Lost in Palm Valley
[Extract from The T-Team with Mr B: Central Australia 1977, a prequel to Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981.
The T-Team with Mr B — In 1977 Dad’s friend Mr Banks and his son, Matt (not their real names), joined Dad, my brother (Rick) and me on this journey of adventure. I guess Dad had some reservations how I would cope… But it soon became clear that the question was, how would Mr B who was used to a life of luxury cope? And would my brother survive?]
Our truck lumbered over the designated four-wheel drive track-come-dry Finke River bed to Palm Valley.
Dad turned to Mr. B and chuckled. ‘How would you like to sleep on this riverbed?’
Mr. B pouted, folded his arms and looked out the window.
We continued to bump over the rocks and sand where two-wheel drive vehicles fear to tread. Dad recalled his days travelling by donkey along this same track when he explored Palm Valley with his Arunda students.
‘O-oh!’ Dad uttered as the Rover’s underside scraped over some boulders. When our vehicle continued to move, though slowly, we all sighed with relief.
‘O-oh!’ Dad gritted his teeth and sucked air through the gaps in them. The Rover jolted to a stop. The engine screamed. The body rocked. The wheels spun. ‘O-oh! I think we’re bogged.’
Mr. B groaned, ‘I hope that doesn’t mean we’re sleeping on this god-forsaken creek tonight.’
‘Okay—oh, better put it into four-wheel drive. Now, for one more try.’
Dad readjusted the grip of his fingers on the steering-wheel and pressed his foot on the accelerator. The Rover leapt out of the bog-hole.
‘Good thing you remembered that the Land Rover has four-wheel drive,’ Mr. B muttered.
We crawled along the creek bed for a few more minutes, until confronted with formidable boulders we were forced to stop. Dad reckoned we were a mile or two from the valley, so we had to hike the rest of the way.
Rick raced ahead. As was his habit, he lost us.
We entered the land that time had misplaced, forgotten and then found preserved in this valley. Lofty palms swayed in the breeze. Fronds of green glittered in the sun while their shadows formed graceful shapes on the iron-red cliffs. Here a cycad, spouting from the rocks, there a ghost gum jutting from those same deep red walls. This sanctuary for ancient prehistoric palms, which had existed there since the dawn of time, distracted us from my errant brother. We trundled over the stone smoothed by the running of water several millennia ago, admired the mirror reflections in the remaining pools, and breathed in the tranquility.
Then, as if the ancient palm spell was broken, a frown descended on Dad’s face. He stood up, tapped his pockets checking to feel if his keys and small change still existed, and then marched down the valley. When he’d disappeared into a gathering of palms, I asked Mr. B, ‘What’s my dad doing?’
‘I think he’s looking for your brother,’ Mr. B replied. ‘He seems to have a habit of getting lost.’
Matt, Mr. B’s son sniggered.
Still in the zone of swoon, I sat beside the billabong in the shade of the palm trees and changed my film. Then I stretched, and leaving Mr. B and Matt to their rest, I ambled along the stone-paved bed looking for Dad. Again, time lost relevance in the beauty and wonder of the palms: tall skinny ones, wiggly ones, short ones, clustered ones and alone ones.
I found Dad, but there was no sign of my brother. The sun had edged over the western walls of the valley casting a golden-orange glow over the opposing cliffs.
Dad huffed and puffed. ‘It’s getting late. I s’pose Rick has gone back to the Rover.’
‘Better head back, then,’ I said.
On the way, we collected Mr. B and son. They had not seen my AWOL brother either.
We waited back at the car for Rick. Dad’s concern turned to annoyance, then frustration. Dad had plans for a picnic, but as the sun sank lower, his well laid plans were becoming remote. Dad paced the sand, hands on hips, and muttering discontentedly. Trust my brother to spoil a perfect place and time for a picnic tea. The idea of proceeding with the picnic without Rick did not occur to Dad. I guess the thought that some peril had befallen him had sabotaged any appetite. Dad nervously tapped his right pocket; at least his keys hadn’t gone AWOL.
Every few minutes Dad paused in his pacing. ‘Ah—well!’ he’d say. Then sucking the warm air between his gritted teeth, he’d resume pacing.
An hour passed as we watched Dad track back and forth across the clearing.
‘I swear you’ve made a groove there in the sand,’ Mr. B said.
Dad halted and stared at Mr. B.
I peered at the sand, straining my vision to pick out the path Dad had created.
A branch cracked. Footsteps, thudded. Distant. Then closer…louder.
Dad turned. All of us in the clearing froze and we fixed our gaze on the path leading to Palm Valley. The prodigal son stumbled into the clearing.
Contrary to the parable, Dad snapped, ‘We were going to have a picnic tea. But it is 5 o’clock, now. We have to get going!’
So, with less than an hour before darkness descended, we navigated the bumpy Finke River ride, and Dad’s grumpy mood, back to Hermannsburg.
After tea, Dad recovered from the grumps as we played cardgames; first “Pig”, followed by “Switch”.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2019
Feature Photo: Palm Valley © C.D. Trudinger 1981
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