Picnic on the Plateau
[Extract from Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981]
At midday Dad, my two cousins (C1 and C2), and I set off to conquer Mt. Conner. My brother stayed back at camp to nurse his sore feet and our family friend, TR to recover from his Uluru climb. All that hype from Dad about a perilous and impossible ascent to the plateau was highly exaggerated. We followed a euro (rock wallaby) track, although rocky, had no loose rocks and the spinifex was sparse.
We reached the plateau in ninety minutes. After hiking through the bush for ten minutes, we found a clearing. Dad lit a small fire. We cooked damper and boiled water for tea. So, for lunch we enjoyed sardines, peanut butter and jam on our damper, and washed down the whole fare with billy tea. I reckon Dad had to reassert his glory as chief cook after I’d provided porridge for breakfast while Dad went rabbit hunting—unsuccessful rabbit hunting.
Our stomachs settled, we wandered towards the cliffs.
‘Oh, we’ll be hiking for quite a while,’ Dad said erring on the side of pessimism. ‘The cliffs are five miles away.’
‘Well, what’s this then?’ C1’s voice floated back through a thick wad of tee tree.
We stepped through the wall of scrub. My older cousin lay flat on his stomach peering down a 500-metre drop, his bare back hanging over the edge.
‘Ah, well.’ Dad tiptoed toward the precipice and looked down. ‘You be careful.’
‘I know what I’m doing Uncle.’ C1 inched further over the ledge and snapped a few shots with his camera.
I held my breath as C1’s body edged over the cliff side. I took a photo of his dare-devil act. For most of the time C2 loitered way back by the bushes with his uncle, reluctant to venture too close to the edge. However, I do have a photo of my cousins on a rocky outcrop near the cliff.
Mid-afternoon, we commenced our return to camp T-Team. Wanting to locate the highest point of Mt. Conner, I made a little detour. Everyone followed.
We stopped in the middle of non-descript scrubland where Dad muttered, ‘We’ve wasted half-an-hour.’
‘Alright then, not much of a summit anyway,’ I said. ‘It’s like Mt. Remarkable in the Southern Flinders; most unremarkable. And no view.’
We trudged down the stony euro path to the plains below.
Our descent took an hour and, as the sun hovered just above the horizon, we arrived back at camp triumphant and exhausted. A box kite constructed out of brown paper hovered above the mulga trees. At the other end of the rough string, in a small sandy patch, Richard tugged at his lofty creation.
The sun squeezed golden rays through high clouds near the horizon. A photo opportunity arose. Soon it’ll be over, I thought, and plucked up Dad’s chunky camera bag and darted towards the bush.
‘Hoy!’ Dad yelled.
I cringed. Just my luck he’ll make me peel those petrol-tainted spuds. ‘What?’ I yelled.
‘Where’re you off to?’
‘I just want to take a photo of the sunset on Mt. Conner with your camera.’
‘Oh, I don’t know about that.’
‘Oh, please!’ I placed the bag on the ground and then clasped my hands together. ‘I’ll be careful.’
‘I won’t go far.’
Dad took two paces towards me. ‘But—um—er—’
‘I’ll be back to help with tea in a minute. I won’t be long.’
‘Oh, alright! Go on then.’ He flung his hand around his face as if shooing a fly. Then he locked eyes with me and shook his index finger at me. ‘But don’t go off the road, do you understand?’
I picked up the bag and skipped through the scrub.
I did have to go off the road in search of a vantage point. All the good high ground happened to be off track. The forest of mulga trees obscured the view of Mt. Conner. I climbed a tree. Dad never said anything about climbing trees. Perched on a branch, I watched the sienna tones on Conner’s cliffs deepen. Then I grew bored and moved to a higher tree.
The sun sank through the clouds and into the horizon. The cliffs turned orange, then soft crimson, and finally, blood red. I snapped each stage with the best shot just after the sun had set, bathing the mesa in crimson.
Pleased with my photographic efforts, I commenced my descent down the rough branches of the mulga tree. Snap. My foothold broke and crumbled. My lower half scudded a few inches catching on the splintery trunk, while I caught and hung onto the brittle branch above. Dad’s heavy camera dangled like a lead weight compromising my equilibrium, causing me to teeter. I rotated my body, shifted the camera to my side, then, hugging the tree trunk, began climbing down bear-style. The strap got in the way and as I used my elbow to slide it and the camera to my back, I lost my balance and plummeted to the ground.
I picked myself up and checked the camera. The body and lens appeared whole and unscathed. My shirt sleeve was not so fortunate, having been torn by the trauma of the fall. Ah, well, I’ll sew it up some time. I dusted the spinifex needles from the seat of my pants and marched back to camp, arriving just before nightfall. I rolled up my shirt-sleeve hiding my brush with personal catastrophe.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016
Photo: Mt. Conner Sunset © Lee-Anne Marie Kling (nee Trudinger) 1981