The Visitors in the Night
I’m climbing a burger. A huge hamburger, one of those new MacDonald ones. MacDonald’s Restaurants only came to Australia in the 1970’s. Had one at the restaurant just opened on the corner of Morphett Road and Anzac Highway. My friend’s sister took a bite and spat it out. ‘Tastes like cardboard,’ she said.
I munched on mine. I liked it. The bun was sweet and the pickles added flavour to the meat patty.
But on this burger-mountain, I munched my way up the rocky surface. It was dry and did taste like cardboard. The crumbs turned to sandstone in my mouth. I crawled over the ridges. Were those sesame seeds dotting the summit? The wind roared. The seeds blew away. Golden arches wobbled. The roar grew louder. And louder.
The roaring vibrated in my sleeping bag. Not the wind, a car. Engine revving, tyres crunching on stones.
I sat up and opened the leather case with my travel alarm clock. 2.30am. I hope the car doesn’t slow down. Just roar and go past. Leave us in peace.
But the revs of the engine slowed. I caught my breath. Oh, no, I hope we’re not in trouble. Was this the ranger come to tell us off? I was sure Dad said we’d camped far enough out.
The car’s roar enveloped our camp, and blazing headlights exposed our prone forms. Mr B sat up, then his son, Matt. They watched with me as it turned away and drove not far enough away. My muscles still tense, I listened to them singing, shouting and jabbering in an unknown language.
‘Aboriginals,’ Dad mumbled from his sleeping bag, and then rolled over.
‘They won’t attack, will they?’ Mr. B asked.
‘Nah, she’ll be right,’ Dad replied and then resumed snoring.
I relaxed and drifted back to sleep, resting until 8.45am. Dad provided our porridge and our neighbours, the Indigenous owners of the land supplied the entertainment yabbering, singing and laughing.
Mr B moped around the campfire, dark rings sagged under his eyes and his face pale. ‘Do they ever sleep?’ he whined. ‘I had to put up with their banter all night.’
‘Who?’ Richard asked.
‘Our noisy neighbours, or didn’t you notice,’ Mr B snapped.
‘Oh, them, when did they come?’
‘While you were sleeping,’ I said.
‘Oh, I didn’t hear a thing.’
‘Well, lucky you,’ Mr B said. ‘I heard every unintelligible word.’
At the point when Mr B launched into his rant about the poor accommodation, noisy neighbours, and so on, I walked away from the camp and to the nearest saltbush where I brushed my teeth. Without a mirror, my tooth-brush had to feel its way around my braces. I scrubbed, then taking a mouthful of water from my canteen, I rinsed the toothpaste from my mouth, the spits puffing like bubbles in the soft red sand.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
I jerked up.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
I ran back to camp.
‘They’re shooting at us!’ I screamed.
‘They don’t like Mr B’s whinging,’ Richard mumbled to me.
A bullet whizzed through the campsite. We froze. Another bullet whizzed past.
‘That’s a bit close for comfort,’ Mr B said. ‘I’m going over there to give them a piece of my mind.’
‘It’s okay,’ Dad said as he gathered the billy cans to wash. ‘It sounds closer than it is.’
‘Too close for me,’ Mr B said. ‘I—I think we should find another place to camp. One away from the natives.’
‘Er, um, this’ll do,’ Dad said. He squatted by the metal basin and commenced scrubbing the burnt porridge from the base of the cans.
‘It will not do,’ Mr B raised his voice. ‘If you’re not prepared to make an effort to find us a better campsite, I will.’
Dad stood up and locked eyes with Mr B. ‘Go on, you do that. You go and find us a better campsite. The rest of us will explore the Olgas.’
Mr B’s lips thinned. He glared at Dad. ‘Alright, then. I’ll do that. You go and enjoy yourselves while I go and find us a better campsite.’
‘Very well, then,’ Dad said. ‘And while you’re at it, would you drop by the trailer and get some more flour? I think we’ll have damper tonight.’
‘Oh, the cheek!’ Mr B’s jowls flushed red. ‘So you mean, you would like to have something different from rice for a change? And you want me to facilitate that?’
‘If you don’t mind. The alternative might be egg soup scramble.’
Mr B pouted. ‘Very well, then. Anything to avoid egg soup.’
A car engine roared.
We stopped and looked. The ute packed full of the Indigenous owners of the land, charged towards our camp.
The T-Team held their collective breath.
The ute halted. Our neighbours for the night cheered and waved. Then the ute reversed and thundered away towards the Rock.
Dad looked at Mr B. ‘See, nothing to worry about.’
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Photo: Kata Tjuta at a distance © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2013
[We camped west of Kata Tjuta and this photo most likely represents the view I had of Kata Tjuta from our campsite in 1977.—Lee-Anne Marie Kling]