The sun peeped over the horizon, its rays causing the river gum leaves to look like they’d burst into flames. The creek was alive with a conference of birds, screeching and chattering over breakfast. I sat up in my sleeping bag and stretched.
‘Did you have a good sleep, Lee-Anne?’ Dad asked.
‘Yes, I did. I had a wonderful sleep. It’s just like you say, Dad. The hip hole made all the difference.’
During the night, since my air mattress had gone flat, I had dug a hip hole. Dad recommended doing this in place of an air-mattress. He said that the aborigines did this when they slept.
‘That’s good,’ Dad said and then tramped over to the Rover.
When he had disappeared behind the vehicle, I unravelled myself from my bedding, pulled on my boots and shuffled over to the fire joining Richard and Matt, spreading hands over the warmth to continue the process of waking up.
‘Oh, no!’ Dad cried.
‘What?’ Mr B sat up in his sack. He looked like a red caterpillar with slits for eyes.
‘The Rover’s bogged,’ Dad yelled from behind the Rover.
‘How can you tell?’ Mr B asked.
Dad sighed. ‘Ooh, it doesn’t look good. Told you we shouldn’t’ve camped in a creek bed.’
‘Pff!’ Mr B wormed his way out of his sleeping bag and then sauntered over to the Rover, vanishing like Dad behind it.
The men talked in low tones, their voices muffled.
Richard grabbed his .22 rifle and nodded to Matt who then picked up his. ‘Just going to do some shooting,’ he said and then the two boys walked down the creek. I started to follow them.
‘Lee-Anne!’ Dad called.
I stopped and looked back. ‘What?’
‘Come and help us dig out the Rover’s wheels, would you?’
I put my hands on my hips. ‘Oh, al-right!’
Then I stomped back to the Rover.
Dad huffed and puffed as he shelled out the sand with his bare hands.
Mr B used the camp shovel. ‘I hope this has been washed and sterilised thoroughly,’ he grunted.
I muttered, ‘Why do the boys get all the fun?’
Both men stopped their shovelling.
Dad glared at me. ‘What did you say?’
‘Er, um, nothing,’ I replied.
‘I don’t want to hear any grumbling, you understand?’ Dad’s voice had an edge to it.
‘You should be thankful for the privilege,’ Mr B added.
‘Yes, I am.’ Where else would I get the joy of digging the Rover out of a bog of sand? I continued digging.
Mr B stepped away from the Rover. ‘Try the Rover now.’
Dad gathered some green leaves and placed them in the cavities under each of the Rover’s tyres. Then he hopped in the driver’s seat and turned on the ignition. The Rover’s engine puttered to life. Dad sat in the idle Rover while it chugged. Then he engaged first gear with a crunch of the clutch.
He stuck his head out the window. ‘Get behind and push.’
Mr B and I laid hands on each side of the Rover’s back end and as Dad pressed down on the accelerator, we pushed. Four wheels spun. Sand and leaves sprayed us.
‘Push, girl!’ Mr B shouted.
‘I’m pushing!’ Sand smattered my face. ‘It’s no use!’
Dad switched off the engine. He jumped out the Rover and marched to the rear tyres. He then knelt and dug deeper under the tyres. ‘Get some more leaves and small branches!’ he cried.
Mr B and I scrambled up the bank and gathered armfuls of fallen branches. When we returned, Dad was smoothing out the holes under the back tyres. He also had placed twigs and small branches under the front tyres. We added our offerings to the holes below the back tyres and Dad patted them down. He’d also deflated the tyres a little.
Dad climbed into the driver’s seat. ‘We’ll try again.’
This time with Mr B and me pushing, the Rover’s tyres spun, then caught and jerked out of the bog. Dad sped up the dry river bed and parked on firmer ground. He then returned. Dusting his hands, he said, ‘Alright, Lee-Anne, after I’ve pumped up the tyres again, we’ll be ready to go. Go get the boys. We’re off to Alice Springs.’
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Photo: Finke near Hermannsburg © C.D. Trudinger, circa 1955