Mr. C greeted us. He stood on the dusty verge out the front of the old hospital. He grinned and waved at us. Still the Year Eight Maths teacher I remembered from last year at College. Just more tanned, making his blonde hair blonder, and he sported a trim moustache and beard. That year he’d taken up a position as teacher to the Aranda people, owners of the land around Hermannsburg.
Dad looked at his watch. ‘Oh, eight-thirty. I hope we aren’t too late.’
‘Pff!’ Mr. C laughed. ‘Don’t worry about it. The people ‘round here don’t fuss about time.’
Dad checked his watch and after tapping his pocket, pulled out the keys for the Rover. ‘So, we’ll follow you?’
‘You can do that,’ Mr. C replied. He turned to Richard and me. ‘Do you want a ride on the “Dune Buggy”?’
My brother and I looked at each other, then at Mr. C who smiled at us and we nodded.
‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I’ve always wanted to ride in a Dune Buggy.’ I imagined an all-terrain vehicle like I’d seen in Lost in Space.
Dad drove us away from the settlement and out into the bush where Mr. C had parked his “Dune Buggy”.
‘What is it?’ I asked as I approached this vehicle with no roof and huge tyres. ‘Is this a mini-moke?’
‘Not exactly,’ Mr. C said. ‘But it sure goes over everything. Nothing stops my “Dune Buggy”.’
Richard and I climbed on board. I sat in the front and Richard in the back. Within seconds Mr. C had his “Dune Buggy” flying over humps and bumps of the dunes and lumps of spinifex. What an adventure that was! After sailing through the desert in the easy-riding Dune Buggy, I wanted one too. Way behind, Dad followed in the cumbersome Land Rover.
Mr. C stopped. A boy emerged from the shade of a Mulga tree and climbed on board the “Dune Buggy”. He sat next to Richard and he clutched the side of the buggy.
Mr. C turned and glanced at him. ‘You ready?’
The boy looked at his knees and nodded.
The teacher revved the engine and again the “Dune Buggy” skipped over the terrain.
I enjoyed the wind in my face and the scenery of grey-green salt bushes, lemon-tinted spinifex, and patches of sienna-coloured sand flit past.
Mr. C slowed and then with the Buggy chugging, parked near a collection of structures made of wooden poles with corrugated iron leaning up against them. The Rover trundled up a nearby track and halted behind the “Dune Buggy”. Dad climbed out and strode up to us.
‘Where are we?’ I asked. The place looked deserted.
‘This is an elder’s camp,’ Mr. C said. He spoke to Dad. ‘Do you remember N?’
‘Of course,’ Dad replied. ‘He was one of my best students.’
A man emerged from one of the humpies and walked up to Dad and Mr. C. Dad grinned and shifted his weight from one leg to the other. He rubbed his hands together.
N raised his arms and exclaimed, ‘Ah, Dabid!’
Dad and N hugged and then patted each other on the back. After Dad introduced us to N with handshakes all round, Mr. C showed us his “classroom”.
Richard and I hung back and stared. Kids darted in and around a shelter; a metal frame with a tin roof for shade. There were a few laminated desks and plastic chairs, but no student sat on the chairs or at the tables. Junk—papers, bottles, pencils and toys—littered the floor of desert sand. Mr. C called a few of the children together to teach, but I figured to round up all of them would be a challenge. What a contrast to my maths teacher’s previous appointment at College!
‘May I take a photo?’ Dad asked. At last, he finds something photo-worthy?
‘Sure,’ Mr. C said.
‘Is this—school?’ I almost choked on the word, “school”.
‘Yes. One of them.’
‘Yes, I go to all the different camps and teach the kids in the camps. It’s impossible to get them all to come to Hermannsburg. So, I go out to them.’
Dad wandered around the camp, snapping shots of the lean-to classroom, the kids sitting on chairs at their desks—briefly, and Mr. C “teaching” a couple of kids who hung around him. And I wondered how much learning was taking place.
‘It’s hard,’ Mr. C said as Dad packed away his camera. ‘But they weren’t coming to one central place. Not like I guess it was in the old days when you were there.’
‘Nah, those were the good ol’ days,’ Dad said.
‘The government has given funding for teachers like us to go to the camps. Even then, it’s hard. The kids, if they’re out hunting with their family, don’t turn up.’ He nodded at the rabble. ‘Good turn up today. Sometimes, I’ll go to a camp, and there’s no one there.’
Another Aranda man, tall, and solid, somewhere in his forties, strolled up to us. Dad and this man jabbered in the Aranda language. Dad turned to us, his mouth spread in a broad smile.
‘What?’ I asked.
‘This is SV,’ Dad said. ‘He wants to be our guide when we go out West to Mt. Liebig.’
‘Yes, we need a guide. We can’t go into their country unless we have a guide. N’s going to join us too. However, we’ll have to delay going to Haast Bluff and Mt. Liebig for a day or two. He’s going to Palmer River and won’t be back for when we originally planned to go. We have to be flexible.’
I nodded. Yep, in this land of the Centre, one had to be flexible; the people of the desert’s interpretation of time and schedules differs from my view, so I’ve learnt.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Photo: Land Around Hermannsburg © C.D. Trudinger circa 1955