MY FIRST NIGHT CAMPING
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 Rich and me on this journey of adventure. I guess Dad had some reservations how I would cope…
Our trip began in the grey dawn in the foothills south of Adelaide, where we collected our companions, Mr. Banks and his son Matt.
August, two weeks before the September school holidays, and Dad eased the truck, as he called the red hired Land Rover, to a stop on the slope. He yanked up the handbrake and sighed.
‘I hope it holds,’ he said.
‘Is this where Mr. Banks and Matt live?’ I asked. Mr. B, as we nicknamed him was Dad’s friend and Matt a few years younger than me was his son. Only fair as my Dad had the nickname of Mr. T. Mr. B, who was about Dad’s age, impressed me as someone with airs, graces and sophistication. At fourteen, I did not consider too deeply how a man of class would cope with a camping trip minus all the luxuries a well-to-do city slicker like him would be used to. I mean to say, this was also my first time camping in the bush.
‘I say, girl,’ Mr. B strode to the truck, ‘you take a photo of me. We must mark the occasion.’
‘I’m not sure, it’ll work out, Mr. B,’ I said. ‘It’s still pretty dark.’
‘Go on, girl, there’s light enough.’
As Dad packed Mr. B’s and Matt’s baggage into the back cabin, I lined Mr. B with the road and snapped a photo.
‘It won’t work out, Lee,’ Rich said as he passed me. ‘It’s too dark.’
‘I know,’ I mumbled.
Mr. B appeared in my photo to be keeling over, such was the slope of his street. Little did I know how prophetic that photo would be of Mr. B’s adaption to the ways of the bush.
Before we launched out of Adelaide, Mr. B invited us into his home while he and his son said good-bye to the rest of their family. We admired the view, through wall of glass, a panorama of Adelaide, lights winking as the city woke up.
‘Wow,’ I said to Dad, ‘the B’s must be rich to have such a large home with a view. We’d never be able to afford this on your teacher’s salary.’
‘Lee-Anne!’ Dad muttered. ‘Keep your comments to yourself. Don’t embarrass your hosts.’ Or me for that matter, he implied.
‘Sorry.’ I was always putting the proverbial foot in my mouth.
We travelled past the Flinders Ranges and reached Lyndhurst. The hired Land Rover so far served us well. Dad and Mr. B enjoyed the luxury of the front cabin, while we youth in the rear suffered the fate of sardines. Despite the cramped conditions, I managed to have a game of chess with Matt and won.
We camped in the scrub near Lyndhurst where we collected firewood and then Mr. B insisted on helping Dad light the fire.
‘I’m an expert fire-maker,’ Mr. B said as he lit a match and held the flame to the grass. ‘Small things first.’
We watched as a puff of wind extinguished the feeble flame.
Mr. B lit another match and held it to the grass, then dropped it and shook his singed fingers. Then he bent down and blew at the sparks.
‘You might need some newspaper,’ Dad said.
‘No, no, that would be cheating,’ Mr. B said.
‘Yeah, well, we don’t want to be eating at midnight,’ Dad said. He lit a wad of newspaper and chucked it into the nest of grass.
Then the two elders stooped to their knees and blew, encouraging the flame to take hold and prosper.
As the fire consumed the grass, then twigs and the small logs, Mr. B said, ‘I hope you don’t consider fueling the fire with petrol.’
‘No, never,’ my Dad said. ‘Slow and steady, and just enough to cook. There’s no need to have a big bon fire.’
‘Oh? You mean, my friend we’re not going to have a big fire when we sleep? How may I ask are we going to keep warm?’
‘Like the Indigenous,’ Dad said. ‘They have their individual fires which they keep burning all night. Fires also keep the wild animals away.’
‘Oh, I don’t know about that, David, sounds like a lot of bother,’ Mr. B remarked to my Dad. ‘I don’t mind sleeping under the stars, but having to tend my own fire? I think my sleeping bag will keep me warm.’ He looked around at the ground covered in iron pebbles. ‘By the way, where are my sleeping quarters?’
Dad waved a hand at a small clearing a few metres from the cooking area. ‘Take your pick.’
Mr. B frowned. ‘But it’s all stony. I need some nice soft sand. This will not do.’
‘You’ll be on a tarpaulin and a blow-up mattress. You won’t feel the stones,’ Dad said.
‘I hope you’re right,’ Mr. B muttered. Then he called to Matt, ‘Boy? Go blow up ma mattress. Make ya-self useful.’
So while Matt, Rich and I sorted out the bedding, Dad cooked for us chops and sausages on the fire. We ate the sausages with bread and lashings of butter. Night, and with it a chill. One by one we pulled on our jumpers and warmed our frozen hands by the fire. Dad shared his plans: Ernabella and the Musgrave Ranges where we’d climb Mt. Woodroffe, then Uluru and Katajuta, then Alice Springs, MacDonnell Ranges, Hermannsburg, and an adventure way out West to climb Mount Liebig.
Mr. B gave some good advice which has stuck with me.
‘Whenever we travelled, wherever we stayed, our hotel rooms, you see, when we packed up, we’d go back into the room and check it over including getting on our hands and knees and look under the bed for anything left behind,’ Mr. B said.
The B’s must be rich if they can stay in hotels and motels whenever they go on holiday, I thought.
I gazed up at the blanket of stars dipped in the froth of the Milky Way that covered the sky, and shivered in my cotton sleeping bag. My feet froze—even with wooly socks on. I did as Dad advised and like the Indigenous owners of this country, I made a small personal fire. One side of me warmed while the other side remained icy cold. And my toes ached with cold. On that cold and frozen-toe night, sleep eluded me.
Mr. B groaned. ‘I dare say, David, I can feel the stones. I can feel the stones right through my mattress. I thought you said I wouldn’t old chap.’
Matt buried himself in his sleeping bag and wriggled like a worm.
‘I say, David. David?’
Too frozen in our bags to respond, we ignored Mr. B who challenged our endeavours to sleep.
‘David?…Damned how one is meant to sleep on this infernal rocky ground,’ Mr. B muttered one last time before he tossed and turned on the mattress making it squeak and produce other rude noises as it consorted with the tarpaulin beneath.
My first night camping…
I recalled the motto I’d written in my travel diary: Jesus is with me always. And I pondered on the sixth member of Team Trudinger who would protect and guide us on our journey into perhaps one of the most isolated parts of the world. Watching my personal fire spark and crackle, I remembered Jesus’ promise: ‘…and lo I am with you always, even to the end of the world.’ Matthew 28:20b
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Photo (from slide): Way Out Western MacDonnell Ranges © C.D. Trudinger 1977