Rensina is once again heading overland. This time in Australia.
“Just stay up on the wagon, hang on to the reins and hold the handbrake as well; in case they bolt,” Debbie yelled at me as she attempted to control the two huge woolly beasts which she has just harnessed to the wagon which I am now standing on.
Truth be known I was actually clinging on; in an elevated state of alert….not quite panic.
My adrenaline levels hit a new high when suddenly both camels decided to dig their heels in and head for the dirt road at a trot. Debbie’s running along side, now yelling at the top of her voice, “Um, I don’t know how good the handbrake is as it hasn’t been used for awhile. It might need adjusting.”
Oh great! My heels were digging in too, as I was balancing there on one side of the wagon, holding on for my life with a set of reins and the roof bar in one hand. My other arm was wrenching that handbrake up, with every bit of my strength but those camels were not slowing down for anything.
They were off across the country, crashing over mounds of dirt, through small gullies and over clumps of stuff which the grader driver had left when he last levelled the road. The wagon was bucking like a wild stallion and those camels were headed for that long red dirt road.
We’d waited seven long days for all kinds of wild weather to blow through. We had lows, torrential rain and cyclonic winds which all descended on our start point at Carrieton. The day had come to get our camel trek started.
I felt excited…then scared of getting thrown off the wagon into a ditch……. then excited again.
There was nothing to do but hang on tightly as the wagon bucked and leapt about as the camels strode ahead. It flipped around, bounced and swerved left and right and was finally flung out on to the track.
With the camels now under a semblance of control, Debbie jumped up and took my place. With knuckles still white, I handed over the reins and clambered down from my first but not last, wild wagon experience.
As I looked up, I saw the long dusty road stretching out into the distance and my heart filled with the pure joy of not knowing what lies ahead.
As the anticipation and wonder of what new experiences the next weeks would bring, I felt my yearning for adventure; a flame which lies within me as a constant, ignite.
What lay before me, was the wide open spaces of the Australian outback and… time.
Six gloriously free weeks ahead of me before I was due to fly to Mongolia and I was planning to walk a lot of miles in that time. I wanted to walk to Kati Thanda (Lake Eyre). It had rained and the wildflowers were calling me.
I had my tiny blue tent, the wagon was stocked with food, Debbie, a ‘camel woman’, borne of generations of cameleers at the reins, Zacharey the big black dog and two very big camels, Cocoa and Ziggy. With my feet firmly in my blue suede walking boots, what more could I want?
Over the first couple of days, we fell into a slow plod as the camels tried to gain some travel fitness. I had the expectation that we would travel further each day but it wasn’t to be.
I walked everyday. Usually not more than twelve kilometres as the camels did not share my adventurous spirit and stopped as much as they walked. Ziggy hated hills so any rise on the track was a long and enduring trial. He would just stop halfway up, leaving Cocoa trying to hold the weight of the wagon and me on the handbrake’ again.
Debbie would be on the ground in front, ‘coaxing’ them up the hill, dragging on the reins and I would be standing at the front of the wagon, with the long bamboo pole, touching flanks. We would both yell like banshee’s, till we got to the top. After a two minute breather, Debbie would jump back on the wagon and we would hurtle down the slope on the other side, as the camels got into a canter.
Camels are sensitive. intelligent animals and are quite shy and will baulk easily. Even at an unfamiliar pile of poo on the road, or a kangaroo’s movement in the distance,(and there were a lot of kangaroos!) They would just stop and stare, refusing to move an inch.
Many days I out-walked them and backtracked, which allowed my time to be steeped in solitude; which is what I craved.
But even walking alongside the wagon was delightfully serene, as the camels have soft pads and the only sound at times was the crunch of the wagons wheels on the earth track.
Stopping to camp in the mid afternoon, gave me enough time to cook us some food and set up my tent. Watching Australia’s most famous artist, paint the skies in the spectacular palette of the richest fiery reds, deep blushing pinks, burnt oranges of Uluru herself and the pure gold of an Egyptian head dress was sacred food for the soul.
Hundreds of emus, kangaroos, foxes and birds were my constant companions in the daylight hours. My collection of feathers grew, especially Emu, as I found them along the track and in fistfuls on the barb wire stock fences.
The road stretched on, red and dusty along the old stock routes around the Flinders ranges of south Australia. Through many dried up river beds, over undulating hills, through sheep station properties, we meandered. I opened and closed a hundred gates, next to stock grids to let the wagon and camels traverse the countryside. There was no other traffic.
The weather was perfect, with just a chilly wind to take the edge off the fierce Australian sun. Crystal clear blue skies by day and the most incredibly starry nights.
Dingoes howled every night along with an odd haunting hoot of a night bird; echoes in the vastness. The last sound before I drifted into my dreams, was the hallowed ‘drumbeat’ of the emu, the sound which carried for kilometres.
Pulling up for our camp one chilly afternoon, we were about a half a kilometre from the old stone homestead of a sheep station.
Off the side of the track, I set my tent near the wagon for some shelter as a cold wind had blown in.
I heard a motor bike approaching and a young man stopped by.
The tall young stockman took off his helmet and asked, “What are you’s up to?”
We told him we were travelling north, slowly with no hurry. “You ladies want a fire?” “Oh yeah!” we chorused.
We had not had a fire yet as the weather and countryside was dry as a chip. A tiny bit of wind and we’d risk setting the land on fire.
“Be back soon,” he yelled as he tore off on the bike. A half hour later he was back in a beat up farm utility. He got out and proceeded to take out huge slabs of wood and old fence posts and throw them into a pile.
“Been fencin’ and these are no good to us anymore, might as well burn ’em!” he said as he piled the wood higher. Then he walked over to the back of the ute, took out a metal drum and splashed a few litres of diesel over the wood.
Within a few seconds he’d lit a match and thrown it onto the wood. An instant inferno immerged from the earth. The biggest and fastest campfire I have ever seen!
Giving us both a huge, country grin, “There ya go Ladies. You have a good night now.”
We barely had time to thank him before he was off; gone in a cloud of dust. Debbie and I just looked at each other and burst out laughing. “Holy smokes! That is a fire! Better put the billy on then and make some tea.”
That perfect night was not planned. It just happened; the most vibrant sunset I have ever experienced, a huge crackling fire, the calmness, the night sky thick with a milky way of stars and planets; and the distant drumbeat of the emu, or was it the Earth’s heartbeat?
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