July 18. Litchfield National Park. A side tour to this park of small gorges and waterfalls: two families enjoy a large plunge pool created by a high waterfall. Palms fringe the pool and a sand monitor, a half a meter long lizard, watches. Mother of three young children stands by as they splash. She is watchful but allows them as much freedom as is safe and does not direct their play. A grand motherly type on our tour says, “Beautiful, aren’t they?” The other family: A mother and her son of fifteen finish sandwiches. She is lean and hard like the father nearby, standing with his back to them; station people perhaps, worked old before their time. The boy, asks his mother for something, then touches her arm, pleading. She shakes her head and gives in, as mothers often do with sons. She reaches into a pouch, pulls out a paper, fills it with tobacco, rolls it expertly, licks it closed. He wants more tobacco, but she stands her ground. He puts it to his lips and she lights it in his greedy lips, drags, turns his back on her. The father turns to see, turns away. The waterfall sparkles, the palms wave in an afternoon breeze and the sand monitor takes it all in, unmoving.
Billy on the boil, beans in the coals
July 20. First bush camp west of Katherine, and our first billy of tea over an open fire. We never carry a stove, space being at a premium on a touring tandem, and have become accustomed to eating and drinking cold. But, here in Oz, having nothing but instant coffee or tea to choose from at the road houses, we have switched to tea. In Darwin we found the perfect little billy (small pot with a bail and lid) and two cups. We now carry tea bags, sugar, whole cream powdered milk and are enjoying our cuppa both evening and morning. It is a soothing end to a hard day and much needed extra calories and hydration.
During the day we saw two galahs (most common parrot in Oz) on the road ahead. It looked as if one was already roadkill, and the other wounded, his head raised above the pavement. I feared I would have to do the mercy killing thing; I can’t bear to see animals suffer, but he flew as we neared. He was just keeping his mate company, or trying to encourage him/her to get up and fly. Enough to make you cry. I don’t know if they mate for life, but I suspect it might be so (found out later they do). I picked up the dead bird and moved it well off the bitumen, so the mate would not get killed also. Maybe he’d just as soon…
July 22. Timber Creek. Two hotels, two caravan parks and one store; a metro of the outback. One of the hotels was having a carvery (4 kinds of roast to carve) with entertainment. We had a huge feed, danced an Elvis tune and had a long conversation with Colin and Verna McKenzie from Melbourne about Australian history, aboriginal issues and crocodiles. A fine evening of Oz culture; food, beer, music and fair dinkum talk.
July 23. On the road today had a chance to try some bush tucker we’d heard about. A honey grevillea had broken a limb off and its orange bottle-brush blossoms hung heavy with nectar. We sucked on the blossoms and it was indeed sweet, but minimal in quantity. The bush fires are getting more numerous it seems as we head west. The landscape, much like I imagine the Southwest U.S. will look in a few million years, is hazed by the smoke. The turkey bush is no longer raspberry, but dusty rose in the distance, the yellow wattle is softened, and the blue mallee trees turned a grayer version of blue-green. The bottle shapes of the boab tree (we saw them in Kenya too) hold the interest for hours of pedaling; their shapes are so fascinating and diverse. Often called bottle trees here, they call to mind; wine bottles, stubbie beer bottles, olive oil bottles,coke bottles and moonshine jugs. See how we entertain ourselves? Several of the older trees were used as jails in earlier times. At least the cell would be cool and shaded.
July 24. Kunanurra, WA (Western Australia). We saw what we thought was a crocodile swimming in a billabong today. We stopped to get a closer look and it turned out to be a water python. Huge thing. We crossed into Western Australia today. The winter is not very winter these last weeks since we left Alice Springs. The days are commonly 35C (mid to high 90’sf) as we head into the hottest part of Australia over the next couple of weeks. Then we hope the heat will ease a bit as we turn south. We drink lots of water, even when it is tepid, beginning around ten in the morning. We had a bit of a break at the border agricultural check station. They shared oranges and apples tourists had had to leave behind; we sat and gorged ourselves, fruit is so rare in the outback, and expensive when found.