The Wonderful First Time – The Second Bit.
So where did we leave this last time? Ah that’s right, in the Birdsville Hotel with a group of Army helicopters lobbing in for the evening.
So there we were, enjoying a few beers and a game of pool with the locals, at a pub that felt like it was a thousand kilometres away from the rest of civilised society. No better feeling on the planet, let me tell you. All the usual concerns that a young lad would have back in the real world, such as, um, aw geez, I dunno, I didn’t really have any concerns back then, but whatever they may have been, out there on the edge of the Simpson, they really didn’t amount to fart in a cyclone. All that mattered was that Old Joe was about to sink the black ball and the pride of the Army Apprentice School was on the line. We were getting whipped, figuratively speaking.
Humpa was doing his best with the young lady behind the bar, but she’d heard it all before and the big fella went down in a screaming heap. And when Tony suggested that she was the sister of one of the bigger locals who happened to be sitting at a table in the corner, Humpa decided that on second thoughts he wasn’t really interested in that young lady after all. Now that I think about it, that was among the first of many evenings that saw me and Humpa occupying seats at bars over the coming couple of years. And that’s the other great thing about heading bush with a bunch of blokes, the shared experience turns casual acquaintances into good mates.
So anyway, the next morning as the sun slowly rose it turned out that Tony had organised a bit of a joy ride for us young fellas in the helicopter piloted by the former mechanic. This was going to be great, an opportunity to not only experience the landscape from the ground, but to see the great expanses of sand dunes to one side and bugger all on the other. And with the sunrise to add to the spectacle, couldn’t ask for more.
Well actually I could’ve asked for more, or less to be more accurate. Less of a hangover to be exact. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in a small scouting type helicopter with a dozen empty stubbies clanging together in your head and god knows what churning in your guts, but I don’t recommend it. Trying to enjoy the scenery while simultaneously struggling to prevent regurgitation somewhat diminishes the whole experience. And a quick look to my left confirmed that fact that Skins was also experiencing the same struggle. But we both claimed victory and managed to land, a bit green around the gills but otherwise unsullied.
So with that out of the way and with a solid breakfast now on board it was time to pack up and head off into the Simpson. Now originally we were supposed to take the French Line and head over Big Red, but things had been a bit soggy in the region and it was decided that the Rig Road would be the safer alternative, so that was the new plan. And just as a bit of an aside, my first Birdsville/Simpson experience was affected by rain, in that the original plans involving Big Red were scuppered by rain. Fast forward 25 years, my Man Child headed out that way for the Big Red Bash for his first time out that way, and despite being on the edge of a dessert in the driest Continent on Earth, his first time was also affected by the rain. They couldn’t have the event on Big Red, so it ended up happening in town. Ah and the wheel continues to turn. Sun rise, sun set. The Cat’s in the Cradle with a Silver Spoon, Yes we have no bananas. (Diehard fans of The Simpsons will understand that reference.)
So anyway, we were off on the Rig Road. At first it was pretty easy going. Flat, smooth, well-maintained road out of town for the first few klicks, a couple of little dunes that you probably could’ve made it over in Aunt Mavis’ Corolla. But as we went further the conditions deteriorated until we were going along at a crawling pace, picking our way around washed out sections of the track and negotiating the increasingly more impressive dunes. Not that I’m complaining. I mean that’s what we went out there for and it was actually a lot of fun. The four-wheel driving bug started to bite even harder.
By the end of the day we’d probably covered a bit over 100 kilometres, maybe. I wasn’t paying too much attention to those kinds of details. But by the end of the day we were definitely into the Simpson proper. It also happened to be the auspicious occasion of my 18th birthday. Now, there’s a bit of a tradition down at the Appy School whereby the celebration of a birthday was usually accompanied by the person being celebrated getting thrown into the nearest body of water.
“Ha!” I thought to myself. “We’re in the middle of a desert. There’ll be no non-consensual swim for me this evening.”
And so it was that on this first night we pulled up next to a desert spring.
“No worries.” Thought I. “That water has been baking in the desert sun all day. It’ll be nice and warm.”
So I didn’t struggle too much as the lads took a limb each and carried me down to the water. I wasn’t concerned when they started swinging me, building up sufficient momentum to ensure I was thrown far enough to ensure a thorough dunking. Nor was I concerned as I followed a graceful arc on my way to middle of the spring.
And then I hit the water.
Holy snapping duck shit! Spears of freezing cold icicles stabbed into my soft unprepared flesh as a couple of lumps suddenly appeared in my throat due to my gentlemen’s berries retracting with the speed of light to escape the Antarctic conditions which now surrounded them. The water was as cold as a mother in law’s kiss and while I plummeted to near hypothermic temperature all that the pack of dingoes responsible for my suffering could do was laugh.
So afterwards with the sun going down and a cool breeze gently blowing over us we stood around in a convivial circle of mates, with me wearing nothing but a pair of wet shorts and shivering so hard you could hear my bones smacking together. A bottle of Bundy which the pub had donated for the occasion was passed around. When it came to my turn to upend the bottle, the first sensation was one of desperately needed warmth flowing down my throat and into my stomach, and I forgot I was drinking rum. It was only after a good half dozen large mouthfuls that they decided to separate me from the bottle.
Well the events of the rest of that night are best left in the memories of those who were there, but it did involve more celebratory drinks, a passed out birthday boy and at some stage a midnight search for Onk who seemed to have gone missing after heading out for a leak. After searching for god knows how long, we ended up back at the camp and there he was, snuggled into his sleeping bag and snoring his head off. Best Birthday Ever!
Anyway, to be continued in the third bit next week.