On Good Friday, our convoy headed off for the Davenport Range. We drove up the Stuart Highway towards Tennant, passing through Barrow Creek and Wycliffe Well, 'UFO capital of Australia', on the way. I don't know what's going on there for the residents of what could perhaps be called the NT's 'wild west'; all I can say is that they must be very bored and have turned a little crazy.
Barrow Creek is kind of like a caricature of the Aussie outback pub. Set behind a servo, there's a long narrow pub with some fairly rustic looking accommodation bordering a courtyard. Some Aboriginal people and whites were drinking at a trestle table in the courtyard. The interior of the pub was encrusted with backpacker offerings -- signed foreign currency and postcards. There's a pound note within easy viewing distance of the bar inscribed 'Peter + Paul Falconio.' (presumably a fake?) A half-door like a stable door opens at the far end of the counter. Only Aboriginal people appeared in the stable door asking to be served. I don't think they're banned now from entering the main door, but I suspect there's a segregationist history attached to the 'stable door'.
The pub's counter was commandeered by the rather haggard middle-aged Englishwoman (who could only be described nicely as 'jaded') who runs the place. She informed us that she couldn't make toasted sandwiches as that would involve 'opening the grill' on Good Friday. So it seemed she was happy to serve everyone grog on Good Friday so they could get pissed up but not anything healthy to go with it. Anyway, there was a veritable surfeit of atmosphere at Barrow; it must be the nation's capital of bad vibes.
Joanne Lees' ordeal would have been even more surreal (rhyme unintended) if she'd ended up at Wycliffe Well instead of Barrow Creek. I'm trying to imagine her being interviewed amongst lifesize plaster models of the Phantom and little green men ('a dingo took my boyfriend'). It seems that the residents of Wycliffe Well were led to express their creativity in this way after a series of UFO sightings in the area. Well, funny that, I thought in my Fox Mulder way, given the relative proximity of Pine Gap. And indeed, a local Aboriginal woman was quoted in one of the newspaper clippings about local UFO sightings festooning the roadhouse walls saying, 'It's just the Americans.'
So, onwards and upwards to the Davenport Range. About 50 km down the beaten track and off the highway, we came across N, P & baby L, the first casualties of the journey. One of their back tyres had totally blown; in fact, it was ribboned. They already had one of their spares on another wheel and since the other spare was a $20 cheapie, they weren't too keen on seeing what it would do. So we lost them, as they decided to stay the night there, then head back towards Alice on their spare cheapies the next morning.
We arrived at Police Station Waterhole a little belatedly, managing to find a spare dust patch along its bank as night was falling. It was a popular spot; anywhere with water is bound to be pretty popular with the residents of Central Australia at this time of the year. The waterhole was less a 'waterhole' than I expected, and more a long tract of water like a gorge. The place seem to be infested with insects, particularly ants. I think I spent the first two hours of my first night in my swag, cursing the marauding ants. I'm not a fan of the tent, which I find a rather cramped and fetid dwelling in comparison to the simplicity and freedom of the swag. Other people however had wisely brought the internal mesh-covered frame of those igloo tents, which they used as mosquito netting. And then there was the moon -- it must have been a day or so off the full moon, which shone down directly on my swag it seemed like a strobe light. I felt like I was in the film One Night the Moon.
So, anyway, there was swimming, scrabble, sun, wine, easter eggs, campfires, and hot blustery winds. But the subject of insects leads me to the highpoint of our camping trip: (Tjilpi's ruminations on this subject are strangely synchronicitous.) On Saturday night, M announced with his usual good-humoured casualness that he'd just been bitten on the dick by a red-back spider in the dunny. True; well, how did he know, you might ask? Because he'd captured the offending archnid in his undies.
It was a very diminuitive spider (still alive) so we decided it must be a male (or just a very small female; definitely a lot smaller than the disgusting pupae-like one found in my backyard). M looked pale and reclined on a camping chair, giving updates on increasing and decreasing pain like a woman in labour. We plied him with nurofen and berocca. Everyone's redback stories came out; we were worried but optimistic since it was only a small spider (the fumigator told me that my fat female spider probably had enough venom to kill a child or a cat but not a fully grown adult). After a while, M & A headed off to find the ranger who was totally useless, and fell about giggling tho she lent M her phone so that he could ring a Dr in Tennant. The verdict seemed to be that he was unlikely to die or develop necrosis of the willy. But M had been transformed overnight from his former identity as 'Big Dickus' (of toga party fame) to 'Sickus Dickus.' When he slunk off to his swag for an early night's sleep, we felt free to have a good laugh. And such a splendid convergence of Australian archetypal symbols -- What can I say? Almost as good as Lindy Chamberlain!
The next day, A still had the spider alive. She put it in a film cannister and said that she would transport it to another location where there were less people about and set it free. I said, 'Wouldn't you want to kill a spider who bit your husband on the dick?' But apparently not; in fact, she seemed most anxious for the spider's safety, tending the film cannister throughout the day to make sure it was still alive.
That morning D & K decided to head back to town as their baby had been coughing through the night. We drove further round the loop till we came to Errolola Rockhole. No one could really remember the name of this rockhole without looking at the map, and it was somehow re-named 'Elsewhere's Big Hole' when my back was turned. This rockhole was really pretty; I don't have any digital pictures of it, but I'll upload some of the SLR photos I took when I develop them. The country somehow became very Kimberleyesque (more water?), with that distinctive soft green and orange look, with lots of orangey rocks and white gums along the side of the waterhole. The 4WD track itself was a river bed; it was slushy with rocks.
On Monday when we started driving back, the landscape changed almost abruptly from Kimberley mode to that scorched red and black mulga look more familiar to Central Australia. The woman who served us petrol at a station on the way home said she thought was because the area is 'where the Top End and the Central area meet' -- an idea I like, though I'm not sure this is the case, given that it looked so much like the Kimberley.
Back home, all the world was at the car wash. Everyone, it seemed, had gone bush, searching for those waterholes. I ran into my boss at the car wash and as she said, after camping at Easter 'you almost need a holiday from your holiday.'