The fencing job proved to be so much more, off-roading apart, it gave us the opportunity to have a close look at the natural flora and fauna of this superficially bare area only to find all sorts beneath the surface. We were able to go along at our own pace, marvelling at the ordinary, for locals, and taking time to notice all the new growth resulting from the recent rains. On our third day we headed out into the painted desert again and were enthralled by the colours displayed there. I have tried to take photographs (you might need to enlarge some of them! – my phone is pretty good, but anything further than 10 feet is a bit beyond it!) of all the things we have found amazing and hope that others enjoy them too but I did spend too long waiting for the opportunity on one occasion and when returning to the truck became aware of something crawling up my leg beneath my fairly tight jeans! Slapping hard on them only seemed to increase the pain as I felt myself being bitten on my calf. As most women know it isn’t easy to disrobe a pair of skinny jeans within the confines of a car but it is amazing what can be achieved with enough incentive! I was somewhat relieved to find that they were only a pair of meat ants because despite the unpleasantness of their bite they have no sting of any sort and the lasting sensation was only the mechanics of the bite. I didn’t dare think what might have been!
Driving down the tracks in the (fairly) early morning sun we could enjoy (from the safety of the cab) the sight of the dew on the myriad of cobwebs strung between the trees and bushes. The density of that of the orb spider made it appear to be as thick as nylon fishing line and reputedly as strong. There are many little plants flowering at this time, both succulents and ‘forbes’ (Aussie term for flowering desert plant). Some of the former were remarkably furry and some of the others quite familiar. The geranium is definitely identifiable. The bush tomato is somewhat different, particularly as it is very poisonous!
Their subtle colours can be overlooked initially but fortunately Jake knows where to find these lovely examples of which he picked a bunch for Frankie. She, meanwhile, is trying to grow these very pretty desert hops in the garden.
As we drove along in the damper grassy areas we were often startled by the eruption of a flock of bright green and yellow blue necked parrots rising up from the ground under the front tyres. Despite their vivid colouring we never saw them until the last minute and the sight of them swooping away en masse, usually no less than 10 at a time, was a fantastic flash of colour against the deep blue sky. They were far too fast and small to get a photograph but there are a pair which hang around the garden and devour the ‘nuts’ from a tree by the washing line, discarding the stone or casing at frequent intervals.
Whilst we were looking out for wildlife, camels, donkeys etc.. we didn’t expect the wildlife to be looking at us! On one occasion we were clearing the dead wood over a creek from its entanglement in the fence when Roger quietly nudged me. There, peering at us from behind a bush (they’re always behind a bush because they eat leaves) was a rather large and brightly coloured buck kangaroo. (I don’t have a zoom, you’ll need to enlarge) He couldn’t have been much more than about 20yds away and seemingly unperturbed by these noisy intruders. We were still aware of the smaller creepier things which we wanted to scare away by advertising our presence. He watched us watching him for a while before getting bored and lolloping off into the bush. He had been rather too large to approach with a reputation for a formidable kick as he was at least as big as me but I followed him around a mound and watch him flop down under the shade of a mulga tree for a siesta. Obviously having determined that we were no threat to his snooze.
We inadvertently ended up herding some bouncing relatives later on as we followed the fence-line. We came across a larger mob (apparently the collective noun) just in from the fence. They split themselves in to three groups depending on intelligence and relative braveness. The smart ones stayed where they were and watched us go past. Half a dozen shot off in front and crossed the fence further along, much to our dismay as we’d have to repair it! Or so we thought but it transpires that they do go under not through it. However the other four, three red and one beautiful grey/silver but called ‘blue’ hopped along in front of the truck for the best part of a mile, not realising that they could go right or left to get away from us, whereas we had a job to do at the fence line! Finally they diverted off to the right and boinged off across the plains as we came abreast. Obviously the intelligence gene is selective.
We had seen a few brumbies near the roadside on the way to Coober Pedy but they were semi-domesticated so didn’t count. So when we saw a herd of 7 wild horses far off in Magic paddock as we checked the adjoining fence we were thrilled. They saw us coming from a distance and set off at quite a pace. We saw their tracks later and were surprised that they seemed to follow the graded ‘road’. Jake explained, fairly obviously, that the road provides a even surface and fastest route between two points so they and the cattle use it a lot. Conversely, Jake’s dad, Alan, uses the paths created by brumbies as the basis for his “roads” as they naturally take the shortest/least undulating route between two points. Not so the cattle, as the tracks we saw were not using the shortest route, quite the opposite. Judging by the zigzagging, they seemed to be drunk!
Later on that day we spied a single horse, strutting along in an extremely elegant trot with tail held out beautifully straight behind. This, we decided, could be Frankie’s horse, Henrietta. But Jake thought it was a young buck brumby. We might have ridden Henry if she hadn’t taken off with a brumby stallion who wouldn’t let her go. Even to the extent of charging down the Landcruiser when Jake and Frankie tried to get her back and they needed to use the bull bars for their intended purpose (bull, stallion, same thing). They are reasonably happy provided he has done the business and Henrietta is in foal, but if he has, he has outlived his usefulness. Life is hard in the outback!