YOU CAN’T BOUNCE MELONS
Palm Valley, Friday, August 21, 1981
[Extract from Trekking with the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981]
‘When I was here in the fifties, I went out with my students riding on horseback, and we camped a whole week in Palm Valley,’ Dad explained as he led us down the creek.
‘We could’ve driven further up,’ family friend, TR muttered behind us.
‘Wow! That must’ve been fun,’ I envied Dad, ‘I wish we could spend a week camping in Palm Valley. I saw this amazing ghost gum…’
‘What’s so good about Little Palm Valley? We saw big Palm Valley yesterday, why are we wasting our time?’ TR again, spoiling our conversation.
I bit my tongue. Dad bit his moustache covered lip, then continued, ‘Yes, I discovered some great ghost gums. I must show you the slides when we get home.’
‘Yeah, if we ever get home,’ TR grumbled behind us. ‘I thought you said it wasn’t far. We’ve been walking for ages.’
‘It’s not far to go now. I remember this part of the river when I camped with my students. Did I tell you I rode on horseback?’
‘Yes, David,’ TR grunted, ‘You already mentioned that.’
‘Did you know how to ride a horse?’ I asked Dad.
‘You don’t know much about your father.’
I looked down at the sand. ‘Hmm.’
‘You know, you really don’t speak well, do you Lee-Anne, not very ladylike, not ladylike at all,’ TR sneered.
‘See what I mean? See what I mean?’
By this time, we’d reached a waterhole. Scattered along the edges of the pool, our old friends, the paddy melons.
Pools of Palm Valley © C.D. Trudinger 1981
I looked through TR’s broad curly topped head, avoiding his spectacle-framed eyes. ‘What’s wrong with ‘what’?’
‘You should say ‘I beg your pardon’.’ TR leaned forward and stabbed a finger in the air. ‘Haven’t you learnt anything on this trip? How will you get anywhere in life with gutter manners like you’ve got?’
‘I—’ slowly I bent down, ‘beg—’ and picked up a melon ‘your—’ and then straightened up, ‘pardon?’ Then I positioned my missile ready to throw at this self-proposed teacher of elocution and manners.
I took aim.
My target had turned his back, and with hands in his pockets, pursued Dad.
I chucked the melon in the water, and trailed after Dad and TR. My brother (MB), and my two cousins (C1 and C2) lagged behind, reluctant to part from their game of stone skipping on the glass-like surface of the pool.
We walked along the creek bed, not a palm in sight, and not a sound of complaint from TR.
Dad stopped. ‘O-oh, I think we’ve taken a wrong turn.’ He performed an about turn and like soldiers marching in formation, we turned with him and followed him out of the valley. We marched along the white sands of the Finke tributary to the next gorge and turned down there. Dad knows what he’s doing. He spent a week riding through the Finke on horseback. Dad stopped and sniffed the air. The wind swished through the valley devoid of palm trees. ‘Not this one, must be the next valley.’ For the second time that morning we swung on our heels turning 180 degrees and trooped out the second gorge to try the next one along the main tributary.
Occasional Palms © C.D. Trudinger 1981
Third time lucky, as we hiked along the narrow valley of white sands, the occasional palm emerged jutting out of the ochre banks. Soon a gathering of palms appeared as if in a mini celebration of an ancient past. We dropped our bags on flat rocks and gazed up at the blue-green palm tops set against a cobalt sky. In the shade of the cliffs, a spring offered cold running water. Dad lay flat on the rocks and sucked the water; his lips acting like a straw and making a slurping sound.
TR sat down. ‘Are you sure this is Little Palm Valley?’
‘Well, it’s a valley. There are palms. But not many of them,’ MB said.
‘I count twenty.’ Older cousin (C1) pointed at each specimen. ‘Yep, twenty.’
‘Yes, but they’re rather big palms,’ TR quibbled. ‘They’re not exactly little. So how can it be Little Palm Valley?’
Palm Pool Reflections © C.D. Trudinger 1981
C2 gazed at the view reflected in the pool. ‘Maybe it’s a little valley with palms.’ He then cupped the pristine water in his hands and drank.
‘Well, sir,’ I spoke with a metaphorical plum in my mouth to enunciate the perfect English accent, ‘perhaps we should consult the map residing in my father’s satchel.’ I hailed Dad while TR, his brow furrowed, looked on. ‘Papa? Oh, Papa?’
‘Who? What?’ Dad sat up from his drinking session wiping the dribbles from his beard.
I conducted a royal wave. ‘I beg your pardon!’ Keeping my expression poker faced, I glanced at TR, the authority of speech therapy, then said, ‘Would you mind searching in your bag for the map?’ I licked my lips and hammed up the English tone and drama, ‘The gentlemen here are debating whether this little valley here, is the proposed Little Palm Valley.’
As I finished my dissertation, I’m sure I heard TR mutter, ‘Here she goes again.’
‘Pretty sure it is,’ Dad replied as he opened up his back-pack and pulled out the red dust stained roll. He lifted his spectacles from his eyes, placed them on his forehead, unfurled and then studied the map.
I looked over his hunched shoulder. ‘What have you discovered my Papa from the topography and landforms offered on this detailed map?’ Pursing my lips, I met the gaze of my brother and cousins.
‘And the translation is?’ C2 asked.
‘According to the map, where are we?’ I looked at our family friend, ‘Oh, begging my pardon sir, for such plain and common language.’
TR rolled his eyes and muttered, ‘Glad I’m going home. She’s mad! Utterly mad.’
Dad, engrossed in map-reading missed all the comic drama. ‘Hmmm!’ he said counting the rivulets diverting from the Finke tributary running parallel to the range. ‘One, two, and three—Glen of Palms,’ he read, then looked up. ‘Looks like we’re in the Glen of Palms.’
Glen of Palms?? © C.D. Trudinger 1981
‘Told you,’ MB sniffed, ‘a little valley is a glen.’
‘Neither little palms and not a valley,’ C1 remarked.
‘Well, at least we’ve found palms, what does it matter if it’s a valley or a glen?’ C2 asked.
‘But it’s not Little Palm Valley,’ TR whined.
I clasped my hands together and spoke like I imagined the characters do in Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. ‘Oh, but what a superb place for a picnic lunch. Oh, Papa, do say yes that we can settle down and have lunch here.’ I looked Dad in the eyes and fluttered my lashes.
‘What a jolly good idea.’ C1 bought into my pantomime. ‘Let’s do have lunch.’
‘Oh, why not.’ Dad rolled up the map and stuck it back in his bag. ‘This’ll do.’
Another Jolly Lunchtime in Palm Valley © C.D. Trudinger 1986
We sat down for lunch, and soon, with the fire crackling, billy boiling, damper in neat bundles cooking in the coals, the lads lay on the rocks soaking in the sun. I meandered down the creek absorbing the magical atmosphere; the red rocks, white sand, and tall palms, their knobbly trunks craning their cabbage tops to the brilliant blue sky.
I imagined Ernest Giles and his exploration team sitting in this very gorge, sipping their high billy tea from metal cups, their camels lapping up the water from the waterhole. I envisioned the men and women pioneers, all dressed up in Sunday best, seated by the banks of the Finke saying, ‘I beg your pardon’, and ‘please sir’ as they sipped from their cups little pinkies bent just so. My thoughts soured as I remembered how much on this trip I was forced to say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and ‘please forgive me’ and ‘I’m not worthy’. Just because I’m an eighteen-year-old girl.
Crimson Cliffs © C.D. Trudinger 1981
I looked up at the crimson-brown cliffs. An elegant ghost gum jutted from the crags. When wallowing in a whirlpool of self-pity, admire the awesomeness of God’s creation and turn to art. I perched on a rock opposite the gum and sketched its sturdy trunk, twisted branches of pure white and fine curtain of leaves.
Satisfied with my sketch, I strolled back to the boys.
Dad tossed a damper bun to me. ‘You’re just in time.’
I spent a fine hour laughing and joking with my cousins as we pun-sparred with Dad. My brother wandered down into the Glen of Palms, while TR sat alone at a distance.
Painting: Ghost gum (acrylic) © L.M. Kling 2013
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2018
Photos from slides courtesy of C.D. Trudinger 1981
***Trekking with the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981, the book to be available in print or Kindle version, coming soon, very soon to Amazon.
While you are waiting check out my writers’ group anthology of short stories, The Butterfly’s Wing.
Feature Photo: Glen of Palms–maybe… © C.D. Trudinger 1981