‘Ha-ha, five-minute Mel,’ Barney snorted.
‘Yeah, didn’t help much, his girlfriend gave up halfway up,’ I said.
‘She had asthma,’ Doris said.
‘I know,’ I said, ‘Promising that you have only five minutes to go to the top, doesn’t help much if you can’t breathe.’
Mount Chambers didn’t seem as high as Mount Ohlssen Bagge, and by lunch time, we had reached the cairn of stones that marked the summit. The T-Team gathered around the stones and I took a photo as proof of our achievement.
Then, after a light lunch of more scroggin, we began our descent. Half-way down, I observed Barney hunched over, backpack on his back.
I laughed, ‘Hey Barney, let me get a photo of you; you look like a tortoise.’
‘So do you,’ Barney shot back.
Doris tucked her pack under her T-shirt and Rick did the same.
I set up the camera on my tripod and following Doris’ example, the T-Team became the four hunchbacks of Mount Chambers.
Then, discarding our packs, we transformed into the T-Team Crusaders again.
While trekking down to the plain, Doris spotted a white Holden Kingswood with two strapping young fellas attached to it. Being the bush, and the guys being the only other humans in the vicinity of Mount Chambers, Doris approached them.
We had a good yarn with them. They were from Melbourne on a road trip. We swapped addresses.
Some months later, one of them actually wrote to me. So, on a road trip with my Dad to Melbourne, I caught up with this fellow. But, just my luck, by the end of the meeting, I realised that he was interested in Doris, not me. In hindsight, now, lucky for the future Mr. K., or more appropriately, God’s plan for my life.
[Unusually cold and rainy for November here in Adelaide. Reminds me of the younger of the T-Team with roughin’ it on their minds, exploring the Flinders Ranges; their sights set on Chambers Gorge…]
The rain followed the ants and began pelting down on the car roof.
‘Get to higher ground.’ Barney thumped his thighs. ‘Argh! An ant!’
‘Remember our friends from church?’ I said. ‘They got caught in a flood in the Flinders.’
Barney nodded and nudged my brother. ‘Yeah, remember?’
‘It’s like raining cats and dogs—and all those ants. We’ll be caught in the flood if you don’t do something.’ Doris slapped her arm. ‘Yuk! Another one! They’ve invaded the car. Get a torch!’
Barney handed Doris a torch. My brother fired up the engine.
‘Where are they?’ Doris cried. Beams of light from the torch bounced around the cabin.
‘Get that light off!’ my brother said. ‘I’m trying to drive.’
‘I have to find the ants.’
‘You want me to get to higher ground?’
‘Oh, al-right!’ Doris snapped and extinguished the torch light.
My brother manoeuvred the car around and then retraced the track to the previous campsite which had been on higher ground.
As my brother leapt from the car, Doris said, ‘I hope there’s no ants.’
My brother took the torch from Doris. ‘I’ll see, then.’
‘You reckoned this site had ants,’ Doris said. ‘You reckoned we had to move because of ants. I’m not getting out if there’s ants.’
Using both the torch and the car’s head lights, my brother inspected the ground. ‘Nup, no ants.’
Rain hammered the roof and my brother’s image blurred with the rain.
‘Don’t believe you,’ Doris murmured. ‘Anyway, it’s raining, I’m staying in the car.’
‘Are we high enough? Barney asked. ‘I don’t want us getting flushed down Chambers Gorge.’
‘Ha! Ha! Very funny,’ I said.
‘I’m serious,’ Barney said.
‘Yep, we went up a bit,’ my brother said. ‘We’re above the creek, now.’
‘Don’t trust you, get higher,’ Doris said. ‘I don’t want to be washed away.’
My brother mumbled, ‘Like that’ll happen.’ Then he sighed, ‘Oh, alright, if you insist.’ He revved up the car and mounted another small slope and then settled on a hill.
No one dared move from the car as the rain steadily fell and the fear of inch-ants crawling up and over our sleeping bodies. Plus, the bother of putting up the tent in the rain, kept us locked in the car all night. We made the best of sleeping sitting upright for another night.
Morning, we woke to blue skies and the creek transformed into a luxurious chain of ponds. Birds, big black ones called “butcher birds”, galahs, and parrots, converged on the edges of marsh. They searched for fish, poking around the lily pads scattered like floating pebbles on the water’s surface. White cockatoos congregated and chattered in the gum trees with leaves glistening in the early morning sun, washed clean by the rain.
Doris and I took the opportunity to take a dip in a nearby pool. I marvelled how this rain made reeds spring up overnight. ‘They weren’t there yesterday, I’m sure,’ I said.
‘Wow! All that rain, and we didn’t get washed away,’ Doris said.
[The continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, 1967, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia… In this episode (10.5) Letitia becomes acquainted with the flat Gunter has allowed her to stay in…]
Further Back In Time
She was prised out of her travel-stupor as a light-coloured concrete driveway magically absorbed them into a cluster of flats. Under the thin cover of carport, Gunter terminated the engine and yanked the handbrake to almost vertical.
‘So, here we are! You can stay here as long as you like. Okay, a couple of weeks, anyway,’ Gunter said unwinding his lanky frame out of the car.
Letitia pushed open her door with some effort and watched as he placed a brick under the back tyre. The Austin creaked as if in protest. She noticed a bent pole opposite. Obviously, the pole had suffered such a fate at the mercy of this car.
Gunter jangling some keys, loped up the narrow path framed with a few withered sticks of trees. She shuddered at the gazanias attacking the rocks that marked the dried-out lawn. Reminded her of some of the housing trust houses near where she had lived in Mirror. Different era. But same kind of houses, and same level of neglect.
‘I’m looking after this flat while my friend is away on tour; he’s the clown in the circus. Actually, it was his mother’s house,’ Gunter explained as he fiddled with the with the key in the lock of the door. ‘It must be all in the wrist action.’ He muttered with frustration as he jiggled the key in the lock. ‘Das ist eine Dumkopf!’ He rattled the door and twisted the key willing it to work. ‘See, it is not my house. There is a knack to it – I mean getting the door unlocked.’
‘Let me try,’ Letitia said as she grabbed the keys from Gunter. The cream painted wooden door appeared like the one possessed by her Mirror house. ‘It seems to have a similar temperament to a house I once lived in.’
‘Mirror?’ Gunter sighed as Letitia took over.
Within seconds the lock clicked in compliance and after unlocking the door with ease, they were inside staring at hideous brown carpet with accompanying musty odour.
‘Well, I will leave you to it,’ Gunter said. ‘I must get back to the boarding house or old Mrs. C will lock me out. I am sure you will be fine finding everything. I mean it is just a home. You will be right. Tschüs.’ His voice was beginning to trail off down the dimly lit path. ‘I am just down the road if you have any questions,’ he called out from the hidden darkness of the carport. ‘I think my phone number is somewhere there. Must go. Bis später.’
With a thunderous roar of the engine that caused the metal roof to vibrate, Gunter’s Austin rolled out of the carport and vanished around a corner of apartment complex.
‘Thanks for the tips,’ Letitia muttered to the greasy brown carpet. She sank onto an iridescent green felt cushion that garnished the white vinyl clad armchair and gazed, her eyes glazed, on her surroundings. There were the cream painted walls, lolly-green kitchen cupboards, the brown carpet sucking in life and light, the white wood framed curtain-challenged window, and finally an ebony veneer radiogram cabinet that engulfed the front end of the tiny lounge room. If it wasn’t for the 1967 calendar that was placed neatly under the austere mini-Christmas tree gracing the cedar dining table, she would have been sure she had been thrust further back in time to the 1930’s. Instead, only the décor and furnishings had been preserved, frozen in time, not her.
[A mild spring with some happy warm days interspersed with bouts of thunderstorms and heavy rain. And the ants making me hop and dance when out in the garden. A reminder of the younger of the T-Team with roughin’ it on their minds, venture closer to home and into the Flinders Ranges; their sights set on Chambers Gorge…But never in their wildest dreams did they expect these little, or not so little, crawly things, ants, to spoil their first night camping in the Flinders Ranges…]
By mid-morning, and a half-a-dozen or so beers later for Barney, my brother chauffeured us on the rough road to Chambers Gorge.
‘Are you sure you know where we’re going?’ Doris asked.
‘Sure I do,’ my brother said. ‘I’ve been there before.’
We bounced over the gravel road and its abundant potholes. Then came the roller-coaster—up and down, almost flying and then stomachs thudding to the floor in the dips.
‘Stop!’ Barney groaned. ‘I’m going to be sick.’
‘Oh, no!’ Doris and I cried.
‘Stop the—’ Barney gurgled, and he leaned forward, his hand cupped over his mouth.
My brother slammed on the brakes and stopped the car in the middle of the road. Too late! Liquid breakfast splattered every corner of the car’s interior.
We spent the next half an hour using dampened beach towels to flush out the worst of the mess, and then the next few hours driving to Chambers Gorge, doing our best to ignore the smell—windows open, nostrils filling with bull dust in preference to the smell.
‘I feel sick,’ Doris said.
My brother stopped the car and we all jumped out.
Doris leaned over a salt bush and then stood up. ‘Nah, it’s okay.’
‘Better safe than sorry,’ my brother said. ‘We don’t want another accident.’
So without a map, my brother found Chambers Gorge. We lumbered along the rugged road that followed the dry creek bed.
‘Where’s the water?’ Doris asked.
‘All underground, unless it rains,’ my brother said.
We glanced left and right, sighting tents and camper vans. Four o’clock and already all the best campsites had been taken. We ventured further into the gorge crawling along the creek bed of boulders. The rocky slopes of the low hills that defined Chambers Gorge were shrouded in grey tones of an over-cast sky.
I pointed to a clearing. ‘What about here?’
‘Too small,’ my brother said.
Doris indicated a site near a clump of twisted gum trees. ‘Hey, what about one over there?’
‘Nup, where would we park?’
‘There’s a spot,’ Barney said.
‘And how am I going to get up there?’
‘We have to camp somewhere, or we’ll be cooking tea in the dark,’ I said.
‘I don’t feel so well,’ Barney said. ‘I have a headache.’
‘You shouldn’t’ve had so many beers for breakfast,’ Doris snapped.
My brother stopped the car. ‘Here will do.’
We climbed out of the car and inspected the mound of gravel no larger than a small bedroom.
‘Bit small,’ Barney said.
‘You reckon you can find somewhere better?’ my brother answered.
‘Nah, I guess it’ll be alright.’
My brother and Barney unpacked the car and then set up Barney’s tent. Then my brother pumped up his blow-up mattress—no tent for him, he preferred to sleep under the stars. So did I. A billion-star accommodation for me. I persuaded Doris to also sleep under the stars. One problem, clouds covered our star-studded view.
Doris and I searched for firewood.
‘Seems like Chambers Gorge is well picked over,’ Doris remarked.
‘It’s like Rundle Mall,’ I replied. ‘Won’t be coming here again. Too many people.’
We found a few sticks, just enough for a fire to cook our canned spaghetti for tea. For dessert, we ate fruit cake.
As our thoughts drifted to bed and enjoying sleep under clouds as it seemed tonight, my brother said, ‘Oh, er, I did a bit of exploring. Found a better camping spot. Bigger, near a waterhole.’
‘Really?’ Doris sighed.
‘Can’t we just stay here?’ Barney asked.
My brother stroked the red mound upon which we sat. ‘Could be an ant hill.’
So again, we followed my brother’s leading, packed up and piled into the car. Once again, we crawled to my brother’s El Dorado of campsites.
There, in the dark, we set up our bedding. Barney abandoned the idea of a tent and settled down, content with the cloudy canopy to cover him like the rest of us.
As I began pumping up my mattress—Plop! I looked up. Another plop.
‘O-oh, rain,’ I said.
‘Nah, probably amount to nothing.’ My brother shrugged and continued to blow up his mattress.
Doris sat on a small mound and watched us. Rick promised to pump up all our mattresses.
‘Ugh!’ Doris cried and then slapped her thigh.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘What do you mean, an ant?’
‘An ant bit me.’
‘What? Through jeans?’
‘Yeah, it was a big one—ugh! There’s another one,’ Doris jumped up, ‘and another.’
Doris danced and slapped herself.
Rick shone a torch where Doris did her “River Dance”.
‘Holy crud!’ Barney said, his eyes wide. ‘The place is full of them.’
Ants, two and a half centimetres long and called “Inch Ants”, swarmed the ground, their pincers snapping. They streamed from a hole on the mound where Doris had been sitting, ants multiplying and invading our clearing.
We scrambled to the car and threw ourselves in. Doris and I sat in the back, Barney and my brother in the front.
‘Looks like we’ll be camping in the car tonight,’ I grumbled.
[The continuation of the Survivor Short Story “project” in the War On Boris the Bytrode series. This time, back in time, 1967, following the adventures of middle-aged mum, Letitia… In this episode (10.4) Gunter drives Letitia in his old (even for 1967) Austin …]
By the time they had reached the part of the street where the human traffic had thinned, Gunter had pulled out a key for his car and was muttering. A few steps behind him, Letitia could not catch a word, let alone the thread of his monologue. By the time she caught up to Gunter, he had stopped by an ancient, even for 1967, mottled green, Austin sedan. The talk had ended, and Gunter having opened the car and seated in the driver’s seat, was reaching over to unlock the passenger’s door.
As Letitia waited to climb in this almost classic car, he tossed a few books, junk food wrappers and greasy spare tee-shirts from the front passenger’s seat. He then jerked the door open and urged, ‘Come, I’ve got just the place for you.’
She crept into the Austin with a cursory, “thank you” and adjusted her seated body around the vinyl cracks in the worn bench seat. Before she had a chance to survey the damage of years of neglect, Gunter apologised, ‘Sorry about the mess. I must clean out the car sometime.’ He inserted the key in the ignition slot and muttered, ‘I hope I don’t have to crank it. She can be cranky when she wants to be.’ He laughed at his own joke, and repeated, ‘Cranky.’
‘You’ve obviously never been in Trigger after a Flinder’s trip.’ Letitia jested in an attempt to ease Gunter’s embarrassment. ‘Actually, neither have I, but my friends on Mirror World told me all about that machine.’
‘Come on baby,’ Gunter coaxed the old girl as he turned the ignition. The Austin squeaked and then roared to life. ‘That’s the girl!’
‘Are you old enough to drive?’ Letitia asked.
‘I’m seventeen!’ Gunter replied. ‘I pilot spacecraft, what is the difference?’
‘How did you get the car?’
‘Don’t ask.’ Gunter paused as he brought the old car to a literally grinding halt at the lights. Four lanes of cars, headlights blazing attacked the highway intersection in a seemingly seamless stampede of rubber tyres grunting over bitumen. As the traffic light suddenly turned green, Gunter lurched the Austin over the wide highway, and continued the conversation. ‘I suppose I should clean up the car and take it to a car wash. You can get it free with a service. They even polish the hub caps. Cool hey? Don’t worry about the car, Lettie, this one has got a new engine and the body is solid. Although there are few rust spots, and the paint is peeling. But it is not a bad car really.’
‘Pff! Don’t worry, Gunter, Jemima’s been in worse. I mean, her father never had a car. Caught the tram everywhere in Sydney.’
‘Oh, Ja, Jemima’s father; was that Nathan?’ Gunter slammed on the brakes and the car jerked to another stop, catapulting Letitia forward into the dusty dashboard. ‘You need to put your seat belt on. If we had one. They say they save lives. I know that is true for spaceships, but a car? I hate to think it is taking away people’s freedoms.’
‘Seatbelt,’ Letitia murmured while feeling for that life-saving device, ‘that’s what’s missing.’
‘What is it like in future? In this Mirror World? Do they have seatbelts? And must everyone wear one in a car?’
‘But of course. And it does save lives. Actually, in my time, fifty years from this time, cars have airbags, and computers that sense objects and stop before you hit them. Oh, and we have driverless cars as well.’
‘Driverless? Take all the fun out of driving? I would not like that.’
The Austin roared and grumbled along the dark empty main road. Letitia caught the black letters on a white sign that read, “North Road”. In this part of town, the recently built cream brick houses were falling asleep, while episodes of sparsely lit shop strips remained singularly uninspiring. As she was swept along the quiet roads of suburbia, her thoughts became numbed with exhaustion. She watched dumbly as the houses changed from brick to weather board, and as the dark expanse of some high rise or factory rose and then sank on the roadside.