Secret Men’s Business
[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?]
Dad scraped up the last few oats at the bottom of his metal bowl and then said, ‘I’ve asked our guides to take us to a place which is very special to them.’
‘What? The Gosse Range?’ I piped up. ‘Are we going to that meteorite site?’
‘Better, than that.’ Dad’s mouth did his signature cat-with-bird-in-the-mouth expression. Then he explained that after discussion with our Indigenous guides, they had agreed to take the scenic route via Mangaruka Gorge; the entry to a sacred site. While Mr. B groaned at the prospect of hiking up yet another gorge, my father allayed his friend’s concerns by saying that we would only travel to the gorge’s entrance, and if we had time, just explore the beginnings of it.
Mr. B grumbled, ‘But we don’t want to be searching for a camp near Talipata in the dark.’
‘Don’t worry,’ Dad patted Mr. B on his rounded shoulder, ‘Talipata is not far from there. Besides, the cliffs of Mangaruka at sunset are stunning, especially with the ghost gums set against them.’
I remembered the exact image Dad was dreaming about. On lazy afternoons at my Grandma’s home, I used to rummage through photos and slides from her family’s time in Central Australia. My grandfather was, in my opinion, an amazing photographer. In one corner of Grandma’s bookshelf in the back room, rested a pile photo prints that were kept in pristine condition encased in special cardboard like a card; the best of Grandpa’s work. One scene that I have painted was a ghost gum, it’s white trunk against the deep purple cliffs of Mangaruka Gorge. Another slide that impressed me was the same scene with the ghost gum at sunset. No wonder Dad wanted to stop there on our way to Talipata.
After having breakfast, we packed up and drove out into the wild west. The dirt road exemplified that rugged feel.
At Haasts Bluff station we filled up with petrol, water, and supplies to last us in this virgin land. We were going where not many people, except the Indigenous, had gone before. Upon entering the land belonging to these people; there would be no shops, no houses, and no roads. To salute our departure from civilisation, we bought something to eat and drink. I ate a meat pie.
Our guides directed us off the narrow, yet graded road onto an almost invisible track. One sat on the bonnet of the Rover and directed our venture into the desert. We bumped and crawled along faded wheel ruts until a small range emerged through the low dunes and the folds and creases in the flat-topped hill, formed a gorge. We had reached Mungaraka Gorge.
Dad slowed the Land Rover, parking it just before some soft sand that threatened to engulf its wheels. The T-Team stepped out of the vehicle to be greeted by a welcoming party of small pesky flies. They were most unwelcome.
Swishing the pests away from his nose, eyes and mouth, Dad said, ‘Mungaraka, I reckon the name of the place has something to do with flies.’
‘Certainly a feature of the place,’ Mr. B sniffed. ‘Oh, darn it! I just got one up my nose.’
Richard, my brother clapped.
Mr. B glared at him.
With eyes wide, Richard looked at Mr. B. He then examined his palms. ‘Twenty.’ He flicked the flattened black flecks from his hands and then clapped again.
Mr. B then turned to his son, Matt. ‘Don’t even think about killing tha flies, ma son. They have germs. You don’t want germs, ma boy.’
‘No, Dad.’ Matt pulled his cap over his eyes, turned away and strolled down the track towards Mangaruka.
Dad, who had been laying out a spread of food on the tarpaulin, stopped preparations and ran after the boy. ‘Hoy! Matt! Wait! Lunch first, then the gorge.’
Richard laughed. ‘And for extra protein—flies.’
Lunch became a battle of hasty bites of cheese and gherkin sandwiches while trying to avoid the added bits of protein of flies that were only too willing to add flavour to our meal. After, we sipped our billy tea probably flavoured with the odd thirsty fly.
Our guides sat apart from us, and, unperturbed by our uninvited swarm of guests, they ate their bread and murmured quietly to each other. Dad perched on the tucker box and watched them.
I gulped down my last drop of tea. ‘Well, aren’t we going to explore the gorge?’
Dad stood up. ‘Right, let’s go.’
‘What about our guides?’ I asked.
‘Oh, they won’t be going. Mangaruka’s sacred to the Arunda, so they won’t go near it.’
‘What? Are they afraid of the place, Dad?’
‘It’s more complicated than that. They keep sacred stones called “Tjuringa” there in a cave. And they are afraid of spirits there.’
‘Can we go there?’
‘Sorry, Lee-Anne, girls are not allowed. Nor us. Not them. Only the elders. So, we’ll only go to the entrance of the gorge.’
Mangaruka held no ghost for us, only flies. Dad, Mr. B and Matt, and I walked up to the entrance of the gorge. Richard stayed behind to keep our two guides company. On the rocky slopes in the gorge, a smooth brown and white stone caught my eye.
I picked it up and ran my finger over it. I showed Dad. ‘Hey, Dad, it feels like plastic.’
Dad screwed up his nose and shifted his feet. ‘I think we better go back now.’
‘I’m not sure we should go much further,’ Dad said with an edge to his tone.
‘Girls not allowed,’ Mr. B added, and then called out to Matt who had scampered further up the gorge. ‘Come on son, time to go back.’
On our return, I tried to take a photo of us all in front of this gorge, but our indigenous companions refused. In the end, Dad took a photo of me in front of Mungaraka. Dad would have like to stay longer to wait for the rocks to turn red, but we had to move on.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2019
*Feature Photo: Mangaruka Gorge © C.D. Trudinger 1977
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