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.’
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.’
‘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.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Photo: Sunset on the Musgraves © C.D. Trudinger 1981