A Slice of Heaven
[Extract from Trekking with the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981]
We’d planned to leave for Areyonga after the church service, this time DR, M’s husband joined us as our guide for when we travelled west to Mt. Liebig, land owned by the Luritja people.
But instead of leaving, we lounged around like lazy cats in our host’s (M and DR) sitting room. I resumed my arrangement with the cat, on my lap sitting in the dark room with the T-Team and M. We continued the conversation with M about her life-history and experiences in Hermannsburg from the previous night.
After an hour of inaction consuming our good intentions, M stopped telling her stories.
‘Don’t you have to get going?’
Dad placed his hands under his bottom, but refused to shift from the lounge chair. ‘Yes, I s’pose we should.’
C2 (younger cousin) leaned forward. ‘I just want to hear how you—’
‘No, another time,’ M kept glancing in the direction of her daughter’s bedroom. ‘Time for you to go. Look how late it is.’
‘Oh, but we have plenty of time, M,’ C1 (older cousin) said.
She pushed her hands towards us. ‘Come on, time to go! Get a move on!’
We stood up like a collection of cats. M hustled us, including her husband, out the door and guided us to the ready-packed Rover.
‘Come on! Out! Give my love to the K’s.’ She waved and then urged her husband, ‘Hurry up, dear, while she’s still asleep.’
DR opened the front passenger door. ‘Yeah, she’ll be right.’
As Dad revved up the engine, I noticed M’s three-year old girl paddling towards the vehicle. Her face red, streamed with tears, she cried, ‘Daddy! Don’t abandon me!’
M picked her up and held her. ‘Daddy’ll come back.’
The girl howled as her daddy gave her a good-bye cuddle.
From the roof-rack of the Rover, I watched M hold her wailing, squirming daughter. As we drove away, she reached out with little chubby arms and howled, ‘Don’t abandon me Daddy!’
Within a couple of hours, we wound down the valley to Areyonga. The Pastor and Mrs. K greeted us. Pastor must’ve been quite old. They’d been at Areyonga since the 1950’s at least. Mrs K wore fashions from the 1950’s, and she reminded me of the generation of my Grandma and great aunts. Prim, proper and most hospitable.
‘We’re just sitting down for afternoon tea, will you join us?’ Mrs K showed us into their cool surround-veranda home.
‘Yes, please!’ both cousins replied in unison.
The K’s took particular interest in C1 and C2’s history, family, home in Canada and their experiences in Australia so far.
I enjoyed the cake, and also warmed to the Ks. I admired the idyllic oasis of Areyonga, a valley lush with large gum and mulga trees, surrounded by mountains each side. Our hosts showed us around the settlement, with the sunshine reflecting gentle greens of the leaves and vegetable garden, the birds chirping, the grounds neat, the inhabitants calm and the atmosphere tranquil.
In the hour before the evening meal, we introduced DR to baseball, T-Team style, done with sticks and paddy melons. The smashing of melons with a stick proved therapeutic for me, and for the boys, the sport worked up an appetite.
Mrs. K rang a bell.
I remembered this ritual from my youth and dinner at Grandma’s. ‘Dinner time,’ I chimed, then began walking to the house.
The men ignored me and kept on playing. C2 smashed another melon-home run and they roared with delight.
‘Dinner time!’ I yelled. ‘Come on, MB! You heard the bell.’
My brother held the stick bat. He tapped the ground near his feet with it and raised it to batting position.
The bell rang again. I abandoned the boys to their game and sat first at the table. Huge bowls of salad and large platters of cold meat lined the middle of the table. The men, smelling of sweat entered.
C1 grinned. ‘Wow, what a wonderful feast!’
‘Magnificent!” C2 said, ‘Thank you Mrs. K.’
‘My pleasure.’ Our hostess gestured for the men to sit.
We all joined hands and gave God thanks.
The men hoed into their feast. I picked at my small plate with a smattering of salad and two slices of corned beef.
‘Won’t you have some more?’ Mrs. K asked.
‘It’s okay,’ I played with my lettuce, ‘I think I had too much cake too late in the afternoon.’
‘That’s alright, dear, there will be supper after church.’
I thanked Mrs. K for her hospitality and told her it was a lovely meal. There’s always someone concerned about my weight, looking at me, thinking I’m malnourished, trying to make me eat more. I’m just not a big eater—except when it comes to cake.
We proceeded from the dinner table to another church service, this time in English, except for the hymns. Pastor K showed film of the early days of the mission. Fascinating! I spotted my grandfather a few times.
My appetite returned, and I helped myself to cake and biscuits at suppertime. We sat around the table talking till late with the K’s. I yawned. C1 and C2 continued to talk with them while I toddled off to the room Mrs. K had prepared for me. There I propped myself up in bed and wrote a letter. About midnight, I padded out to the bathroom to brush my teeth. C1 and Pastor K still sat at the dinner table deep in discussion. I bid them goodnight.
C1 looked up. ‘Goodnight.’
Pastor K smiled. ‘Sweet dreams.’
‘I hope so,’ I replied and thought, Can’t be any worse than last night.
[Next morning we climbed Helicopter Hill for this view of Areyonga.]
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Feature Photo: Areyonga © C.D. Trudinger 1981
Photo 1: Areyonga from Helicopter Hill, me foreground © C.D. Trudinger 1981