[In answer to today’s prompt, I have never been to Kangaroo Island.So close and yet, so expensive to get there.One day I hope to travel there. In the meantime, I’ll continue to enjoy the beautiful beaches of Adelaide and down the Fleurieu coast.]
Sensational Sellicks Beachat Sunset
[Part 2 of the K-Team’s adventure on the Fantastic Fleurieu.]
‘Let’s see Sellicks Beach at sunset,’ I said, ‘it’s a perfect day for a sunset on the cliffs.’
This time, like sheep, the K-Team heeded my voice and followed Hubby and me out from Hallett Cove, and then by car, we made a convoy up Lonsdale Road to the expressway heading for Sellicks Beach.
After the expressway, on South Road, we passed the turn-off to Victor Harbour. I looked back. ‘Um, I can see P1’s car, but where’s your other brother, M’s car?’
‘Behind P1, I think,’ Hubby said. ‘Can’t you see the car?’
I glimpsed something resembling M’s car. ‘I think so.’
We reached the road leading to Sellicks Beach and turned. P1’s car turned too. ‘I can’t see M’s car.’
‘Maybe he went to Victor Harbour,’ my husband said.
‘I hope not.’
Hubby sighed as we neared Sellicks Beach. ‘Now where do we go?’
‘Down the ramp.’
‘What ramp? I don’t see a ramp.’
‘Right there.’ I pointed. ‘Turn right.’
He who argues with Sat Nav’s and ignores their instructions, didn’t turn where I told him to, but kept driving on the road above the cliffs. ‘Where do I turn?’ he bleated.
I indicated behind us, but not in a smooth-calm voice that the Sat Nav would have. ‘Back there!’
‘What? Why didn’t you say so?’
Huffing and puffing, Hubby manoeuvred the Ford around making a U-turn. Then he detected a car park on the same level as the road. ‘We should park there.’
The thought of trekking up the steep slope to our car after the descent to the beach didn’t appeal to me. ‘No, let’s go to the lower one.’
‘Fine then,’ Hubby muttered and then drove down the ramp to the lower car park. P1’s car followed.
Parked in the lower car park, we waited for M.
‘I think he took the road to Victor Harbour,’ P1 said. ‘He seemed to disappear around the time of that turn-off.’
Hubby pursed his lips and shook his head. We waited and observed cars parked on the beach. Waves already lapped at the ramp leading to the beach. Seemed some drivers had left it a little too late to escape the beach and rising tide. Perhaps the owners planned to camp the night and fish. One four-wheel drive vehicle drove through the surf to climb the ramp back to the road.
‘Let’s have some afternoon tea while we wait,’ I said and then opened up the back of the station wagon. Before I’d finished serving coffee and hot cross buns, M’s car rolled down the ramp and parked beside P1’s car. We gathered around as M and his Swiss passengers stepped out.
‘I took the road to Victor Harbour and had to take the scenic route to get here,’ M said.
The K-Team watched the sunset on the Sellicks cliffs; a regular paparazzi of K-clickers with their cameras captured the sun sinking on the horizon.
Then, with the sun gone, the K-Team wound their way back to our place for a roast chicken dinner.
It could’ve been Good Friday; most probably was. One thing was for certain, it was the Easter long weekend, when throngs of city folk in South Australia head for the outback to camp. My brother and I joined our youth group friends on a camping trip to Brachina Gorge, Flinders Ranges. Ah, those were the days!
Another thing was for sure. We had reached Brachina Gorge after a long day of driving and everyone was, let’s just say, less than civil with each other. At least no kangaroos had been slaughtered by car, no copious amounts of beer had been drunk in the car, and thus no unfortunate accidents causing us to escape the car had happened either. Not like some Easter in the future when the T-Team explored Chambers Gorge.
So, late Good Friday afternoon, we stopped in Brachina Gorge just before the track became too suspension-crunching rough.
B Calm sautéed his dehydrated rice on his personal gas cooker. He wasn’t grumpy.
I peered at the sizzling stubs of rice and deliciously smelling onion. ‘What are you doing?’ I asked.
‘Cooking,’ B Calm replied.
‘Looks good.’ I mused how B Calm could settle down and cook his dinner. The rest of the crew bumbled about the narrow sandy rise above the riverbed, searching for a decent-sized patch to plant their tents.
Storm bowled past B Calm. ‘This place is rubbish! Can’t we move on?’
B Calm ignored Storm and continued frying. The cliffs of the gorge shimmered salmon-pink in the late afternoon sun.
Storm paced in front of B Calm. He moaned, ‘There’s nowhere to put a tent up! Who chose this place?’
The culprit, my brother, also ignored this feedback. He hovered over the rock pool, searching for his tucker tonight. Yabbies.
‘Any luck?’ B Calm called.
‘Nup,’ Rick replied. ‘But I just caught a tadpole.’ He then tipped back his head, opened wide his mouth and popped the tadpole in.
‘Ew! Yuk!’ the girls, Summer and Autumn screamed. ‘That’s disgusting!’
After a gulp, Rick shuddered. ‘A bit too salty.’
Storm stumbled past. ‘This place stinks!’
‘Find us a better place then,’ Rick replied.
Storm stomped down the road that led further into the gorge and disappeared around the bend. The sun, by this time had slunk below the horizon to light up other parts of the Earth. Twilight lingered, dusting wisps of cloud in shades of crimson.
B Calm glanced in the direction of Storm’s venture. ‘He’ll be back.’
Sure enough, as the twisted bushes on the neighbouring ridge turned to ink against the fading sunset, Storm returned. ‘Still reckon this place is a dump,’ he muttered.
For the rest of us, the ancient mystery of the Brachina cliffs had convinced us to stay put. Tents lined the banks of the creek. And our small group of friends gathered around the roaring fire, sausages sizzling in frypans and billies boiling for a cup of tea. Brachina, and the campsite Rick had chosen, was more than good enough for us.
‘Maybe we’ll move on in the morning,’ Rick promised; more to allay any remaining discontent, than a firm promise.
[This time, some of the T-K Team step back in time into the Mt. Painter Sanctuary, Northern Flinders Ranges, South Australia; a land offering a glimpse of prehistory…]
Late 1980’s, and my husband and I planned a honeymoon stay in Arkaroola, the town within the Mt. Painter sanctuary, Northern Flinders Ranges. When we arrived, we rolled up to the motel and presented our VISA card for payment.
‘Oh, I’m so sorry,’ said the manager, ‘we don’t take VISA. Only MasterCard.’
‘What?’ But we were counting on our VISA to cover the costs.
We scraped together the cash amount for the three-nights of accommodation and emptied our wallets of all but a few notes. Romantic dinners in the restaurant, off our menu. The longed-for Ridge-Top Tour, off our track. Then cold hard panic struck, how were we to pay for petrol when we returned to Adelaide? The amount in our tank, Dad’s four-wheel-drive vehicle that he loaned us for the holiday, may not last the journey back to Hawker. All because the town in which we chose to spend our honeymoon, was so remote, they did not deal in VISA.
We sat on our motel bed and counted our measly amount of cash. What were we going to do? It’s not like I hadn’t gone without before—on the T-Team with my Dad. Being like-minded and frugal, we dealt with the disappointment, and decided we’d cook our own meals using the barbecue facilities and not venture too far from the town. Besides, there were plenty of places to which we could hike.
I took a deep breath and picked up the book our pastor had given us as a wedding gift. Inside the front cover I discovered an envelope. ‘I wonder what this says,’ I said to my husband.
I took out the card and opened it. An orange-coloured note fluttered onto the floor. I picked it up. ‘Hey, look! Twenty dollars.’ I waved the note in my husband’s face. ‘Twenty dollars! Pastor must’ve known we’d need the money.’
‘I think God did,’ my husband said. ‘Twenty dollars makes all the difference.’
‘Can we do the Ridge-Top Tour?’
‘Um, perhaps not that much difference.’
‘Dinner at the restaurant?’
‘Maybe, but we still need to watch our spending.’
I sighed. ‘I know.’
In the restaurant, and eating the cheapest meal offered, I spied a photo adorning the wall behind my beloved. A waterhole with red cliffs on one side and cool but majestic eucalypt trees on the other side. ‘Echo Camp,’ I read. ‘I want to go there.’
‘Hmm, not sure, if we have to drive far.’
A couple of days passed, and we’d exhausted all the nearby scenic sites to which we could hike. We decided to drive up the road, but not too far.
I spotted a sign to Echo Camp, and not-too-many kilometres off the “main” road. My husband noted that the track was only for “authorised” vehicles.
‘That’s not fair,’ I said. ‘They shouldn’t tempt us with scenic places like that in the restaurant and then deny us because we’re not “authorised”.’
He who was driving, turned into the track. ‘You’re quite right. Ready for some adventure?’
‘Okay, well, it says Echo Camp’s only a few kilometres down the track.’
My husband drove up and down the track. It soon became obvious why the track was meant for “authorised” vehicles. But we were committed, and the track became so narrow, with one side rocky cliffs and the other sheer drops, we had no choice but to lurch forward, upward, downward, sideways and every-which-way. While I clutched the bar on the dashboard, my husband had fun, relishing the roller-coaster ride to Echo Camp.
We reached a relatively flat area where we parked our four-wheel drive vehicle. The Painter Sanctuary mountains rose and dipped like waves before us. A feast for the eyes with shades of sienna, blue and mauve. I captured this beauty with my Nikon film camera.
‘By the way, where’s Echo Camp from here?’ I asked.
‘Just around the corner, I think.’
‘How many kilometres have we travelled?’
‘More than the sign said, but it can’t be far.’
‘I get the feeling we missed it on the way here.’
My husband nodded. ‘I think we did. There was a fork back there, but I wasn’t sure. And the angle was too sharp to turn down.’
‘Better check out that track.’
We back tracked and found the way leading to Echo Camp. By this time, the sun hung low in the sky, so our time savouring Echo Camp was limited to no more than half an hour, wandering near the rock pool, taking photos, and enjoying the peace and silence of this land untouched by civilisation, and reserved for the “authorised” apparently.
Aspects of Echo Camp
Then, after braving the roller-coaster road again, we crept out from the contraband track, and back into town.
My most recent painting of Arkaroola landscape, Dinnertime Northern Flinders is for sale at the Marion Art Group exhibition at Brighton Central. You can also check out my work on the Gallery 247 website.
Marion Art Group’s exhibition (first in three years) is to be held from Monday October 17 to Sunday October 30, Brighton Central, 525 Brighton Road, Brighton, South Australia.
[After a three-year hiatus between exhibitions, Marion Art Group will hold an exhibition at Brighton central shopping Centre (Brighton Road, South Brighton) from October 17-30, 2022. One of my artworks to be displayed, Cockling at Goolwa in Pastel revisits the K-Team’s journey down “memory” highway, 100-kilometres south of Adelaide to Goolwa Beach on the far-flung edges of the Fleurieu Peninsula. Remembering our time with friends 20-years ago searching for cockle shells in the sand.]
Cockling at Goolwa
A picture, they say, tells a thousand words. So, what is Cockling at Goolwa’s story? How can the simple heel-toe dance of “cocklers” (people who dig for cockle shells), their feet sinking in soggy sand of the in-coming tide, in the flux of early summer warmth, on a remote beach south of Adelaide tell us? What story worth a thousand words? What was it about this scene that attracted me to capture it? First in photo and then several years later, on canvas in acrylic, and recently in pastel.
I think the water reflecting the sky, all silver, the people on the wet sand, a mirror, swaying and twisting for cockles captured my attention. I’d been there, on the glassy surface, watching for bubbles, grinding my heel into the bog, feeling for the sharp edges of shell and plucking out the cockles that snapped shut when exposed to air.
I was there, but then I watched. Mothers, fathers, and children lost in the moment of twisting and hunting and collecting cockles.
‘What will you do with all those cockles?’ I asked.
‘They’re for fishing,’ one of our friends said. ‘Bait for fish.’
‘Hopefully, we’ll catch a few fish and have them for dinner tonight,’ another said.
I imagined fish, fresh from the sea, thrown on the barbeque and the cockle bait inside them buried once again in our stomachs. We continued digging for cockles…family and friends, one with the ancient, outside time—nothing else matters but the cockles.
Goolwa, if I remember, has mounds of spent shells in the sand hills, monuments to generations upon generations of Indigenous Australians, their open-air kitchens and meals. Did they perform the same ritual, on the same patch of wet sand, delving for cockles to fry on their fires? A quick perusal of Google reveals they used nets to collect cockles and catch fish. They then cooked the cockles on a campfire.
We are here, they are gone, but their spirit of history lingers, reminding us, though we seem different, we are the same. We are digging, dancing and delving for our dinner. We are still, in the moment, alone in our thoughts in a forgotten corner of the world, unknown by the world, yet one with this country’s past. And God knows each one of us—each part of us, even the unknown parts of ourselves and our secrets.
What if I shared a little secret—an artist’s secret? Okay, I’ll tell you. I painted this picture in less than two hours. Now, that I’ve told you, would the painting be worth less to you? Must time be equated with worth? Sometimes I do take hours upon hours, layers upon layers, and more hours planning to get the work right. But not Cockling at Goolwa.
I love the beginning of a painting; laying the foundation, engaging my inner-natural child, the paint flowing from a thick brush on a damp canvas, colours blending, mixing as I go. One side of the brush crimson, the other blue and a dab of white. Sienna somewhere there in the foreground shadowing the sand. Mid-yellow added incrementally to shroud the distance in light grey for perspective. Then just a hint of heads of land jutting out halfway across the horizon with a suggestion of ultramarine in the grey. So simple, and sometimes, like with Cockling at Goolwa, the scene emerged before my eyes. In the world of artists, I believe the term “magic brush” or “magic hand” has been used. Um, trade secret, so don’t go spreading it around.
So, there you have it, in less than an hour, surf, sand, sky and tones in all the right places.
Now for the people, the twisting, turning people, their feet in the boggy sand. How do I paint them? I had a break and drank a cup of tea. I remember not all the children hunted for cockles. Some kids body-surfed in the shallows, some played cricket and one little boy with a wish to be hunted, or to be warm, buried all his body except his head in the sand. I found him and he broke out of his sand-grave, the sand zombie.
‘Don’t go tracking your sandy footprints into the shack,’ I said.
He washed himself off in the surf, then sat wrapped in a towel and shivering in the sun while watching the cockle hunt.
All the while the “cocklers” cockled for cockle shells. Soon the boy joined the hunt for cockles.
Then when the paint was dry, I plotted the people in with pencil and then painted them in with a finer brush.
‘I like that painting,’ a fellow member of the art group said. ‘Don’t do another thing to it. Don’t even frame it. I’ll buy it as it is. How much do you want for it?’
Paint barely dry, I took the work home, signed it and then the next week at our Christmas lunch, I delivered Cockling at Goolwa to them. The buyer showed the work to others at their table and all admired it.
What made another person connect with Cockling at Goolwa? For this person, their son and family spent many summer holidays at Goolwa, doing just that, cockling. Time out, out of time, unwinding, relaxing, happy times, happy memories, captured on canvas…in less than two hours. And I must admit, the story is slightly less than one thousand words.
But, perhaps as you look at the copy of Cockling at Goolwa, you may have a story of your own about the painting. Maybe a painting’s story is not just one person’s story, but stories from many people, one thousand words, or more…
In this episode,the T-Team with Mr. B scale the heights of the highest mountain in South Australia, Mt. Woodroffe. Even back in 1977, Mt. Woodroffe being on land owned by the Indigenous people, we needed permission and a guide. Don’t know what happened to the guide back then, but we had permission. The situation has changed in the 44 years since we climbed…more about that later.]
The Top of SA — Mt. Woodroffe
The sun climbed over the horizon, its rays touching the clouds in hues of red and Mount Woodroffe in pink.
In the golden light, packs on our backs we filed up the gully. The narrow creek in the hill-face gave way to the slopes leading to the summit. With no defined track except for euro (small kangaroo) ruts, we picked our way through the spinifex. Rick carried his .22 rifle in the hope of game for dinner.
‘You’ve got to watch that spinifex,’ Dad said. ‘If you get pricked by it, the needle stays inside your body for years.’
‘Years?’ I asked. ‘What does it do there?’
‘It works its way through your body and eventually it comes out through your hands or feet or somewhere.’
‘Ouch!’ Rick screamed. ‘The spinifex just stung me.’ My brother stopped and pulled up his trouser leg to inspect the damage and then muttered, ‘Next time I’m making shin-guards.’
‘I guess one should be careful when one answers the call of nature out here,’ Mr. B said.
I gazed at the acres of spikey bushes and decided to resist the call of nature.
After about two hours of weaving our way through spinifex, climbing over rocks, scaling waves of ridges, we reached the summit.
We gathered around the cairn and surveyed the mountain range that spread like ripples of water in shades of mauve below us.
Dad pointed to the north. ‘Can you see? Ayers Rock, The Olgas and Mt Conner.’
I studied the three odd-shaped purple monoliths popping up from the plain. After the strenuous hike to the top of South Australia, I gazed at the ranges resembling waves rising and falling in the sea of the desert was filled with euphoria.
‘Wow!’ I gushed. ‘Apart from spinifex, the climb was a walk in the park—a most worthwhile journey.’
Mr. B folded his arms and grunted.
Still on a high, I ran around the stone pile, snapping photos from every direction with my instamatic film camera. Then I gathered the T-Team. ‘Come on, get around the cairn. We must record this momentous occasion for posterity.’
The men followed my orders like a group of cats and refused to arrange themselves. Mr. B hung at the back of the group and snapped, ‘Hurry up! We need to eat.’
Lunch of corned beef and relish sandwiches at the top of South Australia was Dad’s reward to us for persevering. We rested for an hour on the summit taking in the warmth of the sun, the blue skies dotted with fluffy clouds and the stunning views of the Musgrave Ranges and desert.
My adventurous brother climbed on his own down the slope and out of sight.
‘Where’s your brother gone, girl?’ Mr B asked.
‘Probably gone to hunt kangaroo for tea,’ I chuckled, ‘he’s had no luck so far.’
‘Better than egg soup, I guess,’ Mr B muttered.
‘Well, aren’t you going to follow him?’
‘Nah, I need to rest before the hike down.’
About twenty minutes later, I detected his head bobbing up and over the rocks and bushes. I watched as he sauntered along the scaly rocks towards us.
Dad frowned. ‘Careful walking over those rocks.’
Rick looked up. ‘What?’ He caught his shoe on a wedge of stone, lost balance and stumbled, crashing on the rocky surface.
‘O-oh!’ Dad scampered over to my brother. I followed while Mr. B and Matt stayed planted on their respective rocks.
Rick pulled up his trouser leg and with our father they inspected the damage.
I peered over Dad’s shoulder. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘I’ve bruised my knee and leg.’ Rick sniffed.
Dad helped Rick hobble to the cairn and then gave him a canteen flask of water to wash over the injury.
‘How are you going to get down the mountain?’ I asked.
‘I mean to say, laddie, you can’t camp up here,’ Mr. B added.
Rick sighed. ‘I’ll be fine. It’s nothing.’
Matt chuckled at my brother’s bravery.
Dad patted Rick on the back. ‘Ah, well, you’ll be right.’
With the T-Team all in one spot, I took advantage of the situation and seized the moment on camera.
Mr. B glared at me. ‘Make it snappy.’
‘Okay,’ I said capturing the less than impressed Dad, Mr. B, Matt and my brother nursing his bruised knee.
After photos, we began to climb down those jagged rocks, carefully avoiding the spinifex. But try as he might to avoid the menacing bushes, more spikes attacked Rick’s tender legs. ‘Definitely going to wear leg guards the next time I come to Central Australia to climb mountains,’ he grumbled.
We reached a rock pool, just a puddle of slime, actually. I pulled off my shoes and emptied grass seeds and sand onto the surface of slate. Then I ripped off my socks. They looked similar to red-dusty porcupines, covered in spinifex needles. My feet itched with the silicone pricks of the spinifex. I dipped my prickle-assaulted feet in the muddy water.
‘You mean, David, old chap,’ Mr. B massaged his feet and turned to Dad, ‘we’re stuck with the prickly critters long after our climbing days are over?’
‘Yes, I’m afraid so,’ Dad replied.
During rest at the poor excuse of a rock pool, nature called, and this time I could no longer resist. I hunted for a suitable spot, but everywhere I looked, ants scrambled about, millions of them. The longer I looked, the more ants congregated and the more desperate I became. But I had to go, ants or no ants. At least the patch was clear of spinifex. I suppose for the ants, my toilet stop might have been the first rain in weeks.
Back at camp, we began our ritual of preparing the bedding. Mr. B stomped around the creek bed until he found the softest sand. Dad grabbed the sleeping bags one by one and tossed them to each of us.
‘Argh!’ Mr. B cried.
‘What?’ Dad asked.
‘Oh, no!’ Rick moaned.
‘What?’ Dad asked.
‘Who’s been piddling on my sleeping bag?’ Rick grizzled.
‘Piddling?’ Dad stomped over to Rick.
‘It’s all wet.’
‘I say, boy, why’s my sleeping bag all wet? Couldn’t you use a bush?’ Mr. B remarked.
Matt turned away. ‘Wasn’t me.’ He unrolled his sleeping bag. ‘Oh, no, mine’s wet too.’
Rick looked at me.
‘Hey, I stopped wetting the bed years ago,’ I snapped. ‘Anyway, mine’s dry.’
‘I wasn’t going to say anything,’ Rick replied.
I raised my voice. ‘You were, you were looking at me like…’
‘There, there, cut it out,’ Dad strode over to Rick and me. He held up a bucket. ‘The washing buckets leaked on the sleeping bags.’
These days, in the days of the “new normal”, as a result of Covid, climbing Mt. Woodroffe may not be possible. I did a little Google research about it. During the times of the “old normal”, permission from the Indigenous Owners of the APY Lands was still necessary, but it seems the Mt. Woodroffe climb was part of an organised tour. To find out more, here are the links below:
[An extract from The T-Team With Mr. B: Central Australian Safari 1977; a yet to be published prequel to my travel memoir, Trekking with the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981, available on Amazon.
In this episode, my dad (Mr. T) brews up an unusual “stew” by accident…]
The sun lingered above the horizon as we returned from a hike to our campsite at the base of Mount Woodroffe.
‘Ah, an early tea,’ Dad said. ‘It’s always best to cook while there’s daylight. We can make an early start.’
‘Well, after that disappointing jaunt to find that damned waterhole you went on about David, I’m pooped. I’m going to have a lie down,’ Dad’s friend, Mr. B said as he slumped onto a nearby log. ‘I hope you’ve found us some nice soft sand to sleep on. I haven’t had a good night’s sleep yet on this trip.’
‘Yes, well, um,’ Dad called after him, ‘I need some help stirring the pots.’
‘Get your daughter,’ Mr. B replied, ‘I dare say, she’s a girl, that’s what she ought to be doing—cooking, I mean.’
I stopped blowing up my mattress. Uh-oh, now I have to cook and miss out on all the fun, I thought as air slowly wheezed out of the mattress.
Dad coughed. ‘Er, um, actually, I’ve asked Lee-Anne to sort out the bedding and to pump up the mattresses. And the boys, Richard and your son, Matthew, have gone out shooting, getting us some roo to cook. I have it all organised. So I would like you to stir the pot, please.’
I breathed out and then started blowing up the mattress again. Phew! Dodged that bullet.
‘Oh, very well, then,’ Mr. B said as he negotiated his path through an obstacle course of billy cans, tucker boxes and tarpaulin back to the campfire.
I thought, there is always a danger being too early and organised. So it was this evening when Dad, who prided himself as “chef-extraordinaire”, prepared scrambled eggs and soup for dinner.
I hopped over to Dad. ‘Do you need some help with dinner?’
Dad patted his pockets and shifted his weight from one foot to the other. ‘No, I have Mr. B helping me. You go and pump up the mattresses.’
‘But my jaws are sore from all the blowing,’ I said. ‘I need a break.’
‘No, I have it all covered. It’s about time Mr. B does his fair share.’
I could see from Dad’s expression, the pursing of his lips, keeping the chuckle from bursting out, Dad thought he was being really clever asking Mr. B to help stir the soup pot.
As I shuffled around the campsite sorting out my bedding, I distinctly heard Mr. B mutter, ‘My goodness this soup is awfully thick.’
Being the only female in the crew, Dad appointed me to call in the troops. I tramped through the scrub in search of the boys. My brother Richard and Matt loved to shoot with their .22 rifles. But neither were good at it. I could hear the rifles popping, but in the dimming light I failed to locate the lads. So I returned to camp.
There the men were, all of them (minus the roo for dinner), their spoons dipping in and out of their cups.
Mr. B grimaced as he put another spoonful of soup to his lips. ‘Ugh! This is awful! This is the worst feed yet!’
‘It’s alright,’ Dad said as he bustled around the campfire. His cup wobbled on a rock as he handed my portion to me. He gave the other billy a maddening stir.
‘What’s in there?’ I asked.
‘Egg, egg scramble,’ Dad said and handed me the ladle. ‘Go on, you can stir it.’
I peered in at the watery mist. ‘It’s awfully thin, are you sure?’
‘Just stir will you?’ Dad snapped. ‘I’ve got other things to do.’
I sipped my soup and stirred the pot.
Richard and Matt stood by the fire and stared at their metal mugs.
‘Come on, drink up,’ Dad commanded.
The boys dutifully slurped up their soup.
Mr. B raised his voice. ‘So what sort of soup do you call this? You know, it tastes awfully like egg. You’re sure that you didn’t mix up the billies?’
‘Oh, no, not at all!’ Dad replied.
I took another sip. The soup tasted nice. I quite liked it. Then again, anything tastes good when you are a starving teenager.
As Dad settled himself by the fire, Mr. B slavishly gulped down the remainder of his soup. ‘Well, that is the worst soup, I’ve ever had in my life. Oh, for some decent food! And a decent night’s sleep. I didn’t sleep a wink last night and my back’s aching!’ He spied his son playing with his soup. ‘Eat up, boy! Look! Tha girl’s eating hers.’
Dad began to take a spoonful of soup. ‘Hang on. This’s not right.’ He pointed at a billy sitting on the ground to the side of the fire. ‘Lee-Anne, can you just check the other billy?’
‘Don’t ask, just check, would you!’
‘Okay!’ I grumbled and hobbled over to the billy sitting in the cold, the contents supposedly waiting for the frypan. I lifted the brew onto the wooden spoon. In the fading twilight, I spied water, peas, carrots and corn, but not an ounce of egg. ‘Looks like soup to me.’
Dad pushed me out the way. He had to check for himself. ‘O-oh!’
‘So we did have egg soup!’ Mr. B said, ‘I knew it.’ Even after less than a week with this pompous friend of Dad’s, I suspected this fellow would never let Dad hear the end of it. I imagined, from now on, till the end of Mr. B’s days, Dad’s culinary skills would amount to egg soup.
‘I’m so sorry,’ Dad said. ‘My mistake.’
‘I knew we were just too well organised,’ I said.
‘I won’t forget this occasion,’ Mr. B said. ‘Egg soup, what next?’
Dad boiled the correct soup and dolled it out in the dark.
We drank our portions void of conversation until an awkward “Oops!” cut through the icy air. Matt had spilt soup all over the tarpaulin.
‘Oh, Matt, did you have to?’ Mr. B said. ‘Now, clean it up and be more careful next time.’
As Mr. B harangued his son to clean up, drink up and for-heaven’s-sake be careful, and where-on-earth did you put the cup, son, we don’t want another accident, Dad sighed and ushered my brother and me to retreat to our sleeping quarters and away from Mr. B’s ire.
In the sanctuary of space away from Mr. B and son, we washed our clothes and prepared for the climb up Mt. Woodroffe the next day.
‘We need to make an early start,’ Dad said.
I reckon Dad did not want to add any more disasters to his list.
We stopped in at Fregon, another Indigenous settlement much like Mimili; a row of tin sheds and deserted. Then at about 2.30pm we arrived at Ernabella.
A teacher friend of Dad’s invited us into his home for refreshments and each of us had a hot shower. I enjoyed the warm cascade of water on me. My treat for the week. Below rivers of red mud spun into the drain hole of the bath. I scrubbed my hair with shampoo. The soap refused to lather. I scrubbed and scrubbed.
‘Lee-Anne!’ Dad called. ‘Don’t take all day, the boys need a wash too.’
‘Oh, alright.’ I turned off the tap. I guess the boys did need to wash, probably more than me. They were getting quite ripe at close quarters in the Rover. After all, it had almost been a week since we had a proper wash.
All showered and smelling sweet again with soap and deodorant, we trailed after Dad who gave us a tour of the settlement, including the school. Ernabella lies at the foot of the Musgrave Ranges, south of the South Australian and Northern Territory border. The land belongs to the Pitjantjara people. The mostly prefabricated buildings were neatly arranged around a random collection of unsealed roads.
Dad guided us through the school grounds which appeared empty. We followed him circling the white building. ‘Must be closed,’ Dad said.
‘School holidays, I guess,’ I remarked.
Dad scanned the transportable blocks and then screwed up his nose. ‘We need to find someone to fix up the trailer.’
We walked across the settlement. The white buildings stood sentinel to the roads void of human activity and traffic. The crunching of stones under our feet was magnified by a town suffering from a bad case of abandonment.
‘Where are all the people?’ Mr. B asked.
‘Wow! The place is tidy and look how clean the streets, are,’ I said.
‘Except for the gravel,’ Rick mumbled.
We wandered after Dad who was having a hard time finding someone to fix our trailer. Anyone…No one seemed to be around. I wondered if Ernabella was a ghost town.
Mr. B suggested we wait by the store that seemed closed and suffering a severe case of neglect. This we did.
‘The reason the settlement is so tidy,’ Dad explained, ‘is because everybody, I mean the aborigines, have a job to do here. They don’t get their welfare payment unless they do their job. They probably have someone cleaning the streets of rubbish and all sorts of other jobs.’
‘Not the store, apparently,’ Mr. B said.
‘Ah, well, they have to get the stock from down south, from Adelaide. Perhaps they’ve run out.’ Dad coughed.
An Indigenous man, dressed in dusty loose-fitting trousers and shirt, sauntered up to us.
Dad strode to meet the man and he guided him to the trailer still perched on top of the Rover. He then led us to the “service station” (a lean-to hut with one petrol bowser out the front) and someone whose job it was as mechanic. Even so, I figured Rick with his practical mind and way with cars, and trailers, would be helping with repairs.
While the trailer was being operated upon, I climbed a hill. After all, in my estimation of all things mechanical, the trailer would take ages to be fixed, so I had time to sun bake. Such was my desire for a tan. Treading up the hill, I noticed Matt running after me.
I stood and sighed. Great! Just when I wanted space to myself.
Matt held up a stick. ‘Look what I found!’
I examined the carved piece of wood. ‘Oh, yeah?’
‘What do you think it is?’
‘I dunno, a corroboree stick, I suppose.’
‘Oh, cool! Can you take a photo of me with it?’
I photographed Matt proudly holding a corroboree stick. The Musgrave Ranges behind were cast in hues of gold from the rays of the late afternoon sun. When we had descended the hill and found Dad, he told us that the “mountain” we had climbed was named “Mount Trudinger” after his brother who had been a teacher in Ernabella.
Near evening, we visited an Indigenous pastor. As the Musgrave Ranges is sacred to the Pitjantjatjara People, Dad and the pastor discussed the possibility of getting a couple of guides to be our companions as we climbed Mt. Woodroffe. From my fourteen-year-old perspective, I understood Dad to mean that the “sacred land” was an area that the Pitjantjatjara people owned much like we own our quarter acre block back in Adelaide.
‘It’s only fair to have our Indigenous hosts give permission and a guide while we explore their land,’ Dad said after his meeting with the pastor.
We all, including Mr. B, nodded in agreement.
For the night we camped in Two Mile Creek which is not far from Ernabella. Dad conceded to camp not alongside, but right in the dry creek bed on the soft sand. This arrangement made Mr. B very happy. ‘For once I get to sleep on soft sand,’ he said.
‘Just remember, if we have even a hint of rain, we pack up and go to higher ground,’ Dad answered.
Mr. B chuckled. ‘No chance of that, the weather’s been as dry as the bones of that deceased camel we saw on the side of the road.’
‘The water comes rushing down if there’s a storm,’ Dad said.
‘Oh, of course, Captain.’ Mr. B then turned over and snored.
Rick muttered, ‘The only storm will be if Mr. B doesn’t get a good night’s sleep.’
In this episode, the T-Team encounters an outback custom on the roads…]
The Obligatory Wave
As we prepared to jump in the Rover, a battered old utility car (we Aussies call it a “ute”) roared up to us. The ute stopped, and two Indigenous men stepped out.
‘Do you need any help?’ one asked.
Dad waved at them. ‘It’s okay.’
The men jumped back in their ute and then waved at us. They drove away with dirt and dust from the road billowing behind their vehicle.
After loading ourselves into the over-loaded Rover, we thundered down the road. A Holden sedan approached from the opposite direction. Dad slowed down as we prepared to pass on this narrow road, and we positioned our hands for the obligatory wave. The thing about the outback, as the drivers of the cars passed each other, was the slow raising of the hand to the windscreen; a ritual greeting for the rare fellow traveller.
The car neared, and we lifted our right hands up and down. The Indigenous owner of the sedan did the same. Dad tracked the car as it passed us. Then he looked back.
‘Felix! (Not his real name),’ Dad said. ‘It’s Felix, I would recognize him anywhere.’ He stopped the Rover in the middle of the road.
‘Oh, why are we stopping?’ Mr B whined. ‘We’re already late as it is.’
‘It doesn’t matter,’ I replied. ‘More time to admire the scenery. Look, a flowering gum.’
Felix had also parked mid-track. The two old men from their respective vehicles jumped out and paced to each other. They shook hands, laughed and babbled away.
‘Dad really can speak their language,’ I remarked to Rick.
We all climbed out and Dad introduced us to Felix who shook our hands. Dad continued to banter in Pitjantjatjara. I reckon he was showing off his linguistic skills for Mr. B’s benefit.
Some delicate yellow flowers caught my gaze. I shifted to them, and bending down, plucked a couple. I’ll preserve them in my bible, I thought.
Mr B peered at the desert rose I had as my souvenir. ‘That’s a pretty ordinary looking flower, if you ask me. I say, where’s the Sturt Desert Pea when you want them? I thought we’d see them everywhere being in the desert and all.’
I shrugged. Dad and his Indigenous friend continued their banter, so couldn’t ask them.
After some time chatting in Indigenous tongue to his friend, Dad shook Felix’s hand once more and then the men patted each other on the back before bidding each other goodbye. Then we jumped back into our respective vehicles and continued our journeys; the T-Team to Ernabella and Felix away from Ernabella.
1977, August, mid-winter and I was excited. Dad had never taken me camping. Then, when I turned 14, he decided to take the risk and allowed me to join the T-Team on a Central Australian safari. 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 had gathered from Dad’s reluctance to invite me on previous adventures out bush, that he had some reservations how I would cope…
In this episode, Dad shares his childhood adventures in the Musgrave Ranges and the trailer, tired of desert travel, has a tantrum …]
Dad pointed at the expanse of red sand dotted with spinifex. ‘This land belongs to the Pitjantjatjara people.’
I sat in the front seat while he negotiated the corrugations, bumps and lumps of the poor excuse for a graded road. Abandoned cars, just shells really, languished in the scrub each side of the road.
‘They—’ Dad waved at the wrecks that were planted in crimson fields of wild hops. I knew he meant the owners of this land. ‘—run their cars to the ground. Anyway, normally you need a special permit to go onto their land.’
‘Then how did you get to go here?’ I asked.
Dad chuckled. ‘Well, I wrote a letter to their council of elders asking permission. I put at the end that if I didn’t hear from them, that meant they gave their approval. I didn’t hear from them.’
‘I have friends at Ernabella as well,’ Dad adjusted his grip on the steering wheel. ‘I used to come up to Ernabella when my older brother was teaching there. When I was ‘round your age.’
Dad went onto explain how he made good friends with the Pitjantjatjara lads about the same age as him and how they explored the Musgrave Ranges. ‘I even learnt the language,’ he boasted.
‘How long ago was that, Dad?’ I asked.
‘Oh, something like thirty-five years ago.’
‘And you were ma son’s age,’ Mr. B called out from the back seat.
I glanced to the back of the Rover. Matt blushed and looked away. I’d been impressed by his silence on this trip. I was sure I hadn’t heard him utter more than a few words the four days we’d been travelling. He seemed an obedient little chap, especially in his father’s presence. I wondered what Dad was like when he was Matt’s age. I imagined Dad as more talkative, after all, he could speak the language of the Pitjantjatjara people.
‘I reckon, you must’ve been more adventurous than Matt to go camping in the Musgrave Ranges, Dad,’ I said, hoping to get a squeak of protest out of Matt. ‘Anything could’ve happened to you.’
‘There was this one time,’ Dad said, ‘when I went exploring with my friends in the middle of summer. We forgot to take any water and it was hot. We got lost and had to search for a waterhole. I was so thirsty, I thought I was going to die. We found the waterhole just in time. But I learnt a valuable lesson to always take water and salt tablets.’
Matt’s only response, a smirk.
While his father said, ‘Who, in their right mind would go out into the desert without water? I ask you.’
Clunk! Clunk! Clunk!
‘What’s that noise?’ Mr. B shouted.
‘Oh, no!’ Rick peered out the back window. ‘One of the trailer bars is broken.’
Dad sighed. ‘And we’ve only just started today.’
We stopped, jumped out of the Rover and then formed a circle around the trailer that leaned on its side.
‘Now what are we going to do?’ Mr. B asked.
Dad bent down and examined the damage. ‘A part is missing.’
‘I’ll go look for it,’ Rick broke away from the circle and sauntered down the track.
The rest of us stood mesmerized by the leaning tower of trailer that seemed to be sinking in the sand.
A few minutes later, Rick returned. ‘It’s gone, I can’t seem to see it anywhere.’
‘So, what are we going to do?’ Mr. B asked again.
Dad kicked a tyre. ‘There’s only one thing we can do. We have to pile everything on top of the Land Rover.’
‘What? You are kidding, aren’t you?’ Mr. B laughed.
‘No, I’m serious. We have to get parts to fix the trailer, and we can’t leave it here,’ Dad said.
‘You—you mean the trailer too?’ Mr. B asked.
‘The trailer? How’s the Rover going to cope with that?’
‘It’ll just have to,’ Dad said. ‘I wouldn’t risk leaving it here in the bush.’
‘Yeah, not by the looks of those car wrecks,’ Rick muttered.
Mr. B scratched his head. ‘You mean to say, if we leave the trailer, someone will come along in this desert and take things?’
‘Yes, most likely,’ Dad replied.
‘Even if we hide it in the bush?’
‘Have you seen where the other car wrecks are, Mr. B?’ Rick asked. ‘They’re not exactly on the road.’
Mr. B put his hands on his hips and frowned.
‘Look,’ Dad said, ‘we’re not far from Ernabella. We can get the trailer fixed there. I’m sure we’ll be alright for a few miles.’
Mr. B grunted and then pointed at his son. ‘Well, come on boy, don’t just stand there, help us unload the trailer.’
We all helped pile the contents of the trailer and then the trailer on top of the Rover. While Rick tightened the last of the ropes over the trailer stack on the Rover’s roof, I stood back and said, ‘Now the Rover really does look overloaded.’
1977, August, mid-winter and I was excited. Dad had never taken me camping. Then, when I turned 14, he decided to take the risk and allowed me to join the T-Team on a Central Australian safari. 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 had gathered from Dad’s reluctance to invite me on previous adventures out bush, that he had some reservations how I would cope…
In this episode, Mr. B and Dad have a disagreement about lunch…]
Again, we raced at 50 miles per hour along the highway boldly going where too many trucks had gone before. The graded road was a sea of corrugations. As we travelled along the road at high speed, our Land Rover juddered over the sand waves. Dad was on a mission to reach Ernabella and not even corrugations on the unsurfaced road were going to get in his way.
We paused at Indulkana, an Indigenous settlement, where we topped up the tank with petrol from one of the Gerry cans.
‘Only fifty miles or so to go to Ernabella,’ replied Dad with a sniff. He could smell his Holy Grail, and he was bent on reaching his destination. ‘Pity, there’s a school here I’d’ve liked to visit. Ah, well!’
Mr. B spread out the map on the bonnet of the Rover. He adjusted his glasses on his nose and then pointed at Indulkana. ‘Are you sure it’s only fifty miles, David?’
Dad cleared his throat and then glanced at the map. ‘Er, um, I think so.’
‘It looks a damn lot further to me. Are you sure we’ll get there? I mean to say, it’s past one o’clock and we still have to have lunch.’
‘We’ll eat when we get there.’
‘Really?’ Mr. B gazed at the fibro houses scattered like abandoned blocks in the red landscape. ‘Damn! No place to shop in this shanty town.’
I gazed at the mirage shimmering, reflecting the khaki bushes on the horizon of ochre. This tiny Indigenous settlement seemed more heat-affected and miserable than Oodnadatta. A dingo skulked across the road in search of shade. The town seemed empty—except for the flies.
I swished several of the pests from my eyes and searched for a toilet block. We had stopped, so I considered it timely to make a comfort stop. ‘Where’s the loo?’ I asked.
‘I don’t know,’ Dad said.
As far as we could see, public toilets didn’t exist in Indulkana.
A kangaroo hopped through the spinifex. Rick grabbed his rifle and aimed.
‘Hoy!’ Dad said. ‘Stop! You can’t be shooting so close to the town.’
Rick lowered his gun.
‘I say,’ Mr. B said. ‘Why don’t we go down the road a bit. We can find a few accommodating bushes for our business and the boys can do a spot of shooting. Besides, we need a break and some lunch.’
Dad sighed. ‘Very well, then.’
We piled back into the Rover and trundled several miles down the road where some trees and bushes were clumped close to the road. We all made use of the improvised “bush” facilities. Then Dad pulled out the tucker box and made a simple lunch of peanut butter sandwiches.
‘Do you want to have a go shooting?’ Rick asked me.
‘Okay,’ I replied.
My brother handed me the .22 rifle and we walked into the scrub.
Dad called after us. ‘Shoot away from the Rover, we don’t want anyone getting hurt.’
‘What do I shoot?’ I asked Rick.
‘Rabbits. Kangaroos. Birds.’
I looked at the lemon-coloured grasses dotting the red sands. ‘Where are they?’
Matt aimed his rifle at a stump of a mulga tree. A galah had settled there. But not for long. Matt pulled the trigger and at the sound of the bullet hitting the sand, the bird fluttered into the air.
Some white cockatoos decorated the skeleton of a dead tree. I aimed and pulled the trigger. ‘Bang!’ The butt hit my shoulder and knocked me to the ground. ‘Ouch!’ I cried.
The flock of parrots squawked and scattered.
‘I wasn’t expecting that to happen,’ I said rubbing my bottom.
Rick grabbed the rifle off me. ‘Watch where you point that thing.’
Rick and Matt stalked further into the scrub in search of more prey. I was glad my hunting time was over as it was not as much fun as I thought it would be. At least no one was hurt.
The break and the lads’ fruitless hunting foray caused the night to catch up with us. After a couple more hours of driving, we camped near Mimili. A hill close by served as adventure for us young ones in this otherwise flat desert. I climbed the small rise and explored, while the boys went shooting as usual. The hill was little more than an outcrop of rocks and I imagined, something of a smaller version of Uluru. From the top, I scanned the terrain. The setting sun’s rays caused the grasses in the plain to sparkle like gold glitter and a cool breeze hinted at the freezing night ahead. I climbed down from my vantage point and ambled back to camp. As darkness descended upon us and stars flooded the night sky, the boys returned empty-handed, except for their rifles.
While Dad stirred a billy can of stew, Mr. B warmed his idle hands by the fire, his mouth busy whining at the prospect of sleeping on a bed of stones.
Dad tapped the wooden spoon on the edge of the billy can and said, ‘We are camping in the desert, aboriginal style. What we do is make up one fire for cooking, and then have our individual fires.’
So, we did in the nights to follow. Although we all had blow-up mattresses and cotton sleeping bags, we still hunted for the softer ground, and prepared it for the bedding by clearing the area of rocks. Each of us would scout around for sticks and logs in preparation for our personal fires. By bedtime, our fires were crackling away, and we only woke from our slumber to poke the coals to keep the small flame going. Still, I slept fully clothed, as the clear nights were freezing.
But did this arrangement satisfy Mr. B? Apparently not. Every night he complained of his unsatisfactory sleeping arrangements. And his back, oh, the pain in his back. Oh, for a decent bed and a warm night’s sleep. And oh, the pain, oh, the discomfort! And then, just as he sank into a deep slumber, dawn broke with Dad clattering around the campsite preparing breakfast once again.
‘Why do we have to get up so early?’ Mr. B would ask each morning.
‘It’s my mission to get…somewhere,’ Dad would reply.