Adventures of Easters in the Flinders Ranges
I’m often asked, as a writer, from where do I get my inspiration. Similar to many writers, my stories have been sparked by real experience. I feel that these experiences lay the foundation for the tale, although I may use my characters rather than the actual people. The experience re-told is more believable when based on an event through which I have lived.
My recollections of camping trips to the Flinders Ranges are based on true events, and inspired some scenes in The Hitch-hiker and also Mission of the Unwilling. I have changed the names and timing to protect individuals’ privacy. Also as it is human nature, I may have recalled events in my own unique way that may differ from my past fellow road-travellers.
No Goal…No Purpose…No…U-oh! We hit a…
My brother rarely used a map—we’re back in the mid-1980’s, by the way—well, not a map I could see. The Adelaide Street Directory, all faded and lying on the back seat under the stiff-from-salt-beach towels, doesn’t cover way-out country areas such as the Flinders Ranges.
Every Easter, commencing Maundy Thursday, we’d pile into my brother’s latest Ford Falcon X-whatever, and roll along to the car stereo-cassette player blasting out the band Red Gum. Up Port Wakefield Road we’d go, and if we were fortunate enough not the break down there, as one tends to do on Port Wakefield Road, we’d sally on forth to the Flinders Ranges, about four hundred kilometres north of Adelaide.
We’d start our journey late, usually after nine at night, as some of my brother’s friends had work and had to eat dinner and pack before they were ready to leave.
One particular time, my brother and I took friends Barney and Doris on a planned trip to Chambers Gorge, situated in the north-eastern part of the Flinders Ranges. We must’ve left closer to midnight, and my brother and Barney shared the driving through the night. Dirt roads at that time, caused the driving to slow and by the time we neared our destination in the Flinders, the watery blue sky of dawn crept over low hills in the east. In the back seat, Doris and I rested our heads on our bags and slept, while my brother willed himself to keep awake rocking to British band, Dire Straits. There was a short stop as he then, too weary, swapped with Barney.
Doris and I kept on sleeping.
Then…Bang! The car skidded to a halt.
We spilled out of the car. I rubbed my eyes and looked around. The sun peeped over the horizon of flat desert plains, mountains to the west, jutted like pimples on the edge, still dark, untouched by the sun.
My brother checked the front of the car. ‘It’s all right, no damage. The bull bar took the brunt.’
Barney sauntered down the road, and then returned to us. ‘We hit a roo,’ he said.
‘So, we’ll have roo for breakfast?’ I asked, half-joking.
‘Why not? I’m hungry,’ Barney said.
‘You can cook it, then,’ my brother said.
So as the sun rose over the distant mountains capping the peaks in pink, we roasted the skinned roo-road-kill over the campfire. While we waited for the meat to cook, Barney swilled his breakfast beverage of choice—beer. My brother, a teetotaller and body builder, drank his concoction of protein powder mixed with water and raw egg. Doris and I boiled a billy of water and then brewed ourselves a cup of instant coffee and condensed milk.
Doris clutched her metal mug, then sipped her coffee and said, ‘Not sure about the kangaroo for breakfast.’
‘It’ll be alright,’ I said. ‘I’ve had kangaroo—not so bad. Although, not sure about eating after the way Barney’s cooked it. We did it once like that on our Central Australian trip, and I had a terrible tummy ache and bad gas. Smelt like rotten eggs. My brother and his cousin had competitions rating the potency of their gas. They thought it was hilarious, but the stink was awful.’
Doris grimaced and put down her coffee mug. ‘I don’t want to know.’
‘You won’t have any choice when we’re stuck in the car driving to Chambers Gorge.’
‘Speaking of Chambers Gorge, where is it from here?’
‘Haven’t a clue. I guess my brother will just keep on driving until we see a sign to Chambers Gorge.’
Barney called, ‘Roo’s ready.’
Doris and I trooped over to the campfire and inspected Barney’s efforts. Barney waved away the smoke to reveal bone and sinew reduced to charcoal.
Doris screwed up her nose and said, ‘I’ll pass.’
‘Me too,’ I said. ‘I don’t fancy the after-effects from that.’
‘Aw, bit over-cooked, but charcoal’s good for you,’ Barney said. He took a few bites and then grimaced as he forced the hardened lumps of gristle down.
Barney then took the remnants of the roo behind a bush and gave the poor animal a good Christian burial in a shallow grave.
By mid-morning and a half-a-dozen or so beers later for Barney, my brother chauffeured us on the rough road to Chambers Gorge.
‘Are you sure you know where we’re going?’ Doris asked.
‘Sure I do,’ my brother said. ‘I’ve been there before.’
We bounced over the gravel road and its abundant pot-holes. Then came the roller-coaster—up and down, almost flying and then stomachs thudding to the floor in the dips.
‘Stop!’ Barney groaned. ‘I’m going to be sick.’
‘Oh, no!’ Doris and I cried.
‘Stop the—’ Barney gurgled and he leaned forward, his hand cupped over his mouth.
My brother slammed on the brakes and stopped the car in the middle of the road. Too late! Liquid breakfast decorated every corner of the car’s interior.
We spent the next half an hour using dampened beach towels to flush out the worst of the mess, and then the next few hours driving to Chambers Gorge, doing our best to ignore the smell—windows open, nostrils filling with bull dust in preference to the smell.
‘I feel sick,’ Doris said.
My brother stopped the car and we all jumped out.
Doris leaned over a salt bush and then stood up. ‘Nah, it’s okay.’
‘Better safe than sorry,’ my brother said. ‘We don’t want another accident.’
So without a map, my brother found Chambers Gorge. We lumbered along the rugged road that followed the dry creek bed.
‘Where’s the water?’ Doris asked.
‘All underground, unless it rains,’ my brother said.
We glanced left and right, sighting tents and camper vans. Four o’clock and already all the best campsites had been taken. We ventured further into the gorge crawling along the creek bed of boulders. The rocky slopes of the low hills that defined Chambers Gorge were shrouded in grey tones of an over-cast sky.
‘What about here?’ I said pointing to a clearing.
‘Too small,’ my brother said.
‘Hey, what about one over there?’ Doris indicated a site near a clump of twisted gum trees.
‘Nup, where would we park?’
‘There’s a spot,’ Barney said.
‘And how am I going to get up there?’
‘We have to camp somewhere or we’ll be cooking tea in the dark,’ I said.
‘I don’t feel so well,’ Barney said. ‘I have a headache.’
‘You shouldn’t’ve had so many beers for breakfast,’ Doris said.
My brother stopped the car. ‘Here will do.’
We climbed out of the car and inspected the mound of gravel no larger than a small bedroom.
‘Bit small,’ Barney said.
‘You reckon you can find somewhere better?’ my brother replied.
‘Nah, I guess it’ll be alright.’
My brother and Barney unpacked the car and then set up Barney’s tent. Then my brother pumped up his blow-up mattress—no tent for him, he preferred to sleep under the stars. So did I. A billion-star accommodation for me. I persuaded Doris to also sleep under the stars. One problem, clouds covered our star-studded view.
Doris and I searched for firewood.
‘Seems like Chambers Gorge is well picked over,’ Doris said.
‘It’s like Rundle Mall,’ I said. ‘Won’t be coming here again. Too many people.’
We found a few sticks, just enough for a fire to cook our canned spaghetti for tea. For dessert, we ate fruit cake.
As our thoughts drifted to bed and enjoying sleep under clouds as it seemed tonight, my brother said, ‘Oh, er, I did a bit of exploring. Found a better camping spot. Bigger, near a waterhole.’
‘Really?’ Doris said.
‘Can’t we just stay here?’ Barney asked.
My brother stroked the red mound upon which we sat. ‘Could be an ant hill.’
So again, we followed my brother’s leading, packed up and piled into the car. Once again we crawled to my brother’s El Dorado of campsites.
There, in the dark, we set up our bedding. Barney abandoned the idea of a tent and settled down, content with the cloudy canopy to cover him like the rest of us.
As I began pumping up my mattress—Plop! I looked up. Another plop.
‘O-oh, rain,’ I said.
‘Nah, probably amount to nothing,’ my brother said. He continued to blow up his mattress.
Doris sat on a small mound and watched us. My brother promised to pump up all our mattresses.
‘Ugh!’ Doris cried and then slapped her thigh.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘What do you mean, an ant?’
‘An ant bit me.’
‘What? Through jeans?’
‘Yeah, it was a big one—ugh! There’s another one,’ Doris jumped up, ‘and another.’
Doris danced and slapped herself.
My brother shone a torch where Doris did her “River Dance”.
‘Holy crud!’ Barney said, his eyes wide. ‘The place is full of them.’
Ants, two and a half centimetres long and called “Inch Ants”, swarmed the ground, their pincers snapping. They streamed from a hole on the mound where Doris had been sitting, ants multiplying and invading our clearing.
We scrambled to the car and threw ourselves in. Doris and I sat in the back, Barney and my brother in the front.
The rain followed the ants and began pelting down on the car roof.
‘Get to higher ground,’ Barney said. He thumped his thighs. ‘Argh! An ant!’
‘Remember our friends from church?’ I said. ‘They got caught in a flood in the Flinders.’
Barney nodded and nudged my brother. ‘Yeah, remember?’
‘It’s like raining cats and dogs—and all those ants. We’ll be caught in the flood if you don’t do something,’ Doris said. She slapped her arm. ‘Yuk! Another one! They’ve invaded the car. Get a torch!’
Barney handed Doris a torch. My brother fired up the engine.
‘Where are they?’ Doris said. Beams of light from the torch bounced around the cabin.
‘Get that light off!’ my brother said. ‘I’m trying to drive.’
‘I have to find the ants.’
‘You want me to get to higher ground?’
‘Oh, al-right!’ Doris snapped and extinguished the torch light.
My brother manoeuvred the car around and then retraced the track to the previous campsite which had been on higher ground.
As my brother alighted from the car, Doris said, ‘I hope there’s no ants.’
My brother took the torch from Doris. ‘I’ll see, then.’
‘You said this site had ants,’ Doris said. ‘You said we had to move because of ants. I’m not getting out if there’s ants.’
Using both the torch and the head lights on his Ford, my brother inspected the ground. ‘Nup, no ants.’
Rain hammered the roof and my brother’s image blurred with the rain.
‘Don’t believe you,’ Doris said. ‘Anyway, it’s raining, I’m staying in the car.’
‘Are we high enough? Barney asked. ‘I don’t want us getting flushed down Chambers Gorge.’
‘Ha! Ha! Very funny,’ I said.
‘I’m serious,’ Barney said.
‘Yep, we went up a bit,’ my brother said. ‘We’re above the creek, now.’
‘Don’t trust you, get higher,’ Doris said. ‘I don’t want to be washed away.’
My brother sighed and mumbled, ‘Like that’ll happen.’ Then he said, ‘Oh, alright, if you insist.’ He revved up the car, and mounted another small slope and then settled on a hill.
No one dared move from the car as the rain steadily fell and the fear of inch-ants crawling up and over our sleeping bodies. Plus the bother of putting up the tent in the rain, kept us locked in the car all night. We made the best of sleeping sitting upright for another night.
Morning, we woke to blue skies and the creek transformed into a luxurious chain of ponds. Birds, big black ones called “butcher birds”, galahs, and parrots, converged on the edges of marsh. They searched for fish, poking around the lily pads scattered like floating pebbles on the water’s surface. White cockatoos congregated and chattered in the gum trees, leaves glistening in the early morning sun, washed clean by the rain.
Doris and I took the opportunity to take a dip in a nearby pool. I marvelled how this rain made reeds spring up overnight. ‘They weren’t there yesterday, I’m sure,’ I said.
‘Wow! All that rain, and we didn’t get washed away,’ Doris said.
‘No, we didn’t,’ I replied. ‘No, we didn’t.’
Stay “tuned” for more Flinders road-tripping adventures where our intrepid and varied group of campers encounter a “drop-bear”, experience the thrill of “hand-breakies and donuts” and dancing at Port Germein which has the longest jetty in the Southern Hemisphere, and the girls are encouraged to climb a mountain by the words, “Just five more minutes”.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Photo: Lee-Anne on a Limb, Flinders Ranges © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 1984