Challenge Number 1: How to worship in the desert?
The next day, warm and sunny, not a cloud in the sky, but no Central Australian safari can qualify as a safari without challenges—especially at the beginning while the crew adjusted to the conditions and different personalities.
Dad, of course, being the good Christian man that he was, and the day being Sunday, gathered us around the campfire. He sat on the tucker box and with his trusty ukulele, strummed and sang the chorus This is the Day.
We followed Dad’s lead, although my brother yawned every second line.
When we finished that particular song, Mr. B said, ‘I dare say, choruses get a bit repetitive, what about a good ol’ hymn?’
Dad looked at the stony ground and then up at Mr. B. ‘Er, um, did you bring the black hymnal?’
‘Do you know any hymns off by heart?’
‘So I guess we’ll be singing choruses, then.’
Phew! I thought wiping my brow. I preferred to sing choruses.
Dad gave a brief devotion. I can’t recall the details but probably ran along the lines this day was a special day God had made and we should thank Him for it…even if this day held challenges for us.
Lake Eyre and challenge Number 2: How do you fix a camera?
We continued our journey, travelling north-north-west. We passed the south side of Lake Eyre. As we caught a glimpse dazzling white in the distance, Mr. B said, ‘I dare say, old chap, can we get a bit closer so I can take a photo?’
‘Oh, but it’ll be nothing, I assure you,’ Dad said. ‘I want to get to William Creek before night falls.’
‘Look, my friend, I’ve never seen a salt-lake before,’ Mr. B said. ‘Please. We need to have a rest and to stretch our legs.’
We lumbered up a track leading to Lake Eyre and then parked by the side of the road near a pan of cracked clay. In the distance the sea of white shimmered in the morning sun.
Mr. B jumped out of the truck and trod over the clay surface. He stomped on it. He walked a few paces out towards the white horizon. A mirage made the lake appear to have water in it; water that floated above the salt.
‘I say, David,’ Mr. B said as he returned to the Land Rover, ‘you couldn’t drive to where the salt is, could you?’
‘No way,’ Dad said. ‘The clay pan looks solid, but it wouldn’t hold the truck. We could get bogged or worse, we could sink in it like quick sand. I wouldn’t even walk on it, if I were you.’
‘Oh, I see,’ Mr. B said and then pointed at us young ones. ‘Now, kids, don’t you go walking on the clay pan. It’s dangerous, you understand?’
‘Yes, sir,’ my brother muttered.
Matt and I nodded.
I took a few paces up a small rise on the other side of the road and then with my Kodak instamatic camera photographed the expanse of salt with our red land rover in the foreground. Mr. B also stalked up and down the track and clicked away with his camera.
Dad hovered behind Mr. B and aimed his lens at the salt-lake. He sighed and fiddled with the knobs and then the lens. He aimed again. ‘Oh, no!’ he cried and then retreated to the Rover to fiddle with his Konica SLR.
I’d taken my precious photo, so I jumped in the front seat with Dad.
Dad had pulled the lens off his camera body and was blowing into the cavity.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked.
‘My camera’s wrecked.’
‘It won’t take a photo. When I push the button, nothing happens.’
‘That’s no good.’
‘No, and it’s only two years old.’
Mr. B poked his head through the window. ‘What? You’re not going to take any photos, David?’
‘No, my camera’s not working,’ Dad said.
‘Well, you would get a camera’s that’s made in Japan,’ Mr. B said. ‘German cameras are better, you know.’
Dad reattached the lens and wiped the body with a cloth from his camera bag. ‘I’m sure it’s not serious, I’ll get it working.’
(He did fix the camera, but upon return to Adelaide and developing the photos, discovered that the dodgy light-meter had caused most of the photos to be underexposed. Thank God for computers in the 21st Century and Paint Shop Pro!)
Challenge Number 3: Where do you go when you have to go?
We travelled constantly for most of the day, stopping to stretch our cramped legs or go to the loo. The road was hot and dusty and it was hell to sit in the back. I must add that dunnies (toilets) were scarce in the desert and mostly a bush in the distance had to do. On such occasions, when a toilet stop was necessary, the boys took advantage of the opportunity do some shooting. The general rule was that shooting must be done in the opposite direction to avoid any rude shocks during someone’s quiet contemplation.
William Creek—Challenge Number 4: Finding a Campsite
We rolled through William Creek.
‘It’ll be getting dark soon—one and a half hours until sunset,’ Dad said. ‘We have to find a campsite.’
No easy task, I soon realized. Our heads swung left and right as we scanned the gibber plains for a clear patch of ground for a campsite. The land was barren except for stones and nuggets of iron that appeared like dots of umber spanning in every direction to the horizon.
‘We’ll camp near a creek,’ Dad said. ‘So that we have firewood.’
‘Surely we can camp in the creek,’ Mr. B said. ‘The sand is soft in the creek. And I want a decent night’s sleep. I mean, the sky is clear, so I doubt we’ll get flooded out.’
‘The rain and floods could be hundreds of miles away and then come on us without warning.’
‘I doubt it,’ Mr. B said. ‘I think we can take the risk.’
‘Where are these creeks?’ I asked.
‘You’ll see,’ Dad said. ‘The highway is crisscrossed with dry creeks. You see a row of trees, that’s where the creeks are.’
Sure enough, I saw them in the distance. ‘Hey, there’s a creek, we can camp there.’
Dad slowed the Rover down as we crossed the dry creek—as dry and rocky as the gibber plains surrounding it.
‘Not this one,’ Dad said. ‘Maybe the next one.’
For the next half an hour we passed a parade of promising rows of vegetation, only to be disappointed we passed them. Some had a few stagnant puddles, but mostly these river beds were filled only with rocks and not much sand. Dad explained that the water was underground and the roots of the desert trees drank from a subterranean supply.
The sun sank like an orange squashed at the edge of the world. Dad remarked about the unremarkable sunset that clouds make all the difference in the quality of the show. Never-the-less, a clear sky made the light last longer.
‘I guess we’ll just have to take what we can find,’ Dad mumbled as we approached a thick row of gum trees.
Dad drove the rover parallel to the trees, and when far enough from the highway, parked. We hopped out and all helped to clear the area of stones.
As the light faded, Dad raced around the site as if charged up with coffee, lighting the fire, ordering me to chop the vegetables, getting Matt to fill billy-cans with water, and then boiling the billy-cans. Dad then stirred the pot with much huffing and puffing as he cooked up the stew.
While my brother Richard organized the bedding for the night, Mr. B scrambled down to the creek-bed to set up his own bedding. Half an hour later, a disappointed Mr. B reappeared complaining. ‘It’s too stony. How can a man get a good night’s sleep around here?’
‘Oh, no!’ my brother moaned. ‘A puncture!’
Matt with his rifle, hopped over to Richard. ‘You ready to go shooting?’
‘In a minute,’ Richard replied. ‘I’ll just fix the puncture while there’s still some light.’
By the time my brother had repaired the blow-up mattress, the land of stones was shrouded in dusk. However, nightfall did not stop Richard, Matt and Mr. B from venturing out for some shooting again. I guess they had plenty of rocks to aim at.
I stood up to follow the shooting party.
Dad called out. ‘Lee-Anne, you stay here and stir the custard.’
‘Be thankful,’ Dad said. ‘This is the day the Lord made.’
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Photo: Gibber Plains © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2013