35℃ as we touched down on to the baking tarmac at Denpasar. We glided down to the stunning sight of cobalt blue sea and clean bright sand. Emerging from a crowd of Balinese, we were greeted by a man dressed in Sari and headband wearing a cherry sized stone on his hand. This was Gareth, the converted Buddhist Welshman, reminiscent of Captain Pug wash in stature. He hailed a waiting van into which we hotly climbed. First stop was a bar in the middle of a mass of vegetation. Gareth was known to his friends as AgunGede and he introduced us to a fifty year old American who ran the bar and kept parrots. Next stop was Gareth’s home.
It was a high caste home and after we had lugged our lead rucksacks over the gutter, past the chickens and through a little arch, we changed and had a shower. Gareth’s room was 10 x 5 ft consisting of a bed, three saris and a shelf. The old ladies in his adopted family gave us tea and we geared up in Gareth saris for our expedition to the temple. We were the first white people ever to go to that temple so all eyes were our way as we blundered our way out of the van and sat down heftily on the bridge leading to the temple. No sleep for thirty hours and baking hot. Even so, we were incredulous at this culture shock from watching Eddie Murphy on the cinema screen to sitting in a temple.
at a special occasion with much ceremony We were invited to sit with the village elders with a very privileged prime position at the top of the open air temple. Dancing, music and praying ensued. Children danced too and everyone was dressed up. Men wore white headbands and gold sashes. It was a hard stony seat and the sun was hot. Two hours later we left hoping For a hotel but instead went a hundred yards up a hill and parked outside a pub, a cupboard selling beer with a wooden bench.
We bought some beer for Gareth and On the opposite side of the road was a much larger, more magnificent temple. Steps led up to a grand arch, then a square interior of temple with no roof. We had a repeat of the previous temple ceremony, but on a larger scale. Lots of fruit on heads in baskets and offerings. Absolutely Knackered and Overcome by four hours of worship, Gareth showed us how to gamble. We got the just after five minutes of spectating. When he asked if we were tired, we said yes, and he would promptly go off and chat and talk to his mates, laughing and pointing to us and entertaining them at our expense. The men thought we were fabulous somehow. With our white peely wally skin and baggy eyes we found this hard to understand. Gareth kept telling us we were going to stay at a palace which belonged to a mate of his (who incidentally happened to be a king) Thanks a lot, we piped, Perhaps it was worth the wait. Eventually, at about 9pm, in dark and lively streets, we headed for the palace.
Gareth reveled in his stories, if that makes sense. He adored to tell us of things he couldn’t speak of about black magic or about some community who didn’t bury their dead, or how they ate raw blood, or how a man was swallowed in his entirety by a python or how the people sacrificed thousands of animals by drowning them hurled into volcanic craters. He was a mad keen cock fighter, beer drinker And gambler and We wondered if he was ever unaffected by hangover in the four days we were there. However, all this did not prevent his real kindness to us showing sights we would never have encountered.
The palace was on the grounds of the garden of an ancient palace now called ‘Ary’s Warung with guest houses plus restaurant. It seemed like a palace having hot seen a bed or shower for x million hours. Bliss to Get all clean, turn the fan on and sleep. Woke up and sun streamed in our window. Outside, lovely buildings without walls, Palms, Grass, Courtyard. Then we heard a telephone ring and the printing of a word processor.
Ate breakfast outside at a low table on cushions on our mini patio. Fresh fruit and pancake and banana and honey. went and visited a chum of Gareth’s who was called Jason Monet. Lovely house, pet monkey in yard. He’s talented, and his last exhibition was in LA. Then went and bought flip flops for hot feet. Went to market to wait for Gareth while he tucked into a bowl of Balinese food. Lots of smelly dogs everywhere. Sat outside the band and when there were enough people, we boarded the mini bus even more mini with twenty people. Public transport is a Cattle truck converted to a bus. Lots of mopeds and went to a black volcanic beach. Smelly arm-pitted moped companion but otherwise it was the best part of the entire trip Through windy roads past terraced rice fields. Lush, lush, lush Plants everywhere with a Cool breeze, all lovely after hot steamy bus. After that, we moped back to a waterfall in an Incredible steep sided valley and Went swimming followed by children learning to be salesmen.
We kept thinking Gareth was selling us as He would jabber away and everyone laughed crudely and he turned a deaf ear on us. Went back to palace hotel and Met the prince owner called Agung Gede as well, V. charming and civilised. We went to another cupboard type bar which served food as well Then drove back in the prince’s car, a v. old black one. Gary, we’ve decided is decidedly weird and keeps blurting out really weird things. He bangs on about how beautiful we were. He took the biscuit in the car when he said
‘You look like a couple of princesses’,
Eugh! So I asked him why he was so weird and why he kept coming out with extraordinary comment and He replied it was because he was weird, Too right. Had a beer then went to bed.
There’s a friendly lizard in our bathroom. We called him William, We love him as he loves mosquitos. Morning again for Another glorious breakfast on cushions in the sun. Gareth doesn’t turn up as he has a major hangover. He had invited us to a tooth filing ceremony and a wedding, or to go to the temple in the hills. Oh, well, too bad. It turns out to be just as well. After two hours of chatting over fruit tea and biscuits in the prince’s panoramic open office, we went for a long hot walk.
After that he took us in his 1920’s car to the hotel where Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall and the like stay for £300 a night. Breath taking view of a Steep sided palm covered valley with a swimming pool built on the lip, as if it was a waterfall plunging down to the valley below. Two rich honeymooners swooned and mooched in the pool as we sat sipping cappuccino and nibbling at cashew nuts in awe. It was such luxury only feet away from the smell of cooking in doorways of such poor people. That evening we were then taken to Agung’s hotel which had a glorious swimming pool which he let us swim in.
There were fourteen guest rooms all carved in wood, Walk ways over water with lilies and fish. We stunk of chlorine, our fingers and toes looked like prunes and we wandered back and had potato skins, cheese, yoghurt and a red hot chili in the middle which I thought was a tomato. An American freak sat a table away eating supper with a torch.
Gareth v. apologetic having not met us the day before. We took the bus up into the mountains to a huge crater caused by the top of the volcano erupting so violently it blew off. Lots of men trying to sell wood carvings and Lots of American tourists. Bought two batiks for a fiver. That evening, a kind chap took us to the airport for ten quid.
All the strip lights were on full blast, making us look luminous white. Everyone else was golden brown and we Sat reading for two hours in the dept. lounge. About thirty white people white had their hair plaited and they all looked ridiculous and Unfortunately ugly.
Arrived in Sydney and went to Robertson Road where Alice was so kind and Troni Fletcher pitched up from the blue Just walking into the kitchen. We spent the day wandering around Circular Quay and went to the Opera House as Troni said she had to take a picture for her mum. Phoned mum in the evening and Alice’s mum returns on Tuesday.
So far have slept in Botanical Gardens, swum at Bondi beach, gone to the aquarium, tripped around Darling harbour, and had supper with Johnnie Warre. Stung by a jelly fish at Bondi. Alice took me and Tanya out for hot choc and yummy apple tart on a tour round king’s cross.
We went out on the town with some contact of Tanya’s parent’s sons. Went to the Windsor and then to a modern yuppie filled pub. After that to Kinsellas, a three storey place with a club on each floor. Finally, Jet Black to round off our evening. Alice and Troni came and we got back at 4.30 am. Two nights later we went out again.
saturday was the best night. a friend of alice’s called Anna came and we went to the sheaf that had About six net ball pitch sized rooms crammed full of 18-21 year olds, Unreal! About eight hundred people! After Jet Black and Kinsellas, we ended up at the Sugar Reef. We were let in because we were all girls, so you can imagine it was a general pick up poseur type hang out. People seemed to be working out their action men figures, keeping all toned up so they could look great every day. That was all their beautiful body ambition. Next morning, went to the market and Tanya bought me a long sleeved top for my b-day. We went to the Contemporary Art Gallery on The Rock with Alice and Wendy. I suppose it was the next morning but the afternoon had reached 18.10.
Tanya’s lovely cousins arrived to take us out to lunch. They had meant to arrive at 10am, but came at 12 to find us fast asleep in bed! Keith and Muriel Smith live in Port Hacking. Keith has cancer, so cannot continue building the swimming pool. He designed and built his own house. It was incredible, They were such sweeties and fed us delicious but strange home made biscuits. On Tuesday we Set off for Walahbadah on the 7.40 from Central Station. The rest of this journey’s details are of no importance.
John Macdonald met us and we came back to a delicious dinner. Their house is a wonderful one story building at the end of a mile long track. This diary seems to be getting v. boring as I write it days after things have happened and so it is too factual. We’ve had such a wondrous time here, They are all such sweeties having entertained us from dawn till dusk. Trips everywhere, We helped look after the three year old grand children twins, squirting cows with poisonous blue stuff, getting water to plant trees with a four wheeled motorbike. We went to one of the most fascinating legends of Australia.
In my mind I vaguely imagined how women would get together from miles around to socialise in some remote spot where, out of the desert a house and garden with lush green lawn and hydrangeas had sprung up. Tanya and I actually participated in such an event that was the monthly meeting of The Scrolls Club. The select few were privileged to come and worship the spokeswoman whose talents stunned all as she launched into reading aloud some heart rending poetry, written by a mere boy of fifteen who became a fighter pilot in WW1.
She was rewarded with aahs of sympathy and oohs of delight especially when the only young chap there stood up. he was invited especially to the occasion and read some of his own modern day poetry. Ensuing a 1½ hour satisfactory talk and discussion, everyone ambled onto the lawn sedately to discuss overwhelming revelations over a spot of chicken curry and salad. we stood under the shade and coolness of the beach tree and Pot plants and banana cake were brought and bought by all.
Alice who is sandy’s wife is about twenty seven and She very kindly invited us to go riding. She has been married two years and comes from Leicestershire all lovely and chatty. we were dropped off at their house two miles from the macs and saw kangaroos on our ride, jumped the odd log and returned at sun set.
at Armidale there was a wool expo and we both bought a stupid hats for $28 under the impression that we had got ourselves a real bargain. Yummy hot tatties for lunch and then a mind boggling display of haute couture on the cat walk of a few upturned potato boxes.
The General in his little hat and mac looks a spitting image of Moley in Wind in the Willows. Small, rotund and sweet most of the time. Jean is a saint and I don’t think she has offended anyone in her life. No one could possibly find any fault whatsoever, however hard they looked. She fed us three times a day Baking biscuits, cakes, pancakes, stews, soups in Three courses!
there were about eight hundred sheep to muster in from the paddock. three stockmen paralleled the three musketeers and The crack of their whips was like the sound of a shot gun, but Alice’s seemed to just thud. I didn’t bother trying as I knew I would hit the horse, myself or a dog.
Saw lots of Roos and We dragged four Grey ponies from a field they shared with four Garibaldi sized bulls. Their hooves were so long they were growing horizontal. We brushed these worm ridden, arthritic creatures that had to be rounded up by Harold on a motorbike, un tempted by any carrots.
These early mornings! We went and had a delicious supper with Alice and Sandy up the road and It started to rain. People here talk about rain how we talk about rays of sunshine. Alice causally told us we had a job at Belltrees, Scone where the Whites live! Boy oh boy She is so kind! The Whites have been rung up by Wendy Hill, me, Alice, Jean and Alice’s friend, so it seems they’ve had no option but to employ us for our bed and food. We said goodbye to all including the spherical lab called Tutu on 12th May.
We are at Belltrees, Scone, and have eight horses of our own in our own yard, as our own boss. Tanya is staying with Serena and Peter White, while I stay with Anto and Tina White who have kiddies Alec and Edwina, Weenie. Tina calls Weenie a lump of lard as she is so podgy at one and a half. Alec is fair and has lovely long dark lashes aged three. It is brilliant and Tanya’s folks have gone off for the weekend leaving their car, the fridge and everything for Tanya.
down at the weather hut We met the other people. there are forty horses and three boys learning polo. A woman called Bra bosses them about formidably.
18th May, A typical Day
6.00 Wake up call
6.20 Breakfast with Anto & Alec
leave for stables
7.30 Clean tack
Ride horses in 2 or 3 sets (8 of them)
Sweep up, rake up, Hose horses down,
put rugs on, chuck them out into 2 fields
Go back to house
Look after kids until 3
3.00 Go back to feed horses
5.00 Back to house
Give kids a bath
a farewell supper at the huts on Sunday night was One of the most embarrassing meals of my life. Dave on one side asking what I thought of him, Bra opposite trying to take a photo of us together with Hamish on the other side of me. Before I know it, Dave and Hamish are squashing me in the middle of them while Bra takes a happy snap to capture the moment. The apple crumble didn’t taste so good after that.
I am called Sheryll, Charmiane, Kylie, Sheila, Snake Charmer and just about anything. Dear old Tanya it has to be said, has landed with Trace, oddly fitting too. Dave has become Clive, Hame has become Ray, Mike McKechnie is Ken or rather Kenneth, with lots of ‘th’ to Kenneth. Bra is still Bra but not so buxom or fearsome i mean. I keep to my old traditions by blushing at the drop of a hat, and lithping whenever pothible. Actually, Kally said this just about sums her up
‘I don’t mean to be rude, but you’ve got quite a bad lisp. Is it because you’ve got braces?’
Direct or what? Well there’s nothing like getting to the point is there? Hame and Kally allegedly screwed about a week ago. Neither of them denied it and Hame looked quite full of himself. However, now it seems it was mostly Bra’s stirring and general fabrication of such juicy gossip, Not surprising since Hame is only just 17 and Cally 21 as Her wee toy boy perhaps.
Dave, the constant jester cracks on to one or the other of Trace or Charmaine, but seems to be rebuked more often than not. We wonder about Ken because when Cathy left last week, she looked like she was returning to marry and settle. seems he’s on the look out for the next. The weird thing about Australia is the number of single men all looking for wives. Sadly, most are ugly or old or both. Either way, there is a definite shortage of women unless you’re satisfied with masculine looking Sues.
I am quite a dab hand at mowing On the 0.2 km/ hour machine, cruising like a maniac with no mercy on thistles, leaves and sometimes even trees. ear ringing after the gardening session isn’t so bad now I found some forestry commission type ear muffs, V. fetching. We work the horses in the mornings, making sure neither of us has to ride Pam too often or leads Huntsman.
Pam is the light of our life, Not. She is the centre of all our problems To such an extent that her name is used in vain far more often than any other kind of swearing. Pam Or PAM!! Says it all. She does not lead, walk on, trot Or canter on the right leg Or know where to find food. She is so dense, always rolls in the mud, and Goes into the wrong stall. She’s got a snotty green nose so her breath stinks. She is lazy and lies down even at polo.
Pearla the love of our life has been swiped back to the weather shed so we are left with eight defunct ponies. Pam takes the biscuit but the rest aren’t far behind. Fussel’s horses are
If we’re in sadistic moods we face them up every precipitous cliff face and make them canter. If not, that’s not very often. Milly the little terrier has caught a mouse in our feed room. we had to put her into the bag where the mice are as her reflexes are far from swift or instantaneous. There is another big, friendly, stupid black lab which bounds up to us and wags it’s tail even when Tanya laughs condescendingly at it!
Tanya’s household runs very much on the help yourself basis in an Open house for all. Serena is very strong but also scatterbrained. she left for two days with the lights and music on with the dog and kids in the garden.
There is lots of yummy choc in the cupboard with biscuits so I fill up on those before returning to the organic nut and green vegetable eating family on the hill! No that’s no true, Our food at Tina and Anto’s is delicious. She is such a good cook of Lovely roasts, veg and cakes.
There are five Mikes at Belltrees; White, McKechnie, Harley, and Fitz-henry, Oh, Only four. The last Mike works at the same shed as us breaking in young horses wearing a baseball cap. He has various illegitimate kids here and there, but no-one is quite sure which kids are his from his de facto wife and which aren’t.
on 4th July Went to dinner party at Pete and Serena’s. One comment I though I had to write down when Willy referred to me as
‘Frances-do-you want to borrow my hairbrush, She’s-a-nice-girl.’
on about the third time I’d met her. Oh well, I’ll have a reputation to live up to now, and won’t bother too much about trying to look Salon Selective.
I had a great ride on the four wheeler motorbike today. The most basic form of transport apart form horses and bicycles are the utes, Shakes and rattles. Tanya has to point her toes and sit on the edge of the seat to reach the peddles. I think the trucks are twenty five years old. Mike called me Shazzer yesterday so it looks like the selections of appelations, as Gareth in Bali would say is ever extending. Hame calls me snake charmer, apparently derived from Charmaine, Great logic.
Polo at Warwick Farm.
ten goal championships just outside Sydney and I drove down with Mike Harley in his massive truck with fifteen horses. He took me the scenic route on the Putty road, A snakey road to say the least, Incredibly bendy, with running commentary round every hairpin about various road accidents on specified corners of this road. He had several brake failures in the past.
“This is where a horse truck plunged to its death”, he said, pointing a meter to our left at a precipitous cliff down to rain forest. However it was admittedly v. beautiful. The forty year old truck arrived two hours later than everyone else. My ears were ringing from the vibrating speakers of the radio in my left ear. We arrived, welcomed by all the crew and We stayed in luxury Lakeside Apartments. Bra announced
“You’re not grooms, Neither am I, I’m a station hand, have been for 20 years, You’re helpers, Not grooms.”
Quotation of the year that I can’t tell the folks back home anything except that I was a helper. Wayne Fussel, who we groom, sorry, help, tore his knee ligament unfortunately. It was a mad, hectic weekend slogging our guts out. Mike Harley only played half a chukka at a time on each horse which meant many change overs in the six chukka match! Then I bumped into Clea Tammes from guess where St. Leonard’s. What a freak coincidence! It was great to see her, and even more so now that she was heading up to James Archibald in Scone literally five minutes away at Gundy. I
drove back with Mike McKechnie. He’s the milky kid, drunk on two litres of milk a day! We got stuck behind a couple of cronies, competing with their brown car that towed their mobile home on holiday. We nick named them Martha and Arthur as it was Most humiliating to be overtaken by them at all. We went through various risque red lights as the brakes on the lorry aren’t so hot. at 3pm we got back and on the way to Anto’s I fell in the river, waist deep after all the rain. The current was too strong, especially with a suitcase, coat and boots to carry. I was well and truly sodden up to the neck and Thank god no one saw, What a sight!
Tine took us up to kerry packer’s place at Ellerstone on our day off the next day. Tanya, Jasper, Fibi, Tine, Alec and Ween came, along with Dave and Hame in the Belltrees Country House mini bus. It was the most incredible place Established by only five years.
8 polo grounds,
accommodation for 400 visiting ponies
accommodation for lots of players
You name it.
the most awe inspiring feature was the Veterinary centre. Alec Simpson traveled round the world to source ‘La crème de la crème’ of all expertise with Money no object. There were about ten specific vet rooms adorned with pulleys and even A human X-ray machine. Everything was spotlessly White and sterile with Bright yellow straw. An entire room was padded in green just to send horses to sleep, and What’s more, the place was exclusive to Ellerstone horses!
One night, about a week before we left all the boys came up to Anto and Tine’s for supper. After Mr. Bean and the inevitable football or rugger, Michael ‘colt’, Judy, Pete and Serena left and Then the boys left. Then I went to my room and five minutes later, a knock on the door and in walks Hame. He tells me to look the other way as he’s got a bet on and is about to strip off.
He proceeds to strip off, while I do the theatrical scream. Then he goes out with a towel round his waist. Apparently this having been accomplished he’s got $100 from Anto. I better get at least 50% of that. Naturally, Anto is v. surprised and a bit disappointed. It seems Hame will do anything for money. A few weeks before, for $50 he had ridden four sets of horses wearing only a towel round his waist.
Mike Fitz-Henry gave Tanya and I a pair of socks each when we left. It was announced that he had actually set a date for his wedding, which I think is a great relief for him. Robin finally agreed to marry him, and now he’ll be able to be a father to the four children which could be his, but nobody is sure whose they are. Anto gave us both a hardback book on Belltrees, written by Judy which was kind.
on The last day Pete took us up to the Mountain Retreat He had been left by his father. it was now commercially let to city slickers for $350 a night on the cliff edge. it had Two luxury bedrooms and a circular sitting room with a fire in the centre surrounded on three sides by a glass window overlooking the Hunter Valley. It took 45 minutes along the watershed up the steep vertical gravel track in the four wheel drive.
at 7am on a mound of rucksacks in scone, Three blond Scottish lassies sat waiting to be picked up from the kerb by Australia’s No 1 polo player, Sinclair Hill. We drove ourselves to Scone and had picked up Clea Tammes on the way.
five days to spend at Terlings and on The first night there was a three course meal for twenty to prepare. same catering most nights, never fewer than ten people. During the day we cleaned Terlings from top to toe. Nick Walter was staying, which came as another shock as the third person to bump into. Bacci was with his father, just passing through Terlings. He argued with Sinclair, I think which was quite difficult for them. on The second evening, Sinclair bellowed
“Have you given Pat a good feed?” Presuming that Pat was the dog, I said
“Where’s the dog?”
It turned out he was referring to Pat the gardener, Poor Pat! Nick said he’d given up feeding Pat because Pat just fed it to his chooks. I believed him. Seventy year old Pat was such a dodder old man. His chooks lived with him in his house with Shit everywhere. Anyway, four days seemed like four years because we were in the kitchen cooking the whole time, or cleaning. But the CD system kept us grooving. While we chopped artichokes, Bacci mixed cocktails or went for runs to get fit for his army interview.
One morning, Sinclair arranged for us to
“Go with the most eligible man in Australia, my nephew – who’s also young and good looking.” Then he added “and I’m not queer either.”
Angus McGilvray looked a touch perplexed and mystified, but after we discovered we all knew julie barr things went swimmingly. The excursion set out to be a one and a half hour trip to North Star and back in a grain truck, Hmm, Thrilling. we dumb blonds piled in and squished up to what turned out to be a three hour journey.
Another morning, Sinclair took us riding and there was a selection of wild horses that he said we were free to ride. He said that they’d been broken in, but by the looks of things, they’d never seen a white man, never mind a saddle. I thought I’d achieved something when I got one of them to let me pat it and lead it. A saddle cloth was bucked off, so we promptly abandoned the ludicrous notion that we would ride them.
Sinclair then let Clea ride his good old trustworthy stallion. Tanya rode a grey horse and I rode a chestnut stock horse and sinclair’s son Noel with his wife from Oxfordshire took us mustering.
On Saturday, Sinclair, Bacci, and Sinclair’s manager Old Blue all flew off to one of his properties called Fern lee up in Queensland. before leaving, Sinclair took us for a spin in his 1964 four seater plane, Only ten hours until its next service! Tanya was given the controls and we did a few sick making pitches. Clea went back to Scone on Monday and when we got back to Terlings we sorted our next move.
Nick drove us to Kildonan saying it was like going to the dentist he had so many butterflies. After his great enthusiasm, we arrived absolutely shitting ourselves, soon proved wrong as the Gunns were a great family. Admittedly quite hard work, but nothing we couldn’t handle. Twenty eight horses and one girl called Meryl who had kids called Ria and Zoe.
it was In at the deep end when that weekend when thirty people pitched up to stay. They brought their horses too for the O.D.E that Sue had organised with Two hundred entries. I spent Saturday morning pencilling for Junior Restricted Novice dressage.
On Sunday, i sat at jump Number fifteen looking at a log for four and a half hours. One excitement came midway when the only girl that came refused and fell off. The real excitement was at the water jump. All the crowd gathered, waiting for some good sensational tumble into the water. Disappointingly for them, all the riders got through unscathed.
The party on Saturday night was at the course and Everyone was camping. There was a big bonfire and a band which people danced drunkenly to. This party was infamous for when people fire walk over the hot coals. We chatted with various characters. like Delores, an Argentinean who helped us exercise the horses when In the process, Supreme Yacht had taken her for a pretty speedy lap round the track! She is only about 4ft 10 and She was staying with Angus somebody or other. After that hectic weekend we rode Jim’s horses with Meryll.
I’ll never forget arriving on the first day and being put on Gossimar to lead Plover. Haring round the track at an incredible fast canter, on the verge of in control, dust flying in my face from six horses in front of me. Didn’t know which horse was pulling harder. Meryll kept looking round to see how we were, lost in a cloud of dust. I am sure I made a great effort to look in control and all that. I’m not sure if I succeeded as Meryll from then on put me on all the easy nags. Actually, it turned out that all the horses were fine, with Gossimar being the only real puller.
The real old grouch was Richard who Admittedly had been tortured by a raving illness called q fever contracted from cattle. Even so, his cutting statements about bond idle Scottish people had no trace of humour in them and Nor did the ones about Bloody Poms learning bugger all in bloody pommy land.
When he abused the horses, calling them fucking bitches, tarts and fuck-wits, we purist Scots lasses were mildly surprised, But it turned out that he said that to everyone. He was going out with Meryll, who in his mind was just a bloody woman. He thinks women should go back to the kichen where they were born. Meryll tended to say ‘The theory is’ the whole time, but she was nice to us. What we couldn’t understand was why she so skinny could start the four wheeler bike. all butch and muscly we failed every time. It was no laughing matter at 6.30am trying to feed up and resorting to the Tractor instead.
Meryll took her kids off for a holiday up the coast, so it was left to us. Richard seemed to assume position of Sadistic Supervisor. We cleaned Jim and kalvie’s tack. Jim said it would be their annual clean, but once we had chiseled off a quarter inch of jockeys, we could see it had been an incredibly long year. then We resorted to good old fashioned soap and water with a scrubbing brush. Laid the ten saddles in the sun and sloshed them in Neatsfoot, much to Tanya’s disgust.
After lunch, Richard got us to clean out eight cattle water More like crap troughs. Then we baked some biscuits for Sue and Mine were a charcoal disaster. Then we mustered some bulls before feeding up in Quite a busy day. Oh yes, we cleaned Sue’s tack that day too. Jim had gone south of Sydney to look at cattle. A calf on the veranda was banished to a small pen in the garden as it kept peeing on the doorstep.
When Jim returned he took the boys, Tanya and I pig hunting. The last time Jim and the boys had gone, Angus had fallen off the back of the ute in frenzied excitement. Apart form a dislocated thumb and some colourful bruises, he seemed to bounce back to full volume the next day. Angus used to help cook biscuits with contributions of coconut cake made with Flour, water, coconut and butter. the End product is an acquired taste and perhaps Just a bit rubbery, impressive all the same.
Sue told us how Nick Walter was incredulous that a boy of eight could mix ingredients in a bowl in a kitchen and make something like a cake. Sue also used to say to the boys ‘not to eat like that boy with awful manners who came to stay’. I leave it to the reader to work out who that boy was.
Back to the pig hunt and Ben, Tanya and I were on the back clinging on for dear life as Jim stepped on the accelerator. Once the pig was spotted, that was it and Neither little divots, boulders nor bushes or even trees got in our way. He just drove hell for leather, straight over everything winging round corners and skidding in the mud. the TOLL was two pigs and a Kangaroo.
finally it rained the weekend before we left. Traveling round Australia, Tanya and I have found wherever we have ventured in Bali, Sydney, Wallabadah, Scone, Terlings or Kildonan, there has been rain. It is flattery to bring the rain out here, but a curse to us weather beaten Scots who’ve had quite enough of the stuff. They measure it in millimeters or points. in towoomba we had lunch, and after dropping Sam and ben off at school we stayed with Jonathan Barker and his parents.
Jonathan was competing at the ODE and staying at the gunns when he invited us to stay . They were so sweet, We had a delicious supper and We said goodbye to Jim and Sue, who were going to Joss’s and then on to Brisbane.
The next day they lent us their car and we tootled off to the infamous Surfers Paradise for the morning though One and a half hours was enough. Saw some shops and sat on the beach, Incredibly Americanised as it was so built up with high rises everywhere sparkling in the sun with reflections of water on their pink and green tinted mirror windows. We didn’t spot the film crew of Paradise Beach so returned to the barkers via spaghetti junctions past Movieworld, Dreamworld, MacDonald’s.
We hit another mature ladies gathering. The venue, obviously Mrs Barker’s residence was full of about fifteen elderly ladies all living off their super annuation. Mrs Barker had made the most exquisite lunch for them. The choc cake was like an M&S cook book. Margaret Hockey came to pick us up and she recognised various ladies assembled and stayed for lunch before we said goodbye and left for Beau-desert.
It was so good to finally meet margaret and she was very welcoming. she took us to a National Park forest on a 1.8k trail winding through the wonderful tropical rain forest. It was the first I had seen, and left me speechless by its beauty. The trees with their ancient buttresses were so tall, with meters of creepers draped over branches, So many palm trees and ferns. The stream was cluttered with lorry sized boulders, and the light was no longer harsh and bright as it dappled down onto the coolness of the shady leaves below. You could hardly see the tops of the trees as they disappeared loftily up towards the sun, What drivel!
After that amazing, thick, lush, undisturbed, dreamy, perfect world, we carried on towards Nindooninbah. Margaret has the most beautiful, incredible exotic place which is quite oriental. Bright red entrance gates lead into the garden where there is a pond with a teahouse with a table and chairs across a walkway.
Margaret went to her Ladies club in Brisbane and we had an uneventful afternoon in the hostel, Pigging out on pasta and chocolate from the BP station over the road. excellent to watch telly with Melrose Place followed by the Rocketeer with an absolutely gorgeous guy costarring with ugly old Timothy Dalton.
Pam Pollinter and her friend Joan met us all the way from Mission Beach. It was a gorgeous, sunny hot day, a welcome change from the pissing rain in Brisbane. They drove us in and around Cairns, and We went to the Pier but ended up booking a five day diving course with Peter Tibbs deciding to go to Mission Beach afterwards.
We stayed at Captain Cook Backpacker’s for ten dollars a night plus evening meal, buses, pool and so cheap! In our room of eight with kitchenette was Debbie from Glasgow who we went to the flicks with that night. We saw Guilty as Sin but She saw Dragon in the next door cinema, Typical Scot. The other girls were great. We chatted and sunbathed with them the next day, but for the life of me I can’t remember their names. I dutifully went to the orthodontist who tightened my brace. I also splashed out on a pair of jeans and a sweatshirt for $20 each, Pretty good.
the Peter Tibbs mini bus Collected us the next morning. We went to the pool to meet our companions and had polaroids taken in twos. I ended up with ed, a middle aged, beer bellied bearded Brit. He smarmily put it so well saying ‘I’ve only known you two minutes, but already we’re having our photo taken together’. Meanwhile, the bristly arm clamped around my shoulder giving me the full benefit of his delightful armpit. Luckily I wasn’t in his group but we were with Paul, and they were All couples, mostly foreign.
There was an excessive amount of French being spoken and a medical of peeing in a jar was just part of the process. It was such a shish surgery with black and white marble everywhere. No wonder it cost $28 for a mere medical. I blew down a pipe, read some letters, tried not to wobble in the balance test and had my heartbeat monitored, I think the doctor was German.
We studied text books and Paul filled us in on all the horrors of decompression sickness, vertigo, bursting, collapsing lungs, burst ear drums, deafness, brain damage and that wasn’t the end of it. Along with vivid descriptions of poisonous and deadly fish, shells and coral, we emerged bulging with confidence and with a certain zealous feeling of anticipation.
I felt a bit claustrophobic the first day in the pool as it was all too much at once. I couldn’t get used to the idea of breathing through my mouth under water. However, I was fine the next day, having learned to do everything like mask clearance, buddy breathing, neutral buoyancy and the general feel of it all. We embarked amidst the haze of drizzle with three hours of choppy seas ahead.
Tanya turned a distinct colour of jaundice green while I told her to fix her sights on the horizon. Ed was eager to move in with some dead cert chat up lines, but was pretty bluntly turned away in these circumstances and any. Our cabin had that verruca feel about it because of the damp fusty carpet. There were wooden bunks and a sink with one tap, enough room to wash one hand at a time. Couldn’t open the window, sorry, port hole, but Enough of the complaint. We came to learn to dive but it was just that the brochure photo was a lot more plush.
The first dive was the most incredible, lowering ourselves equalising our ears all the time by the rope of the mooring. We swam over to a sand patch at 9meters. beautiful colours were so clear and vivid, and fish swum about inquisitively, so graceful under water where movement is effortless and gentle. The largest fish was a well known one They called Oscar. Paul had to punch oscar as the fish was expecting to be fed.
There was buddy breathing with mask clearances and taking off our BC jackets, and re-surfacing. It took a while for my ears to adjust to equalising the whole time, but like they said, easier once the muscle got used to it. after a few more dives we passed the naui exam, qualifying in near perfect conditions.
The food was delicious with Lots of salad and fresh fruit. The people were friendly and The young couple from Melbourne were great. a young South American was chatty too. There was one swedish couple and The girl was v. pretty, but did not like diving or snorkeling. She was there merely to kiss her weedy looking cherie every time he went diving and to take photos of him and then give another kiss as he re-surfaced. She was sea sick too, the poor wretch. Ed got on everyone’s nerves and about five French people spoke Franglais. There was a very bugging Australian woman know all. She had a weird sort of a relationship with the amusing Frenchman, They couldn’t have been more different.
It was mostly cloudy so when the sun came out, everyone bolted for the sun deck, topless. After half an hour, I got lobster legs. Everyone asked if I would be serving cooked breakfast on them the next morning. There was a very cool bald army type dive master but people tended to do what he said. On our first night dive it was pretty scary and Incredibly black, but not too bad once our eyes were accustomed to it but Saw not a lot. That afternoon, Tanya and I had seen a sting ray and a turtle! When we left Norman Reef, we went to Hastings Reef. There we saw a white tipped shark on the seabed about five meters away and it was Quite close enough. Of course Ed went and shooed it away.
We got there by a two hour bus for $12, booked onto separate buses by some error of fate. Nevertheless, It was bloody well pissing and I mean deluging when we arrived. The way of the Tropics or something? Pam showed us the beautiful beaches now grayed and stormy looking. We went and visited Joan her friend for a cup of tea. One biscuit, a guided tour round her cat-filled house, and then wen went back to Pam’s. At this stage we learned about Charlie’s death.
It was so awful but Tanya coped a lot better than I would have being so far away from home. Her mum had written a really comforting well expressed letter. The next two days we didn’t do too much and Tanya didn’t want to fly home as it would only be worse. The weather cleared and Pam took us to the most perfect beach I’ve ever seen. We stayed there win the sun all day with virtually nothing on. That evening we climbed the hill behind their house to watch the sunset from a magnificent site. Cut into the side of the tropical rain forest was a cleared space. They would tower above the valley below with banana trees, palms all growing smugly round giving shade.
Trip to The Triplets
Pam and her friends Helen and Joan took us on an idyllic voyage to a desert island. For $65 we took the Quick cat to Dunk Island where we transferred ourselves promptly to a more suitable mode of transport. We set sail on a 45ft yacht called Neptunius leaving the panting sweaty hundreds to get sun burnt red faces as they crammed for towel space on the beach, a Slight exaggeration.
Dunk was a luscious and palmy island, but our destination was far juicier. We motored over glassy calm waters, sat on the bow sprawled on our towels. There were only four other trippers plus two crew. We saw two dolphins who swam with the boat sweetly for a few minutes. We moored a short distance from the sandy shore that we reached by a futty speedboat. We immediately went snorkeling and turtle spotted before sprawling under the glaring rays of the Australian sun on a house sized boulder.
Lunch was served in the shade of the eucalyptus and there was a turkey’s nest nearby. More of the same in the afternoon, and by now the sea was so calm there was barely a ripple. They hoisted up the spinnaker, casting shade over the boat and we sailed into the sunset.
David gave me some Aloe Vera cut from the garden. It stank, but the gel inside was certainly soothing. The smell was pretty similar to b.o. Pam had some friends for supper who were v. nice and We had chocolate cake and strawberries for pud. I also tried some papaw for the second time. Sadly, when Sue Gunn had pointed out that her kids thought papaw tasted of vomit, there was no chance of eating the stuff without tending to agree that Papaw is a bit like parmesan cheese, It does taste of sick.
I adapted easily to the beach bum lifestyle Although got a bit bored if I lay in the same spot too long and went hopping over the rocks or down the beach or swimming. it Suited me fine and We did a little housework for Pam helping her on Wednesday to mow the grass for the imminent Tully Dog Show.
White Water Rafting
the Raging Thunder mini bus picked us up from the roadside. We had had in mind something less geriatric, good looking and gorgeous than the six that we met. We had no idea that what lay ahead was the service station where an entire coach load of Japs drew in. We ended up in the best raft with Some middle aged man from Warwickshire, a Puerto Rican with his doctor girlfriend, A big smiley girl with freckles and a small girl who had asthma at the back. Our guide was diabetic, Everyone had to know everyone’s medical problems in the event of whatever. Believe it or not, this fruit salad of people seemed to blend well. Ozone our guide, was great fun, He just yelled
“Right paddle! On the job! Hold on! Back paddle!’
In general, we tackled it brilliantly and skillfully of course. Apart from people falling in and nearly capsizing, after which we were called the scuba diving under water crew. I was one of three not to fall in at all, v. smug. I only fell in when we had our photo taken. We all tipped forward and that was it.
two inch Ozone was teased by the other nine guides and we had water fights and Tanya pushed Ozone in with her oar. We asked Ozone if he was two inches from the bottom or the top. From the bottom definitely he said. Well anyway, we had stupid conversations like that and Forgot about rafting sometimes, like when disaster struck.
Tanya seemed to fall about everywhere, head butting everyone with her condom head helmet, Mighty attractive accessories they were. We all looked like eight year old kids with the helmets and lifejacket ensemble. The only thing I was worried about was falling out and whacking my face against a boulder to find myself toothless. As you’ll see, luckily this didn’t happen. The crocodile alarm was that in the event of everyone falling in we were to form a circle around the instructor. This way, if there was a gap in the circle, we’d know if someone was missing. Not a fat lot we could do about it we were told.
should we be the victim in the croc’s jaws he would do six to seven death rolls. We were to count these by light, dark, light, dark. At this stage, the croc would open his jaw momentarily to get a better grip, a chance for us to swim freely, in Olympic Style back to the shore where there would be a nice cup of tea. Face it, If there was a croc, we’d be dead unless we’d been to weekly swim classes and done yoga breath control exercises. Pam had meant to come, but she said the water would be too cold.
It wasn’t cold to us leather skinned Scots near the Cliff faces of the gorge river trailed with greenery cascading down like waterfalls. Sounds naff like Pizzaland plastic growth, but it is 100% better in real life. back in the Thunder minibus the loudmouth with verbal diarrhea hadn’t let up since the journey that morning, Destined for The Feluga Hotel Pub, Comparable to the Foulford Inn.
Here we watched the video of everyone all looking the same. It really was difficult to know who was who from one lifejacket to another. Well, I know I wasn’t a Jap, so that helped. The photos taken were funny so I bought two. The person on my left took the whole hog, five photos, the t-shirt and the video. He was incredibly pleased. We reminisced with fond remembrance all those seam splitting funny times before shaking hands goodbye forever. Excuse me for sounding sarcastic and cynical. I don’t know what I’m writing. Now it’s three weeks later. We arranged to meet Ozone and James at Castaways in Mission Beach to see the end of the vid. We met them that uneventful evening, taking Pam with us. I think we succeeded in scaring the hell out of her instead of enthusing her to go rafting. On camera, the action is so exaggerated it looks impressive. They were only six foot waterfalls but they looked like the Niagara Falls on film.
After a spot of sun worshipping we went along to experience the one and only Tully Show. This was the venue for ‘all those in love with animals’ if you get my drift. You came here to see the coochie poodles with bows and shaved bottoms. The cute chuewawa and painstakingly groomed mongrel spaniel. the dogs all sat proudly in their five star cages on wheels. Some had dog boxes like horse boxes attached to the back of the car with tinted windows and practically silk cushions for bedding. It certainly opened my eyes to dog showing, A very serious full time occupation.
The rest was just like the Perth Show without the Highland dancing stand. There were some bagpipes, some sick making rides which made you feel sick without going any closer than 10m away. The horses refused at the show jumps as usual, with the kids yelling ‘get up’ in the horse’s ears. The bulls stood docile in lines whining like new pins in knee deep sparkling straw. They were five foot at leas. Big Brahmans and Bradfords I think. It was boiling hot and my flip flops were black, so my feet went even hotter and redder . On the way home, we stopped off at the Alligator Creek. It was just perfect. A dappled, shady river with a sand bed and should deep. I jumped in oblivious to the chill water. It soothed that hot sunburn so much. I emerged feeling all fresh and tingly. Much nicer than the stickiness of salt water.
We said goodbye to Pam and Dave who had been such a workaholic that we had barely seen him. However, when we had seen him, he certainly chatted at Salesman speed. They had been so kind and generous when we descended upon their household. I hope they will recover fully from the so far devastating blows of the monsoon winds. Then they can build their dream house at the top of the world on that ledge in the rain forest with their doggies.
at Captain Cook backpackers We had an uneventful night. square eyed after the Simpsons, Doogie Howser MD, Beverly Hills 90210 and then a film with Sam Neill It was good catch up TV session. Tanya ate a 350g jumbo bar of choc and milkshake. we took Captain Cook’s courtesy bus to the airport at 4.50 am Determined not to pay $4 for an ordinary bus, though Our flight was at ten.
at Ivan’s backpacker’s we were heartily greeted by a stream of naked males skinny dipping and giggling, Pretty pissed out of their faces. There was no one about so it seemed we might have to resort to sleeping in their chaotic dorm. Then an American guy put his jeans on and produced a key from nowhere and showed us to our pre booked room. This room too was occupied by sprawled out sleeping men who looked pretty starkers in the dim light of 2am.
We clumped and stumbled around, had a shower and turned the fan on full blast. Our room of six was mostly Geordie speakers who’d come to Australia to sit in pubs and meet their mates from home. We explored boiling hot Darwin at lunchtime splitting up in different directions. I visited Lyons Cottage, an Aboriginal exhibition, walked past Government House and then went down to the wharf. There was a marine exhibition and a Pearling one, but it cost $12.so that was a non starter, so three hours later I went back to Ivan’s and sunbathed.
Tanya arrived a bit before me and had done an incredibly successful dose of eaves dropping, and met someone who had also gone to Watsons in Edinburgh. Not hard to have overheard a good old Scot’s accent, He was charming and invited us both to go to a Blues Brother’s concert after Tanya had batted her lashes and shown a bit of bikini. He was called Fraser Duncan and Tanya and him plunged into discussing all the socialites of Edinburgh. They knew lots of the same people and We decided to give it a go for a questionably risky £5.
It was the best live concert and a Toohey’s beer promotion for red label beer I thought was great, much nicer than VB. The band started at about 10 pm after the video, and we let our hair down and bopped the night away. There were about five hard headed pillocks who refused to dance but stood bang in the middle acting cool with their arms folded, being in the way of all the frenzied crowd. Tanya managed to catch a t-shirt missile, and I missed the one intended form me, Typical. We had asked them backstage.
Fraser was In our little party, with some Swedish girls and a girl from Denmark who were all going home the next day. Also a lanky English guy with an extremely pointed nose wearing a shiny looking football t-shirt with a near shaven scalp. It was a warehouse down at the Wharf, and we partied till the end at 3am.
We had a much needed lazy morning, but that afternoon, we went on a mission. It sounded like an easy task just to go and swan around the free Darwin museum of Arts and Sciences. We arrived after about a three mile walk and slightly hot and bothered. It was worth everything. We saw Patrick Hockey had two paintings on exhibition. Also some crocs, birds of prey, stuffed buffaloes and wooden aboriginal carvings like huge Totem poles. We skipped the military history bit. All the rows of poisonous (deadly) snakes were on the largest panel in the room. We reluctantly stepped out of the cool air conditioned room, back into the baking heat for the walk home again.
A phone call to the Coutts’ and our next move was arranged. We were to get a lift with Mike the mechanic from Katharine to McArthur River Station. We espied a notice on the backpacker board that there was a lift from darwin to Katharine. The two quietest school leavers were going in their combo van the following day. James was a rugger bugger and John a quiet person with long eye lashes. They seemed to spend all day cleaning their van until we eventually left at six pm. They could only arrive at night because they went through too much oil in the heat of the day, plus the water boiled.
On the way out, we met some friends of theirs at the petrol station. An English couple a rugger bugger and girl friend. They were great. They followed us most the way using us as a Roo Bar as he was terrified of Roos. WE passed messages as we drove along, side by side, passing pieces of paper tied to a didgerydoo. We stopped at a road house to shake down, and chatted with them for an hour. By the time we set off, it was 10pm. I told our hostess at palmcourt to expect us at 8pm, originally supposed to have left at 4pm but we got to Katharine at midnight. It took ages to wake the woman up. Eventually she came and demanded why we were so late. Compulsive lying gave way to us saying we broke down.
The truck that cruised up outside the backpacker’s was one to be reckoned with. It was a bright yellow towering great machine. It towed a huge trailer with one very small horse on it. Mike the mechanic at the station was chauffeur and We did a few odd jobs like picking up a box of clothes and a mattress. It was built for a driver and one passenger. Hence, the third bottom had to wedge itself behind the gear stick, with the back of the two way walkie talkie digging relentlessly into the occupier’s back. The cool air conditioning was a comfort, but I was placed directly above the third passenger’s forehead making eyes water, lips chap and eye lashes blink profusely.
The country music played giving great atmosphere as we lonesomely headed down the highway, not a soul in sight. We stopped at Daly Water’s Road house after four hours for a Mars Bar and change of seat before finishing the journey off with another four hours till McArthur River.
Mike said it was a three quarter million acre station or was it three times that? 8,000 head of cattle. He showed us photos of his first child of six months old. You’ve just seen the vague layout of McArthur River Station compound or village. It is so tiny and sweet. Everyone, including us have their own teeny house and garden and Ours seemed one of the biggest for some obscure reason. Kitchen, lounge, front room, a double room and a twin room, plus shower and WC with a very attractive patio porch. How it could be described at the Estate Agent’s?
We started off a v. leisurely lie in till 9am, then looked at the boys mustering horses while the chopper helped. We then all went to Bessie Springs about 400 m from the compound. That is to say Megan Coutts, Sean and Tony’s daughter aged thirteen proudly wearing her brand new pointed steel capped old cowboy boots. helen was an english girl who helped in Tony’s house with cleaning and looking after Shannon, Megan’s three year old sister.
Corinna was from Sweden and she rode horses and mustered cattle like we were about to do. Anyway, after topless Sunbathing and swimming in the idyllic spring idyllic we all got dressed in time before Sean appeared out of the scrub to come and update us. We met the boys Gary, Chris, Sam, Travis and Paul. Sam was head stockman.
The days we spent at McArthur River Station were so totally removed form what some call civilisation. People have moved from the serenity of this simple, hard working yet gloriously laid back life into the civilisation of cities where all they gain is stress and nervous disorders. We would get up with the sun and saddle up the horses to go out mustering, tailing or drafting until sunset. We had our fair share of sweat ‘n’ dirt and returned home with an appetite, and a delicious feeling of fresh aired tiredness close to exhaustion. We sank to our beds and slept so soundly apart form the singing mosquitos and croaking cane toads. We had three cane toads sitting on our loo seat most nights.
The largest muster was of about 1200 cattle for 15kms. The chopper took little time to round the wild beasts into a stampeding surge of energy ready to explode and bolt at any moment. After tailing them for an hour we had lunch before setting off. There were a few clean skinned feral bulls who had survived this wilderness as yet undisturbed by man. Some cattle had been in this not quite Fife sized paddock for about two years. While Tanya trotted from the shade of one eucalyptus to another at the side of the herd, Corinna and I were at the back.
I got hot and bothered but not bad tempered. Corinna kept saying ‘Coke and ice’ in her funny Swedish accent. ‘OH, for some coke and ice!’ The dust at the back of the mob was utterly engulfing. In these circumstances it was highly acceptable to do a bit of nose picking and quite impossible not to do so if you wanted to breathe. Occasionally when the cattle ducked out quite frequently actually we had the opportunity of darting back through spiked branches, long grass or boulders, and dodging endless termite ant hills. It was always the same poxy bastards who pissed off. We went on a few long, lazy rides with Corinna. The most stunning of which was in the swamp paddock. Hardly a swamp. More like a hidden Eden. A bird sanctuary, with a winding sand track with the dappled shade of eucalyptus sheltering the yearlings from the baking sun. A rocky steep sided valley along which we just simply cantered.
Shaun was generous, and his attitude was so Australian, appealing, and contagious. He treated the boys as equal mates, and was keen that we should have a go at everything. Some days we got up for 5.30am breakfast and drafted the 1200 cattle we had mustered all day. I was on the gate for all those to be culled. It took two days to draft them. Then some were drafted again steers, heifers, weanlings, bulls, pregnant ones, calves etc. One time when we went into a large pen with about 500 cattle in it. We were pushing them into a smaller pen. We had already pushed them up, but the had reached the far end and had suddenly turned back on themselves. My recollections were vivid but brief.
A wall of dust.
The sound of hooves.
Silhouette of horns pointing in my direction.
I did the most acrobatic feat ever accomplished by hurling myself over a five foot fence. My feet went up over my head, so I did a backward summersault. Meanwhile, Tanya shut her eyes incredibly tightly and grit her teeth with her arms firmly embracing a decidedly thin tree. It’s amazing what you can do when you have the motivation of 500 cattle behind you. Sam’s face was obviously a reflection of my own – one of utter astonishment as he’d seen my bionic feat. That very afternoon, the little calves were in for their first bout of real pain and fear. No wonder Brahmans are such schizophrenics. Some calves were only a few days old. It was awful to watch as the blood form de-horning dropped down the sides of their innocent faces.
A large lorry road train drew in, double decked with forty cattle on each deck of three carriages. They had to pull an old cow off the top layer as she had been trampled to death on the trip. Another barely alive cow was yanked off the bottom deck using a ute. She was skin and bone, but just survived. Two others died a few minutes after tumbling out of the truck. It was the same truck as we had seen a few days before, only this time it had been full of brumbys. They were rounded up using choppers, taken to the yards, dipped, and then sent off to the meat works.
Chris looked like John the lawn mower, but with a builder’s bum. He was so funny and had sweet twinkly Mrs. Tiggy Winkle eyes. He was going out with Helen from England. A strange combination but it sort of grew if you know what I mean. Paul was quiet and a bit weird. He told us hilariously how his mother hadn’t let him play out door cricket because his skin was too far. He had to wear a hat and put on sun block every morning. Sounds familiar! Anyway, one day I went with him to collect some horses half an hour away in the truck From then on I was teased for being the trucker’s wife.
Sam was the classic good looking stockman. He got on with all the lads, but they criticised him for not listening. He was far too adamant about decisions, and he had only worked at McArthur for one season, when the others had done three of four years. He did surprise me by telling an abo called Nelson to chop off an ill cow’s head with an axe as he couldn’t be bothered to go and get a rifle. He also stitched up a horse without a disinfected needle. He went out with Corinna from Sweden who was great. They called her ‘beep beep’ because of the way she said it. She always drove around in the 20 year old Mazda which had an engine like an airplane.
Sue was the woman who cooked and Basically believed ‘A fuck is a fuck’. She should have met Roger in Scone, Her lifetime partner perhaps? She always went to the pub to check out the miners. She was hoping to get the job as bar maid at the new mine. Travis was the other guy. He was really sweet and got on exceptionally well with Tanya. He was the only one who had the nerve to do the bull riding at Rodeos.
We got the hang of country music, jostling along the dirt tracks. Got to know the words and then we were away. Having worked there for a couple of weeks, it was remarked how well I took to the dirt. The dust seemed to be attracted especially to me. Each evening, I looked like an Asian with a mustache, and the water went peaty coloured in the bottom of the shower when I stood under it.
I had what I call snake attack, a fear of snakes. I was always shutting doors in our house in case one came to visit. Luckily it was Sue who trod on a deadly snake one day, and not me. It didn’t bite her. We just had tree frogs at our doorstep, and lots came. Toads which were squelch unpleasant to step on. The ground seethed and crawled with the buggers. Not one animal in the food chain eats them- they are deadly.
Borroloola Rodeo: This has to be one of the most hysterical happenings ever
The asterisked ones are the ones I did. Tanya did Camp Drafting but not a flat race. I came fourth in the barrels, fourth in steer un decorating (3.5 secs) and fourth in the Ladies Bracelet (race). No money, No ribbon, Shit happens. Anyway, as I was saying, it was a rare and exotic sight. Most of the male black abo population of Borroloola rode these Bulls and Brumbys. They leapt on wearing Psychedelic fluorescent chaps, and when they did a head dive into the dirt, they would simply jump up and walk. They seemed to feel no pain whatsoever. The commentator was typically Ozzie. He was telling a bunch of kids to get off the rail:
“Would youse kids please get off the rail?”
“Would you fucking kids get out of the bloody WAY!” The same scene at Strathearn??
“I shall be forced to ask you once again…”
When we went to the pub, it was like being in South Africa. Blacks in one bar, whites in the other through choice apparently. The boxing tent was outside in the car park. The idea being A) to take fighting off the streets B) make money out of it. Black families line the streets – kids and women sitting in the dirt. Travis told a racist joke but Sam almost ended up in a brawl as he is so blatantly racist. Well they’ve got nothing else to do I suppose. We always ate at the Bedrock Café, the only one. We stayed in Boroloola Holiday village in a bunk house, the only accommodation apart from the pub. One guy came up to chat to Travis. an Abo called Travis ‘Humpty Dumpty’, serious abuse then he came back ten minutes later to apologise.
Back to the rodeo.
Shaun was pretty competitive and also successful. He had paid for our nominations and managed to win back the nomination fees for Ben, Corinna, Tony and I . Side entertainment was provided for by Sid who was Absolutely sloshed for three days solid. He only knew the word fucking so that conversation conveyed little. After a rough night, we rose the next morning to find Sid with Rum in one hand and a fag in the other. He said he’d lost the lid of the rum so he had no choice but to drink the whole bottle. He was sweaty and honked from two meters away. Even so, he went bull riding, lasting three bucks, being flung about like a helpless rag doll and only landing on the beast by pure coincidence.
The most unpleasant aspect was to be confronted with the most revolting WC with Shit on the floor and shitty loo roll blowing about the corrugated huts all grey with women scrawled on the outside. The Ladies Bracelet was nerve wracking. Sam let me ride JayJay who was a schizo but quite fast. It was just a 600m sprint along the dirt track. Due to a false start, we came fourth. Sissy was one competitor who, like her ten year old daughter wore a white frilly shirt, the works, winning as usual.
I ended up going back in the road train as Paul’s trucker’s wife. He didn’t say much, In fact not anything at all, except to offer me some coke. That afternoon, the lads and everyone – Corinna, Helen, Chris, Sam, Gary and Steve all came to take us on an outing. They took us down the sand track and then pulled up alongside some Brahmans and shot one.
They had run out of meat at the kitchen, so we were in effect killing supper. Gary (the onion smelling one) sprang out of the back of the ute and gorily slashed Matilda the Cow’s throat. She gurgled and bit lots of frothy blood pumped out into a puddle by her head. It was most undignified to see Steve chop her legs off with an axe, Sam and Chris to skin her, Gary to cut her tongue out and Travis to slice off her rump All at the same time.
It was pretty fascinating actually Just to see everything fit so perfectly insider her. She was carrying a five month old calf and Her stomachs were huge and full of grass. They tore off eucalyptus branches and laid them on the back of the ute and then spread out the various bits of meat on top. The meat was in spasm still jittering for half an hour after the cow died. This whole episode strangely enough did not horrify me nearly as much as the branding of the calves, so natural. Even so I didn’t eat the chops that were Bar-B-Q’d that night.
Travis knocked on our door at six am. I thought perhaps it was to say a tearful goodbye to Tanya. Therefore I went to breakfast, to feed the horses and to hang out the washing. As it turned out, his cousin had died so all my furtive efforts to remain elusive were in vain. I just looked like a complete idiot, Poor Travis. We only had a puncture when Tony drove us to Darwin. Of course we sorted it out in a jiffy
I had to lug along my fake Acubra hat to make sure no one nicked it from the store room, Some store room. The people on the trip were certainly a mixed bunch. It was a question of a ‘spot the one native Australian’ Not. There were five Japs, six Swiss, a couple of Australians, an Irish bloke and three other Brits. Bill was the guide, a groovy 40 year old. The bus was not air conditioned which was especially nauseating when some people overlooked to either change clothes or shower. I didn’t get off to a very good or shall we say polite start with one of the Swiss guys. He asked me if I had a cigarette and I said no, I didn’t ant that it was a revolting habit anyway.
I have no idea why on earth I should attack him like that, but he was just one of these people who annoyed me on sight. Luckily it turned out my instincts were pretty accurate. He sat across the aisle of the mini bus sitting sideways in his seat, just staring at us. Creep. The smelly Brit sat in front of us with his girlfriend. What’s worse was that he kept shutting his window. The back row was occupied by Japs who all fell asleep in a heap.
At the end of the row against the window was an outnumbered Irish guy. Two rows ahead sat another Jap who was in such a deep sleep most of the time that his head kept lolling from side to side – practically on the floor sometimes, and then it would jig back up in motion with the jostling bus. From where we sat at the front of the bus we saw two heads identically clad in sunglasses. Luminous writing said ‘billabong on them both. A bit like Tanya and I in our matching flip flops. It is only because we spent 12 hrs on the bus in two and a half days that I introduce everyone in such bus terms. There was a boring person called Paul who’d been to Cambridge. He told me how his mother even ironed his under pants for him when she did his washing. He’d probably never been within two meters of a washing machine, the poor pampered boy.
We arrived at Shady Camp and set up our swags and then went salty croc spotting. We went down the rivers in little four seater tin boats with motors which we operated. Tanya and I went with Neil the Aussie and the Irish guy so we didn’t do too badly. They chatted away at us. I’ll admit that the crocs were quite awesome as they lay (uncharacteristically) along the mud bands of the river. However, there wasn’t much else to see on our two hour expedition. A few buffalo, some graceful birds and a million invasive water lilies. With some commentary given by some David Belamy type, I’m sure it would have been fascinating. Some had more fun going full throttle in the boats than nature trailing. Thinking I’d been badly stung by midges hundreds of times at home, I sat down to supper expecting the odd bite. I was kitted out in leggings and a shirt. I must have thought I was in the clear. That night, I was bitten about 70 times on each leg, but they didn’t begin to itch for 24hrs.
The next day was spent at Barramundi Gorge. It had three pools – two small ones, and then a waterfall dropped 100 ft to a large pool where there lives a fresh water crocodile. He is apparently harmless, but the questions I asked myself were how long could the croc remain docile with hundreds of sweaty screaming foreigners bomb diving his home the year through. Also, where there’s one, there’s always more. Despite this, I climbed down the edge of the waterfall clinging onto some dangling tree roots.
The only thing that nibbled my big toe was a three inch Baramundi fish. We spent about five hours there just lazing about. There was one plunge pool which only had one exit form it. I jumped unthinkingly into it and discovered I couldn’t get out. The only way was to dive a claustrophobic two meters down where there was a hole leading into the other pool. I still don’t know how I did it. One of the guys had to hold my hadn’t and lead me down into the black nothingness.
It was so scarey and my lungs nearly collapsed. We got on and got off the bus 26 times during the three days. The last day we went to spectacular Nourelangie Rock and Ubir rock – both settings for Croc Dundee. It was baking hot, so the bus stewed all the way back to Darwin. We descended once more upon the hang out settlement bulging with backpackers. Back pack pack back. Trekking, Beer, Hanging out man and WE ashamedly joined the clan with our ruck sack back packs. like them, we strolled into the annex and were shown to room 29. Just a cool, casual ‘hello’ from the hung bodies sprawled on unmade beds.
Two fusty smelly Brits and an impeccably equipped Levi model just in his Levis. He stood up, said ‘G’day’ and ambled bare foot out to the balcony to have a yarn with the next cool guy. That evening we went down to the bar and met up with the two Germans – or were they Swiss? I was never quite sure. They said they were 25. Could have fooled me. I mean they probably were 25, they looked it and dressed it, but they could have easily been school leavers. They kept pulling such idiotic faces But they told good jokes. Miriam, a quiet Swiss girl who’d been with us to Kakadu also joined and Then Lee came In his Lee jeans. It was easy to remember his name, but then it was still so funny and hard to believe. He was half Aboriginal from Perth. Being the biggest bull shitter when we said we were off night-clubbing, he said he’d been in the film ‘Strictly Ballroom’. I almost believed him too. He came along reluctantly before finally admitting he didn’t dance as I kept persisting in that line of conversation…He was such a film star type hunk.
We were incredibly disappointed to find a note from Tony’s brother, Daniel Tapp which hadn’t been given to us the day before. He is apparently one of the best rodeo riders apart from having drop dead looks. He was going to be at Darwin Rodeo, but we never made it there.
another Edinburgh accent so soon got talking. He’d climbed Ayers Rock in his kilt and traveled round busking with his bag pipes. He was going to Edinburgh University in October, and I knew then that here was someone who I would keep bumping into. He’d always be there if you know what I mean. He fitted as many words as JF Kennedy in his sentences, and so his audience just nodded and smiled on cue. We also met a girl who had been a hostess in Japan, Tokyo. It sounded horrific and seedy. She said wild horses couldn’t ever drag her back to that country. I left Darwin without any regret whatsoever.
Couldn’t wait to escape the backpackers. It had still been good, but I couldn’t have been more grateful for having had such great contacts as we did. Otherwise we would have done the rounds like everyone else for FIVE Months! We were on a jolly high when we arrived, freed from Darwin. We went to Malarka backpackers Lodge and immediately booked a tour which was to leave at 5.15 the next morning. Yes you guessed we met the smelly Brit and his girlfriend But Tanya just told me it was his WIFE! They were on their honeymoon. I’d witnessed not one inkling of adoration, Perhaps he was just too smelly.
Kings Canyon, Ayers Rock, Olgas
“Great minds think alike”, said Tanya as we were greeted by AXeL from Germany. He’d shared the wonderful Kakadu experience. From one tour to another doing the rounds. The bus was packed with English girls and so the three male specimens could feel in great demand. Aside from our chum AXL with his curly hair gone wild to look like a girl, there was bald John from Bristol who had shaved his hair off, and a lanky German. Tragically, the smelly-Brit-and-his-wife were not on the same tour. Happily, the bus was spanking new and had air conditioning. We left at 5.30am but Tanya’s alarm clock didn’t go off. We were lulled to sleep by New Kids On The Block and Debbie Gibson. Rude awakenings happened every so often as John the tour guide droned into his micro phone. He said ‘and on your left is er’ pointing into the pitch blackness as the moon was setting and the sun had not yet risen. John said we were allowed our allocated piece of fruit either before or after we climbed King’s Canyon. Oh, and by the way if we wanted breakfast that morning we had to buy it at the road house 50k beforehand. In our hearty group, we all head up the beaten track. It gives you the sense of adventure of discovery and of fulfillment to be part of a pack of people. Tanya and I strode ahead, determined not to bring up the rear.
It was incredible after we had climbed the first main leg the drop being so sheer like a big scar cut into the land. John the guide told us all about the fascinating herbaceous and herbolium plantum es pocus but hadn’t a clue as to the formation of the canyon we’d all come to see. Meanwhile Nicola, Natasha and Caroline were in raptures over each other’s fabulous backpacking stories and discovering that they only lived ten miles apart in England.
Gosh what a discovery man, It’s such a small world, I can’t believe you know all the people I do! Ya, we’ll just have to keep in touch. Tanya kept pointing to a small box on John’s left shoulder. She though it was a heart pacemaker or something. It turned out to be a packet of cigarettes. We filed back into the bus three hours later after our arrow guided six k walk. Lunch was accepted with great enthusiasm as we tucked into our bulging sandwiches. Half an egg, slice of plastic cheese, slice of plastic ham, slice of plastic turkey, and a leaf of lettuce, all taken from separate plastic boxes. As a special reward, there was even a plastic tumbler full of orange juice That was going a bit overboard. The
three Irish nurses took a stand in the music department pronouncing Van Morrisson should be played. The well educated and informed of us cheered in relief But the road was too bumpy for the next 200 ks and the cassette player would chew up the tape So we settled for watching the flies crawl up the window pane and disputed over elbow and leg room.
The desert was stunning and The shower of rain the day before had an instantaneous effect. There were small wild flowers carpeting the dirt for miles. Pale yellow, violet and white ones. It was like I’d imagine moonscape to be like of Craters in the land. A few ks away, a meteorite had mad a large crater which was open to the public. We all spotted Ayers Rock on the horizon but It seemed to be a different shape than I’d remembered. Then John smugly told us that ha ha he’d fooled us, This was Mount Conner and Not the rock. sunset was a case of ‘now you see it, now you don’t’. Typically, I missed the precise instant it changed colour as I was literally glancing over my shoulder to chat to an Australian nurse.
Having been saturated with beef for five months, Tanya and I were veggies for supper, wisely as the sausages were crunchy and the steak bloody. It was absolutely freezing, i had only thought to bring my trusty brown jumper for warmth with Shorts and t-shirts under that. However, as I zipped myself totally into the swag and slept near the fire I was pretty warm.
We got especially chatty with an Indian girl on her travels, but it was not until later that I learned she was thirty three! She looked our age and she had made this break to consider whether she should stay with the guy she had been with for seven years. We started late at 5.30 instead of 4.30am as no one heard the alarm clock, Well I did, but just went back to sleep. We made up time and arrived at the rock at 6.40 am as opposed to 6 am.
No CairnGorm hill walking prepared me for this sixty degree slope but it wasn’t as bad as I had anticipated. We heaved ourselves up the chain literally. John-the-annoying infuriated me by having enough breath to keep one sided flow of conversation to max. Tanya was off in the lead and I was not far off.
Three quarters of the way up the wind hit us with incredible force. We were so exposed had to cup my hands over my mouth to keep off the chill air. I now knew why I hadn’t shaved my legs for two months, to keep in the warmth. It was strange to have so much energy in me when I reached the top overtaking Tanya at the last minute so I pipped her to the post and The surrounding view was stunning and so worth it.