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It takes but the blink of an eye to change or end a life!

Afghan Rock-Camp — 2000-08-24

Tanja and I are both completely burnt out. Our bodies don’t want to do what they should anymore and the effort of loading is tremendous. We continue our journey at 9:30 a.m. and reach the grid which separates us from the farmhouses on the other side after just a few kilometres march. We walk along the fence and find an open gate, then we walk a further few hundred metres along another fence until we reach a small, parked plane. ‘Will you look at that, a plane in the middle of the bush. And look, there’s the landing strip!’ I call to Tanja who is walking behind the caravan. The sight uplifts us and we walk around the Chessnar a couple of times, filming and taking photos, before heading for the fence that surrounds the farmhouse and in which we search for an opening. I find another gate beside one of the large barns and open it, ‘Camels, walk up!’ I cry, but you guessed it, Sebastian refuses to pass through the opening. This time he’s scared of the barn and doesn’t budge. We had a similar problem just a few weeks ago, whereby Istan pulled the whole fence down but remained unharmed, luckily. ‘Oh, Sebastian! Don’t give me a hard time! It’s just a harmless barn! Come on, walk up!’ I cry, but Sebastian only begins howling and acting as though the Barn Monster is about to eat him up. We can’t turn back now though, as we need fresh water for us and for the animals and know that farm houses usually have splendid rain water. Otherwise we could just keep going and make a big circle around the farm, as we have done so often before, and take drinking water from the wind mills, but this ground water usually holds a lot of minerals and tastes very salty. It’s usually drinkable but not all that healthy for humans. Some of the wind mills draw lovely fresh water, but it’s always better to ask the farmers which ones have the best water.

I look Sebastian directly in the eyes and speak quietly and carefully to him. He finally begins to move and has safely made it through the gateway as I turn to see Tanja standing yet again with her back to the iron gate post, pushing Hardie into line as he almost always walks too far to the left. I am horrified and yell loudly, ‘Tanja! For God’s sake! Get away from there!’ Tanja jumps in surprise and springs to the side, just as Hardie heaves himself in the opposite direction, pulling Goola after him and then Jafar. A split second after Tanja has left her dangerous position, Jafar slams into the gate post with his overhanging saddle pack, tearing a massive 30 centimetre long rip into it and causing Istan to bump into the post with his pack too. It cracks loudly, the pack is pushed to the side and one of the buckles breaks into pieces. Tanja is rooted to the spot and we both know full well that she has barely escaped with her life. The force of the saddle bags would have snapped Tanja’s spine in half if she had remained where she was. We are speachless, until a hot wave of anger rises in me. I yell at Tanja and tell her off for having made such a grave mistake. I’ve already described how we were witness to the potential dangers of the camels just a few weeks ago, seeing whole fences and posts torn out of the earth and pulled across the ground. The episode with Istan should have been lesson enough, but no, we have to learn again how quickly our lives can be severed. It’s just a simple case of wanting to lead the animals through an open gate, and suddenly a life can be changed for ever, or even finished. We are thankful that Tanja has escaped with nothing more than a shock, and have learnt another valuable lesson.

BUSH PALACE

I give the lead ropes to Tanja as we arrive in front of the well cared for farm house. I walk to the front door and call out, but receive no answer. Then I make my way through a stunning garden and chance to see various gardening tools lying around as though they had just been in use. ‘Hello! Hello! Is anyone at home?’ I call. Large, old trees give shade and a rusty swing hangs beneath them. Age old Aborigine painting stones lie on a table and I cast my eyes around in wonder of the loveliest farmhouse we’ve seen on this journey. I didn’t have any luck at the front door, so I walk around the veranda of the big house, the overhang of which ensures a pleasant coolness in the heat of the summer months. I look through the fly wire of the back door and see wicker chairs, couches and tables which tell me that the owner of this house knows how to make himself comfortable out here in the Australian bush. I can see through the open doors into a well stocked library, ‘Hellooo! Anyone home?’ A deep silence returns my call and nothing but the sound of birds is to be heard. I walk around the farm house once more, then knock on the door again. I glance at the rain water tank, covered with large, painted stones, and am overcome with the desire to stretch my aching body out under the shady trees amongst the flowers scattered through the lawn. One more walk around the house and then I give up and go back to Tanja. ‘No-one there. Let’s keep going. We’ll probably find water at Afghan Rock, our next goal.’ I say and we begin our march once more.

LABYRINTH OF FENCES AND CAMEL AVALANCHE

On the way to the road we are forced by a cattle grid to turn around again. Under no circumstances do we want to risk going through the gate next to the barn again and we search for another way out. Finally we find a spot through the farm fence and ten minutes later we are back where we were this morning, next to the cattle grid on the dirt track. We are close to despair, then there isn’t any road that leads to the north from here. The prospect of laying the fence down next to the grid isn’t very inviting as the posts are thick and solid and we don’t even know if we’ll be on the right road then. We return to the farm once more and search for another gate that may take us to the north. We end up winding our way through the labyrinth of fences, sheds and gates for a whole one and a half hours before finally finding a way out. Suddenly we find ourselves between the cattle grid on the track and the cattle grid on the farm, right where a fork in the road winds lazily away between the bush in a northerly direction. ‘That was quite an effort,’ I sigh and turn the caravan onto the forked road, walking side by side with Tanja and in a good mood again.

The track becomes relatively narrow and is bordered by thick bushes and trees on either side. Istan becomes nervous and is scared by the narrow path, then he suddenly breaks loose and races forwards, ‘Watch out Denis!’ Tanja yells and takes off like a bullet. The thick bush on either side prevents any escape and I am forced to run to the front too. Istan overtakes Jafar, Jafar overtakes Goola and all of a sudden the entire caravan is thundering up behind me like an enormous avalanche. I can save my skin only by sprinting up the narrow bush corridor to Tanja who is running wildly ahead, and jumping with her into a dried creek bed. I still have hold of the ropes and lead the snorting camels down with us, bringing them then around in a tight circle and succeeding in quietening them somewhat in this way. Istan turns himself around and realises that he’s not being chased by a monster after all. ‘Caw, that was another close call,’ I say and we resume our march. Just a few metres along the track we are approached by a ute, it stops and the driver greets us cheerfully. ‘Jim Price,’ he introduces himself and shakes our hands. ‘Ah, you’re the owner of the Coodardy Station. We were just at your place, but unfortunately nobody was at home. Don’t worry if you see a whole heap of camel prints around the house, that was us,’ I say with a laugh. ‘Why don’t you turn around and stay with us a while? You could sleep in the sheering shed and the camels will be well off too,’ he offers. We explain to him that it takes four hours for us to break camp and load the camels, and that we’ve only covered two kilometres of ground today when we actually wanted to make it to Afghan Rock at least. Jim looks disappointed so we invite him to our camp. ‘Okay, I’ll come and visit you. But I hope you’ll drink a scotch with me then.’ He says with a laugh. I ask him about the quality of drinking water at the rock, we want to stay there a few days and invite some friends for Tanja’s thirtieth birthday celebration. ‘Oh, the water there is great. Much better than ours at the farm house,’ he answers, much to our delight. We say goodbye to the elderly, friendly man and are looking forward to a few days rest. On the way to the rock our path is crossed by a couple of snakes, it must be getting warmer after all and some of the creepy crawlies are leaving their domains.

AFGHAN ROCK

At 4:00 p.m. we reach the next monolith, this one is smaller than Walga Rock but beautiful nonetheless. A group of camel men had made camp here about eighty years ago, back when all camel men were referred to as Afghans, although only the very few actually came from Afghanistan. Many of them came from India and what is now Pakistan, but that obviously made no difference. Jim told us a few hours ago, that the rock was named after these men, ‘Their camels pulled big wagons and they travelled from station to station, buying and selling various goods.’ A windmill is here and the whole area emits wilful but pleasant vibes. We unload the animals quickly and lead them to the juicy bushes then Tanja tends to the animals while I set the tents up, prepare a fire place and collect some wood. ‘Wuna! Wuna! Wuna!’ Tanja cries and I hear a terrible cracking of branches. What’s happened now? I drop everything and race to Tanja. ‘Udu! Udu Istan!’ she repeats, as he is flaying wildly around him and trying to escape from the tree at all costs. I hold Goola and Sebastian while Tanja unties Istan, then we lead the camels to open ground. Sometimes they get panicked by thick bush and big trees.

LACK OF ATTENTION, WANING CONCENTRATION AND WEARINESS CAN LEAD QUICKLY TO ACCIDENTS

It is already 7:00 p.m. and pitch black as I set the radio up. Unfortunately, I am unable to throw the antenna over the tree trunks which grow very thickly together and make it difficult even to find one on which to attach my cable. After at least twenty throws, my arm begins to ache and I swear loudly as the throwing line of the antenna suddenly takes hold. It is now ten past seven and we’ve arranged to call Jo and Tom once a week in the time between 6:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. once a week. It is important that we give our position through as Claudia and Angelika, friends from Perth, intend on visiting us for a few days. They want to leave Perth tomorrow and need about two days to drive to where we are now. If we don’t manage to give our position through now, it may be too late by the time Jo gives it to the others per telephone tomorrow. I pull impatiently on the line of the antenna and suddenly the heavy bolt which is tied to the end as ballast, falls down onto my head and I am painfully aware of how quickly one can suffer injury through a lack of attention, waning concentration or just plain weariness. I feel a sore spot right next to my eye and give up trying to attach the antenna to this gnarled and twisted tree, then I spot the windmill shining eerily in the moonlight and decide to climb up and hang the antenna on it. I begin carefully climbing up the tower, it’s metal frame dangerously slippery from the oncoming dew, and concentrate on keeping my shaking legs in check. Finally I succeed and go to turn the radio on, opening the top of the HQ-radio box and almost taking a tumble from the windmill. I can’t believe it, the radio has been on since the last time I used in a week ago. I must have pressed the microphone cable onto the ON switch whilst closing the lid last time and the damn thing has been running since then. The batteries are of course dead and I thank God that we don’t have an emergency right now. I shimmy down the tower and get the spare battery from Istan’s pack which is kept charged by a solar panel. I connect it to the radio and am ready to send a message to Jo and Tom, even though it’s already 7:30 p.m. ‘Victor Hotel… calling Victor Zulu…, Jo and Tom can you read me.’ ‘Loud and clear, Denis’ ‘Ohhh, it’s good that you’re still receiving. I just want to give our position through to you.’ I call into the microphone and feel a weight lifting from my chest. Those two are so unbelievably reliable, we chat for a while then agree to give the rest of the information tomorrow morning at 8:30 a.m.

MIDNIGHT VISIT

I creep back to the flickering camp fire when I am finished, completely knackered and thankful for a meal of noodles with veggies. We are both very tired and eat our dinner in silence beneath the starlit sky, then Tanja goes straight to bed and I work a little longer on the navigation and maps which show our way from here. I am just too tired to concentrate and feel my eye lids falling shut as I suddenly hear the sound of a motor coming nearer. That can’t be, who would come out here to such an isolated spot in the middle of the night? Suddenly a brilliant spotlight cuts through the darkness and Tanja awakens with a cry. ‘Who’s that?’ ‘No idea, maybe it’s Phill the kangaroo hunter!’ I yell back. A heavy Toyota jeep flies by our camp and I see that it is not Phill’s jeep before it disappears into the bush again. Didn’t the driver see the camels or our camp? I listen closely and notice that the sounds are getting louder again. ‘He’s coming back!’ I yell. ‘I hope he doesn’t shoot one of the camels!’ Tanja answers. ‘Rubbish, there’s no camel hunters around here!’ I return, as suddenly the jeep pulls up alongside our camp. ‘Hi, everything okay?’ asks a voice from the dark. ‘Yes!’ I answer and jump out of my chair in search of the voice. It turns out to be a kangaroo hunter and his wife after all, tearing through the bush with a dozen dead kangaroos lying across the back of the car. Their eyes bulge out at me and I feel sorry for these wonderful animals that represent the freedom of Australia in my eyes. I shake the hunters hand and we talk for a while. It turns out that he’s from Wundowie and has driven past our camels every day while they were standing in Melinda and Phill’s paddock. We wonder at meeting one another out here and have to laugh at the coincidence. ‘Promise me you’ll greet Melinda and Phill for us,’ I say. ‘Sure, no worries,’ he replies, then asks us about our next route. I tell him that we intend on taking the narrow tracks from Mandoonga Station up to Belele. ‘That wont work. There’s no way through. As far as I know, a lot of the windmills are out of order and most of the tracks on this map no longer exist,’ he says with creased brow. I pull my map out and show him the route. ‘Well, I’d take the dirt road to Mileura Moorarie and Trilbar Stations, that’s safer,’ he tells us. ‘Thanks for the advice, but I’d prefer to try my luck off the larger roads from Maddoonga,’ I answer and close the subject. We chat for a while and before taking their leave, the kangaroo hunter and his wife cut off one of the kangaroo tails with a sharp knife, a present for Rufus. I accept the tail and hang it in one of the nearby trees, listening to the noise of the engine diminishing into the night and contemplating the kangaroo tail in the flickering light of the fire. I hear shots sounding in the distance and am pulled out of my dreams and sent to bed.

Day: 105

 

Sunrise:
06:30

 

Sunset:
17:52

 

Linear distance:
16,2

Daily kilometres:
20

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