Jake set off to grade (scrape and smooth) the track into the country on the other side of the highway. This area of nearly 2000 square kilometres is labelled ‘open country’ but referred to as desert. It is not used as much as there is less water available. However, more bore holes are planned for the future to enable the land to be grazed. We finished our jobs mid afternoon and packed up a picnic tea to take out to join him.
With all the kit loaded into the back of the truck, along with Lee and Katy, Banjo and Julio whilst Roger, Cowgirl and I enjoyed the relative luxury of the cab with Frankie at the wheel, we set off. We had to cross the highway quickly, whilst no other vehicles were in sight, as our ‘load’ would have been illegal, never mind the 303 wrapped in a jacket on the dashboard! We crossed the Ghan railway and turned to run parallel to it for a while. This ‘access road’ is used used by all the unlicensed vehicles to travel up and down the state as the 100metres either side of the line is not privately owned but neither is it the highway so road laws don’t apply.
We turned west again after a few km and watched the landscape change from stony ground with sparse scrub to soft red sand and a greater abundance of trees, bushes and undergrowth. Not quite what I would have expected in the ‘desert’. This term belies the stereotypical picture of shifting rolling sandunes but reinforces what I have seen in Arizona and at the edges of the Sahara where there is a surprising amount of flora, particularly after rain. As the land softened the journey became smoother but the propensity to sink into the sand heightened. A bit further on we came across Jake who was working on a rather damp and soft area. He agreed that it was time to time to stop for the day and joined us at a small shallow water hole which had formed in the recent rains. We couldn’t actually reach the intended dam as the ground was too soft even for the grader.
Julio had a fantastic time chasing a trio of ducks who had had their peace so rudely interrupted. He charged back and forth along the far bank, following their trajectory from the ground but not allowing them any opportunity to land back on the water. Eventually they gave up and flew off but Jake assured us that there would be other patches of water nearby for their refuge. The soggy dogs (Banjo and Cowgirl had made some effort the join the boisterous fox terrier but couldn’t maintain his pace or enthusiasm for the task) had to sit outside the circle, as per camp-fire etiquette, and even Cowgirl managed to copy the older two.
We were able to collect plenty of dead wood for the fire but are still surprised by the amount of water in this ‘desert’ and arid centre of this continent. These winter temperatures have not topped 20 degrees since we arrived, although the sun has plenty of warmth, so standing water doesn’t evaporate all that quickly compared to summer when the 40-50 degree heat can even evaporate the rain during its descent to the ground. This winter has already delivered a much higher rainfall than last year but fortunately for landowners, in little bursts enabling it to soak in slowly rather than have a downpour which just rushes away off the surface causing much erosion and damage to roads and fences.
The fire started to die down so the hotplate was erected to cook the steaks. Four of us had spent the best part of 2 hours a few days ago jointing and mincing the camel meat which had been hanging in the cold store. I had cut 30 steaks from the meat from either side of the spine. Jake had selected 6 super joints from the original 16, four from each limb. The rest was put through the mincer to produce a large quantity of bags of the same, each weighing 3-4 kilos. The lovely looking piece of fillet seemed to have disappeared, I think it went to the dogs as there was a beautifully lean piece in the fridge which was being carved up for them periodically!!!! Jointing this meat was a rather unusual task to try as one would have to work as a butcher to be able to carry it out under normal circumstances in the UK. However, out here one must use what ever means necessary to enable the meat to fit in the oven to cook, as we found out quite early in our stay. A well stocked tool shed is essential!
We had brought a couple of swags to sit on and gathered around the fire to gaze at the flames whilst drowning our sorrows or celebrating the results that day of the EU referendum. As a group we were fairly evenly split but without animosity. As the sun sank and the skies darkened we were treated to another amazing display of heavenly bodies. Satellites criss-crossed the firmaments but the stars were phenomenal. With no light or air pollution they are so vast, bright and numerous, the Milky Way jumping out at you without any shadow of a doubt, unlike the skies over the UK where one tends to wonder what you are actually seeing.