The start of the school camp was without the camels. It had been suggested that Roger and I could ‘volunteer’ to cover this part on the first night of our arrival, not really having any idea what we were letting ourselves in for. The alternative would be to walk the camels the 55km to the camp-site for the 3rd night from where the trek proper would start. We would have much preferred to have done this but were ignorant at the time and possibly not best placed to do so as even by this time, 3 weeks in, half way through and 3 treks under our belts, we had had little direct camel handling experience. This was primarily due to the arrival, at the end of the first trek, of another helper who only wanted to work with camels and was very vociferous about that as well as being conveniently useless at anything else (apart from sitting by the fire first thing in the morning cooking eggs or toasting bread! very nice in the sub zero temperatures before the sun rose over the hills.)
We were to go to Wilpena Pound with all the camping gear, including the huge truck. This towed the yellow wagon which, at the last minute, Roger drove because Karen struggled with the sloppy gearbox. I followed behind with Jasmine, towing the white trailer. We had put a tarpaulin over the ‘roof’ struts of the truck to try to protect all the food and hay from the forecasted rain. We also covered the wagon which has been tarpped at times but not others, there being nothing perishable exposed on the top. Roger and I had spent a couple of long miserable (weather-wise) days stocking the truck with 11 days of non-perishable food for 40 people (and a lot more besides) whilst trying to position boxes in the most timely accessible places and then had to add the enormous quantity of fruit and veg for the first few days. Finally covering it all with 40 swags. We impressed ourselves that we managed it without squashing a mandarin or banana but were also aware that after the first 2 days this would also carry the 40 or so back-packs or other form of luggage the kids and staff would be bringing for the duration.
As we drove the 50km to the camp-site we could see quite early in the trip that the tarp over Roger’s truck was coming loose. Not that we hadn’t tied it down adequately, merely the force of air lifting it as we travelled at no more than 45 miles per hour. We had to stop at the side of the road for running repairs on 2 occassions but finally limped into camp without losing anything (that we know of!).
Shortly after arriving we both had to return to Hawker to get some firewood as this site had been missed somehow in the wood-drop and despite having a gas fuelled hot plate to cook on, we did need to have a camp-fire to sit around and try to keep warm. It was dark when we returned but everything seemed to be under control as we tucked in to our cold beefburgers! thanks guys. Little did we know at this stage that the one veggie, one lactose and one gluten intolerant pupil had burgeoned into 6 veggies, 3 vegans and 4 gluten-intolerant! It did take a couple of days to sort this out, transpiring that the lactose intolerant wasn’t from the moment she spotted the marshmallows and one of the gluten-frees was the new beau of the genuine GF who was taking up this diet in solidarity with his girlfriend! The teacher, who was, then wasn’t, then was coming was GF and not veggie but didn’t eat anything with eyes. The difference is yet to be explained to us!
I could go on further as there was more and more by the hour but you would get bored or not believe me but suffice to say it set the tone for the whole camp. This was the only night when we would not have to break and reset camp at a different place so enabled Roger, Jasmine and I to join the walks where we were accompanied by an aboriginal guide, Stefan. Our first walk was up a hill to a view point in the Pound which you can google if you want to know more. We sat there, as lunchtime approached, and listened to Stefan’s very calm and slow delivery about some native rituals carried out in this sacred place (there are a lot of those, both male and female only locations, although it seems that the men got the best ones!) Most of the kids couldn’t resist the hunger urges as they started on their lunchtime wraps which had been quite a performance to prepare on this first morning, despite Roger’s demonstrations to all 4 groups which we should have videoed and put on U tube. Personally, I couldn’t resist the other call of nature and descended, before the end, to avail myself of the delightful long-drop.
As we walked back down to the resort we were given some details about the flora and fauna, including how to recognise where witchety grubs were hiding out as well as stopping by a bilabong (but no coolibar trees). He also showed us a plant whose resin was used to repair boomerangs. We stopped by the camp for a 10 minute break and managed to stop one of the teachers lighting a fire from the rather depleted pile of precious firewood which would be used for that evening’s camp-fire story session. Unilaterally, we dished out the Lamingtons, a native Aussie cake, which had been spurned by the teachers on the children’s behalf (not!) the night before due to their sugar content, and had hardly put the 2 large packs on the table before they were all demolished. The afternoon (most of the lunches having been eaten at morning break) was another walk to a sculpture where the elders still occasionally come to gather and sit, discussing families and handing on stories as none of these are written down.
The following day was my birthday and on approaching the truck for more food supplies I was met with a mum and joey grazing on the grass verge. They were not too timid and I managed to get reasonably close. I think they were euros, not yellow-footed rock wallabies which are much rarer although we did see one on the walk the previous day. As breakfast progressed word got round that it was my birthday and the whole group sang me a happy birthday song, not the traditional but one that went ‘ happy birthday Gill dear and best wishes for the coming year’ repeated 4 times which was rather nice, even though I suspect, at this point, that some of the kids had no idea who I was. As a treat Karen then said for me to go with them to the rock paintings rather than work at breaking camp, despite the fact that we had done 95% of the work and repaired the main tarp on the truck as heavy rain was forecast and starting. The bus was waiting for me so I had to jump on without having time to brush my teeth, go to the loo, change into my boots (as I was still in my non-waterproof shoes) or say goodbye to Roger, she would do that. All I had really wanted to do was swing by the house and use the internet for 10 minutes to catch up with family and friends.
We headed off and just as we were about to turn in off the road I remembered that I still had the keys in my pocket to the landcruiser back at the camp-site! The driver, who was the only person worth talking to in the group, kindly offered to take them back whilst we went on our walk! We trudged 4km up a hill in the rain, to what I thought was going to be a cave and would at least offer shelter but it transpired to be a fenced off overhang so we stood (or sat) for half an hour or so getting progressively more soaked, looking at some very basic art of indeterminable age but some of which Stefan thinks has been done in blackboard chalk, before trudging down again!
We arrived at the next camp-site shortly after the others, who had dropped in to the house for more provisions and a cup of tea. We were rather cold and sodden, but relieved to find that we had moved to some indoor rooms as the rain had yet to let up since mid morning and the ground was turning into a quagmire. The evening meal was prepared by ourselves again, even though the kids were supposed to be cooking it in groups over a camp-fire but this wasn’t practical. Roger and I sat with the guest speaker for the next 2 nights, an astronomer, who wasn’t going to have any joy that night, and transpired to be a decathlete with pole-vaulting as his main sport. Karen left half way through his presentation after telling me that although the skies were beginning to clear, to say that they weren’t because, despite Paul returning home for the forgotten telescope, he had omitted to bring the stand! Some members of staff were able to avail themselves of the showering facilities here but I didn’t despite the day! We toasted my birthday with an enamel mug of rain water! A birthday cake did kindly arrive for me the following day though.