When I first visited Bali in the late 80s there was a very strong sense of the regional organisational structures that kept people and land in balance. The beauty of Bali was no accident, but an intricate matrix of shared responsibility for maintaining the spiritual, environmental and social balance on this incredibly fertile island.
The name for the system which results in an incredible network of irrigation channels, is ‘Subak’.
Subak is the system of democratic farming and water distribution that has made Bali such a fascinating and bountiful island. It comes from a Hindu philosophy that seeks unity between spirit, humans & nature… The irrigation channel’s we see in Bali are managed under a strict regime that ensures water is not misused or wasted, to ensure all crops receive their share. The water is blessed. We are blessed.
There are unseen treasures right beneath our noses, under toe, between the cracks, in the shadows and hidden in plain view. How do I miss them, what does it take to see them? I must slow down a little, exhale fully, take a deep breath then open my eyes as if for the first time and they will appear.
About four years ago a mate mentioned that he was heading out with his biker crew to go see the Wild Rice Carvings somewhere out on the Arnhem Highway. I had no idea what he was referring to but it sounded interesting… “The whaaaat? Going where? What wild rice carvings?”.
I had never heard of them before, but the idea was really appealing, I became obsessed with seeing them and a couple of weeks later I borrowed my mates bike and headed down the highway with some vague directions of how to find the site… Somewhere just past Mt Bundey granite mine, opposite an information shelter, cross a fence, through the scrub toward a rock… Thar be wild rice carvings and giant ants carved in the igneous protrusion.
After a bit of stumbling and faffing about I stumbled, skillesly onto the lower end of a long tapering outcrop of granite… into the granite was carved, with a sharp and defined relief… an effigy of Wild Rice… named ‘MOMI’ by its creator, Japanese Sculptor, Mitsuaki Tanabe San!
Apparently the primary sculpture is 82 meters long! It represents stalks of native rice which grows in the tropical wetlands, now threatened by weeds and changes in land use, it had been a staple carbohydrate for indigenous people prior to colonisation.
I’ve been back a couple of times but never in the wet season, until last week! The site is so surprisingly beautiful in the wet. Aside from the way water sits in the carved rock to accentuate the rice grains and leaves represented in the carving, the wet season plant life was stunning. Native ginger, flowering in sheltered havens beneath rock shelves and crevices, attracting bees and other insect to it’s stunning flower. A peculiar pair, one gold and brown banded the other blue and black buzzing in a dance together in and out of the inflorescence, between the rocks and grass.
What’s so special about rice? Ask the Japanese! I have heard they have a 1000 metaphors relating to rice. Rice is not just rice!
I am fascinated by the native wild rice because it is another of the remnant plant species that has resisted extinction and the colonization process… Though it is threatened, it persists as a reminder of another economy, another way of life that was connected to seasons of natural abundance and most importantly it is a link. A conduit between the natural world and human need for stored energy… i.e. grains and tubers containing carbohydrate! I am sure that without these elusive forms of carbohydrate, survival would have been far more precarious for indigenous people in Australia and throughout the world. The possibility of our modern lifestyle is an extension of this basic principal. Resources stored for use at a later time. Grains and carbohydrate are a form of stored energy that permit humans to live beyond hand to mouth.
Tanabe was a sculptor who had a strong connection to the natural world, as a naturalist he understood the necessity of protecting biodiversity not just for it’s own sake but for “The survival of human beings.”
Unfortunately Tanabe passed away in 2014 at the age of 72 before he could finish his sculptures in Mt Bundey, however his son was committed to completing the fathers work and returned to finish the project.
Wild rice in Australia is not as abundant as in other countries. I believe the Great Lakes in the USA (Turtle Island) still contain large quantities of their own species of wild rice. In Northern Australia Yam’s would have been a more reliable source of carbohydrate, they hold a special place in the creation stories of Indigenous people and are a totem for some. Though it is not so plentiful, and to harvest it people must enter crocodile infested waters… (No thanks), it would surely have provided nourishment and added greatly to the productivity of our wetland regions.
Visiting the carvings and reading about the sculptors mission to increase awareness of the primal connection between wild plant species and the nourishment that propelled us humans into the world we know today, I am reminded of a book I once read. The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukuoka. Fukuoka allowed his fathers farm to go fallow, turning his back on traditional high intensity farming practice he observed natural processes and learned to adapt farming practices to a more ecologically sound way of addressing productivity needs. I am also reminded of the intricate balance of the rice terraces in Bali where the landscape has been dramatically altered but due to the observance of natural processes and laws the farming practices and management of water have allowed rice farmers to create a reasonably sustainable supply of precious grain, while finding balance with natural forces rather than eradicating wild species of plants and animals. Crop rotation, field laying fallow and use of ducks for pest control rather than chemical sprays allowed for far greater diversity than the modern farming practices. The spiritual life of Balinese Hindus was central to farming practice, Offerings made, Scourges averted.
A project in embryo: A few years ago, at my wits end, I was hanging out in Bali and went to visit a place I’d stayed in a bungalow in the rice fields about 20 years ago. At the time there were only a few basic bungalows at the top of the stairs on the other side of the river from Ubud township. The homestays were run by local People, rice farmers and artist who maintained the old village practices and kept their business to themselves. They still worked the rice fields and tourists could stay in the middle of it all… (you can still find plenty of places like this today.) While I was there on the last visit I saw that tourism had taken over the place and a lot of the rice fields were isolated, cut off from the water and had become covered in weeds. My dream at that time (in the middle of a bit of a nervous breakdown) was to return to Penestanan, meet the owner of a particular field and see if there was any way I could learn how to work the field and restore it to a productive rice padi… (Yep… I know, it’s an indulgence of privilege!) I do not kid myself that this would be of any benefit to local people, it would likely cost a fortune, people would have to be employed and in my fat unhealthy state the work would probably kill me… But as art and meditation I figured at the time it was what I needed to do to save my own soul… Then Covid struck and the world turned inside out… Now as I think of it, I can see just how crazy the plan was…
I see ‘Momi’ now as a link, an opportunity to open my eyes and be awake to the signs of these intrinsic connections to the lifeforce that sustains us. The sculptor Tanabe saw it, the outcast and reluctant farmer Fukuoka knew it, the tradition and religion of many indigenous people, hold it as fundamental to their identity and inseparable from life! Here I am, simply exploring the idea as a concept for consideration, contemplation. My world can proceed as it always has without giving a single thought to this crucial connection… The behemoth of industrialized agriculture will continue to feed me for the foreseeable future. But for Life… what do I truly need?
In my opinion, The Wild Rice Carvings ‘Momi’ are of far greater value than just a touristic curiosity. These ambitious carvings are a priceless offering to the delicate balance of nature and humanity. They are as the quote suggests a finger pointing to “The Survival of Human Beings”. I am in awe of Mr Tanabe’s vision and sensitivity. He has left a great gift that will be testimony to our success or failure in managing keystone species for the survival and viability of humanity on this land. When I visit I am compelled to meditate on that. In fact rather than a curiosity I see the Wild Rice carving site as a place of spiritual energy that dares us to stop and connect with the root source of our existence.
Just before Christmas, and after the boy had missed his school graduation… (Thanks Covid version 2022!) we jumped on a plane and headed south to be with Family for Christmas!
Well it didn’t all go that smoothly! The flight was delayed by 9 hours, which was a blessing as it meant we could sleep through the night, but further delays had us arriving at 11:30pm Melbourne time. Not so bad… thought I.
Mum insisted on picking us up… I insisted on driving! The Victorian police insisted on lurking in the shadows by the side of the freeway where the speed limit suddenly drops from 100 to 80 kmh! I imagine them waiting patiently by the side of the broad empty road, watching and waiting for an unsuspecting commuter to miss the reduced speed limit sign… Naturally I had to be that idiot!
First hour in the state of Victoria and I get a $370 ticket! Welcome to Victoria.
After a lazy morning of listening to records we went down to the Indigenous Plant Nursery at Latrobe University to collect the Murnong (Microseris sp.) I’d been looking forward to seeing for the last couple of months. They had about 20 plants, I would have bought them all but no need to be greedy. I chose six beautiful young plants, a couple already had flowers and seed heads.
Murnong also known as Yam Daisy, was a staple food source pre colonisation. When Europeans invaded, Murnong was one of the early casualties. Native plant foods were decimated by land cultivation and the introduction of hooved animals. But the plant remains and is being propagated and replanted in gardens and regrowth of wild colonies is being encouraged. My heart was enthralled by the romance of a species recolonizing the land. A rejuvenation of the land, the persistence of species who have resisted the great nothing that we brought. I am excited to plant these small delicate daisies wherever they may grow! Imagine a field of Murnong!
The boy and I dragged our bikes out from under the house. I have grown fat and haven’t done any kind of physical activity for a long time. The boy was keen to ride. This was a dream come true for me. Oh the places we might go.
First ride we explored the wild spaces along the freeway… Followed the Plenty River to Partington Flat and searched for wild fruit. Usually there are all kinds of fruit to be found in December; Blackberry, Apples, Pears, Mulberry, Plum etc… But in December 2022, no such luck. It’s been a cold and wet year in Melbourne, a blessing really, water flowing down every river, ground water recharging, soil hydrated, life bursting out from every patch of earth… fruit ripening late is no big deal.
On our second ride we went to the Janefield wetlands especially to see the Swans and signets. It was a great little ride up the hill again! It is an artificial wetland created to filter waste water from University Hill. The result is quite an impressive habitat for all kinds of water birds, we also saw swallows and Red Rumped parrots.
Confession: My heart was straining to carry the extra 20kg I had managed to load into my body, eating all kinds of cheeses, muffins white coffee and pizza!
Ride 3 – Plenty Gorge / Blue Lake!
This is the first time my boy has accompanied me on the trail to Blue Lake. One of my favourite places on this earth. The lake itself is just an old quarry, but what it meant to me as a kid was a place of mystery and adventure. As a kid stories of the Blue Lake where there are floating rocks, caves, fishing, madmen, danger, risk, Adventure! River water was always muddy, but the spring fed lake would appear blue in dry months. Police shooting range, mounds of volcanic ash popping up around the quarry, solidified aerated rock that indeed could float on water! A hermit running the old junk yard at the bottom of a quarry pit, filled with old cars and machinery, old gold mining shafts, walls crumbling semi caved in and taunting us. Explore! I dare you! That’s what it was like when I was a boy. Only the adventurous could find it! Trespassers prosecuted! Now it’s a park and people drive to the Lake… mountain bikers have criss crossed the hillsides, fire has decimated most of the wet sclerophyll riparian vegetation and the river turned muddy. But still so much to show my boy!
Ride 4 Christmas Eve… Watsonia – Diamond Creek – Hurstbridge
The boy became unstoppable. Off we go again for Christmas dinner with my sisters family. Ride 15 km from my folks place to Diamond Creek, ate better than well, wore silly hats, told dumb jokes… as things were winding down the boy says, “lets go for another ride!” So off we go along a fantastic cycle path along Diamond Creek to Hurstbridge and a cruisy ride home on the train.
Ride 5 MCG (Cricket) – Melbourne City, St Kilda – Brighton Beach. Yep.. We rode along the plenty river, then along Yara to Heidelberg, train to Jolimont Melbourne Cricket Ground… an enormous sports stadium that I hadn’t been in since there was Grass at Bay 13 and Merv Hughes was there to lead the calisthenics! The boy was blown away by the size of the place. Boxing Day Test match. Australia vs South Africa.
When we’d had enough cricket… we rolled on down St Kilda road to see Luna Park and then on to Brighton beach along the cycle only path! What a day!
Ride 6 – Quarry Hill... It was already 7pm. The boy is restless… Off we go again. I’ve been there before but prior to a year or two ago hadn’t known the place. The boy want’s a view from a hill and turns on his terrain feature of maps to find high ground. There it appears. Quarry Hill – South Morang. Off we go. 11km ride up hill all the way! What a view! Most of the ride is through suburbia but lots of bike paths. We saw plenty or roos, parrots and at the very top of the hill, on the other side of the fence. A fox! Could see all the way beyond the city to the You Yangs. I promised the boy we’d go there next time.
Quarry Hill was our final bicycle tour on this trip to Melbourne. What a buzz to have my son so keen to lead the way and choose the destinations!
There were other experiences in Melbourne that I’d like to share, connections with friends and country. As always just musings and ramblings, touching base with why and what for my goings and returns. Maybe embedded in the code of these ramblings I’ll find the path I seek and come home.
2, 3, no I think maybe 4 times I’ve crossed this country North to South this year and a couple of trips half way for practice! So many fossil fuel miles.
This most recent trip was a quick one. I had just over a week to spend a few days with family for my dad’s 80th birthday, then drive the old ute I bought 4,000km home to Darwin. I was looking forward to the journey but hoped to be on my way a lot sooner.
Rather than heading off on Monday morning I found myself camped at a mates place in Central Victoria unable to leave until after midday on Tuesday. He needed the ute to collect the motor for his own machine. In my mind’s eye I imagined that engine filling the tray. In truth it fitted snugly tucked up against the rear of the cab.
I now had one and a half days less for meandering, but plenty enough to get home for work.
Day 1. Melbourne – St Arnaud. (248km). Driving in the night there was rain, it was cold. Had a good yarn with my old mate. We arrived in the night under the light of a full moon. It occurred to me while I was driving. Last time we saw each other neither of us even had a license.
Day 2. A slow start. St Arnaud to Robe via Mt Arapiles. (366km) I’d toured a fair bit of Victoria in my 20s but had never been to Mt Arapiles. It was a pleasant drive heading west from St Arnaud, through Horsham, to the quiet hamlet of Natimuk and beyond toward a rocky outcrop that could be seen in a sea of canola and wheat, not too far in the distance. Mt Arapiles!
The Pines camp ground was full of rock climbers who had set up a semi permanent base camp, I imagined it buzzing with chatter and singing at night. Comfy cushions for chilled out debriefs. I wanted to stay but had to keep moving. On this particular day the area was full of emergency vehicles. Maybe someone took a tumble.
It was a hard decision to continue. Something inside me said stay, but the clock was ticking and I wanted to see Robe… Why the hell I wanted to see Robe, I have no idea! Because I’d heard of it and had never been? I guess, that and I thought a mate from Darwin might be there…
Wrong on both counts! I had been there before! It just didn’t impress me. And… my mate wasn’t even there! He’d left weeks ago! My decision cost me half a day of extra driving… Nice scenery though.
What of Robe in September? Cold, wet and a bit windy. Gets dark early. Perfect weather for a cosy tent. The one I brought with me was cozy as they come. My 35 year old, top of the line DMH Trendsetter! Cotton inner tent, designed to stand in all kinds of weather, using a record breaking 27 steel pegs! To think I used to carry it hiking! With the wind blowing hard outside I was snug as a bug in my sleeping bag.
Day 3. Robe to Cambrai. (327km) I drove the Coorong, it rained a bit, I called in at a few beaches on the way. An important point to remember. If you read a sign in the Coorong that says Beach, it literally means Beach… You will likely find yourself on a track that leads not to a car park by the beach but directly onto the beach! Cool but potential bogging is immanent. Nice country, plenty of water… Had to keep on moving.
Picked up some CDs at a second hand store in Meningie which lead to a bizarre case of synchronicity! (No need to tell it… But it was) Saw pelicans in flight and possibly the left overs from an ex Prime minister’s cricket kit. R.J.Hawke came from a town not too far away.
Caught up with a mate and his partner in Talem Bend. Named after a cyclonic weather event the bloke I’d known appeared to have slowed down a bit… ever so slightly. After a decent cup of coffee and a butter soaked banana bread (toasted) I scooted off to my cousin’s farm in Cambrai. Good company, dinner and a warm bed after a very therapeutic afternoon tending to farm business. This family visit was the highlight of my trip.
Day 4. Cambrai – Coober Pedy (874km) Got up at 4:30am, house was still warm from the Kanara wood heater, cat glaring at me from it’s superior position on a comfy chair right beside the fire. I made myself breakfast, had a coffee rugged up and launched once again into the cold morning air for another epic drive.
Today I would finally be on the Stuart Highway heading north… But I had to get to Port Augusta first and that took an inordinate amount of time!
After a pleasant drive through the Adelaide Hills in the dark, I joined the highway at Two Wells (stole a lemon from an overhanging tree) and set off for PA. Roadworks nearly all the way held me up a good couple of hours! There were two interesting things on the way. A mysterious Loch-Eel in the pink salt laden lake at Lochiel, and the township of Port Germein… A quiet forgotten little coastal town that just seemed to hit the spot for me.
Got to Port Augusta at midday, fuelled up the vehicle, stocked up on food and was out of there by 1pm. We’ll behind schedule. I preferred not to stay there, but I ended up in Coober Pedy at 5.30pm. Exhausted from a long day at the wheel I checked into the big 4 and had to pay for a powered site, only to sleep in the back of the ute! Try putting tent pegs into this ground!
Day 5. Coober Pedy – Wauchope (1,062km) Up well before dawn… started trucking down the road by 5:30am. Saw blue flashing lights in the distance, figured they must be about about a Kilometer away… the land is so flat and bare out here it took me at least half an hour to reach the police diversion. I reckon I travelled 15 km before reaching their position. It was freezing cold, they had a fire burning with wood that must have been transported from some place 100s of miles away where there are trees of some description! They took my licence to read it in the light of their van and returned about five minutes later. I was beginning to worry but actually it’s probably just these crappy new licences with transparent fields where the dates are! All you see is the mottled background of whatever is behind them!
It was a very long drive north from here. Absolutely uneventful just miles and miles of nothing… except for that moment when I needed to wipe the sleep out of my eyes and a big red roo just happened to appear out of nowhere in the dark as I readjusted my vision! WOW! Slammed the brakes on and swerved right into the non existent (thank God!) oncoming traffic!…. Phew…. I won’t be doing that again in a hurry!
Nothing else to report the whole rest of the way to Wauchope! Seriously Nothing. Oh except I thought I’d visit rainbow valley got 2 minutes down the track and decided I didn’t have time. On the way in I saw a few Bearded Dragons. One stopped and let me photograph him. He didn’t seem bothered at all by my presence. I grabbed fuel, coffee and lunch in Alice Springs, stopped at Wycliffe Well and decided I needed more miles under my belt if I want to get home by tomorrow night… so pressed on to Wauchope (Devil’s Marbles Hotel) Yay!
Had a decent night’s sleep at Wauchope, I recommend staying there if you’re travelling. It’s a great little pub, friendly staff, grassy tent site for just $16 or $17 per night and they have a great pool that is clean and open at night even when everyone’s off their face. I swam until the aching muscles in my shoulders and neck were totally relaxed.
Day 6. Wauchope – Darwin (1,123km) Off we go… again. More road, more fuel, and now heat big one! Too much sun, too much hot air and sweat! I nearly cooked in the cabin of that ute on the way home. The change in climate is dramatic moving from Desert to tropics. Temperature goes up humidity descends brain fries!
Just kept driving, stopping only long enough to chuck some fuel in when it was available, top price was $2.30! Maybe at Dunmurra… I can’t remember my brain was frying.
I stopped at Mataranka and went for a dip in the warm water, while the ute was parked under a tree. Swam about for a little while then jumped back in, already dry from the walk from pool to carpark! Blasted on down the road, grabbed a coffee and fuel at Katherine and made it home at about 6pm Saturday night ready to collapse!
Got to Alice Springs at night… It was cold… quite, very, really bloody cold.
Everyone else was sorted. All their food drops had been neatly packed into plastic tubs ready to be dropped at multiple points along the way. I was standing over my overburdened pack (The one I’d brought along with me instead of the one I needed… The one I decided on my last hike that I would never use again!), wearing my most beautifully designed Italian Leather, Scarpa hiking boots, the second toes already numb from the pressure of ‘Toe-Strike’ (A word I just invented… maybe already exists but I didn’t know… so it’s my word!). Nothing organised, gear still strewn throughout the Horror Truck… and I realised I am simply not prepared for a hike of this magnitude!
The others were all psyched and trying to pump me up so I’d be a positive contributor to the morale of the group, a reliable participant in the journey… ‘n’all that. Then I pealed my boots from my swollen feet and they saw the pink/blue pulp that emerged. The blackened toenails and blistered heels made it very obvious that my feet were not fit for this journey… My overloaded pack was not suitable for carrying even a moderate load… but now weighing close to 20kg it was positively a hinderance!
I looked around the disappointed group, I had successfully wet-blanketed the night. We said goodnight and hit the sack… I think I slept about two hours!
The hike began at the Telegraph Station on the North side of Alice Springs. Starting at Sunrise, before the gates were opened… At this stage nobody bemoaned an extra 700 meters. Spirits were high! Finally I felt like I was kind of free. The long days and weekends I’d been putting in at the office suddenly melted away… the drama with the white Truck of Doom was a distant memory. Fresh air and gravel underfoot were my new reality! Off we go!
First leg of the hike was wonderful, along a dry creek then up into escarpment, up and up until the first great view if the hike. Euro Ridge. As we arrived, already tired from humping our packs up hill, we spied a lone hiker in the distance… but he wasn’t hiking, he had no heavy pack or stiff boots. He was jogging!
“Hey fella, how’r you doing? Where you coming from?” We ask.
“Redbank Gorge.” He replied, In a quiet unassuming and completely believable tone. (Redbank Gorge was at the other end of the trail… Over 200 km away!)
He jogged it in three and a half days!
We celebrated our grand achievement of about 10km with a group photo atop Euro Ridge and trudged onward.
I wouldn’t say our first day on the trail was tortuous. The weather was cool and the trail was well marked and relatively clear of scree and boulders, there were hills but nothing in comparison to what was ahead of us.
When we reached the dry creek bed of Simson’s Gap I collapsed in a heap! We still had a way to go before we reached our camp but I was spent. My feet were causing me so much pain it exhausted me totally. I couldn’t talk or think, I just trudged off at a cracking pace until I reached the hikers camp. Dropped my pack and dropped my bundle! I took off my shoes, put down my ground sheet and curled up in the foetal position for the rest of the afternoon. I had the shakes, I wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and fell asleep.
In the morning I felt much better after hydralight, vitamin B and Panadol! My feet refused to be squeezed back into the boots. They remained swollen, the tips of my second toes on both feet were black and throbbing… I had lost most sensation from the one on the left. That was it for me. I could not continue hiking with these boots or the pack with the dodgy waist strap!
I travelled with the support vehicle back to Alice Springs, where I found a cheap pair of trail shoes. The next day we met the gang at Standley Chasm. From here on I would travel with the vehicle, make camp and hike with only a light pack with snacks and hydration to meet the gang. Standly Chasm was a great camp site, we met a bunch of other hikers and formed a larger group. Some of the other hikers were struggling with their gear or the sheer difficulty of the hike so I volunteered as support person to escort them and carry gear over the first few hills before turning back to camp.
We had intended to bring supplies and drop some hikers off at the Junction of 4/5 but flood waters had cut off the 4×4 track leaving that part of the trail inaccessible to service vehicles. Of course this was not communicated to us until we’d crossed several sand traps and had managed to travel down a narrow track to a road block in a spot that was impossible to turn around! Naturally, we got bogged in the sand!
This was very disappointing. We had to travel a couple of days ahead of the group to the next access point at Ellery Creek Big Hole (South). Naturally our gang hiked through to Ellery Creek Big Hole (North) on the other side of the water hole, a long walk around. We stayed one night then moved on to a great little camp at Serpentine Gorge.
I camped at Serpentine Gorge with one of our crew and another hiker we’d picked up along the way. It was nearly time for me to return to work so I set up camp for three days and spent the mornings carrying other hikers packs to the top of the hill… 5km along the trail, steep grade max elevation 1,000 meters (or so) Seriously! Across a five kilometre lateral distance we were climbing one km! This was hugely satisfying! I could do a 10km hike. Get maximum elevation and walk back without having to carry a pack! By now instead of trudging I was virtually skipping. My feet had recovered from the torture of my boots and I was getting plenty of exercise before lunch every day.
On the third night the rest of our gang arrived. We had a grand feast and laughed a lot. I could see they had found their rhythm. Though I’d missed a lot of the trail, I was absolutely sure I’d made the right decision. There was no way I could have continued in those boots or with that pack.
In the morning Trail Support Guy and I said farewell to our gang and we drove back into Alice to get some tools for the truck and eventually drop me off at the Greyhound bus stop. We arrived in Alice early but the truck had to have the final word! It was here that I foolishly suggested to it’s owner that we should check the oil! So we let the engine sit a good hour while we went and voted (Federal election! Labour Won! Morrison is OUT!) We ambled back to the truck, I pulled the dipstick out of the engine, wiped it carefully, clean, sunk it back in it’s hole then retrieved it! There was a black glob of tar stuck to the bottom of the dipstick! “No Mate! This will not do! You’ve got to get oil into this car asap!”
The rest of the day was spent fussing after that damned Truck! It got to have the final word! 10 minutes before the Greyhound arrived I stripped down to my jocks in the carpark and gave myself a coke bottle shower! The dust and grime of a week of hiking and bush camping rand down my legs like dirty river water, red and brown! I poured some under my arms then threw on some clean dry clothes for the bus ride home! I couldn’t wait to sit comfortably in my own private cocoon on the bus. Nobody next to me, usb charger for my phone… A blissful slumbering road trip Finally finished reading Out of Census Vol. 2.
Peace out Babies. No Expectations… No defeat No one to beat, Nothing to prove!
A few months ago I received a message from a friend I’d met through in the local bushwalking club. It was something like: “Hiking Larrapinta… You interested?”
Four years ago we’d formed a neat little hiking crew. We organised some kid friendly hikes, the kids hit it off and we had some great times. Then… two of the families moved away, both to North Queensland and my involvement in the club dropped off considerably… (I literally didn’t do any hiking after they left!)
Very unfit, 20kg heavier… I began to prepare for the hike. Walking about 10km each morning, usually in flip-flops, along the local foreshore cycle path… very flat, very smooth. Though this was barely sufficient training for Larapinta it did improve my health and general wellbeing considerably! I was on my way. I walked quite a few miles coffee in hand, feet unaccustomed to shoes… smile on my face.
With two months to prepare, God knows why I waited till the last week to try walking in my hiking boots! They were extremely good quality, Leather Scarpa hiking boots but they were too tight and stiff! Somehow three years of walking around barefoot had splayed my feet to the point that they could no longer fit comfortably into my expensive hiking boots… Boots I could not afford and had no time to replace! I persevered and hoped the boots would stretch…
The plan was good… I was sure that I could manage the hike everything would level out on the day! Well… No it did not!
Foolishly I agreed to drive a mate’s truck down so he could act as support crew to his daughter who was using the hike as a fundraiser. It seemed like a great idea to me. I love a road trip! Problem was I had no time to inspect the vehicle prior to leaving! The week before the hike was a shocker at work! I had back to back meetings spanning through the weekend and was responsible for managing important work meetings and logistics for attendees until Friday… I needed to leave Darwin on Thursday if I intended to prepare food drops and gear the day before our two week adventure.
Enter THE TRUCK! a 1998 Toyota 80 series Land Cruiser. Diesel.
I collected the truck on Tuesday, hoping to take some time to look her over and prepare her for the trip… Didn’t happen. Instead I was working 7am – 9pm with people who had come into town from bush communities. The truck screeched ominously when I turned the ignition and the fan belt continued to squeal as I drove down the street. I parked it at the office and got on with my work. Didn’t pack the damned thing until early Thursday morning. Even then I could feel the steering wheel shake on a smooth road!
Got an urgent message from a senior man, he needs help to get his grandson down to Alice (People where I work travel a lot). Well, says I, I happen to be driving to Alice Springs today… He can come with me. HA! How naive am I?
So… Off we go. Me and the kid (16 year old) bouncing down the Stuart Highway at 4:30pm, the open road ahead of us. Sunset an hour or so away.
As we rolled into Mataranka after dark, all the dash lights came on! I turned the engine off and tried to re-start it… Nothing. Battery flat! We spend the night under a street light outside the council office on the side of the Stuart Highway. (With my t-shirt as a blindfold I slept well, aside from being disturbed by locals in need of a cigarette lighter every couple of hours.)
I assured my young ward that we would be back on the road in no time. At dawn we got a jump start and drove to the mechanic. We were in luck, they had new batteries and the right belts to fit the vehicle… trouble was they wouldn’t be able to fix it until the following day! By lunch time, out of boredom and despair, I made an executive decision! We’d buy the gear, install the new battery and head to a mate’s place in Tennant Creek where we could replace the belts ourselves. Unfortunately a fan belt blew out just south of Daly Waters and we had to limp into Dunmurra Road house, with the radiator hissing steam!
We fiddled with the car all day with tools that didn’t quite fit! A young woman turned up to see what I was doing and asked if I needed help. “Err…. Yep.” I said only mildly embarrassed. “Sure… do you know anything about fixing cars”. She looked it over, tried all the same things I did, but with the right tools… still we were having difficulty reaching the pivot bolt tensioner from under the vehicle… It seemed impossible. Then she said quite matter of fact. “Well why don’t we just take the bash plate off?”
The bash plate was blocking our access… it was not a necessary part of the vehicle and it was held on by three easy to reach bolts. We had it off in two minutes! Loosened the pivot bolt and before the sun went down we had removed the remaining fan belt! Success!
It had taken so long to get that far but now it seemed there was an issue with the tensioner bolt! We couldn’t get the alternator belts tight again! By the evening I realized if we didn’t get out of here tonight the young fella would miss his game! (football). At 5pm I called a friend in Darwin who purchased a Greyhound ticket online The bus was due to arrive in Dunmurra at 7pm!
I gave the kid a meal of chicken potato chips and a can of drink and saw him off with a sense of relief then returned to the truck in the dark to continue fiddling with bolts and belts!
Through the night my mind was busy deconstructing the whole process, putting things back together in my mind. I found an image of the assembly online and studied it… There was one thing not quite right… I thought we were missing a nut… But no! We had removed a bolt that was anchored directly to the body of the alternator! We just needed to loosen the alternator right off so there would be room to fit the bolt back in!
I got out of bed at 5am and belted the alternator back with a block of wood and a hammer. It moved just far enough to get the bolt in finger tight. I fitted the belts and belted the whole thing back as tight as I could get it, fitted the tensioner bolt to the block and waited for someone with the right size socket to tighten the whole mess to a suitable tension… A bloke in the van across from me had what I needed. I tightened the whole thing up and turned the key! VRRRROOOM! Yes! We were in business.
By 7:15 I’d packed everything up and was back on the road thanking everyone emphatically for their help!
I arrived in Alice Springs at 7:30pm that night! Much to everyone’s amazement! They had all packed their food drops and prepared their hiking gear, ready to start walking at 6am the next morning. They really didn’t expect to see me at all.
At dawn when it was time to walk, I was the least prepared by a considerable margin!
Post Journey vehicle assessment:
Tyres: Unroadworthy, uneven tread wear across all four tyres. Pressure well below recommended. (I didn’t have time to check the tyre pressure before leaving… thought the owner had done that.)
Tools: NONE of any consequence until we bought them in Alice Springs!
Fan Belts: Worn out and shredded before we left Darwin. (Not a good sign if they are squealing while you drive)
Engine: No idea when it was serviced last!
The oil was like a thick tar at the bottom of the dipstick!
Cost: Too many! Exess fuel due to flat tyres, New Battery, New fan belts, AANT Membership, etc… etc…
It was awesome! I actually had a great time! It was extremely satisfying to finally fix the fan belt, I enjoyed camping in the street in Mataranka the people I met there through the night were friendly. It was such a buzz when we finally resolved the issues with the alternator. Too Bad my new mate had to catch the bus, we’d already bonded in quite a short time thanks to that crazy messed up truck.
Time passed so quickly, working 16 days straight… Jumping from metaphoric muddy banks to mossy rocks while crocodiles lerking in cloudy swamp water wait patiently for my foothold to falter…
I just could not find the time. So many things to share, so little opportunity to commit thought to word or text in any meaningful way.
As I try to recall the moments colours fade and skeleton frames of memory back dim to shadow stencils of lives past. I hit the replay button and find scratchy fragments of time intercepted by experience, obscured by glare of present must do’s.