15. A school camp! (a bit of a tome!)

The following morning didn’t start too well. Once breakfast was out the way and wraps completed, the ground crew i.e. Roger, me and now joined by Jim were given the delightful task of cleaning the kitchen, mopping the floors and cleaning the toilets in the rooms we had been able to stay in to get out of the torrential rain. The floors were filthy, particularly the girls’ toilet as they’d had quite a way to walk in the mud and the dining room looked like they’d emptied all the food out of their wraps and onto the floor. Fortunately the rain had passed and we were treated to fresh sunshine but the ground had yet to dry out.

The girls were sleeping on the floor in the dining room so it was arranged that staff wouldn’t go in to start preparing breakfast before 7.30; 7am being the usual time for all of us to get up, but they needed some space to get dressed and put away their swags. This was why we couldn’t understand why some of our colleagues, not known for being first up, started collecting items for breakfast at 6.45 but we thought we’d better show willing. Although we had managed to deliver breakfast for the last 3 treks and the previous 2 mornings without any help, it seemed that we were not to be trusted with getting it right and kept finding that we were duplicating jobs or bringing a second quantity of things to be used as they had already been brought up to the kitchen, albeit not the opened packs.

We finished cleaning and oiling the cast irons, the 12 quart pots that are used to cook over an open fire but which were utilised the previous night on the gas stove, despite being so large that we could only fit 2 over the 4 hobs and they were much more difficult to clean, exceptionally heavy and needed oiling afterwards to prevent rusting. We did have some ordinary large pans which we could have used but apparently weren’t suitable.

Once the cleaning was finished we were able to pack up quite quickly as Roger and I had taken the opportunity, when there were too many cooks in the kitchen, so to speak, to sort out the wagon which had become quite disorganised and chaotic in the inclement weather when items had just been stuffed in as quickly as possible to prevent them from getting too wet. We were saving, for some reason, all the celery I’d diced on request, the previous day, for that evening’s veggie meal, which hadn’t been used. At least it didn’t go the same way as all the potatoes I’d chopped at the same time which I did notice, had been put straight into the camels’ waste bucket!

We eventually headed out in convoy and despite asking the cameleers not to be too quick as it wasn’t a long walk that day and we needed time to set up the camp before they arrived, they appeared along the path all too soon. We hadn’t known what time they set off as we had our heads down cleaning but perhaps it could have been a bit later. Anyway, things sorted themselves out, the kids seemed happy enough (even if the teachers were causing mayhem with their internal dynamics and barbed comments).

IMAG3361By the time the camp was set up it was 4.30ish and time to start preparing the evening meal. The pupils were to do this in their groups, which were arranged out of our sight so we don’t know exactly how it was done, but have some guesses. Without any direction, Karen and Paul spent a couple of hours across the valley, in deep conversation for most of the afternoon, we drifted into supporting two of the groups. Roger had a lively bunch with some keen cooks whilst I took the remaining group of 6 seemingly rather serious and intense students. They managed to get themselves organised with preparing the veg although one was definitely not really pulling his weight. The others seemed to get a bit fed up with him and he was told to go away if he wasn’t going to be useful, so he sat by the fire and sulked!

As the evening wore on his demeanour didn’t alter so I mentioned to the teachers that one of my group appeared to be somewhat marginalised. They said that they knew about it and would deal with it. About 20 minutes later I bumped into Karen frantically looking for some new torch batteries, one of the kids had ‘done a runner’ and walked off into the darkness of the surrounding countryside so a search would have to be made to retrieve him, my outsider! In the background a little voice was saying that they thought he had just gone to the toilet, one of the 2 longdrops with tent which had been dug a little way away from the camp-site. As the torch was loaded with new batteries he came sauntering back from the loo, oblivious to the panic he had created by merely answering a call of nature!

Our days were habitually finishing at about 9pm. They were certainly long, about 14 hours, and at times, quite demanding with a significant amount of lifting. The only time we really got to sit down was when travelling in the vehicles and we were supposed to nurture the cameleers when they arrived from their long walk! When rising in the morning we were always grateful for the fact that Paul and subsequently Jim were early risers and would have the fire started and the hot water on. Most mornings the temperature was around zero so it would be very chilly on the hands. The best job was making toast or cooking eggs as you got to sit by the fire. I managed to be toast maker once and Roger not at all in any of the treks we did. Obviously we didn’t use the correct tactics for this ‘game’.

We had an astronomer with us for a couple of days and nights. On his second night, the first one being a wash out for more reason than one, the sky was beautifully clear and scattered with heavenly bodies. Unfortunately this also meant that it became very cold away from the fire, where he had to place the telescope to minimise the light pollution. After the kids (and teachers) had gone to bed, about 9pm, this became our opportunity to sit down and be by the fire whilst we dashed back and forth to the telescope to see the objects he was kindly finding for us. It was just a shame it was so cold as it could have been fascinating. After a little while we all gave up and came and sat by the fire, enjoying a little banter, when at 9.15pm we were told to stop laughing and be quiet, after another 14 hour day!

The next day was another camp move, a different site each day! We saw the camels and students off and continued to pack up. Roger and I had to take the astronomer back to his car at the station of the previous night’s camp, fill up all the jerry cans with fresh water and collect some more food from the portable chiller parked there. We then travelled back south to meet with Jim who had been waiting at the turning to the new camp-site with the truck and wagon in tow as he didn’t know where it was. We meandered slowly up the hill to the site where we had dumped a last minute load of wood prior to the start of this camp which would have been missed otherwise as time had run out.

IMAG3353After unloading the main pieces of kit off the wagon we left Jim contentedly setting up whilst we got back onto the road to go to the house to pick up the meat, buy 2 new star maps, get as much cooking chocolate as we could find in Hawker (4 small bars) and collect Karen’s overnight bags (she doesn’t usually stay out, going back to see the family and maintain connections via the internet, but had to due to the problems with the teachers). We were quite happy to do this as it meant we could also dive into the shower for the first time in 5 days; we had no reason or need to challenge our comfort zone! As we arrived, Olivia, who was beginning to recover from a very nasty chest infection, put the kettle on so we sat down for a cup of tea for the first time in as many days. She then kindly prepared us some lunch, despite the late hour but we hadn’t had time to eat ours. I quickly grabbed a few email birthday wishes, checked up on family and progress of a significant ongoing transaction, before jumping in the shower, closely followed by Roger, before setting off again. By the time we got back to camp, about 4.45, the camels were already there, although the saddles were still in situ, so they hadn’t long arrived. Despite this we were still met with a rather slanted ‘we were beginning to get worried about you’! We hadn’t realised that the expectation was that we would have no free time or contact with the rest of the world at all for 11 days! Even though it was known where we were and what we were doing, also perhaps, I shouldn’t have mentioned the saddles!

As the chicken for that night was still frozen solid as it had all been packed together, despite being removed from the freezer the night before, I mentioned that perhaps it could be left separated when first out to enable defrosting to start. This, apparently, was the least of the problems (we’d had to try to thaw it out in the sun the previous time!) I was informed abruptly so I just mentioned that perhaps it wouldn’t be a good idea to add salmonella to an already extensive list of complaints!

Roger spent the rest of that evening supervising our erstwhile colleague as he had become such a liability, most of the significant complaints relating to him. On one occasion, when Roger ‘s back turned, I noticed him carrying one of the boys upside down over his shoulders and larking about with him like this near the fire, before dropping him on his head! Rather than me have yet another go at him (we had been told to ‘work him like a dog’ although we seemed to be the only ones doing so) I mentioned it to Jasmine who had a quiet word in his ear. He had already been taken off food prep duties as he had been caught picking his nose and making it bleed whilst he was chopping (rather than slicing) the tomatoes for the lunch wraps. Roger had objected strongly to this, him being let off yet more work for being useless, and stated that he would teach, control and monitor his hand hygiene. This guy was getting all the camel time we had actually come for whilst we did all the graft and more because he was so lazy, useless and selective in which jobs he would do! I was not a happy bunny!

Karen and Paul had disappeared off for about 4 hours that evening so there was little guidance or supervision by the teachers, nor of us, obviously incompetent, volunteers! I read the riot act a bit during the meal, stating that there would be no pudding until all the washing up was done. The same old troopers ran up to complete the task and apparently I was condemned for ‘not being constructive’! A female author had joined us throughout this trek to give the kids some alternative stimulation and tasks to do in their free time. I hadn’t had much opportunity to talk to her but knew that she hadn’t been too well received. The teachers had their own agenda and didn’t want her interfering in what they perceived to be their time. The kids had obviously picked up on this and had been very disrespectful and almost downright rude to her (as they had been to the astronomer, talking when they should have been listening). She did not sleep out with us and at 70 that was excusable so she needed to be ferried back and forth to her accommodation each day. This particular evening, as Karen and Paul were ‘delayed’, she was stuck with us around the fire, not knowing where her lift was and with us not able to take her as we didn’t have a vehicle (all the camels were tied to the truck). We found her very amusing and entertaining, it is just a pity that others were so small minded and missed the opportunity to appreciate her.

IMAG3359Roger walked with the camels and I did my last camp move with Jim and our cameleer in training the next day. Things went reasonably well apart from a display of chauvinism and possibly even ageism, that incredulously, I could possibly drive the landcruiser and tow the small trailer. I led our convoy to the next site which we had checked out on the earlier reconnaissance trip, on which we had all been. As I was driving across the creek bed I noticed a pile of stones and logs assembled on the right. This was not where I had recollected the camp site to be but stopped to check it out with the others. I was informed that it would now be 2-300yds down the creek where the newly created log pile had been left. Jim had not been too happy about crossing the creek at all but conceded and started to turn the truck along the creek bed. It immediately sunk in and no amount of too-ing and fro-ing could release it from the soft sandy clutches. Eventually the Landcruiser was used to tow it out, not with me behind the wheel, as this was outside my familiar territory. I’d left the whole rescue process up to the men. However I would probably have ensured that the towing vehicle was on the track so that its wheels didn’t start spinning once the tension was taken up! We finally managed to get all the vehicles and trailers across the creek to where I had been headed in the first instance. Jim opted to leave his truck on the other side and not risk the creek at all.

Time was marching on and I still had a few errands to run and was very aware of not being accused of being late back again so set off on the 25minute drive back to town. I had all the accumulated rubbish to discard in the public bins ,which took longer than expected as I had to feed it through a very limited gap of about 8 inches due to the bar across the wheelie bins, obviously designed to ensure that people didn’t put large objects in them and use them as a dump. I then dashed back to the house as I needed to check out on the internet how to get out of the town, knowing that there were only 2 buses a week going to Adelaide, the opposite direction. It wasn’t much help as it would cost us £100 to be 6 hours south of where we started when we were heading north anyway!

I flew out again, declining Olivia’s kind offer of lunch or a cup of tea. I’d managed to eat my wrap whilst the boys were trying to extricate the truck. I headed back up the road but pulled off for the 15km round trip to another station where I could top up the 7 empty jerry cans and collect some more provisions from the chiller, now back in its original location. I had everything sorted out and pulled up to the water tank to find that there was no hose; fairly vital as the tap was about 3 inches off the ground! There was no sign of anyone but eventually I found the ‘lady of the manor’ who I knew to be of a fairly delicate disposition. Not wanting to ruffle any feathers but aware of the time, I passed a few pleasantries with her before trying to ask her nonchalantly if she knew where the hose was, she didn’t! But she did point me towards one that was redundant which looked remarkably like the one I had used on previous camps so did the job, even if one cannot increase the rate of water flow.

That done I then turned my attention to the chiller which had apparently had to be emptied the night before prior to being moved and then re-loaded. Some joined up thinking might have paid off here as I had to half empty it again to obtain all the boxes I needed (and I did it on my own in less than half an hour!) and then stack them all very carefully into the landcruiser as I was still carrying the telescope! Back in the driving seat I headed back out to the road and then along to the camp-site, just 1 hour 45 minutes after leaving it, which I didn’t think was too bad. I arrived to a fully set up camp, minus wood and apparently abandoned. I drove over to the truck and started getting out the fruit and veg boxes that we would be using next as they hadn’t been stored in the chiller (stock rotation!) and putting the new ones into the back of the truck. I then drove across the site to the trailer to unload these and the water as a certain person emerged from the creek bed wanting to take the vehicle to collect the wood he could have moved by hand whilst I was away.

There was no sign of Jim, who I had known wanted to ring his wife and would need to go to town to get a signal but it was ‘suggested’ later that he had gone looking for me as he was worried as I’d been away so long!! I don’t think so! I couldn’t have been much quicker with all that needed doing. The kids started brimming over the brow of the hill just as we were packing away the last new box so I quickly set up ‘afternoon tea’ before the camels arrived as well. Roger came into camp leading the B-string (but nicer camels) on his own as he had been allowed to do when there were no riders. Between us arranging to come to this place and our arrival, the insurance had changed to say that cameleers had to have 2 years large animal experience, which we didn’t have. We probably wouldn’t have come if we had known this change but it was interesting to note that a certain other person, who’s only large animal experience was being chased over a fence by a cow and mustering once on a motorbike, did not appear to have to comply!

The following day was my camel experience from the previous post so I wont repeat myself, suffice to say that this is what I had been hoping for and working for all this time only to watch the opportunity diminish the more work we did. I discussed the exit strategy with Roger and we agreed to see how the next day evolved as that had been ‘promised’ to be my day with the camels. Karen had a long conversation with Roger (not me!) about it and we left it that we would see how the day turned out; very well but it wouldn’t get any more interesting and involved than that.

Roger had gone to bed early that night, feeling a bit rough and woke the next day absolutely ‘crook’. Exceptionally, he was still in his swag when Karen arrived about 9.30 the next day and he was feeling far too rotten to be able to do anything. It was suggested that he return to the house to recover and I go back to look after him. I didn’t refuse as I was getting pretty fed up with all the work, no real recognition, no prospect of much more involvement with the camels and just watching another reaping all the benefit I felt was our due. This had not produced a particularly good working relationship with him and finally blew up when he wouldn’t listen that he was giving out the wrong wraps i.e. gluten-free to non-gf kids who were late making their lunches. An argument ensued in which voices were raised on both sides and I was accused of yelling (and swearing, which unusually for me I didn’t do) at him in front of the children. They all thought that the village idiot was great (despite earlier ‘issues’) therefore I was the villan of the piece so our departure was quite timely all round!

IMAG3331We had been there 32 days and had had 4 days off, not the 9 as per workaway terms but we hadn’t been counting until things started to go downhill. We had been on treks for 19 of those days doing an average of 10 hours work per day but no free time on those days, which would entitle us to another 8 days off if we stuck to the workaway basis. It was a somewhat toxic environment, apparently, everyone else (3rd parties) was an idiot, previous volunteers were overtly criticised, current ones were criticised behind backs (goodness knows what is/was being said about me/us!). The organisation seemed to be in total chaos resulting in massive inefficiency which is picked up by us minions. Instructions and directions changed at short notice and so frequently my head was spinning. There were no established processes or procedures so we were reinventing the wheel for a massive undertaking despite it having been done so many times before by only Karen and Sam, as we were frequently informed! The parting of the ways came at the right time for everyone as new victims helpers were arriving and there was nowhere for them to sleep!

16. Cameleering

IMAG3356We have finally spent a whole day with the camels and I learnt all that I’d been trying to pick up by eavesdropping others’ conversations or watching from afar when I should have been doing a hospitality job. I had been snatching a ‘fix’ of our humped friends whenever I could. When we were at the house, I’d try to ensure that I could take the scraps over to the babies before anyone else did, merely in order to get rid of them. Once we started on the school trek they were tied to the food truck overnight so I had to go over to them whenever I needed to retrieve something from the stock, so ensured I wasn’t too thorough at remembering everything at once! On one occassion it was ‘essential’ that I sorted out the upright case holding a variety of tinned foods which had become mixed up during transit which I enjoyed with my inquisitive audience peering through the bars.

The first night Trevor, now Farina, was tied next to the door and regarded me very superciliously each time time I came over. Seeming to be a little perplexed as I climbed to a higher level than her whereby she was no longer looking down her nose at me. The next evening Tanami would follow me into the insides with his enormous head and long neck which I had to gently ease back in order to get out of the door space. Unfortunately Sam saw fit to move him as he was a ‘nuisance’ which he most certainly was not, leaving me with Dinny guarding the entrance, one of the lead camels with which I was not very familiar nor comfortable. The following night, after my request to Paul to have a human-friendly camel at the door, Raji was the gatekeeper. The only problem was that he was very unsettled by the creaking sound the door gave on opening. I soon started taking an apple or banana to give to him as the sound emitted which seemed an adequate distraction. I could see him getting nervous again as I went to close the door which, fortunately didn’t make as much noise in this direction, but he still needed a bit of fuss and petting I think!

On this particular day Karen agreed that this would be our camel day and told our colleague that he was ground crew, several times, before he got the message! The children were brushing their mounts and I had, on one occasion previously, managed to steal a march on those guests and had groomed Farina so didn’t mind. I helped Paul administer their under-blankets which are used in a particular way to pad out their humps, as they are all slightly different, in order to allow the saddle to fit comfortably. Once these blankets are correct each camel had their own colourful throw which had purely cosmetic purposes but definitely helped with identification in the early days. Without their blankets I still get Dinny (Gunga-din) and Ava, the 2 leads, muddled up.

Karen showed me how their girth was done up, very much like a horse’s, after getting rid of any burrs they may have acquired in overnight, and how the neck strap was tied, ensuring no twists. I later pointed out one which had a full 360degree twist in it and was told it didn’t matter?? She had me lead Ava over to where she wanted the string tied together for mounting which was remarkably straightforward, probably due to Ava’s training. I then had to get her to sit using the ‘hoosh down’ instruction, this is where I expected things to come to a halt so was more than a little surprised when Ava obeyed on the first command!

I applied the hand-breaks which is a strap going around their bent knee which prevents them from straightening their legs. Being the lead Ava has 2 as she would bring all the others with her if she chose to get up, as they can do quite successfully on 3 legs, usually discarding the strap once up with the assistance of gravity and the fact that they aren’t done up too tightly. During the course of this day’s trek it would become my job to apply and remove these straps from Dinny, as I had been allocated to the B-string, at the appropriate times. Once they were down and braked I would sit with Dinny, keeping my head lower than her, just to ensure that she behaved and was OK as her disturbance could disrupt the other 3. She is a mutterer. Even when walking along she would grumble and growl at nothing in particular, as I quickly learnt.

Once the riders were settled and the camels back on their feet I was the outrigger. This comprised walking along at the side of the string about level with the 3rd camel to ensure that the riders were OK, no-one else was walking too close, no ropes were getting knotted or any other kind of mishap. Unfortunately this was quite hard walking as we would be off the path about 3-4 yards to the left in rough ground. This resulted in so much watching where I was walking that I could only glance at the string now and again.

IMAG3360Roger was carrying out the same job with the other string, so despite me giving him my camera to get photo of me in action, he was either too busy himself or poorly positioned in order to do so. On the other hand, the previous day I had still be doing the camp move when he’d been out with the camels and he walked into camp leading a string of unridden camels as dusk descended. I didn’t get a chance to lead a string but he didn’t get a ‘hoosh down’ opportunity.

 

 

When we arrived at camp that evening the truck was parked a significant distance away and after getting them all sat down Paul went over to speak to the driver about suitable parking places which would not involve the risk of getting it stuck as had happened the previous day. Karen was some way away talking to the staff as we arrived, so that left Sam with Roger and I. Gandhi, now Egor, had been detached from the string as he is a big bull, recently castrated despite his age, and set behind Mumpy who was sitting down. Camels mate when the female is sitting so it is not a good idea to have a male behind a seated female, Trevor (Farina) wont tolerate Raji standing behind her at any time on the other string. As Egor is so big Roger was holding him off to the side whilst he grazed an adjacent bush.

Farina and Mumpy

Farina and Mumpy

As time progressed with no sign of movement Sam went across to find out what was going on and we were left with both strings, late in the day. The significance of this is that it is their tea time. We have been told that as they’ve been working all day they get increasingly hungry and fractious as their evening meal time approaches. Roger had his hands full keeping a huge, slightly unpredictable, crusty old gentleman of the camel world settled. The B-string, who I had been with all day, were quite content but Mumpy decided to get up, shedding her leg brake as she went. I told her to Hoosh down and she completely ignored me! She seemed to be more settled standing and I could not observe any concern from the experienced cameleers on the other side of the camp so let her be. Snowy, her daughter in front of her, then started getting restless. I kept trying to calm her but the next minute she was up on her back legs and on her front knees. I used my most assertive voice and told her to hoosh down which she, quite surprisingly, did!

The truck was duly brought and the camels stood to be taken to it. Karen had me walk unusually on the right as Snowy kept trying to go to that side of Ava but as they are all tied on the left this is difficult and ropes can get caught . She was telling me how I could see that they were beginning to get unsettled as their food was near. She obviously hadn’t seen me already deal with the restless princess quite successfully.

After getting them unsaddled, blankets put away and helmets stored we went across to the fire to see how the tea was progressing. Karen told us that this was the best bit about the cameleering role, it is for others to organise the evening meal. However, we still had our groups to keep an eye on whilst also ending up coring, stuffing and wrapping 45 apples to bake in the coals for dessert. We stood, doing this for over half an hour on sore feet, aching legs and getting progressively colder as we were away from the fire and for some reason, it wasn’t suitable for the kids to do (??) but they were all finished just as the main courses began to reach fruition. IMAG3362As I sunk gratefully into a chair to eat my curried sausages and mash I noticed that the apples were already in the glowing coals. By the time we took them out, once the main was cleared away, the syrup had seeped out (they’d been turned at some point!) and the glowing embers were stuck to the foil on extraction. Once Jasmine and I had knocked this off there was very little weight to the remaining packages which we opened with trepidation and had our worst fears confirmed! There was next to nothing inside apart from a blackened skin stuck to the foil. This dessert had probably taken more time to prepare on our least equipped day and the helpful culprit, who put them in the fire too soon, had left the camp for the evening! It still didn’t really diminish my best (and only) real camel day in 5 weeks.

14. Aboriginal immersion

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.)

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Roadside repairs

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!

Wilpena Pound

Wilpena Pound

IMAG3336I 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.

IMAG3339

Bilabong

Bilabong

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.

IMAG3345The 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.

IMAG3346IMAG3349We 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!

...but the candles wouldn't stay lit in the wind so I blew out the lighter.

…but the candles wouldn’t stay lit in the wind so I blew out the lighter.

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.

13. Quick Overnighter

IMAG3317Studio_20160823_121326We had to operate a one night trek immediately before the next big one. In itself it was quite enjoyable, it just meant that we couldn’t pack the wagon in advance as we would need it for the small trek beforehand. The night before we were due to leave we heard that the group would not only be self-catering but would feed us as well as they had so much food left over! This was Roger’s birthday so rather than having to work we were being fed which was a nice bonus. I made him (and everyone else) a special chocolate pudding from an untried recipe with which he was delighted  and seemed to be universally well received. Karen had chucked in a few bottles of wine to add to the occasion and even Trevor (now Farina!) joined in, even though she doesn’t lick the evidence off her lips!

Before we could leave, we went to the local elderly day care centre to give them a little talk about ourselves, our lives and how we came to be in Hawker. Jasmine should have been doing it but she was off on a break in Alice Springs so Karen asked us to step and promptly forgot that we were going, several times. There were still plenty of jobs needing to be done both for this overnighter and then the school camp. It was an ‘interesting’ session with a wide cross-section of older, less able in body or mind, women from the area, some of whom had quite a considerable history.

IMAG3311

Mission

IMAG3314When we arrived at the yard Paul and Sam were already out with the 2 strings of camels to give them some exercise so they would be calm for the riders, not that they aren’t anyway but sometimes a little too pleased to be going out. This enabled us to say hello to those left behind who we don’t normally get to see much of, apart from Mission. He had been usurped to give Gandhi an outing and was unusually friendly from the other side of the fence. He is one of the rescues who had worked as a ‘Judas’ at an abattoir. This involved ‘befriending’ each herd of camels who were brought in and then leading them into the slaughter house with as little disturbance as possible. He wasn’t treated very nicely by the owners either as he was purely functional so is quite mistrusting of people, doesn’t like more than a couple of people around him but must have felt more secure with the fence between us.

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Sabre

IMAG3301Sabre was being less aggressive than normal, at least not attacking any of the others for a change and even came up to the fence to give us due consideration. She had been a little reluctant to come in earlier when Paul had mustered them all from their huge paddock on his motorbike. Definitely the essential equipment for outback farmers. It was quite strange to see them running in as, despite their apparent gawkiness, they look very smooth and efficient when going at speed. They can actually match a racehorse at about 40km/hr with additional stamina.

IMAG3313IMAG3312We have come to adore their mouths. They are so soft but almost dexterous like big floppy fingers. Their top lip is split in 2 vertically and can operate separately. One doesn’t need to hold your hand flat when feeding them as you might do a horse. When they are in repose this vertical split tends to present as a very worried ‘ooh’ look which contradicts their somewhat supercilious expression of looking down their noses.

That evening around the camp fire, before returning to the house to take a phone call from one of the helpers, Karen took a straw poll from those of us who happened to be there (including Paul) about whether he should be allowed to stay. It was ‘no’ from all but the one abstention. He returned the following day to join the school camp.

Studio_20160823_121201The following morning Tanami decided that we took too long to get ready so lay down and was very reluctant to move. Unfortunately this is not a good position for a camel to adopt for any length of time like many large animals but, the more he was persuaded to get up the more he put up passive resistance. It is very difficult to move a camel where it doesn’t want to go and he is a master at this inertia. He is however, quite remarkable in other respects. It took Karen only 6 hours to train him after they brought him in from the desert (no abuse!) at a mere 4-5 years old last year. He is a big softie and one of the petting camels so gets lots of treats. Even the riders, perched on top whilst he refuses to hoosh down – sit – and Paul wraps a rope round one leg which is lifted off the ground until he concedes, all love him to bits. We all enjoy his antics.

Studio_20160823_120838Tomorrow we start an 11 day school trek! 25 12-13 year olds for 10 nights, a different campsite each night. No flushing toilets or showers until we reach the 7th night! We will need to pack almost all of our luggage to see us through this period, if I don’t throw a wobbly and leave before the end. This could be my idea of hell! And no internet or telephone connection until 9th August!!

12. Wine tasting

We arrived in the Clare Valley, the reisling capital of Australia, at lunchtime. We hadn’t heard of this region until arriving here, only its more well known cousin, the Barrossa Valley, south of Adelaide. Our memories of reisling was the dreadful Lutomers and Blue Nuns of the 1970s. These reminiscences had already been put to rest in Adelaide where this grape variety was reintroduced to our palettes. The Information Centre provided a ‘cellar door’ map of the area. This is all the wineries where you can go and have a tasting, with the expectation of purchases and there were loads.

IMAG3295We were also a little peckish so after a quick ‘scenic’ tour in dour weather we went in search of lunch. The first ‘pub’ we came across looked very inviting and we were able to have a kind of tasting at the same time. They sold a wide range of wine by the glass with details of the vineyard and grape of origin. This was accompanied by an excellent steak and super chips (or fries as we have to get used to calling them as ‘chips’ are what we know as crisps – very American). We had to drag ourselves outside again as the weather had deteriorated yet further and we relished the warmth and dry. The prospect of a night out in the swag wasn’t terribly appealing.

Studio_20160725_101108By now it was mid afternoon so we felt that we really ought to try to find somewhere we could return to camp for the night. This area was much more arable and fenced off so there didn’t look to be much choice. After driving around for a while we concluded that it wasn’t very practical for several reasons, lack of possible sites, nowhere dry to lay the swag and most importantly, no dry wood to make a camp-fire.

Most of the cellar doors were closing at 4-4.30 so were just missing them and ended up back at the information centre just as she was starting to clean the coffee machine although technically there was still 20 minutes before closing. The woman was very helpful and obliging with both our sustenance and advice on where to stay for the night. We found ourselves in a similar cabin to the previous night, perfectly adequate although much less plush, in a camp-site in Leasingham at the bottom end of the valley. Again, as the weather closed in and the rain lashed against the windows we were mightily relieved to be under semi-solid shelter with some prawns, scallops and cheese left over from the last night’s dinner.

IMAG3297We had deliberately not enquired about checking-out time and nothing had been mentioned so we were in no hurry to depart on a wet Sunday morning but eventually packed up at 10.30 and rolled next door to the Claymore cellar door as they had an art exhibition and local produce for sale. We thought this might kill some time before it became a more acceptable time to start on the wine! However, on opening the entrance door against the buffeting wind and driving rain, we were met by a very friendly lady who proceeded to pour our first wine whilst we chatted about Liverpool football club after noticing the large poster of Bill Shankley! One of the wines, all of which are named after music tracks, was called ‘You’ll never walk alone!’ We ended up buying 2 bottles of Reisling called Joshua Tree which is very nice and fresh despite having a connection to U2.

IMAG3298We were heading back out north through Clare town but just before we got into the shopping area we spotted the Kirihill winery which was the origin of our favourite wine from the previous lunch so had to drop in! Again, another lovely chat with the lady serving there but with considerable indecision about which to buy. Eventually we opted for a bottle of the same that we had tasted the previous day so not a particularly good sale for her (and no sign of any other punters, possibly due to the inclement weather)

We started to head back to Hawker with 180km to go. The land in the area seemed almost English, green rolling hills, which are not usually that succulent, according to locals. The only immediate anomaly was the unusual outline of the gum trees but periodically there would be a mob of kangaroos lying around the field, sleeping and playing, grooming and preening to remind us where we were. As the light started to fade we shifted to the middle of the road. This is the safest place to drive at night, there being so little traffic, as the animals creep out from the bushes and dive in front of the vehicles. Two little critters did try to execute a heist on the Saab but Roger managed to spot them in time so didn’t add to the succession of road-kill we had passed en route.

11. Road Trip

‘You two need to go away for a few days’ we were told. We didn’t take it personally even though it would be easy to do so. After all, their profile says that we are all under a 2 week trial period and 2 people had already been shown the door. This probationary period would have been useful, if executed, for both parties. When we were asked which vehicle we wanted to take, it did seem a bit more conciliatory and with Karen stating that she wanted to sponsor our non-existent immigration application, we did feel that perhaps our contribution is valued. We were happy to go exploring and at a time that suited as well, in whichever vehicle was convenient, so we ended up with the Saab convertible, although we can’t take the roof down as we wont be able to put it up again!

IMAG3266IMAG3267We could go north or south but there seemed to be a few more attractions south so headed that way after lunch. Our first destination was Alligator Gorge in the Remarkable Mountain National Park. Time was getting on and we arrived around 3pm to be met with signs about a park fee with on line payment only! We had no wifi here and too little time to go back to the nearest town and back again before the sun started going down and we would still need to find somewhere to sleep before dark. Despite the $1000 on the spot fines we decided to risk it and play tourist dumb if need be. IMAG3269IMAG3271These parks are obviously not designed for those who may not have access to or use the internet, not that we had a problem paying, it was just that the method of payment was extremely inconvenient.

IMAG3276IMAG3279As a result we had a very brief visit in and out of the park from its northerly end and set off to find a place to lay our swag. We were now in a much more intensively agriculturally worked area with most road side areas being ploughed and planted, which left fewer areas to pull off and camp. We approached Melrose and were not impressed with their camp-site and charges and completely underwhelmed by the camping ‘facilities’ in the show ground. IMAG3281We opted to return to a significant lay-by we’d spotted earlier, but thought we’d find somewhere better, but no. On our return, the deserted parking was now occupied by 2 cars with trailers which, on some level, was quite reassuring so we parked up and laid out the swag on a nice piece of soft greenery, away from the ‘widow maker’. These are the gum tree primary branches which, as they die from the inside out, are deceptively unsafe due to their propensity to drop off and crush anything underneath at the most inopportune moments.

IMAG3283We managed to forage for some wood to light a fire, all of it being fairly fresh eucalyptus which gave off a sinus clearing aroma when lit. We sat in the peace of the evening with only the occasional car passing on the road not too far away but less than intrusive, which is more than can be said for the seriously noisy frogs! The clouds cleared and we were treated to yet another glorious sunset before the full moon began to rise. We were running out of wood for the fire so this seemed like a good time to go to bed in our basic double swag compared to the super-duper trailers of our neighbours, 100yds away. We had packed a waterproof tarpaulin as well; the swags are waterproof but it is not only the rain which can be problematical (swag would be wet when packed away in the morning) but dew, or previously frost, can have the same impact. The only weather condition which counteracts this is wind, but this is far from helpful in any other respect, lighting fires, keeping them alight, packing up, folding up etc!

IMAG3280We were content to experience a lovely evening, watching the moon rise in the eastern skies after the sun set spectacularly in the west; the fire didn’t threaten the swag at all. At 2.20am I was awakened by a roaring sound. We could hear the wind rolling in towards us, through the gummy canopy of the creek, as we changed from a beautiful still night to a tarpaulin rattling furore in a matter of seconds! How we managed to get back to sleep is still quite a puzzle but by morning it was reasonably still but over cast.

 

IMAG3288The poorer weather meant that we were in no hurry to stop off anywhere so continued on the road south, the surroundings becoming more and more rural and ‘civilised’ with each mile. At times we could even imagine that we could have been in the UK. Apparently this is the greenest the state has been in many years due to a consistent and persistent rainfall, since we arrived! We drove in to Port Broughton just after lunch. Karen had recommended this place and after our previous night’s experience we felt we could indulge ourselves with a basic cabin on a caravan site, if it was not too expensive. What swung it was that we were able to check in straight away to a cabin on the water front with a spa bath! What luxury! These aspects are so much more appreciated, the further they become from our reality. Once we got settled the weather seemed to deteriorate more, the wind increased and the rain sprayed itself against our glass fronted view but we were warm and dry inside. Despite our resilience we were so grateful not to be outside in a swag in a lay-by unable to light a fire and being deafened by the rattling of a tarp which we would be unsure would still be there in the morning. We are not completely without softness!

IMAG3290We went back to the Seafood Outlet we spotted on the way in to town and bought some fresh whiting, prawns and scallops for an evening meal which would mean that we wouldn’t have to go out again. On return we could enjoy some room temperature red wine and chilled white wine which was quite a difference from the recent cold red wine from the back of the wagon, stored at sub-zero night temperatures and warm(ish) white wine from inside the caravan which feels cold enough when we go to bed but isn’t really low enough for white wine cooling!

We revelled in the spa bath, although the surface of the water became less than desirable pretty quickly. Intermittent showers do not make one as clean as regular showers (see previous comment about septic tank!) or occasional baths. We pity the poor unit cleaner tomorrow despite Roger’s best efforts to eradicate the scum line (he was last out the bath) The air conditioning even has a heating option so we are both clean and warm at the same time, probably for the first time since arrived and, if we need the loo in the night, we wont have to put on coat and boots for the first time in 52 days, not that we are counting! so I don’t have to dehydrate myself before going to bed, yehah!

10. Time Off

When we arrived back at the house Karen wanted people to have a rest but we knew that there were items in the wagon which needed securing as well as getting all the perishable foods out to use up. Jasmine and I ended up clearing everything out both sides of the wagon, food and non-food, to do a stock take to facilitate the next shopping list. For instance, by the time we’d emptied every food container we found 96 remaining muesli bars! That will be sufficient for 2.5 days on the next trek. Roger was coming down with ‘the’ cold and spent most of the day at the kitchen table helping with a submission for part of a $2m grant being used to bribe the local population to accept a nuclear waste site! Nothing like getting involved in the issues of the residents.

There were plenty of odd jobs needing doing but we also had time to walk into town and have a look at a remarkable local artist, Jeff Morgan, who has achieved international acclaim with his panoramas. These are huge pictures of, in this instance, scenes and vistas of the surrounding area. One is actually a full 360 degrees from a nearby mountain which one sees from an elevated viewing gallery. This certainly was amazing but our favourite was a flat picture of Ron’s Creek which provides a very different perspective from either end without any trickery. He is now working on a new 360 panorama which I’m sure will be equally incredible, considering he has no formal training.

Prior to visiting the gallery we had popped in to the petrol station to see the museum, geology collection and seismograph, like you do! In these small towns people and services double up out of both necessity and to occupy themselves fully, particularly if employed. The display cabinets housed a variety of old memorabilia whilst topped with goods and items on sale such as camping kettles and jump leads, a curious juxtaposition. The rock collection was topped by a wall chart showing the seismograph readings from two days before, the day of and subsequent time around the Boxing Day tsunami. Beside this was a large scale map showing where and the size of recent seismic activity in the area, including around the site for the proposed nuclear waste processing facility!!

The paper in the cabinet was showing an almost straight line. A complete revolution covered 15 minutes and a fresh piece of paper is inserted every 24 hours. We spent some time reading all about the local activity then I noticed that the excursion of the graph had become almost equal to that on the displayed readings of 26/12! It settled down a bit but still remained a very jagged line, unlike the flat line on our arrival. Were we stood on some cables to send the readings whappy? Where was the sensor for this reading anyway? We couldn’t feel anything although had heard some loud distant bangs when we’d been out with the camels and it had been suggested that they could have been earthquakes. We were unsettled enough to ask one of the shop assistants (no-one else seemed to have noticed). Most petrol station staff would not necessarily know much about seismography but presumably if you house the equipment you learn something, hopefully! The lady who responded to us was unperturbed and thought that it was probably a kangaroo out about 10km away by the sensor, or it could be the wind. That seems to undermine the reading somewhat but at least we weren’t in the epicentre of any natural disaster in the less than well known earthquake region.

The following day Karen took us, Fabian and Olivia out on a reconnoitre of the route and camps for the school trek. She said it would only take a couple of hours so we carried some water and a couple of pieces of fruit. Anyway, 7 hours later our stomachs thought our throats had been cut! She decided to go even further out, to the next station to see if we could start there. She had lived there a few years ago and decided it would be nice for us to see Lake Torrens. This is a bit of a misnomer, as many lakes are in Australia, as it hasn’t held any water for over 7 years, the last major fill being after the floods of 1954!

Anyway, it was too far so we didn’t get to see it but both trips put us a bit behind on our schedule! We hadn’t even started on the initial plan by midday. Not only were we looking for suitable camp-sites, flat enough for 40 swags and the wagons, appropriate privacy for toilets, not too many rocks as it is getting warmer and snakes like basking (!!) but also, we had to be able to drive the vehicles, with considerable sized trailers behind, in and out of the sites. One place of particular historical interest proved quite inaccessible to all of us except Fabian, who couldn’t see any problems! Finally we did find a track which was not too rocky, steep or undulating, just rather narrow at one point, which would suffice.

Studio_20160823_121703The 7th night site transpired to be wonderful, flushing toilets and showers!!! We had a superb drive towards it (despite low blood sugar levels!) Kangaroos watched us with mild interest, some of them diving into the road as an escape path. They’re not renowned for their intellect, particularly when they decide to run away along the track in front of us. At one point Karen slammed on the breaks and those of us in the back of the ‘trooper’ i.e. not Roger, flew forwards off our sideways facing bench seats. A young, but fully grown, wedge tailed eagle sat preening itself on the branch of a nearby dead tree. It wasn’t even perturbed when Karen got out to take a closer look but she was rewarded with series of fantastic photos as it decided to take off.

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The following day we were back at Wanaka Station. Diesel, the kelpie pup I’d taken for a walk, was being re-located. She was in absolute disgrace after chewing a brand new handmade stock whip which had been Sara’s 16th birthday present (normal for these parts!) She is quite adorable but will be much happier running over this huge station and working sheep as her breed does almost naturally. The principle reason for our return was that a children’s nature programme, were coming to film Karen, Paul and the camels. This did give us the opportunity to get up close and personal with a few more of the camels as Paul had to muster them all in to the yard to collect the ‘film stars’ he wanted. These were our old friends Ava as lead string with Snowy, Mumpy and Trevor as the novelty white camels, with cute baby Raja, who everyone falls for, bringing up the rear as usual.

Zaki

Zaki

IMAG3238All the others were milling around the yard and paddock, so we met Zaki, a boisterous and overly friendly young huge camel who decided to ‘play’ with Canning, equally large and Cato, a Raji-like runt at a mere 400kg. It is not a good idea to get in the way! particularly carrying 2 loaves of bread! Now I fully understand Karen’s obsession with safety, these guys could run you over and cause serious damage in a blink without malicious intent. Unlike Sabre, a scarce long haired Mongolian female camel with more testosterone than all the males (put together) who is very aggressive and is only still here because of her rarity.

IMAG3256Studio_20160722_090859The film ‘crew’ wanted children for the feature, Luke wasn’t going to play ball, his film star status was passée at school now, so Sara and her friends took the roles. We were only there as interested observers and had to spend most of the time ensuring that we weren’t in shot, although Karen wanted me to get some photos of the filming for their own website. I don’t think we were too irritating and when it transpired that the sound guy was from St Ives in Cornwall we seemed to be accepted. We did manage to see yet more emus and I finally managed to get a shot, even if they are rather indistinct, but they usually move far too quickly for a snap.

When this was finished the crew were dashing off to another filming and we had to high-tail it back to the house for the man from the grant proposal team’s visit to advise on the submission for the camel milk dairy and cafe, which has taken over Karen, Sam and recently Roger’s lives. He was a pleasant enough guy but we were just hoping that he wouldn’t need the toilet during his visit, despite it including dinner with wine (bribery? not when I’m cooking!) as the septic tank was overflowing! This had been the case for a few days but the man who empties them is in the Australian Reserves and wouldn’t be back for a week, oh joy! Fabian had dug a hole in the garden (the only real work he had done) and amused us with his attempts to erect the toilet tent over the top of the oil drum with seat but we didn’t think that the man from the government wouldn’t be too impressed (even if he did look like Tiger Woods)

9. Old Hands

Studio_20160823_122238Studio_20160823_122221The weather is warming slightly and our final trekking day was beautiful. Tanami was sitting patiently chilled out whilst everyone prepared for their last day, for the guests and final for a while for the rest of us. He is huge but at only 5 years old, still has some growing to do. He came straight out the desert so doesn’t carry an emotional scars of abuse. As such he is just an enormous softie and he is a giant, even his head is twice the size of the others so who knows how big he will end up. Karen gives him bear hugs around his neck and Jasmine has passed apples and carrots to him, mouth to mouth. I’m not quite up to that yet as I know his size and weight could be destructive even without any intent.

IMAG3211Studio_20160823_122150I’m still struggling with my foot so was fortunate enough to have a ride on Ava. It was lovely to be able to enjoy the stunning scenery and wedge tailed eagles gliding round on the thermals. When walking I’m either watching my feet or the camel string so this was a delightful interlude and Ava is a lovely rocking-chair ride. She was ‘abused’ by well-meaning people, taught to do tricks and kept with horses. The latter meant that when Karen acquired her, she neighed and walked in a diagonally opposite gait pattern instead of both legs on one side at a time. She also had some less than pleasant streaks which had not been her own fault. Now she is confident and assertive, a great leader of the A string.

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We picnicked under the Cock’s Comb mountain which has graced many of these photos before heading back to the station mid-afternoon. This group had a longer final day as they had missed a whole day earlier in the week due to rain. The crew were staying out for another night as the conditions were so good and it was a bit late to start packing up the camp. Everything was there and ready so it would have been a shame not to make use of it (despite the need for showers and clean clothes!) One family left us at this point but the other wanted to stay and camp another night using their own fancy camping kit but only on the condition that we were all together and no longer ‘serving’ them.

IMAG3228IMAG3223Karen took us back to the camp from the station on roof rack of the Landcruiser! This appears to be a bit of a tradition and was quite a ride. We still had some mince left over and Cam, the Dad, produced some bottles of local wine, Barossa Valley no less. It was super to be able to just sit around the fire, as one would normally do when camping and not have to wait on anyone. I was awake at 6am the following morning which was rather frustrating as we could have had a lie in but I was able to just undo my swag and watch the stars disappear (saw Orion, the first constellation I ‘ve recognised but obviously an early morning one in the southern hemisphere as it runs across the night sky from the evening in the northern).

Ist thing!

Ist thing!

 

Studio_20160823_121752We feasted on banana pancakes (just banana and egg) and freshly brewed coffee. What a great end to a super trek. Two weeks break from trekking after our initiation by fire and very steep learning curve. Then we have 40 school kids for 8 days!!!!!

8. The Trevor Files

Trevor clearing up the rubbish

Trevor clearing up the rubbish

Helping with the washing up

Helping with the washing up

Trevor is the matriarch of the strings. She is the eldest although not the longest serving. She is not bothered about being fussed nor petted, which is just as well as her coat is like the wire wool of a brillo pad. Her total reliability does mean that she has drawn the short straw of having to carry 2 boys every day! Due to her maturity and intelligence (!!) she has worked out that if you behave correctly you will get some treats and benefits. She is the only camel Paul will allow to roam loose for periods of time which, although a little unnerving initially, becomes quite soothing but also entertaining.

...waiting to clean the toilet!

…waiting to clean the toilet!

Unknown to us, she was loose one evening whilst we were sat around the bonfire. Suddenly this ghostly apparition (she’s very pale) appeared from the darkness, eyes glowing green in the light from our head torches. She didn’t move, just watched us watching her. Once we were reassured that she hadn’t broken free we enjoyed watching her creep, very gradually forwards, almost like the game of statues, she couldn’t move when anyone was watching, only when you wouldn’t notice. I began to detect a specific direction in her advances, towards the trailer containing all the fruit and vegetables, the doors of which lay wide open. Surely she wasn’t going on a raid. Just in case, I went around the back of the log pile to the trailer, not wanting to get too close to her in the darkness, allowing more than the designated 6 feet which is advised on the walks. I closed the doors and before I had returned to my fireside seat she had given up and gone back to the hay with the others! Apparently she has raided that trailer before.

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Checking out the fire

This gave me a little clue which impressed some of the guests this week when she was roaming free one morning as everyone was finishing breakfast and getting packed up. We have a bucket specifically for the scraps of food and leavings over, excluding meat, which is fed to the camels. Trevor, of course, recognised it and ate the whole lot, she then went over to check out the washing up bowl but was disappointed. Her wanderings nearly took her into the long-drop toilet and I hate to think what attracted her! She then went to the fire pit but was diverted by the pepper tree which is a definite favourite. I nearly bumped into her as I was coming out the cabin, having delivered some of the packed lunches to the people in there. One of the older boys couldn’t believe that she would actually have gone inside but after the evening antics I felt sure she would so blocked the doorway and she wandered off in disgust after a few minutes.

Studio_20160823_122306Studio_20160823_122334Sam decided to give her a drink of orange juice and whilst pouring it in to a mug Trevor opted to save time and took the whole container in to her mouth. She does have some manners and was quickly reprimanded and was rewarded with a cupful which she glugged down like a vacuum cleaner. Obviously orange juice is one of her preferences but apparently port is her favourite tipple!

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All these camels have a story and very different personalities. Once here they are treated with kindness and respect and are loved by everyone sooner or later. It becomes easy to see why Paul and Karen struggle on with what is quite a difficuilt and challenging life, just to be able to live and work amongst these wonderful beasts.

7. Sunshine and Frost

IMAG3205After 2 days ‘crook’, Aussie for ill, I am back out in the field. My last day at the house was so miserable that the guests didn’t even ride. Hail was due but didn’t actually materialise but I’m sure you get the picture. The forecast though, was for more sunshine, no rain and temperatures rising at the weekend. Wednesday was camp changeover day. We missed this walk last time as we were doing the change over so were keen to do it this week. I wanted to ensure that I completed the walk even if I didn’t stay out over night. Roger had had to relinquish the double swag so the singles, whilst possibly giving more space, wouldn’t be as cosy.

IMAG3171We set off in glorious sunshine and it wasn’t long before everyone started shedding layers, hats and gloves. No guests rode initially as a few of the camels were a little frisky after their day off but soon calmed down. IMAG3170Roger and I were on ‘point’ duty on the respective ‘strings’. This meant walking along on the left side (they are all tied on the left) ensuring that riders and line are OK, shouting to the lead if not. The lead cameleer is taking the first camel and hoping that the others follow and although able to look back occasionally, do tend to look ahead to plan the route and observe for obstructions or fodder (on the left!) So ours was a very responsible job, mine more so after the first change when the 2 boys got on Trevor. A 6 and an 8 year old riding together on the most sedate and best behaved camel but still with the potential for problems. However, they did behave themselves pretty well even if they managed to talk solidly, about nothing, for over 4 hours!

IMAG3169IMAG3177Roger is becoming more and more accomplished and confident with the camels and has even led the A string a few times, much to his delight. Only Mission seems to have taken against him for some reason; Karen says that it could be that the man who abused him wore the same type of hat but who knows. I have been responsible enough to hold baby Raja but he did plough through me when one of the kids approached him with a handful of weeds. IMAG3180Although not fully grown, there isn’t much that can stand in the way of a 400kg camel and food! I was then promoted to holding Trevor and Raja for a time whilst Tanami executed his ‘I’m not sitting down and you can’t make me’ trick. Paul even resorted to using the rope around one leg but he can still stand firm on 3 legs at 800kg, until he decides to sit down. It can then be the same antics to stand up but as one of the gentle cuddly ones it is difficult to get annoyed with him.

IMAG3182IMAG3183The temperature plummets as the sun sinks and we knew we were in for a cold night so wrapped up warm and covered ourselves with an extra tarp. Coming morning, the latter was distinctly crisp as I bent it backwards away from the front opening of the swag to greet the day. The ice was evident on the outer tarp and our charges with sprinkled with a topping of frost on their humps. Whilst we aren’t late risers, Annise likes to get up as it is getting light, about 6am and Paul tends to rise at 6.30 to start the fires. By the time we are up, by 7am, the water is beginning to come to the boil so first rounds of tea are nearly ready before starting on to cooking the breakfasts already prepared by Anise. She has enjoyed the peace and tranquillity of these early hours but now has a ‘partner’ in Olivia who also gets up early and seems to be struggling to find her place in the team.

IMAG3186IMAG3176By 10.30 breakfast is finished and cleared away, the wraps and lunches are prepared, camels are brushed and saddled so everyone is ready to break camp whilst divesting themselves of a few layers. I had chosen not to walk as my foot took a bashing on the rocky terrain the previous day and the following day would be quite long to compensate for the rainy disappointment. Also I had completed this day’s walk the previous week so was happy to stay behind, potter around the camp and have the fires burning and the billy on for when people returned as well as preparing the evening meal. Not a bad task in the sunshine (although still a chill wind!)

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