After the Storm
[Extract from Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari
Now available on Amazon click here]
Leaving Mount Woodroffe behind us, we reached Ernabella in four-and-a-half hours. Lunchtime, and my insides audibly growled from lack of food.
[Photo: Pack up and go © C.D. Trudinger 1981]
I clutched my stomach. ‘Dad, I’m hungry.’
‘Later,’ he promised.
However, later produced no food. My famished state evolved into near starvation.
‘Dad!’ I moaned. ‘I’m hungry!’
‘Not just yet.’ Dad hurried up the main road.
Shuffling behind him, I muttered, ‘If you won’t, I’ll get it myself.’
But first we visited the Post Office. There we observed the lady in charge on the CB Radio, yabbering away, not the least bit concerned about serving us. I made my escape and raced over to the General Store. A pie with lashings of sauce, or at least a packet of salt and vinegar chips foremost on my hungry mind. I trotted up the steps and faced the door. Metal security bars confronted me. I took hold of the handle twisting and turning it. The door did not budge.
I sauntered back to the men loitering by the Rover. ‘The store’s closed.’ I dug my hands in my pockets and kicked the red sand. ‘When are we going to eat?’
Without reply Dad strode off to the school.
‘Hey!’ I chased after him. ‘What about lunch?’
‘Lunch will have to wait,’ Dad said. ‘I have more important things to do.’
Dad marched down the gravel road and disappeared into the school grounds. Like devotees after their guru, the rest of the T-Team followed. But I lingered by the trailer. Well, I guess he’s too busy to notice if I help myself.
On the side of the road, I unfastened the ropes and peeled off the tarpaulin. With my help, case by case, box by box, the trailer emptied itself of its hidden treasures, until I found the eggs, sugar, coffee, and cereal. I spread the tarp on a level patch of dirt and arranged the food. My mouth moistened at the prospect. Food! Glorious food! I dipped my spoon into the muesli and shovelled the most welcome flakes, dry into my mouth. Who cares about milk when you are on the verge of starvation?
Footsteps, crunched on stones. I stopped chewing and looked up to see Dad, his face red, stalking towards my impromptu picnic. ‘What are you doing?’
‘I’m having myself a little breakfast,’ I said through a mouthful of muesli. I swallowed the oats with an audible gulp. ‘It’s been almost twenty hours since I last ate.’
Dad stamped around the road like a wounded bull and roared, ‘Couldn’t you have waited?’
‘Nup!’ I checked the billy on the camp stove, the water sizzled at the sides.
The boys and TR appeared through the dust behind Dad.
‘Ah! Lee-Anne, our saviour!’ my older cousin staggered to the tarp his hands outstretched. ‘You think of everything!’
‘If we’d waited until we met up with Bob,’ my younger cousin added through a mouthful of stale bread, ‘we’d have died of starvation.’
[Photo: Boys eating lunch © C.D. Trudinger 1992]
My brother shook his Tupperware jug containing a concoction of raw eggs and protein drink and grunted in agreement.
Family friend (TR) fried eggs for us all while Dad paced up and down the main road in search of Bob. I really made a glutton of myself, first muesli, then two fried eggs on toast, and a cup of tea. By the time we’d stuffed our stomachs so full of food we could have bounced down the road like pumped up tyre tubes, the bank had opened, and so had the store. Murphy’s Law, when you think about it. I bet if I’d waited like a good daughter ought to wait, the store would’ve stayed closed.
After eating, I strolled down to the bank where I withdrew $80. What, may you ask would I have to take out so much money in a place where the distinct lack of commerce makes money meaningless? The answer—Dad. He had a favour to ask of me. And he knew I couldn’t say no. Not unless I wanted to stay stranded in Ernabella. Not unless I wanted to forego a visit to the Petermann Ranges, Lasseter’s Cave and most importantly, cross the border to Western Australia, just to say that I’ve been to WA. You see, Dad’s bank, or should I say, building society didn’t exist in the far reaches of Central Australia, but Ernabella had a Commonwealth Bank agency, my bank. So, Dad asked for money from me to pay for petrol.
Having room still in my stomach, I visited the store and pampered myself with potato chips and a chocolate bar. As I indulged my tastebuds with the empty calories of fat and salt, I wandered over the bridge and marvelled at the vast amount of litter in the dry riverbed below.
Dad and TR huffed and puffed packing the trailer. I sailed past them, not giving their virtuous efforts a moment’s consideration. Now the lost Bob had been found, I settled myself in our host’s lounge room, on the settee and guzzled the chips and bar of chocolate. Never was food more welcome.
I licked the vinegary salt off my fingers. Dad appeared at the sitting room door. ‘Time to go!’ He held out his hand. ‘Now where’s the money?’
I opened my purse and drew out forty dollars. Dad plucked the notes from my fingers, snaffled them into his wallet, shoved it into his back pocket and with a pat, reassuring his wallet was safe, he marched out to the Rover. I trailed after him and climbed into the back with the boys. TR joined Dad in the front. We trundled along the road for no longer than five minutes then stopped, all piled out of the Rover and milled around the petrol station pump that appeared like it had come out of the ark, well at least the 1940’s. The stall accompanying the pump stood empty. Come to think of it, the whole settlement of Ernabella seemed deserted.
‘Ah! Well! We’ll just have to wait,’ Dad said.
‘What about a guide?’ TR asked. ‘Don’t we need a guide for the Petermanns?’
‘Oh, well,’ Dad replied. ‘Might as well look for my friend G.’
We wandered the streets in search of G. A local sauntered by and Dad asked him if he’d seen G. He thought G was out collecting firewood.
Another local man walked past. ‘You wanna some petrol?’
‘Yes,’ we said.
‘I go’n find tha service station tender.’ He drifted off into the golden light of the sinking sun.
We trekked back to the service station where a woman with a load of kids in the back of her rusty sedan awaited us. She produced some keys for the pump. We fed the Rover its fuel and stocked up petrol in the Gerry cans.
[Photo: Sunset over country © C.D. Trudinger 1992]
The sun hung low over the horizon bathing the plain of spinifexes and hops in tangerine and crimson. We drove out from town and followed the creek to find a campsite. A roar of an engine. Dad hunched forward and peered at the river gums and tee tree bushes. A bright orange car lurched towards us. We performed the obligatory wave as they approached.
‘Hey!’ Dad stopped the Rover. ‘That’s G!’
We parked, our vehicles facing each other. Dad jumped out and raced up to his Pitjantjatjara friend as he stepped out of his car. They shook hands and we all ended up chatting for about fifteen minutes. We learnt one Pitjantjatjara term, ‘Bullya Mulleba’ which means ‘very good’.
Light faded, and we went our separate ways. We found a creek bed with soft sand and decided to set up camp there. After our late afternoon feast, we ate a light dinner of soup and fresh bread bought at the store for two dollars a loaf. One cup of Milo was not enough for the lads, who devoured bread and jam with their second cup.
TR asked questions, fascinated with the Pitjantjatjara culture, and generated a lively discussion while we reclined on our blow-up mattresses around the campfire. A calm night replaced the storm from the morning, and with a satisfied stomach, I settled into bed. We decided to arrange our sleeping bags in a ring around the fire. A symphony of snoring from the men amused me but did nothing to lull me to sleep.
[Photo: Sleeping around campfire © C.D. Trudinger]
Dad, his bed next to mine, snored in my ears. ‘Dad! Stop snoring!’ I ordered to no effect, so I snored back, still to no effect. I buried my head in my hood and stopped my ears to muffle the snores. Then in almost silence—sleep.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2018
Feature Photo: Road to Mt Woodroffe © C.D. Trudinger 1981
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