THE CURTAIN OF SPRINGS
Sometime along that rough-graded road, we passed over the Northern Territory—South Australian border. We passed no sign but the road, though still just a dirt track, really, became smoother, wider and much kinder to our poor trailer. But the bulldust that billowed into the back cabin of the Rover wasn’t kind to Richard, Matt and me. We were squashed together like sardines amongst the piles of extra luggage and boxes that Dad had relegated to the Rover in order to lighten the trailer’s load. The dust filtered into my lungs and I coughed. And coughed. And coughed.
And Richard complained, ‘Would you mind not coughing all over the place?’
‘I can’t help it,’ I wheezed. ‘I need some fresh air.’
Matt held his throat and rasped, ‘I can’t breathe.’
Mr. B glanced back at his son. ‘What’s that, boy?’
‘I can’t breathe,’ his son said.
I coughed, extra loud to emphasise our discomfort.
‘I say, David, old chap,’ Mr. B tapped Dad on the arm, ‘I can’t have ma son dying from suffocation in tha back of tha Rover. We need to sort this out.’
‘Aw, it’ll be alright, it’s just some bulldust.’
I coughed, a deep barking cough.
‘I say, David, old chap, ya girl’s not sounding too good.’
‘She’ll be alright, it’s just a cough.’
Matt clutched his throat and gazed with big pleading eyes at his father.
‘Look, David, my friend, I really don’t like the way ma son’s looking.’
‘Well,’ Dad said, ‘what about you sit in the back and your son sit in the front?’
‘What about me?’ I barked through another cough.
‘Ma son first, girl,’ Mr. B said.
‘Great! I have to share the back cabin with Mr. B!’ I whined.
‘Lee-Anne!’ my Dad scolded.
With my head bent down, I muttered, ‘Sorry, Mr. B.’
‘Well, anyway, David,’ Mr. B said, ‘I was thinking, I could drive and you could have a turn in the back.’
Dad’s lips thinned and he frowned. ‘Er, um…’
‘Come on, the road’s not so bad now, so I reckon I can have a shot at the wheel.’
Dad slowed the Rover to a stop and we evacuated the dust-filled Rover. Richard paced over to the trailer and stooped down to check the axle. Dad shuffled to the rear of the Rover and looked up at the roof-rack. Secured to the front half of the roof-rack were a few boxes and some extra luggage. The rest of the roof-rack was empty.
Dad kept his gaze on the rack and squinting, screwed up his nose. ‘We could use the roof-rack.’
‘I’m not moving the luggage again,’ Mr. B said.
‘I mean, we’re in the middle of the desert, no one’s going to know.’ Dad seemed to be on another planet.
‘But I will.’ Mr. B had to be practical and down-to-earth. ‘We want to get the Curtain Springs before dark, don’t we? We want to get there to fix the trailer, don’t we?’
‘It’s better than sitting in the back of the Rover,’ Dad said with a cough as if anticipating his discomfort. Dad’s lungs were not the best since he suffered pleurisy some years ago.
‘What? You mean you’re thinking of camping here?’ Mr. B asked as he edged to the driver’s side of the Rover.
Dad looked at Mr. B. ‘No, no, no. I mean the kids can sit on the roof-rack.’
I jumped up and down and clapped. ‘Yay!’
‘Alright!’ Matt said.
So Matt and I took up residence on top of the Rover while Dad continued as the designated driver without any protest from Mr. B. Richard enjoyed the extra room afforded him in the back of the Rover. Without so many corrugations, travelling up on the roof-rack was an easy ride. Ah! The freedoms we had in 1977! Even so, Dad took care that we only rode on top of the Rover in unpopulated areas, as Australian road rules did not allow the riding on top of vehicles.
Without any further incidents, we reached Curtain Springs which lies 50 miles (80 kilometres) from the South Australian—Northern Territory border. Dad parked the Rover in an area to the side of the store where the two elders launched into action to repair the trailer.
Richard hovered around the Dads who wanted to be heroes. ‘Do you need any help?’ he asked the men’s backs.
Neither Dad nor Mr. B responded.
Richard shrugged and joined Matt and me as we wandered off to check out the nearby aviary. A white cockatoo in a cage bobbed its head and squawked, ‘G’day.’
‘Hello cocky,’ I replied.
My darling brother insisted on taking a photo of me in front of the parrot cage, my braces matching the bars.
Following the bird inspection, we sauntered in the shop. I drifted over to the souvenir section. I admired the miniature renditions of Mt. Conner and aboriginal dot paintings on boomerangs carved out of mulga wood.
‘Richard,’ Dad called, ‘Can you come and help us fix up the trailer?’
‘Finally!’ Richard murmured and then followed Dad out of the store.
Rich’s mechanical “midas” touch, lead to a successful resolution to the trailer’s woes. Mr. B rejoiced and celebrated by buying all of us an ice-cream. After a bland diet of damper, rehydrated rice and egg soup, the ice-cream was the best that I had ever tasted. With Matt and me again perched on top, we progressed to our next camp for the night.
In the magic golden light of late afternoon, we foraged for firewood. The land, now called the APY lands, is not at all what one would call a desert. Hardy plants that can survive months or maybe years without rain, grow in this country. Desert oaks with their straight black trunks and grey-green leaves like feathers, grow tall amongst the spinifex bushes, salt bush and acacia bushes. Mulga trees with their gnarled and twisted trunks also dot the landscape. Since there had been a drought, a number of the trees appeared dead and void of leaves. Good for us as we found plenty of firewood.
With my arms full of sticks, I tottered back to the camp. Some mauve flowers peeped out from a tangle of twigs. The petals appeared so delicate, like crepe paper. I knelt down and picked a couple. These flowers would go in my diary. My not-so early morning venture to find the spring, had been disappointing. In fact, all the promises of “spring” had failed to deliver. I mean, did we see the springs of Curtain Springs? And was it the “springs” on the trailer that weren’t working so well causing the trailer to crack up again? But this sunset fossick for wood had its reward—the desert rose.
After tea, Dad gave a devotion thanking God for our safe passage into Northern Territory and covering our trailer trials. In the midst of our suffering over the trailer, he encouraged us with a verse from the Bible like Job 1:21 saying, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Photo: Desert Oak in land near Erldunda NT © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2013
[The land in this area near Uluru typifies the semi-arid desert and vegetation described in the story.]