ON TOP OF SOUTH AUSTRALIA
Clop! Clop! Clop!
I turned over. Stars dusted the dark sky, sparkling in every corner of the canopy.
Rustling, as if some feral animal was raiding our supplies. I drew my sleeping bag over my ears. I don’t want to know.
Mr. B groaned. ‘What? So early?’
The clopping grew louder, closer. Then rustling. Then crackling and the aroma of flames eating up tinder, licking mulga logs. Ah, the scent of burnt mulga wood, nothing like it.
I sat up and watched a satellite trekking across the horizon. Then, while the others battled to leave the comfort of sleep and their sleeping bags, I dragged myself out of bed and joined Dad to warm my frozen body by the fire.
‘What do you reckon?’ Dad pointed at the slow moving light. ‘A meteorite?’
‘Nah, too slow. I think it’s a satellite.’
‘Yeah, probably, you’re right. The sun’s just below the horizon.’
‘Yeah, pity it’s not a UFO,’ I said as the light tracked down and disappeared over the horizon. ‘Never seen one of them.’
‘Yeah, well.’ Dad nodded. ‘Ready to climb to the top of South Australia? Not many people have done that.’
The sun climbed over the horizon, its rays touching the clouds in hues of red and Mt. 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.
‘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!’ Richard 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 hold on.
Thump! Thump! Thump! Richard stopped and held up his hand.
‘What?’ I asked.
My brother held a finger to his mouth. ‘Shh!’
We all stood like statues and looked where Richard pointed.
A kangaroo sat on its haunches fifteen metres from where we stood. She stared at us with its black eyes, her ears twisting independently of each other.
Richard locked onto her gaze and slowly raised his .22 rifle.
Matt tapped his dad on the arm. He glanced at the rifle strapped to his dad’s back and then tried to catch his eye.
‘Not now,’ Mr. B muttered through clenched teeth. ‘Dinner.’
Matt pouted. He watched Richard squint through the rifle’s eye-piece and then squeeze the trigger. Bang!
The kangaroo jumped and hopped away, zig-zagging through the spinifex.
‘Did you get it?’ I asked.
Richard shook his curly-topped head. ‘Nup.’
Dad pointed. ‘There it is.’
The kangaroo had stopped forty metres from us, head poking above a mound of spinifex.
Richard crouched down and, as if in combat, darted from the cover of one bush to the next. We followed. But the kangaroo was onto us and bounded away. We stopped. The roo stopped.
With sixty metres between the hunter and the kangaroo, Richard raised his rifle, aimed and fired.
‘Damn!’ he said. ‘Missed!’
The kangaroo bounced away and then disappeared down a gully.
Richard ran to the edge of the gully while the rest of us fanned out over the ridge.
‘Perhaps we can corner ‘er in the gully,’ Dad said.
Richard trod down the slope and then raised his rifle.
I leaned forward and scanned the ridge and the gully. The kangaroo must be down there somewhere, but I couldn’t see her.
Richard aimed and then pressed the trigger. The shot echoed on the ochre walls of the narrow valley and Richard turned and shook his curly mop again.
‘Never mind,’ Dad said.
‘It’s useless,’ Richard said. He fastened the safety catch and then slung the rifle over his shoulder.
‘We better not waste any more time. We better start our climb to the summit,’ Dad said.
‘So no roo tonight for tea, then,’ I said.
‘I hope not egg soup,’ Mr. B remarked. ‘I couldn’t bear to have egg soup again.’
After about two hours of weaving our way through spinifex, climbing over rocks, scaling several 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? Uluru, Katajuta 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. Then I gathered the T-Team. ‘Come on,’ I said, ‘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.’
So I gave up trying to photograph the T-Team.
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. I assumed he hung onto the dream of kangaroo for tea. Preferring to rest and renew my strength for the hike down, I didn’t follow him.
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.
‘Careful walking over those rocks,’ Dad said.
Richard looked up. ‘What?’ He caught his shoe on a wedge of stone, lost balance and stumbled, crashing on the rocky surface.
‘O-oh!’ Dad said and scampered over to my brother. I followed while Mr. B and Matt stayed planted on their respective rocks.
Richard pulled up his trouser leg and with our father they inspected the damage.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked peering over Dad’s shoulder.
‘I’ve bruised my knee and leg,’ Richard said.
Dad helped Richard 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.
Richard sighed. ‘I’ll be fine. It’s just a flesh wound.’
Matt chuckled at this reference to Monty Python.
Dad patted Richard 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.
‘Make it snappy,’ Mr. B said.
‘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 Richard’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 like 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 said. He 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. I hunted for a suitable spot, but everywhere I looked, there were ants, 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. I suppose for the ants, my toilet stop might have been the first rain in weeks.
After lazing around the rock hole for nearly an hour, we headed back to camp. Since we had made good time summiting, and safely returning, there was plenty of time to pack up and return to Ernabella. Once again we camped in the comfort of soft sands at Two Mile Creek.
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!’ Richard moaned.
‘What?’ Dad asked.
‘Who’s been piddling on my sleeping bag?’ Richard said.
‘Piddling?’ Dad asked and stomped over to Richard.
‘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.’
Richard looked at me.
‘Hey, I stopped wetting the bed years ago,’ I said. ‘Anyway, mine’s dry.’
‘I wasn’t going to say anything,’ Richard said.
I raised my voice. ‘You were, you were looking at me like…’
‘There, there, cut it out,’ Dad strode over to Richard and me. He held up a bucket. ‘The washing buckets leaked on the sleeping bags.’
That night, after some probably non-descript meal like rice, the males of the T-Team had to dry out their bags in front of the fire. After all the mountain-climbing to the top of South Australia exercise, I was ready for resting my weary, in a good way, muscles. I crawled into my warm dry sleeping bag early and had a most refreshing sleep.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Photo from slide: Mt. Woodroffe Summit View, Musgrave Ranges © C.D.Trudinger 1981