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).
By 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.
After 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.
Roger 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!
We 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!