[The eighth episode of the prequel to my first travel memoir, Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981.]
The Sting of Spinifex at the Summit
The sun climbed over the horizon, its rays touching the clouds in hues of red and Mount Woodroffe in pink. In the golden light, packs on our backs we filed up the gully. The narrow creek in the hill-face gave way to the slopes leading to the summit. With no defined track except for euro (small kangaroo) ruts, we picked our way through the spinifex. Rick carried his .22 rifle in the hope of game for dinner.
[Photo 1: Hiking up the creek © L.M. Kling (nee Trudinger) 1977]
‘You’ve got to watch that spinifex,’ Dad said. ‘If you get pricked by it, the needle stays inside your body for years.’
‘Years?’ I asked. ‘What does it do there?’
‘It works its way through your body and eventually it comes out through your hands or feet or somewhere.’
‘Ouch!’ Rick screamed. ‘The spinifex just stung me.’ My brother stopped and pulled up his trouser leg to inspect the damage and then muttered, ‘Next time I’m making shin-guards.’
‘I guess one should be careful when one answers the call of nature out here,’ Mr. B said.
I gazed at the acres of spikey bushes and decided to resist the call of nature.
[Photo 2: The Sting of Spinifex shows no mercy © C.D. Trudinger 1981]
After about two hours of weaving our way through spinifex, climbing over rocks, scaling several waves of ridges, we reached the summit of Mount Woodroffe.
We gathered around the cairn and surveyed the mountain range that spread like ripples of water in shades of mauve below us.
Dad pointed to the north. ‘Can you see? Ayers Rock, The Olgas and Mt Conner.’
[Photo 3: View north from the summit © C.D. Trudinger 1981]
I studied the three odd-shaped purple monoliths popping up from the plain. After the strenuous hike to the top of South Australia, I gazed at the ranges resembling waves rising and falling in the sea of the desert was filled with euphoria.
‘Wow!’ I gushed. ‘Apart from spinifex, the climb was a walk in the park—a most worthwhile journey.’
Mr. B folded his arms and grunted.
Still on a high, I ran around the stone pile, snapping photos from every direction with my instamatic film camera. Then I gathered the T-Team. ‘Come on, get around the cairn. We must record this momentous occasion for posterity.’
The men followed my orders like a group of cats and refused to arrange themselves.
Mr. B hung at the back of the group and snapped, ‘Hurry up! We need to eat.’
Lunch of corned beef and relish sandwiches at the top of South Australia was Dad’s reward to us for persevering. We rested for an hour on the summit taking in the warmth of the sun, the blue skies dotted with fluffy clouds and the stunning views of the Musgrave Ranges and desert.
[Photos 4&5: Musgrave Ranges © C.D. Trudinger 1981 & 1992 respectively]
My adventurous brother climbed on his own down the slope and out of sight.
‘Where’s your brother gone, girl?’ Mr B asked.
‘Probably gone to hunt kangaroo for tea,’ I chuckled, ‘he’s had no luck so far.’
‘Better than egg soup, I guess,’ Mr B muttered. ‘Well, aren’t you going to follow him?’
‘Nah, I need to rest before the hike down.’
About twenty minutes later, I detected his head bobbing up and over the rocks and bushes. I watched as he sauntered along the scaly rocks towards us.
Dad frowned. ‘Careful walking over those rocks.’
Rick looked up. ‘What?’ He caught his shoe on a wedge of stone, lost balance and stumbled, crashing on the rocky surface.
‘O-oh!’ Dad scampered over to my brother. I followed while Mr. B and Matt stayed planted on their respective rocks.
Rick pulled up his trouser leg and with our father they inspected the damage.
I peered over Dad’s shoulder. ‘What’s wrong?’
‘I’ve bruised my knee and leg.’ Rick sniffed.
Dad helped Rick hobble to the cairn and then gave him a canteen flask of water to wash over the injury.
‘How are you going to get down the mountain?’ I asked.
‘I mean to say, laddie, you can’t camp up here,’ Mr. B added.
Rick sighed. ‘I’ll be fine. It’s nothing.’
Matt chuckled at my brother’s bravery.
Dad patted Rick on the back. ‘Ah, well, you’ll be right.’
[Photo 6: The T-Team at the summit © L.M. Kling (nee Trudinger) 1977]
With the T-Team all in one spot, I took advantage of the situation and seized the moment on camera.
Mr. B glared at me. ‘Make it snappy.’
‘Okay,’ I said capturing the less than impressed Dad, Mr. B, Matt and my brother nursing his bruised knee.
After photos, we began to climb down those jagged rocks, carefully avoiding the spinifex. But try as he might to avoid the menacing bushes, more spikes attacked Rick’s tender legs. ‘Definitely going to wear leg guards the next time I come to Central Australia to climb mountains,’ he grumbled.
We reached a rock pool; just a puddle of slime, actually. I pulled off my shoes and emptied grass seeds and sand onto the surface of slate. Then I ripped off my socks. They looked similar to red-dusty porcupines, covered in spinifex needles. My feet itched with the silicone pricks of the spinifex. I dipped my prickle-assaulted feet in the muddy water.
‘You mean, David, old chap,’ Mr. B massaged his feet and turned to Dad, ‘we’re stuck with the prickly critters long after our climbing days are over?’
‘Yes, I’m afraid so,’ Dad replied.
[Photo 7: Rock pool of Rest © C.D. Trudinger 1992. Note: By 1992 Rick had given up on the shin guards and braved the prickly perils of spinifex bushes.]
During rest at the poor excuse of a rock pool, nature called, and this time I could no longer resist. I hunted for a suitable spot, but everywhere I looked, ants scrambled about, millions of them. The longer I looked, the more ants congregated and the more desperate I became. But I had to go, ants or no ants. At least the patch was clear of spinifex. I suppose for the ants, my toilet stop might have been the first rain in weeks.
[Photo 8: Honey Ant © C.D. Trudinger circa 1955]
Back at camp, we began our ritual of preparing the bedding. Mr. B stomped around the creek-bed until he found the softest sand. Dad grabbed the sleeping bags one by one and tossed them to each of us.
‘Argh!’ Mr. B cried.
‘What?’ Dad asked.
‘Oh, no!’ Rick moaned.
‘What?’ Dad asked again.
‘Who’s been piddling on my sleeping bag?’ Rick grizzled.
‘Piddling?’ Dad stomped over to Rick.
‘It’s all wet.’
‘I say, boy, why’s my sleeping bag all wet? Couldn’t you use a bush?’ Mr. B remarked.
Matt turned away. ‘Wasn’t me.’ He unrolled his sleeping bag. ‘Oh, no, mine’s wet too.’
Rick looked at me.
‘Hey, I stopped wetting the bed years ago,’ I snapped. ‘Anyway, mine’s dry.’
‘I wasn’t going to say anything,’ Rick replied.
I raised my voice. ‘You were, you were looking at me like…’
‘There, there, cut it out,’ Dad strode over to Rick and me. He held up a bucket. ‘The washing buckets leaked on the sleeping bags.’
[Photo 9: Sunset in the Centre © S.O. Gross courtesy of M.E. Trudinger (nee Gross)]
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2016; updated 2018
Photo from slide: Mt. Woodroffe Summit View of Musgrave Ranges © C.D. Trudinger 1992
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