Friday, November 26, 2010

Day 7: Wash Day

November 21, 2010

It’s wash day. Here’s how it works: the Esky (ice chest) sits in the back next to the Engel (electric fridge). We initially put two ice blocks and the harvest from our dismantled veggie garden in it. When the ice blocks melt, we take out the veggies, put in a tablespoon of soap powder and a pillow case of dirty clothes, then close the lid. We drive for a couple hours on a gravelly, rutted road (great agitator). When we get to Tjukayirla Roadhouse, we dump the dirty brown water, ring out the clothes and put two buckets of clean water in. Drive two more hours. Pitch camp. Tie clothes line. Hang clothes. In this heat, the dripping clothes are dry in an hour. Voila – clean clothes. Not as good as a Maytag, but it’s pretty good for bush life.

Doin' the wash

At the Tjukayirla Roadhouse we meet two Aussie blokes (Caucasians) and a couple of black fellas. Johan has a conversation with one of the black fellas while I chat with one of the Aussie blokes at the fuel pump. My bloke just started work today; says he’s worked in Aboriginal communities for a while, along with his wife. I ask him how his wife copes with it out here in all this heat and isolation. “She’s OK, but she copped more humbug than me,” he says, explaining that his wife worked in the Shire office while he was out on the road. I tell him I worked with indigenous people at my last job. We talk about the challenges of cross-cultural communication and respect.

Johan’s fella was driving the ute we saw while we were having breakfast this morning. The ute rumbled past our camp and drove straight into the bush, disappearing somewhere into the distance shrubs. Johan asks him what they were doing. “Can’t tell you that,” he answers. Black fella business, in other words.

A hundred kms later we find a rock hole, ringed by white rocks. As we approach, a half dozen finches fly out. The hole is filled with water, an array of insects fluttering about. I dip the bucket in and pour it over my head. Such refreshment! Johan sits on a rock while I pour another bucket over his head. He screeches and, uncharacteristically, swears. “Jesus, jesus! Shit!” It’s been a long time since he’s had a cold shower.

Today's shower

Down the road is tonight’s camping spot: Desert Sands. An extraordinary breakaway that sits like an island in the flat desert. The top offers spectacular terrestrial views. The cliffs around the edges are made of crackly red rock, the type they crush to make road gravel. It’s not safe rock-climbing because chunks come off in your hand.

Desert Surf Campsite - from inside a cave

A couple in a Toyota is walking their dogs around the cliffs. We cross paths as we cruise around looking for a campsite. They look scraggly, dusty, a bit odd, but they must think the same of us. After an initial hesitation, we strike up a conversation. They’re from Melbourne and they got a seven month posting to work in Warburton, an Aboriginal settlement 100kms down the road. She’s a nurse; he’s an environment officer. They love the outback, don’t mind the tough conditions and isolation and are enjoying learning about traditional life from the Aborigines, whom she calls “very wonderful”. They take them out hunting and bush trekking, but draw strict boundaries when it comes to sharing some of their more sacred sites and rituals. They’ve came down to the Tjukayirla Roadhouse last night for their monthly brew-up – alcohol is strictly forbidden in Warburton and they’ve signed a legal document agreeing not to drink.

With a whistle they round up their two dogs and head back to town, leaving us to enjoy the solitude and stillness of the advancing evening. The wind has died and it’s still 35˚ (95˚F) when we climb naked and exhausted into bed just after sundown.

Desert Surf Campsite at sundown

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