Stranded disaster or stolen delight?

By ESTELLE ROBERTS

 

There is so much on at this festival moment, it’s a little overwhelming. People are working like maniacs, busy, busy, busy. Sometimes it’s just nice to not participate and take a breath …

I’ve heard some people say to get that breath they pretend they’re going away and stock up at the supermarket like they were going bush, which indeed they would need to if they didn’t want to be spotted at the shops. Anyway the idea of a mid-week camping trip tickled all the right spots for me.

Unsurprisingly, my friends and I talked a bit about work, that thing that’s so permeating at the moment. A familiar conversation for long-term residents about how you deal with switching heads between jobs and between social times. Your job here seems to be such a defining characteristic of your identity. And even out under the stars it wasn’t a so distant memory to remember when I first arrived in Alice Springs and felt the lack of vocabulary to define myself with. “Where do you work?”

“Oh, I don’t work anywhere as yet.”

And the conversation would trail off awkwardly… It was a really strong this sensation that your work life defined you.

Wednesday afternoon, a couple of friends went through their fridges, gathering up leftovers to share once we got settled around the campfire and had taken the edge off what this festival season mania with a couple of beers.

We took the back road to Emily Gap. Maybe it would be more aptly called a sandy and treacherous track. Getting to our camp site my already crisped nerves sizzled some more, remembering that I am only on my Ps and probably not that well experienced to be winding along sandy up and a down tracks with gapping cracks and vertigoes slants to either side. Anyway got in there.

Once out from behind the wheel I noticed that our surroundings were still very smoky, a weird haze rising up from the charred grounds glowing in the setting sun. A landscape of burnt black grasses, white rock, brown bits and bobs, a thousand colors, all in charcoal. Old cars always upside down – curious, no? Maybe it’s just easier to get the good bits out that way. When the sun set we could see a couple of spots that were not just smoldering.  A tree was well on fire and we took a closer look at the ones where trunks and branches were hollowed out by the fine grid marks of smoldering coals.  One branch was a smoking cigar, blowing curling rings up into the night sky.

In the morning I went to drive out of the place and for a second I thought maybe I should ask one of the others to drive my van just to the dirt road. But I’d got in, so how hard could it be to get out? Maybe I was a little over ambitious but, like climbing up is easier than getting down, it’s sometimes harder to get out of a situation than it was to get into it.

I got my Ps just a few days before leaving Sydney, no window for failing, plenty wide open door for pressure! Anyway phew!  I passed that test but there wasn’t anything in it that prepared me how to judge sandy banks or tracks and so yes, bogged I got. And it’s funny how quickly my mind turned to running over what was in the car … great, a bottle of water each, some leftover leftovers, a bottle of wine… Ah, a towrope not long out of the packet.

Since being here I have a couple of times heard that when in sand deflate your tires for traction. Did that. Had heard or seen on TV to wedge the tires with sticks. Did that. Got some sticks and sought traction, pushed and pushed and, sun belting down, we got it out!

The satisfaction was great. Short lived though. With all hands on the bonnet there were none around the steering wheel and well the thing just went and lodged itself even better, up another sandy ridge!

So with warming water bottles, mobile phones gone flat or out of signal range, we walked over disintegrating buffle grass clumps that shuddered silently under our feet with little breaths of crunch. Quite a lovely walk to the main road where phones came running back and a 4WD rescue vehicle was organized.

Anyway, it was a beautiful day. A stolen day. Stolen from the coffee machine and computer I had promised it to. And I guess now I’ve had that essential NT experience, I can safely leave for a holiday.

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