Camp to Nowhere
[Way Out West of the Mission, Central Australia, Earth, July 2016]
Amie heard whistling in the bushes. Must be Adam, only her brother had that annoying sound. She stood, then marched forward, hunting for her brother. The wind flurried through the scrub with a hint of roast potato on its breath. In anticipation of kangaroo, cooked in its juices, she commenced the descent from her cave. That morning the Indig guides had returned from hunting at dawn with a big red kangaroo slung on a rod carried between them. The campfire was stoked and when the coals were a mixture of white ash and glowing red, Dad had dug a hole and the complete carcass was placed inside, then covered with white-hot coals and left to cook for several hours.
Amie increased her pace. She picked her path past all the familiar landmarks. Navigating the stony creek bed on the north side of the sunken valley, she scrambled downwards. Nimble as a mountain goat, she negotiated the rocks in the dry creek. Before long, she had passed the pipe leading from the subterranean rock springs, and reached the cattle trough. There she paused to splash the cool water over her face and shoulders.
Scanning the grove of gum trees, she expected the aroma of kangaroo roast to greet her. There was none. Cattle scarpered upon her approach. Dust lingered in her nostrils. She could hear a bull grunting at the edge of the clearing.
‘Dad!’ she called in a sing-song voice.
Nothing! Not even an annoying whistle.
‘Walter?’ Now she was getting desperate.
There were no swags, no camp fires, no four-wheel-drive vehicle, and no footprints. Amie tramped to a neighbouring dry waterhole. She assumed she’d gone to the wrong place. A herd of brumbies startled, and then thundered into the scrub.
Amie shrugged. ‘Must’ve shifted to the water-hole,’ she said while staring at the mud embedded with the pits of hooves. Dragging her feet, she headed east to the permanent waterhole. After trekking up and over the first ridge, she followed the line of gum trees to the crevice in the hills. She slid on a scree of stones. Undeterred, she scrambled over the narrow ridge to the next gully. Prickle bushes had made themselves at home in this crack in the hills. Amie hopped to the adjoining gap which promised to widen. However, as she wound her way up, the space between the red walls of rock became narrower. She rounded a bend, and a spider the size of a small bird eyeballed her from a web that spanned the width of the passage.
Amie hoisted herself up the rocky cliff and climbed up the ridge to the hilltop. Thirsty, she reached for her backpack and fished for her water bottle. Her fingers touched a sticky apple core and jerked to another part of the bag. She latched onto a soft warm bottle and extracted it. Tipping back her head, she put it to her mouth, closed her eyes and grimaced. A white paste oozed from its lid. Shuddering, she planted the sun-block on a boulder and tipped the contents of the pack onto the dry grass. The apple core rolled down the cliff-face. A windcheater, her dusty diary, a pen, and cosmetic bag shimmered in the sunlight. The valley dipped and rose with long shadows cast over half of it. At the far end of the elevated land, was the cave. The last time, she remembered, the flask was in the cave. She sighed and stuffed the useless contents into her bag.
‘Well, I’m not going to trek all the way back there,’ she said.
After climbing to the top, she began to lumber along the crest of the hill. She promised herself five more minutes, then five more after that. Hope of the waterhole tucked around the next corner, lured her along the ridge. Every so often, when she rested, she imagined that she could hear water trickling. A few steps more and she was certain that she could hear laughing.
They must be there! She quickened her pace. There was a splash. She ran.
A large crack echoed from a distant slope. Amie paused to take in some deep breaths and savoured the gully of promise. She tottered towards the edge of the hillside. Side-stepping down, loose rocks crumbled under her feet and shattered in the valley below. Crab-like Amie descended. She zigzagged along the hill face, but refused to look down. The slope disappeared a few feet in front of her. More stones gave way and clattered down the cliff. Amie skidded in the same direction. A ghost gum whizzed past her. Amie threw out her arms and hung onto the knotty root. Pulling herself up onto the root as a seat, she glanced down. The last of the rocks scampered and hopped over a six-metre drop, and plopped into the water-hole below.
Amie wiped the perspiration from her brow. ‘Well, at least I found it.’ She scanned the surrounding countryside for a route to lead her to her goal and sighed again. Following the sound of a faint trickle, she ascended and traversed the crest around until she discovered a stream feeding the water-hole. Prostrate, she buried her face in the bubbling stream and slurped up the water before wetting her neck and arms.
Flicking droplets over her body, she peered down through the ferns into the treacherous unknown. Do I take the long way? It would be safer. Nah, live life fearlessly.
She mounted the mossy rocks and with her pack brandished before her, she hacked a path through the gully of prickle bushes. Spinifex needles bit at her shins. Slippery stones threatened to turn her ankles. The water gushed laughing louder and louder.
‘Maybe I’ll jump.’ She sliced a curtain of ferns with a stick. Ten meters below, the waterhole sparkled through the shade of thirsty native pine trees. ‘I’ve jumped from jetties higher than this.’ She slipped on a wet patch and thudded onto her bottom. ‘Ugh, maybe not. There must be another way.’
Too late! Amie’s foot slid from under her. Pebbles cascaded, showering into the pool. Amie screamed. Falling. The rock wall, branches, and leaves shot upwards. The wall of water whacked her back, and caved in over her. Icy water shot into her mouth and nostrils stinging her sinuses. She blew air from her lungs. Opening her eyes, she watched the bubbles blob to the surface far above. She flapped her arms and pushed towards the filtered green light.
(To be continued…)
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Painting: Water-hole El Dorado © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017