She only sang for about an hour fortunately and other than that the journey north into the centre of Australia was uneventful, totally mundane actually as it was pitch dark and we could have been anywhere. It was even raining, yet again, but we emerged into a very different world, that of vast skies, miles of gently undulating land littered with scrubby bushes and everywhere tinted with terracotta.
We disembarked at Cadney Park, our pre-arranged meeting point, but no-one jumped up to meet us. A couple sat in the restaurant/cafe/bar but didn’t seem interested, even less so when their breakfasts were served. After a second top up of coffee and a peruse of the local paper a young woman arrived. Too young to be our host but no, this was Francesca who we would be staying with for the next month and in response to her question we answered in the negative, no-one had passed on the message that she would be delayed.
We squeezed into her somewhat dilapidated truck, the spare as the first one still had a fridge-freezer and load of shopping in the back from their expedition for provisions from which they had only returned late the previous night. As we pulled out onto the highway she chatted away until I interrupted her with a question about her roots, I recognised the twang. She is from Rishworth, just west of Halifax, and had fallen for an Aussie, Jake, so these 700 000 acres of Wittina Station are now her home.
She drove us 15km down a dirt track, softened by the recent rain. The downpour had created some huge puddles and we were a little concerned about the waterproofing of our packs in the back of the truck as torrents of orange water cascaded over the cab into the back, but there was little we could do about it. Three of us barely fitted in to the front and only seat so there was nowhere else for them to go. We emerged into a clearing after crossing a creek and faced the station for the first time. The car was met by 3 excited dogs and a large lamb doing a canine impersonation. Jake ambled around the side of the silo to greet us.
Frankie showed us to our room, after some deliberation about which it would be, and introduced us to the huntsman spider on the ceiling, a rather unappealing yet innocuous creature whose only redeeming feature was that he would ensure that he was the only arachnid in the room, hence the name. His territory didn’t extend to outside where an orb spider had made its web in the crevice above the door. He was rather spectacular, to which the photo doesn’t do justice. Both, I was assured, were harmless to humans. Although this wasn’t entirely correct as Jake bore a scar from his interaction with the latter, or more precisely with its web which is one of the strongest of its kind. He had driven straight through a line of silk on his motorbike and had been cut across the bridge of his nose by a cobweb, really!
There are some beautiful citrus trees surrounding the house and we have gorged on the ultra-fresh mandarins. The oranges aren’t quite ripe yet but I did try a bush lemon which is much less bitter than those we are used to and even the peel is edible. Lamby the lamb (Nicky I’ve found your soul-sister!) also considered the mandarin tree delicious but fortunately only the leaves.
We chose to set to work to try to stay awake until bedtime in order to complete the reset of the body clock. Burning the excess from the pumpkin patch was the task in hand so Roger and Jake got these out the ground and the bonfires started (there had been a lot of plants) whilst Frankie and I finished putting away the shopping and re-organising the pantry. I noticed how carefully she removed some old postal sacks from the floor, she is none to keen on spiders either. All they revealed were a couple of geckos who were welcome squatters as they eliminated all the other wildlife. Once that was completed I went to join the boys at the fire and when walking through the low undergrowth in my walking boots I happened across a snake slithering aside to get out of my way. Spiders and snakes on my first day! This was an unremarkable creature, not particularly large and devoid of any distinctive markings, just a bit brownish and definitely heading in the right direction, away from me. I mentioned it jokingly to the boys and thought little of it again until Frankie joined us. I had already confessed my spider fears to her and was now able to say that I had encountered a snake without incident or panic. Apparently I should have panicked or at least been more vocal as she didn’t want any snakes near the house, particularly not the rather venomous brown ones! Jake had thought I was kidding as I had made so little fuss, if only I had known but definitely no flip-flops in the garden!
Besides the dogs the only other animal around the ranch at the moment is a wild baby camel in one of the pens with a poorly leg. This injury may have saved him from execution at this juncture as he was unable to get up the slope into the van to be taken to Adelaide for who knows what! His destiny however is pretty much a fait accomplis as was illustrated by our delicious evening meal, camel steaks!
So we have survived our first day in the real outback. I have been up close but not too personal with indigenous spiders, have had a passing acquaintance with a potentially lethal snake, been introduced to giant ants, about an inch long a with very nasty bite, I’ve been bitten on the hand by I-don’t-know-what and taken a slice out of thigh by a piece of metal on the hen run. Now there is just the night with which to contend but that will be another story, or preferably not!