Dad and I went camping a couple of weekends back. The Tuesday before he’d bought a new little 4WD so he wanted to break it in on a ‘shake down’ trip. Dad started packing the car on the Wednesday. There’s an art to it; obviously everything’s got to fit but you also don’t want rattles or squeaks. It was always going to be a challenge as his last 4WD was a Land Rover Defender, about twice the size of the shiny little Suzuki Voltara. He did of course make it all fit and it was smooth and silent on the way out. Dad’s a pro when it comes to packing the car; we went camping every other weekend when my brother and I were kids.
Dad took forever to get ready. I laughed and laughed when he said, “I don’t think I’ll take a computer.” He’s a gadgets man you see. While everyone else goes camping to escape technology and enjoy the serenity, Dad’s throwing a wire tied to a rock over a tree branch to set up an antenna for his ham radio, or calling his brother on his satellite phone, or dictating a list on his recording device of what to bring next time: “camera tripod, telescope, mantles for gas lamp, EPIRB…” (That’s emergency position indicating radio beacon to all you non-gadget kids like me.)
We sped out west to Ellery Creek in record time. The Suzuki’s so smooth and silent and the bitumen with a bit of sun on it so velvety it’s easy to creep up to 130 without realising. We spent the entire leg comparing it to the big, boxy Land Rover which rattled and roared and whistled and squeaked so much conversation was impossible. Sitting in climate controlled comfort and listening to Vivaldi and Handel while tearing down Larapinta Drive was a pretty surreal experience. I missed the rust and red earth smell of the Landy and the feeling of tank-like invincibility, but sitting back in a comfy seat with ample legroom while gazing awe-struck at the magnificent West MacDonnell Ranges was pretty magic.
As was the spot we found at the base of a valley in a stretch of white sand encircled by eucalypt saplings. As we got out of the car Dad exclaimed, “I’ve camped here before!” With heavy rains in summer and resulting growth riverbeds often change to the point where they’re unrecognisable. But Dad certainly knew this spot. “This is Black Snake Crossing,” he announced, ominously dropping his voice an octave. “I saw a two metre long black snake in this very spot.” Gulp. “How long ago?” I asked. “Oh, about 20 years.” I smiled a wry smile and set off for firewood.
The night we were camping was three nights after a full moon, but by the time the sky was awash with stars there was no sign of her. An hour passed. Still nothing. It was slightly unnerving, the absence of la luna. And then the riverbed changed. The great red rock face we were camped beneath began to glow ghostly white, transforming into a dramatic backdrop for the silhouettes of tall, spindly rivergums. I tried in vain to photograph the ethereal bush shadow puppet show and it was here Dad added “camera tripod” to his list, explaining that only through long exposure could I capture it. It was eerie, being in complete darkness bar the golden glow of the fire, and then slowly bathed in silvery light.
Moon rise. We were in a valley. “Hello moon!” Dad and I said together as it peeked over the range. “So glad you could finally join us! It sure is nice to have you here!”
In the morning I mountain goated up to the point where the moon appeared. The view was breathtaking. I love this country. It makes my heart sing.
Dad and I are heading back to the same spot on Friday, and I reckon we’ll keep going back. Until we see another black snake.