The Tepid Waters of Glen Helen
[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?]
Dad was true to his word.
The promise of the Arunda Guides had been delivered. Two of Dad’s former students from his Hermannsburg teaching days in the 1950’s would be joining us on our quest out West.
A slow morning; waking late, mooching around and then sauntering over to shop at the store. Think of junk food alley at the supermarket, and you basically have the store.
Mr. B poked his nose through the door and narrowed his eyes. ‘Where’s the food?’
I pointed at the row of packet sweets, chips and cans of soft drink.
‘A man could get a heart attack living off all that,’ Mr. B sighed. Then he marched in, grabbed a couple of chocolate-coated ice creams from the fridge, tossed the vendor a few coins and strode out. The screen door clacked behind him. ‘Here, Matt, that’s all they had. No Mars Bars, I could see.’
Dad entered, his face still all screwed up from the harsh outback sunlight. He adjusted his glasses. ‘Ah, there you are, Lee-Anne.’
‘I thought they might have some souvenirs,’ I remarked while glancing around the shop.
‘There’s some Namatjira prints over there,’ Dad waved a hand over by the window. A small table offered a collection of handcrafted boomerangs and paintings. ‘Remember to check where they come from. Some are not locally made.’
‘These all are,’ claimed our host, who had followed Dad into the shop.
‘Good,’ I said wiggling my fingers in anticipation to buy. And so, satisfying my urge to shop, I purchased a Namatjira print. ‘This I will hang up in my bedroom.’
‘Oh, yeah.’ Dad’s reply had a cynical ring to it.
Then a thought occurred to me. Here in the store was Dad. Also, in the store, our host. Dad had promised me that he’d talk to him about visiting my mum’s old house. I looked at Dad, clasped my hands over the roll of Namatjira print and then smiled. ‘Dad, can you ask now if I can visit Mum’s old house?’
Dad coughed and shifted his weight from foot to foot.
Our host put his hands on his hips and shook his head. ‘I’m sorry, the house is not safe to enter, but you can look at it from the outside.’
‘Oh, is it alright if we take a photo of me in front of it?’ I asked.
‘Sure, no problem,’ our host replied.
So, with our host’s blessing, I persuaded Dad to take a photo of me in front of Mum’s old place.
After the obligatory self-portrait in front of Mum’s old home, I leaned over the fence. So close, and yet, so far. ‘Can’t we just sneak in?’
‘Come, Lee-Anne, we can visit the original Hermannsburg church,’ Dad said as he guided me to an ancient building plastered with whitewashed stone walls.
We walked past a pair of gum trees bent in homage to the sacred place. A bell hung between them. I imagined Mum as a young girl racing across the red-hot sand of the compound, bare foot. “You were a wussy if you wore shoes,” she once told me.
Except for church. Sunday best with shoes all polished and shining for the service. And maybe my aunty rubbing her backside because she’d been disciplied with the belt because she had put her shoes the wrong way around the night before when shoes must be placed in readiness in the hall for Sunday morning church. Those were the days of stern old fashioned discipline.
Later we picked up our two Arunda friends and drove down the bumpy track on the dry riverbed of the Finke River towards Glen Helen Gorge. Even though it was a rough drive, the Rover reached its destination in one piece. Dad drove far as he could before the sand became too thick threatening to bog us. Then, carrying backpacks and the men lugging meat for the BBQ, we hiked along the sand. I marveled at the rock formations jutting from the hillside appearing as if walls built in prehistoric times.
While he walked, Dad discussed the arrangement that Sammy and his friend Harry would guide us out west to Mt. Liebig.
We settled under the shade of red cliffs and on the silky white sand, we had a BBQ. I enjoyed my meal of sausages. Then, while the men packed up the picnic, plodded back and forth piling the stuff into the Rover, I sat and sifted sand through my fingers. A shell caught in my hand.
‘Hey,’ I ran up to Dad, ‘I found a shell!’
‘Yes, Lee-Anne, Central Australia was once an inland sea,’ Dad nodded. ‘You can find fossils of ancient sea creatures too in the rocks and cliffs around here.’
Despite Mr. B’s grumblings that his tummy ached from too much food, the T-Team made the short hike through the gorge. ‘Amazing!’ I pointed, ‘a window!’
‘And it’s a natural rock formation,’ Dad said before jogging away. ‘Come on, time to have a swim before it gets too late.’
We had a brief unsatisfactory dip in the salty rock pool. The water was tepid.
Back at Hermannsburg, Matt and I played knucklebones, followed by a card game in which Richard joined. Mr. B retired early to bed complaining of stomach pain. Meanwhile Dad hunted for his bathers. The search proved futile. Dad concluded that he had left his bathers at Glen Helen.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2020
Feature Photo: A rare view of Glen Helen © C.D. Trudinger circa 1955
Get ready for some holiday reading or begin planning your escape to adventure in the centre of Australia.
Click the link below:
Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981,
And escape in time and space to Centre of Australia 1981…