This day being a public holiday in South Australia, hubby and I took a meander around the Happy Valley Reservoir. This Reservoir has been open since last December and this is the first time we’ve entered this reserve.
Before December 2021, the reservoir was closed to the public to keep the water supply clean. However, I gather that water purification technology has advanced enough to allow the public to enjoy the ambient nature of this now recreational park.
Below are some moments captured in time from our Monday Meandering around the reservoir.
[Extract from The T-Team with Mr. B: Central Australia 1977, a prequel to Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981.
The T-Team with Mr B — In 1977 Dad’s friend Mr Banks and his son, Matt (not their real names), joined Dad, my brother (Rick) and me on this journey of adventure. I guess Dad had some reservations how I would cope… But it soon became clear that the question was, how would Mr B who was used to a life of luxury cope?
And our accommodation in Hermannsburg had sent us on a tour back in time…]
Living in History
I lay in bed and gazed up at the ceiling. Wish I hadn’t. A hessian sheet hung above me, pinned to the four corners of the room and sagging in the middle. It appeared the sand from the Central desert had worked its way into the sheet, threatening to burst all over me. How long before the sheet would no longer be able to contain its weight? I sat up and swung my feet to the floor. A cockroach scuttled under the wardrobe made of oak. I shuddered. Better sand fall on me than cockroaches.
I grabbed my towel and toiletry bag, then padded out my room and down the dark hallway to the bathroom. There I gazed around the small room, sealed with green and white tiles, some broken. In the 1950’s wash basin, waist-high and looking like an enamel pastel-green pulpit, a line of rust coursed from the faucet to the drain. The matching bath suffered a permanent rusty-brown ring, a reminder of how full to fill the tub. I scanned around the room and above the bath. No shower—not even a rusty one.
I heard a knock at the door. ‘Lee-Anne, are you in there?’
‘Yes, Dad,’ I replied. ‘Where’s the shower?’
Dad opened the door and poked his head through. He screwed up his nose and swivelled his head left, right, up and down. ‘Oh, no shower. I guess you’ll have to have a bath.’
‘Hurry, though, we’re off to see Mr. C and his school.’
‘Oh.’ Last year Mr. C was my mathematics teacher. Then, in 1977, he’d taken up a position teaching the Arunta children in their camps near Hermannsburg.
I turned on the tap. Water dribbled into the bath, brown and making the pipes groan. I gazed at the tea-coloured brew pooling at the base of the tub. I like baths, normally. Not sure about this one.
‘Don’t fill it too full,’ Dad said.
‘No, Dad.’ No danger of that happening. The bath looked like it’d take an eternity to cover even to the depth of an inch.
‘Don’t take too long,’ Dad added.
I reached in and tested the water. Cold. I then placed my fingers under the dribble from the tap. Cold. Great! Not much water and it’s cold. Yep, I’ll have a quick wash.
I stopped the dismal flow and rushed through the motions of washing. After raking dry shampoo through my limp strands of hair, I bunched them into pig-tails and returned to my room to change.
Then I walked into the kitchen. Light through the louvers reflected dust motes drifting through the air.
Dad looked up from his bowl of porridge. ‘Oh, you’re finished already?’
I helped myself to the saucepan of porridge on the ancient stove. The cooker squatted there in the corner, brass fittings attached to afford gas to the rings on top. And lime green. I could see Hermannsburg had a theme going—shades of green. Except the table, washed with the thin coat of white paint. Perhaps it was green once, at the turn of the century.
As if taking advantage of my abbreviated bathroom visit, Dad took his sweet time. So, while we waited, Richard and I played cards, on the kitchen table.
‘Mr. B and Matt are taking their time,’ I said gathering up the cards.
‘They’re sleeping in,’ Richard laughed. ‘I think Mr. B’s exhausted.’
‘He didn’t know what he was getting himself into coming on this trip.’
Richard snorted. ‘Bet he’s never been camping in his life.’
‘No, all motels and luxury for him, I reckon.’
Dad stood behind us and coughed. ‘What are you talking about?’
We turned and widening our eyes to feign innocence, my brother and I chorused, ‘Nothing.’
‘I hope so.’ Dad cleared his throat again. ‘Now, come on, Mr. C’ll be here soon.’
‘Can I see Mummy’s house? Did we get permission?’
‘Er, um, later. Mr. C’s waiting. We’re late,’ Dad said and then strode out the door; the green door.
Richard and I followed.
‘We know whose fault it is we’re late,’ Richard muttered as we followed Dad out the historic hospital to meet Mr. C.
The T-Team with Mr B — In 1977 Dad’s friend Mr Banks and his son, Matt (not their real names), joined Dad, my brother (Rick) and me on this journey of adventure. I guess Dad had some reservations how I would cope… But it soon became clear that the question was, how would Mr B who was used to a life of luxury cope?
This time, the T-Team arrive at Hermannsburg.]
Dad held up Hermannsburg as the Holy Grail; some marvellous place that, every time he mentioned it, his eyes misted over, and he’d whisper the name with a sigh. Hermannsburg, the Lutheran Mission, founded in 1877 by those intrepid Lutheran Missionaries, Kempe and Schwartz, from the mission house of the same name in Germany. Hermannsburg saved by the stalwart missionary Carl Strehlow from 1894 to 1922. Hermannsburg, where my grandfather lived for 18 years with his wife and growing family. Hermannsburg where my Dad came to teach in the 1950’s and where he met and married my mum.
My father slowed and manoeuvred the Rover along a bumpy road lined with a cluster of buildings. The Rover’s headlights lit up stone walls of the historic church painted white, and then a house near by framed with a pair of date palm trees and a waist-high cyclone fence.
‘We’re here,’ Dad said. He stopped the Rover.
A man pushed open the gate, and stepping up to us, he waved, pointing at the house opposite. ‘Ah!’ Dad started up the engine and then parked the Rover in front of that house.
‘Is that where Mummy used to live?’ I asked.
‘Nah, I don’t think so,’ Dad replied.
‘Can I get to see Mummy’s house?’
‘In the morning, it’s a bit dark now.’
‘Is someone living in it?’
‘I don’t know. I’ll ask—Um, Gary Stoll.’ Dad opened the Rover door and jumped out. ‘Come on, don’t just sit there.’
The rest of the T-Team climbed out of the Rover, and gathered around Dad and Mr. Stoll, the resident missionary. After introductions, greeting and shaking hands with the missionary, he showed us to our accommodation, one of the original Hermannsburg homesteads which was directly opposite my Mum’s old home. This homestead was built many decades ago as the old hospital.
Gary’s wife appeared at the door of the cottage. She wiped her hands on her floral apron. ‘Come on, I’ll show you where you’ll be sleeping.’
‘Good,’ said Mr. B, ‘I’m looking forward to sleeping in a proper bed. You wouldn’t believe what we’ve had to put up with over the past two weeks.’
Mrs. Stoll chuckled. ‘What? No motels?’ Under her apron, her tummy jiggled up and down. She reminded me of my grandma. Similar sense of humour. Necessary, I guess.
Mr. B pursed his lips. ‘No, just creeks.’
‘Creeks?’ Mrs. Stoll laughed. ‘Luxury!’
Dad joined in. ‘That’s what I told him. Hey, mate, I thought you liked the one at Palmer River.’
‘Hmm! It was passable…except for the snakes.’ Mr. B scooped up his sleeping bag and sauntered off to his allocated room.
Mrs. Stoll showed me my room. The cold of night seeped into the old stone house. After she left me, I gazed at the limestone walls all lumpy and painted white. I shivered and then dumped my bag on the bed, the mattress looking equally as lumpy under army-grey blankets. Oh, well, it’s a bed. I glanced at the floor, threadbare carpet raked over the stone floor. I took a deep breath of musty air and coughed. I decided to keep my shoes on. I stood still and stared out into the blackness. It’s so quiet; like a ghost town. Was mum’s house like this one?
I dared not look up at the high ceiling before walking to the door, pushing the knob of the old brown Bakelite switch down and checking that the naked globe dangling from the ceiling had gone off.
In the lounge room, I sank into an armchair of an ancient lounge suite, chunky and tan velvet. I leaned forward and pestered Dad. ‘Can you ask if I can see mum’s old home?’
Dad sighed. ‘I’ll see what I can do.’
The T-Team trooped over to the mission house where we’d been invited for tea. Now, the thing about missionaries was their hospitality. Mrs. Stoll put on a spread. I mean, a banquet; an immaculate display on an antique oval table covered with white linen—Roast beef, well, it was cattle country. Fresh from our host’s garden: roast potatoes, just like my grandma’s all crisp and crunchy on the outside and juice and fluffy on the inside, boiled peas, carrots and cauliflower. Then, dessert, ice-cream, and apple crumble for which I always keep room. Satisfied I rubbed my stomach. Yep, our digs may be crumbling, but the food, the wonderful food, the amazing food. My stomach ached with pleasure from all the delicious food.
‘This is the best meal ever!’ Mr. B said, then he leaned forward to Mr. Stoll, ‘Better than the egg soup we had to endure with my mate here.’ He pointed at Dad.
Mrs. Stoll strode through the door, her arms cradling tray of potato kuchen, steam rising above the strudel, and the aroma of cake filling the dining room.
She moved around table offering the cake. I took a piece. But then, while the others devoured theirs and asked for more, I stared at mine, willing a cake-shaped hole to form in my stomach to fit this delicious morsel in.
‘What’s the matter?’ Dad asked.
Richard eyed my cake, his fat fingers in pincer-mode ready to snatch.
‘I want it, but I can’t fit it in.’
‘Eyes too big for your stomach,’ Mr. B said.
Richard pounced. In one fluid movement, the cake vanished, and my brother leaned back, wiped the crumbs from his mouth and patted his tummy.
‘Don’t worry,’ Mrs. Stoll said, ‘we have plenty more cake. I’ll put aside some for you for supper.’
We had the luxury of staying up until midnight, that night. Dad and Mr. B chatted with the missionary couple, while Richard, Matt and I played cards, and ate cake. I hoped Dad would ask the question: Can I visit my mum’s old house?
[While painting this scene of a group of older men gathering to admire the glowing walls of Standley Chasm, I was reminded of the T-Team’s trek in 1977 with Mr. B. This wealthy man used to comfort and luxury, took on the challenges of roughing it camping with the T-Team. This stunning chasm is about 50km west of Alice Springs and is one of the first of many beautiful sites to visit in the MacDonnell Ranges.]
The T-Team With Mr B (26)
Mr. B slowed the Rover and eased it into a park joining the line of cars, land rovers, and buses awaiting their owners’ return. The T-Team piled out of the Rover and in single-file, followed Dad along the narrow track heading towards Standley Chasm. In the twists and turns of the trail that hugged the dry creek bed, I spotted ferns in the shadow of rock mounds the colour of yellow ochre, and ghost gums sprouting out of russet walls of stone. Hikers marched past us returning to the car park.
‘G’day,’ they said. ‘Well worth it.’
Dad checked his watch and quickened his pace.
I ran to catch Dad. ‘Have we missed out?’
‘We better hurry,’ Dad snapped.
A leisurely short stroll became a race to the finish as we struggled to keep up with Dad; scrambling over boulders on the track, squeezing past more tourists going to and from the chasm, Dad snapping and cracking the verbal whip, and Mr. B moaning and groaning that “it’s not for a sheep station”.
The crowd thickened, stranding us in a jam of people, fat bottoms wobbling, parents hauling their whinging kids, and men clutching cameras to their eyes for the perfect shot. Dad checked his watch and then shifted the weight from one foot to the other.
‘Are we there yet?’ I asked.
Wrong question. Especially when asking a grumpy Dad.
‘Not yet!’ Dad barked.
‘I reckon we’re not far away,’ I said. ‘All the tourists have stopped. Must be some reason.’
Dad screwed up his nose. ‘I dunno, it doesn’t look right.’
‘Excuse me! Excuse me!’ Mr. B, one arm stretched out before him, parted the sea of people and strode through.
We followed in Mr. B’s wake and within twenty paces, there it glowed. Standley Chasm. Both walls in hues of gold to ochre. Dozens of people milled around its base.
Dad gazed at the chasm, and then squinted at the position of the sun. ‘It’s not there yet.’
‘How long?’ I wanted to know.
‘Not long, just wait.’ Dad paced towards a white gum that bowed before the grand wonder of the chasm.
‘Wait! I’ll take a photo of you,’ I said.
‘Do you have to?’
‘We might miss the walls turning red.’
‘They turn red that quickly?’
Dad leaned up against the tree. ‘I s’pose not.’
I dug out my instamatic camera and photographed my grumpy Dad.
Then we waited. The tourists snapped their shots and then filtered away.
‘When’s it going to turn red?’ I asked for the fourth time.
‘Be patient,’ Dad said.
‘This is boring,’ Matt mumbled.
‘Let’s see what’s the other side.’ Richard tapped Matt on the arm. The two lads scrambled over the rocks and I watched them hop from one boulder to the next over a small waterhole.
Dad paced from one wall to the next while Mr. B photographed Standley Chasm from every angle.
I watched mesmerized by the sunlight playing on the walls. They turned from a russet-brown on one side, gold on the other, to both glowing a bright orange. But by then, most of the tourists had left, thinking the Chasm had finished its performance for the day.
As the other wall turned in hue to sienna, Mr. B packed his camera in his leather case and stood back admiring the view.
‘Get some good shots?’ Dad asked.
‘I reckon I did.’ Mr. B patted his camera bag. ‘You know, once the crowds thinned out, I reckon I got some good ones.’
‘Ah, well, I’ve seen Standley Chasm put on a better show in the past.’ I think Dad was trying to justify not having a functional camera.
‘Well, I enjoyed it,’ I said. ‘This place is amazing!’
Dad patted me on the back. ‘Ah! Lee-Anne, you haven’t seen anything yet. Wait till you see Ormiston Gorge.’
‘By the way, where are tha boys?’ Mr. B asked.
‘Looks like we have to be patient and wait for them now.’
‘I hope your son doesn’t get ma boy lost.’
Dad laughed. ‘No worries. There they are, just the other side of the chasm.’ He waved at the boys.
Richard and Matt scrambled through the chasm to join the T-Team on the hike back to the Rover.
The T-Team with Mr B— In 1977Dad’s friend Mr Banks and his son, Matt (not their real names), joined Dad, my brother (Rick) and me on this journey of adventure. I guess Dad had some reservations how I would cope…But it soon became clear that the question was, how would Mr B who was used to a life of luxury cope?
In this episode, the T-Team experience one of the hazards of camping in a creek bed.]
The sun peeped over the horizon, its rays causing the river gum leaves to look like they’d burst into flames. The creek was alive with a conference of birds, screeching and chattering over breakfast. I sat up in my sleeping bag and stretched.
‘Did you have a good sleep, Lee-Anne?’ Dad asked.
‘Yes, I did. I had a wonderful sleep. It’s just like you say, Dad. The hip hole made all the difference.’
During the night, since my air mattress had gone flat, I had dug a hip hole. Dad recommended doing this in place of an air-mattress. He said that the aborigines did this when they slept.
‘That’s good,’ Dad said and then tramped over to the Rover.
When he had disappeared behind the vehicle, I unravelled myself from my bedding, pulled on my boots and shuffled over to the fire joining Richard and Matt, spreading hands over the warmth to continue the process of waking up.
‘Oh, no!’ Dad cried.
‘What?’ Mr B sat up in his sack. He looked like a red caterpillar with slits for eyes.
‘The Rover’s bogged,’ Dad yelled from behind the Rover.
‘How can you tell?’ Mr B asked.
Dad sighed. ‘Ooh, it doesn’t look good. Told you we shouldn’t’ve camped in a creek bed.’
‘Pff!’ Mr B wormed his way out of his sleeping bag and then sauntered over to the Rover, vanishing like Dad behind it.
The men talked in low tones, their voices muffled.
Richard grabbed his .22 rifle and nodded to Matt who then picked up his. ‘Just going to do some shooting,’ he said and then the two boys walked down the creek. I started to follow them.
‘Lee-Anne!’ Dad called.
I stopped and looked back. ‘What?’
‘Come and help us dig out the Rover’s wheels, would you?’
I put my hands on my hips. ‘Oh, al-right!’
Then I stomped back to the Rover.
Dad huffed and puffed as he shelled out the sand with his bare hands.
Mr B used the camp shovel. ‘I hope this has been washed and sterilised thoroughly,’ he grunted.
I muttered, ‘Why do the boys get all the fun?’
Both men stopped their shovelling.
Dad glared at me. ‘What did you say?’
‘Er, um, nothing,’ I replied.
‘I don’t want to hear any grumbling, you understand?’ Dad’s voice had an edge to it.
‘You should be thankful for the privilege,’ Mr B added.
‘Yes, I am.’ Where else would I get the joy of digging the Rover out of a bog of sand? I continued digging.
Mr B stepped away from the Rover. ‘Try the Rover now.’
Dad gathered some green leaves and placed them in the cavities under each of the Rover’s tyres. Then he hopped in the driver’s seat and turned on the ignition. The Rover’s engine puttered to life. Dad sat in the idle Rover while it chugged. Then he engaged first gear with a crunch of the clutch.
He stuck his head out the window. ‘Get behind and push.’
Mr B and I laid hands on each side of the Rover’s back end and as Dad pressed down on the accelerator, we pushed. Four wheels spun. Sand and leaves sprayed us.
‘Push, girl!’ Mr B shouted.
‘I’m pushing!’ Sand smattered my face. ‘It’s no use!’
Dad switched off the engine. He jumped out the Rover and marched to the rear tyres. He then knelt and dug deeper under the tyres. ‘Get some more leaves and small branches!’ he cried.
Mr B and I scrambled up the bank and gathered armfuls of fallen branches. When we returned, Dad was smoothing out the holes under the back tyres. He also had placed twigs and small branches under the front tyres. We added our offerings to the holes below the back tyres and Dad patted them down. He’d also deflated the tyres a little.
Dad climbed into the driver’s seat. ‘We’ll try again.’
This time with Mr B and me pushing, the Rover’s tyres spun, then caught and jerked out of the bog. Dad sped up the dry river bed and parked on firmer ground. He then returned. Dusting his hands, he said, ‘Alright, Lee-Anne, after I’ve pumped up the tyres again, we’ll be ready to go. Go get the boys. We’re off to Alice Springs.’
The T-Team with Mr B — In 1977Dad’s friend Mr Banks and his son, Matt (not their real names), joined Dad, my brother (Rick) and me on this journey of adventure. I guess Dad had some reservations how I would cope…But it soon became clear that the question was, how would Mr B who was used to a life of luxury cope?
This time the T-Team encounter a snake…
SNAKE OF PALMER RIVER
We sailed onwards from Curtin Springs. On this stretch of road, Matt and I were the Captain and Skipper of the good ship Land Rover. We rode up and over waves of copper-coloured sand dunes, juddered along stormy corrugations, and crept through stony creek beds.
As the sun hovered above a line of gum trees in the distance, a sign to Palmer River rose out of the mirage. Crossing the dry creek bed lined with eucalypt trees, their trunks white and thick and branches covered with lush green leaves, Dad slowed the vehicle to a crawl. He then turned into the creek and drove the Rover along a track of soft sand. After travelling some distance down the dry riverbed, he stopped. The men stepped out from the Rover.
‘I think we’ll camp here tonight,’ Dad said.
‘You’ve got no argument with me,’ Mr. B replied. He gazed around at the cream-coloured sand and shady gum trees. ‘Now why didn’t you find somewhere like this before?’
Mr. B rubbed his hands together. ‘Right time to get the BBQ together and fire it up.’
While the older men cooked the meat, the lads ventured out to shoot some meat of their own. I followed at a safe distance. Walking over to a track that crossed the riverbed, I spotted a dark long object.
‘Hey, look at this,’ I yelled to the boys.
They stopped and turned.
‘Careful,’ Richard said.
‘Is that a snake?’ Matt asked. He raised his rifle.
I tip-toed up to the long dark creature and peered at it. A brown snake, two metres in length, lay across the track.
‘It’s a snake,’ I said.
‘Get out the way,’ Richard said. He raised his rifle and squinted lining up the target with his “iron sight” (the bit at the end of the rifle’s nozzle that helps with the shooter’s aim).
I trod a couple of steps closer. ‘It’s not moving.’
‘What are you doing? It might strike,’ Richard shouted.
‘They’re poisonous, you know,’ Matt added.
‘It’s alright.’ I walked up to it. In two places the snake appeared to be flattened. ‘There’s tyre marks across its body. It’s dead. Very dead.’
Richard crouched down beside the effigy and then picked it up. ‘Yep, it’s dead.’
‘And some car’s the culprit,’ Matt said.
As the sun sank into the horizon, casting its tangerine magic on the trunks of the river gums, the T-Team gathered around the BBQ.
‘Well, ma boys,’ Mr B flipped a steak in the pan, ‘you got anything to add?’
Richard and Matt glanced at each other and then gazed at the pink and grey waves of sand of Palmer River.
I giggled. ‘They wanted to, but their shooting venture was fruitless.’
‘That’s a shame,’ Dad said. ‘Ah, well.’
‘We could have the snake,’ I said.
‘I don’t think so,’ Dad cleared his throat, ‘we’re not that desperate.’
So, while parrots chattered in the gum trees celebrating another brilliant day in the Centre of Australia, having escaped the boys’ efforts to shoot them, we savoured our juicy steak from Curtin Springs Station.
This time, the customary viewing of an icon of Australia, doesn’t quite go to plan.]
Dad meant what he said; he believed we, as the T-Team were travellers, not tourists. So, when the sun began its journey to the other side of the earth, and edged towards the western horizon, Dad drove further west and far away from the popular tourist haunts for the sunset on the Rock.
‘Don’t go too far,’ Mr. B said as he glanced back at the diminishing size of the Rock. ‘I want a red rock of considerable size.’
‘I know what I’m doing,’ Dad replied.
But every vantage point that we considered photo-worthy, so did clusters of tourists. The ants may have been heading for bed, but the road west of Uluru swarmed with sightseers scrambling over the landscape to capture that momentous event of the sunset on Uluru.
‘I hope we’re not going to miss Uluru turning red, ‘cos that’s what I came here to see,’ Mr. B said.
‘Plenty of time,’ Dad said. ‘Trust me.’
‘I’ll hold you to that promise, mate.’
Dad sighed and then turned into the next available place to park the Rover.
Mr. B glanced at his gold watch. ‘I mean to say, it’s nearly six o’clock. The sun sets at six, doesn’t it?’
We joined the tourists in the small clearing to take the Uluru-at-sunset-photos. There’s one snap I took of two travellers admiring the Rock as it deepened in colour, more a rusty-red, than the scarlet I’d seen on calendars. So, it’s taken with an instamatic camera and the quality is pitiful compared to the chocolate-box number my grandpa took in the 1950’s, but I reckon it captures the atmosphere.
‘Enough of these tourists,’ Richard grumbled. Clutching his polaroid camera, he stormed up the nearest hill.
‘Wait!’ I called and raced after him.
My brother ignored me and quickened his stride. I tried to catch up but soon tired of his fast pace. I watched him vanish behind some spinifex bushes and decided his quest for tourist-free photos was pointless. I gazed at the Rock squatting behind waves of sand-hills and bushes. The view’s going to be just as good, if not better by the road and the masses, I thought and rushed back to Dad before the sun went down too far and the Rock had lost its lustre.
Uluru faded from clay-red to a dull grey and the tourist congregation thinned, trickling away in their cars and buses towards the camping ground situated east of the Rock.
‘Is that it?’ I quizzed Dad. The Uluru at sunset in my mind had been spectacular in its failure to deliver. ‘Why didn’t it turn bright red?’
‘You need clouds for that. Clouds make all the difference,’ Dad said, his lips forming a beak. ‘Glad my camera’s out of action and I didn’t waste film on it.’
‘You mean, the Rock doesn’t always turn red?’
‘No, it’s the clouds that make the difference.’
‘What on the Rock?’
‘No, to the west, where the sun sets.’
‘But the photo of a red Ayres Rock taken by Grandpa had clouds around it.’
‘Yeah, well, there would’ve been clouds in the west too,’ Dad explained. ‘See, the sky is clear tonight, so that’s it for the Rock.’
‘Disappointing! A very poor show, ol’ friend.’ Mr. B sauntered past us with Matt tagging behind. ‘Come on, we better get to camp. Don’t want to be cooking in the dark. Don’t want the likes of egg soup again.’
Dad peered into the distant black lumps of hills. ‘Where’s Richard?’
I stared into the thickening darkness. No Richard. ‘Dunno, went into the sand-hills,’ I said with a shrug.
‘Oh, well, I guess he’s gone for a walk,’ Dad said.
The Rock became a dull silhouette on the horizon. We packed away our cameras and waited. And waited for Richard. Darkness settled on the land. We waited some more. The icy cold of the night air seeped into our bones. We waited but he did not appear.
‘Where could he be?’ Dad said and then stormed into the bush.
Minutes later, Dad tramped back to us waiting at the Rover. His search in the nearby scrub was fruitless.
Each one of us stood silent; silent sentinels around the Rover.
‘I hope he’s alright,’ my comment plopped in the well of silence. A chill coursed down my spine. What if an accident had befallen my lost brother? The dark of night had swallowed my brother up.
Dad grabbed the torch from the glove box in the Rover, and then marched back up the sand-hill.
I paced up and down the road. Mr. B folded his arms across his chest and scrutinised the shadows of bush that had now consumed Dad. Matt gazed up at the emerging mass of the Milky Way.
‘I hope they’re okay. I hope Dad finds Richard.’ My chest hurt with the pain of losing my brother.
Mr. B sighed. ‘Probably just a—’
‘What?’ I asked.
‘There they are,’ Mr. B said. ‘All that worry for nothing. You’ll get grey hairs if you keep worrying like that.’
I pulled at my hair and then raced up to my brother. ‘Where were you?’
‘I went out along the dunes. I kept walking and walking trying to find a good spot,’ Richard said.
Dad chuckled. ‘And when he did, he waited for the Rock to turn red.’
For the night we camped in an aboriginal reserve seven miles out of the Uluru—Kata Tjuta Reserve. In preparation for the trip, Dad had successfully applied for permission to camp there. This time Dad and I had two fires going each side of us as the previous night was so cold that I had little sleep. We hoped that two fires would be better than one to keep the chills away. Mr. B and his son Matt on the other hand, settled for one shared fire and superior fibres of their expensive sleeping bags to keep the cold out.
And Richard, after all his effort to scare us by almost getting lost, buried himself in his rather ordinary cotton sleeping bag, next to his single fire, and was the first one, after our rather simple rice dinner, to be snoring away, lost in the land of nod.
[The last few weeks I have been revisiting our adventures with Mr. B. This time without a certain person, the T-Team explore Walpa Gorge…]
At the mouth of Walpa Gorge, Kata Tjuta, we dumped our baggage under a tree, and then advanced up and into the gorge. The heat and flies evaporated as the dank shadows of the gorge’s walls towered over us. I was sure the floor of this gully had never been touched by direct sunlight. We tramped up the narrow path, our voices echoed in the cold air, and our sight adjusted to the blue-grey shade between the boulders.
We rested where the path vanished into a jumble of rounded rocks, large wrinkled marbles wedged in the narrowing crack of the gully. I gazed back over the plain. The red ochre cliffs of Walpa Gorge framed the pastel strips of pink, blue and lemon-yellow of the land. I snapped a shot.
‘Ah, don’t know if it’ll work out, dear. Too much contrast. You’ll either get the cliffs, or the plain, you won’t get both,’ Dad said.
He was right. When my photos were developed, I’d captured some of the colour on the Walpa Gorge walls, but the land below was invisible, all washed out. One has to be there, in the flesh, and see with one’s own eyes, the true beauty of The Olgas and Walpa Gorge.
We negotiated the boulders lodged like marbles in this gully. We struggled up slippery slopes and strained up steep inclines. We paused part way up and admired grandeur of the gorge. The walls glowed a russet red and the golden plains shimmered in the bright midday sun.
‘Come on, not far to go now,’ Dad said. ‘We’ll have lunch when we get there.’
We struggled onwards and upwards. Lichen-covered boulders threatened to thwart our endeavours. But we worked together to over-come the conglomerate of obstacles to finally reach the top-end of the gorge.
Over the lip, the view of Kata Tjuta reminded me of an alien landscape as if we’d been transported to another world. Massive boulders and bulbous granite mountains jutted up from the valley. I took photos, but my simple camera could not do justice in reflecting reality of what my eyes could see. We sat on the rocks, and with the breeze cooling our bodies, we savoured the view and a simple lunch of scroggin, a mix of nuts, dried fruit and chocolate.
After taking several long gulps of water from his canteen, Dad rose, adjusted his pack and said, ‘Okay, time to get back. Mr B will be wondering where we’ve got to.’
Richard, Matt and I stood up and stretched. Then we followed Dad down the narrow, obstacle-ridden gorge.
‘Now, don’t go falling on your bottom, Lee-Anne,’ Dad said.
‘I won’t.’ I was sure I’d be fine; the hike down would surely be easier than hiking up. Not so. A muddy patch greased with moss, caught the heel of my boot. I skidded, slipped and thudded onto my rear.
‘I told you, be careful,’ Dad said.
I stood up and brushed the mud off my bottom. ‘I’m fine.’
Then I trailed after Richard and Matt. No need to have them giggling behind me. I thanked God for small mercies that Mr B wasn’t with us. Imagine what he’d say about my messy backside. I was amazed at how smoothly the whole venture up Walpa Gorge had gone.
When we caught up to Dad who was having a rest, Dad whispered to Richard and me, ‘Imagine what Mr B would’ve planned for this gorge.’
‘I’d hate to think,’ I said.
‘Probably some sort of café, I reckon,’ said Richard.
‘Hey, Richard,’ Matt called from a few metres up the side of Walpa’s wall, ‘let’s explore this cave.’ He scrambled up the knobbly side to the cave as if he were a spider.
Richard climbed up to join Matt. They perched at the mouth of the cave and I snapped a shot of them looking out.
‘What’s in there?’ I yelled.
‘Nothing much,’ Richard replied.
‘It’s just a cave,’ Matt said.
‘No art work? No carvings?’
‘Must be something,’ I muttered and began mounting the wall to the cave.
‘Careful,’ Dad warned.
The boys edged out of the cave and made their way down back to us on the valley floor.
I continued climbing.
‘You too, Lee-Anne,’ Dad said.
‘Oh, alright!’ I sighed and ambled down to Dad at the base of the gully.
We walked a little further down. I spotted a cave some way up the wall but not as far up as Matt and Richard’s cave. Dad had marched far ahead, so this was my opportunity. Thrusting my camera into Richard’s hands, I crawled up to the cave. The conglomeration of stones melted together allowed me to grasp each foothold and handhold as if the climb were made for me. I then squeezed into the cavity shaped like a slot in a letter box.
I examined this small cavity. Richard was right. The recess offered nothing in the way of adventure or excitement. Just another hole in Walpa’s wall. I looked down and spotted a boulder of similar size and shape to the cave. I called out to Richard. ‘Hey, look, there’s the rock that popped out of the cave.’
‘What?’ Richard raised the camera and then clicked one shot. ‘I reckon I got a good one,’ he said. The shot he took featured my legs. My lily-white legs.
With our triumphant return, we entered our base for the day and milled around there. Dad raised his eyes and gazed around the landscape. ‘Hmm, I wonder where Mr B got to?’
Richard shrugged. ‘Beats me.’
‘Ah, well, let’s do some painting, then,’ Dad said.
Dad and Matt set up an impromptu outdoor studio and began painting while waiting for Mr B’s inevitable return. Dad arranged his water-colour paints, secured his paper to a board using masking tape, and then, contemplating the view, the new paper and paints, he folded his hands on his tummy, bowed his head and was soon snoring the flies away from his lips.
Matt held up his paint brush. ‘What do I do?’
‘I’ll help,’ I said. I picked out a thicker brush, and then most of my afternoon was spent helping Matt paint.
Mr B strolled down the track. He tip-toed up to Dad, head still bent in the art of sleeping.
‘Boo!’ Mr B said.
Dad woke with a start. ‘Who? What? Oh, it’s you.’
‘I found the perfect campsite,’ Mr B announced. ‘No problems with neighbours with this one.’
‘Did you get the flour?’ Dad asked.
Mr B raised his eyes to the sky. ‘Who do you think I am?’
‘Of course, ol’ chap. But I dare say, I expect something extraordinary with that flour I went the extra miles, on top of all the travelling I did to find us a better site. Understand?’
‘You haven’t tasted my damper,’ Dad said. ‘And besides, we’ll be feasting on the Bread of Life.’
[The last few weeks I have been revisiting our Central Australian adventures with Mr. B. This time the relationship between my father and Mr. B turns frosty…]
T-Team with Mr. B(17)
In a Hurry
The next morning Dad woke us stumping around the campsite. Mr. B sat up in his sleeping bag. He ground his teeth and glared at him. ‘What’s all this noise about? I just got to sleep after an awful night.’
‘Ah, well, we better get a move on,’ Dad replied while gathering up the cooking utensils and tossing them in the tucker box.
‘I’ll drive us to the Olgas,’ Mr. B snapped.
‘Are you sure that’s a good idea, if you’re tired and had no sleep?’ Dad asked as he chucked a bag of peanuts in the back of the Rover.
‘I’ll be fine.’ Mr. B dismissed Dad with a flick of his wrist. ‘You go and enjoy yourselves.’
Dad sucked the icy air between the gap in his front teeth. ‘Very well, then.’
After a quick breakfast of sloppy porridge, Mr. B eased his weary body into the driver’s seat and Dad climbed into the passenger seat at the front. Us young ones scrounged for what was left of sitting space in the back cabin.
As the Rover’s engine chugged under Mr. B’s control, Dad said, ‘I’ll show you the way to Walpa Gorge. Then you can take the Rover to find, er, um, another camping spot. Oh, er and don’t forget the flour.’
Mr. B grunted, pressed his foot down on the accelerator and scooted over the road edge, rapping the wheels as they met the gravel on the graded road. Dad stiffened and clutched the dashboard while Mr. B raced along the dirt highway and grinned. In the back cabin, we bounced as the Rover hit each corrugation with speed.
‘Careful!’ Dad cried through the judder.
‘You need to tackle those humps by going fast,’ Mr. B assured him. ‘The ride is better if you go fast over the bumps. Didn’t you say that?’
‘Er, I’m not sure, about that.’
‘Believe me, I know. I’ve had plenty of experience, ol’ man. I know what I’m doing.’
‘It is a hire vehicle, though. We want to return it to the company in one piece.’
I reckon I saw the dollar signs and calculations going off in a bubble above Mr. B’s head. His jaw tightened, and he slowed down the vehicle and muttered, ‘Fine then.’
Glimpses of the boulders of Kata Tjuta (the Olga’s), flirted with the dunes. Tantalised by these clumps of rocks that appeared as if some giant alien force had dumped them in the middle of Australia, I leaned forward and peered through the gap between the front seat to gaze through the windscreen.
‘Dad,’ I asked, ‘How did the Olgas form?’
‘The Olgas are made of conglomerate rocks,’ Dad said. ‘They are different from the singular formation of Ayers Rock.’
‘Were they from outer space?’
‘No, more likely that in ages past, an inland sea helped form the various types of rocks to fuse together. You can actually find seashells and seashell fossils in the rocks in Central Australia.’
‘You’re an expert, are you?’ Mr. B chimed in.
‘I’m not sure about The Olgas, but, um I’ve found shells in the dry bed of the Finke River, when I was here in the 1950’s,’ Dad explained. ‘I’ve done some reading. And well, you can see it, the way the land and the mountains are. Had to be an inland sea.’
Mr. B rolled his eyes. ‘If you say so.’
Dad pointed at a wooden signpost. ‘Walpa Gorge. Turn down here.’
The Rover lumbered down the narrow track until we reached a clearing. To our right, a river gum towered above us.
‘This’ll do,’ Dad said. ‘Nice place to set up our paints when we’re finished hiking, I reckon.’
The russet boulders that had looked like folds of skin from the highway, now appeared split into a gully begging to be explored.
‘How far are we from the gorge?’ I asked.
‘Oh, about half a mile,’ Dad replied.
‘I’ll leave you then,’ Mr. B said. He marched back to the Rover, jumped in and rapping the wheels again, sped down the track. We watched while the plume of dust Mr. B had left behind settled down to the red earth.
In this episode we climb Uluru/Ayers Rock and Mr. B startles us with his dream for the Rock…]
Mr. B’s Dream for the Rock
Tourist buses lined the carpark. They looked like caterpillars all in a row ready for a race. People swarmed like ants around the base of the Rock and a steady stream of them marched up and down the slope.
Dad slowed the Rover to a crawl and slotted into a space at the end of the carpark. ‘Well, there’s the tourists,’ he said.
‘And what are we?’ Mr B asked.
‘I like to think we are travellers.’
‘What’s the difference?’
‘Tourists come to a place like the Rock, they climb it, snap a few photos and then they move on,’ Dad said. ‘Travellers take their time. They explore. They get to know the people who live here. They appreciate the culture and history of the place.’
‘So we’re tourists then,’ Mr B remarked, his expression dead-pan.
Dad scratched his brow. ‘Oh, no, I wouldn’t say that.’
‘I’m climbing the Rock,’ Matt said and then bolted out the back door.
Richard and I chased after Matt. We scrambled up the slope following the painted white line. Further up several tourists inched their way grasping chain rails that were secured into the rock.
‘Hoy!’ Dad yelled. ‘Wait! We all go together.’
‘You forgot your water-bottles and lunch for the top,’ Mr B said.
‘Come on Matt,’ Richard called out to Matt who’d sprinted ahead, ‘better get our packs and stuff.’
Matt, Richard and I plodded back to Dad and Mr B where we collected our backpacks of supplies from them. Then as a group we recommenced our haul up the monolith.
The first part was treacherously steep. Before I even reached the rails, my shins ached from the gradient. We followed the broken white line. Deviation from the nominated path could be fatal. A plaque at the base of the Rock was a solemn reminder that several people had fallen to their deaths.
And yet, while climbing, I recall my mum telling me that when she climbed Ayers Rock back in the 1950’s, there was no white line, and not rail to clutch onto. Then she told me a funny story about an earlier time when a filmmaker took footage of the climb up the Rock with a local Indigenous guide. I have seen this film where at the top of the rock, there were pools from recent heavy rain, and the guide can be seen splashing in the water. Perhaps life and the way the Rock was viewed was different back then in the 1940’s and 50’s.
Richard and Matt scampered ahead of me. I puffed my way up the slope behind them and soon lost sight of them. Dad and Mr B laboured behind me. Mr B rested every few steps. He swore he’d die of a heart attack before he fell to his death. Dad stayed with him and encouraged him to keep on going.
Tourists passed me as they descended the Rock. They nodded and said, ‘G’day’ and remarked that the climb was well worth the effort.
Spurred by these recent Uluru conquerors, I took a deep breath and continued the climb.
The steep slope eased into endless ridges. Up and down. Up and down. At least my shins experienced some relief. But I seemed to be hiking over these rocky hills and dales forever, as if Uluru was the Tardis of distance. I glanced at my watch. I’d been hiking over an hour. Was the Rock that big?
I stopped, took a swig of water from my canteen and surveyed the plain beneath. The Olgas shimmered like mauve marbles above the land striped in sienna and gold in the afternoon sun.
‘You’re almost there,’ Richard called. He raced up to me and then pointed. ‘The cairn is just over there.’
‘Are you blind?’
‘I can’t see it.’
Richard led me to the pile of stones set in concrete. Half a dozen tourists plus Richard and Matt milled around the cairne, posing for photos and pointing at the various landmarks below. Richard, Matt and I conformed to the way of the tourists taking turns photographing each of us standing next to the cairn with Kata Tjuta behind us.
As we waited for our fathers, we admired the awesome scenery; the land below bathed in waves of pink, purple, blue and yellow. The boulders of Kata Tjuta changed from deep purple to blue with the movement of the sun as it travelled west. ‘Wow!’ I exclaimed. ‘This climb was well worth it.’
Other tourists summited, stayed a few minutes to snap a few shots and then trooped away down the Rock.
After Richard, Matt and I had eaten our sandwiches, signed the log book on the cairn, explored some bushes that grew out of the Rock and then watched the third lot of people arrive and disappear, Dad and Mr B staggered to the summit. Their faces glowed with perspiration.
Mr B clutched his chest and slumped down by the cairn. ‘I thought those corrugations would never end!’
Dad patted Mr. B on the back. ‘Ah, well, we made it.’
Mr B slurped water from his canteen, then standing up, he paced around the cairn while scrutinising the landscape with his binoculars. Dad pointed out the landmarks, Mt. Conner to the east, Kata Tjuta to the west and the Musgrave Ranges to the south, and so directing Mr B’s binocular-gaze.
After several minutes admiring the view, Mr B remarked, ‘Amazing! Certainly well worth the climb, ol’ boy.’ He then sidled up to Dad and put his arm around his shoulders. ‘I dare say, ol’ chap, the experience could be improved.’
‘What? A cable-car up to the top?’
‘Oh, hadn’t thought of that. No, I suggest there should be a fast food restaurant up the top here. The place needs refreshments. I mean to say, all these people have spent two hours climbing up here. They need some refreshments, don’t you think?’
Dad cleared his throat. ‘Er, um…’
Is this man for real? I thought. On the climb and also when we visited the cave, I sensed the Rock was holy, sacred. How could Mr B even contemplate building anything on its surface? ‘I reckon there should be less people climbing the Rock, not more,’ I said.
‘And another thing,’ Mr B was not finished, ‘the Rock needs a swimming pool halfway up. I’ve already picked out the perfect location. You see, while I was resting and contemplating during that terrible steep climb, I saw it, the perfect place for a pool. What do you say, ol’ chap?’
‘The Indigenous owners will never agree,’ Dad replied.
‘Well, I have some advice for the natives,’ Mr B said. ‘They need to get with the times. I mean, look at all the tourists. Look at all the opportunities.’
‘I doubt it,’ Dad shook his head, ‘come on, we better get down.’
After Dad and Mr B signed their names in the log book, we made our way down the Rock tracking along the white line. We nodded at the people climbing up and said, ‘G’day’ to them and advised them that the climb was well worth the effort.