MORE THAN BEFORE
[Extract from Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981]
Clear skies this morning, yet the temperature soared; the air thick with flies even at 9:00am. We moped around the campsite like slugs with heat-stroke. My brother sat on his inflatable mattress. He clapped, accumulating a mass-grave of fly corpses. At the other end of the campsite, as far away as possible from the serial fly mass-murderer, I ate my porridge. Every spoonful I took, he made a slap and a body count. What’s that? A raisin? Ugh! Flies congregated on my spoon. I can’t take this anymore. I shovelled out the last fly-flavoured dregs of porridge onto the sand and buried the evidence.
Dad tipped the billy in the direction of my metal bowl. ‘More porridge?’
‘No, thanks.’ I replied through a barely open mouth. Still two flies flew in.
‘You sure? There’s plenty to go ‘round.’
I sniffed a fly up my nose. Plenty of protein if you count the incidental flies we eat. ‘I’m sure.’
‘What?’ C1, my older cousin said. ‘Have you lost your appetite?’
I waved off a swarm of flies eager to be swallowed. ‘Yep.’
Slap! Another dozen flies bit the dust at the mercy of Brother ’s fat hands. ‘That’s why she’s a bean pole,’ my brother said, then continued the body count, ‘one hundred and twenty-one, two, three, four…’
The schedule for this day was to explore the surrounding territory. Dad set off earlier than the rest of the T-Team, and arranged for us to meet him at the entrance to the gorge due west of camp.
DR (our guide) and C1 followed ten mins later. Leaving C2 (younger cousin) and Brother behind, I trotted after them and called, ‘Wait for me.’
DR and C1 stopped, then waited until I caught up before proceeding on their adventure. I enjoyed exploring with them. DR didn’t speed ahead, and we kept together instead of what usually happened when I’d be left behind to struggle on alone.
DR had a keen eye for wildlife, spotting hopping mice, euros (rock wallabies), native birds, and lizards.
‘Now you see I would’ve missed all those animals if it hadn’t been for DR. Usually I’m too busy looking at the land formations, the mountains, rocks and sky to notice teeny weeny creepy crawlies and furry mammals in amongst the bushes,’ I said as we trundled along the cattle-track leading up the gully.
‘What would’ve we done without DR?’ my cousin remarked.
DR halted and then raised his head. ‘There’s a water-hole just up ahead.’
‘What did I tell you?’ C1 said. ‘Our water supply.’
‘It’s high enough we don’t have to worry about cattle contamination,’ DR said.
After checking out rock-holes higher up one gully, we agreed to traverse along the ridge to the next gully. C1 expressed hopes of finding bigger and better water-holes in that gully. But the gully grew dry and barren as we ascended.
‘Well, that was a disappointment.’ At the top of that gorge, C1 put his hands on his hips and scanned the washed-out landscape of pale grasses clinging to the granite. ‘Let’s see what the next one holds.’
We began our advance over the ridge. DR slowed and then stooped. ‘What’s this?’
C1 and I gathered around him to see a pack with a rifle pointing east.
‘Must be your brother indicating where to go,’ DR said.
‘Let’s see.’ My cousin led us into the gully, and then cupping his hands together called, ‘Cooee? Cooee?’
Nothing. No sound. Only the flies heeded C1’s call and descended on his back, covering his purple tee shirt.
DR lifted his hands to his mouth and called, ‘Cooee? Cooee?’
But only more flies came.
DR stood up. ‘Let’s climb the hill over there and see if we can see them.’
He left the pack and rifle in place and led us up the hill. The land seemed empty of all humans but us; a land too dry, too barren, and more like a Martian landscape than earth. The land the rain forgot, but the flies certainly hadn’t.
‘We’ll climb to the top of that range.’ DR pointed to the range south of us. To the west Liebig’s two-thousand-metre-high cliffs in shadow appeared purple.
Again, we followed DR’s lead and climbed up one of the slopes of this range. I’d drunk all the water from my canteen an hour ago. The steep climb made me delirious with thirst. Every few steps I rested taking deep breaths and licking the salty drops of perspiration on my upper lip. When I stopped, my companions stopped. I inched up the steep incline, my shins ached and the climb seemed to take forever.
After what seemed a lifetime, I reached the top of the range. There I rested, the soft breeze cooled my face. I drank in the panoramic view of Liebig’s sombre cliffs rising like stone monuments, and the surrounding worn down ranges dressed in faded pinks bowing down in homage to the 1524-metre-high mountain.
Refreshed, we recommenced our exploration, traversing east along the ridge. What a relief to hike on almost level ground, just a slight incline to keep our calves from getting complacent. At the top of the range, we downed packs and rested again. Neither DR nor C1 showed any concern for our depleted water supplies nor the non-appearance of Dad, Brother and C2. DR seemed so calm, taking all events in his stride.
We sat, surveying the land for our route back to camp, and gullies holding water.
DR shaded his eyes. ‘Over there.’ He pointed towards a clump of prickle bushes. ‘Euros. Four of them.’
A gun shot rang through the valley. The euros hopped away skittering down the slope and out of sight.
C1 looked at DR. ‘Head back to camp?’
‘Yes, I think so,’ DR said and then shrugging on his haversack, he began picking his way down the slope.
‘When we get back, we can tell them about the water-hole,’ I said.
We followed the euro track heading for our campsite. Strange how the trip back from anywhere takes no time at all. I galloped down the hillside, spurred on by the vision and promise of buckets of water. I didn’t care if the others were there, as long as there was plenty of water.
With the sun still high in the sky, we arrived at the clearing and a hive of activity. Dad presided over several boiling billies, C2 peeled and chopped carrots, and Brother stalked the nearby bushland for prey to shoot. I grabbed a cup and made a beeline for a bucket of water.
‘There you are!’ Dad stood up and wiped his hands on his jeans. ‘We thought you must’ve got lost.’
‘We found a rifle and followed the direction it was pointing,’ C1 said. ‘We presumed it was put it there to show us the way.’
‘Oh, no, I don’t think so,’ Dad said. ‘The idea was to meet at the entrance to the gorge over there.’ He pointed west at the valley at the base of Mt. Liebig’s slopes. ‘We waited at least half an hour there.’
‘But the rifle pointed east, so that’s the direction we went.’
Brother emerged through the spinifex. ‘Did I hear someone mention a rifle?’
‘Wise guy. What’s the idea of pointing the rifle east?’ C1 gave Brother a soft punch on the shoulder. ‘You sent us completely in the wrong direction.’
Brother rubbed his temple. ‘Oh! Yeah! I left my pack and rifle while exploring and forgot about it. I had to go back for it.’
‘Jolly joker!’ C1 slapped him on the back. ‘Thanks for the wild goose chase.’
‘Yeah, thanks, I nearly died of thirst,’ I said, then slurped water from my metal cup.
‘Sorry,’ Brother said.
After lunch flavoured by unwelcome flies, and then, most of the afternoon swatting the infernal pests, we travelled towards Mt. Liebig to reconnoitre a path to the summit.
Riding in the Rover, we trundled and bumbled along the non-existent road, at walking pace.
Was that a hissing sound? I bent down towards the rear door of the Rover. Ssss! Ssss! Yep, definitely a hissing sound. ‘Dad!’ I yelled.
‘I hear a hissing sound.’
‘Sure it’s not just flies buzzing?’ Brother joked.
‘No, definitely a hissing, not a buzzing.’
Dad stopped the Rover with a jerk. He pushed open the door and poked his head out and then screwed up his nose. ‘We’ve been staked.’
We piled out of the Rover and milled around the tyre carnage. Dad kicked the rubber spreading over the sand. ‘Well, that’s put an end to that.’
Back into the Rover we crawled and then hobbled the Rover with its crippled tyre back to camp. While we prepared tea, C1 taught Brother to fly bottle tops, so distracting him from slaughtering flies.
Night time, and at last a reprieve from the infernal pests. After finishing left-over cold meat and salad, Dad lifted the damper from the coal pit. For variety, he chose to include raisins in the recipe.
As I prepared for bed, Dad presented me with the finished product. ‘Damper?’
I glanced at the raisin-flecked damper. How could I not think of flies? ‘No thanks, not tonight, I’m off to bed.’
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Photo from slide: Liebig Sunrise ©C.D. Trudinger 1981