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We consider giving up

Peters Paddock-Camp — 2000-07-09

We are very motivated as we get up at 6:00 a.m. and begin routinely taking the camp down. At 12:00 the camels are loaded and we’re ready to go. At this moment Peter is driving hundreds of sheep down the nearby, narrow road with his ute. The commotion caused by the animals, and all the other noises that accompany a sheep herd, make our camels very nervous and they glance from side to side. The ute’s horn sounds loudly and Goola shows his fear in the form of diarrhoea… As soon as the sheep herd is out of hearing distance, Jo gives the command to move. The saddles sway like sails in the breeze but they have been repaired and nothing can stop us now from discovering Australia. ‘Camels, walk up!’ Jo gives the command loud and clear and the train begins to move. Of course we are all at the end of our tethers but no-one wants to show this to the others. My palms are sweaty as I walk next to Istan and pray to God that he wont explode forward like a bomb. No sooner have I ended my prayer, than it happens. Istan sees red and crashes into Jafar’s load with his L-frame. Jafar panics and runs into Goola. Goola panics and races into Hardie and Hardie would like nothing better than to jump right over Sebastian. As usual, Jo reacts splendidly, leading Sebastian in a wide circle. The others are forced to follow and race around behind him. ‘Wuna! Wuna! Wuna!’ Jo bellows at the same time as I call ‘Easy boys! Easy boys! Easy boys!’ Istan remains unimpressed by our words and jumps around like crazy.

Tanja has forgotten to film in all this excitement and I pull my hair in dismay. Jo leads the crazed caravan around and around while the animals twist and turn like tortured snakes, but Istan doesn’t let up and crashes into the troupe like a granade. Jo has a brilliant idea and pulls Sebastian close up and past a mulga bush, to prevent losing complete control over him and endangering her own life. The others are blind with fury and run directly into the bush, Jafar rescues himself by a hairs breadth but Istan connects head on. He teeters. and barely manages to keep his balance, then stops in his tracks as though he’s run up against a concrete wall. The other snorting camels are now standing still too and obviously glad that Istan isn’t fighting anymore. We stand there, out of breath, and scrutinise our once gentle animals. With one last act of will we discuss what to do next. Jo suggests separating the caravan. ‘Okay!’ I agree and without hesitation untie Jafar from Goola’s saddle. We let Sebastian, Hardie and Goola down and bind their forefeet, then Jo walks Jafar and Istan slowly and surely in circles. I walk beside her in order to intervene if help is needed. We speak to the nervous animals in soothing voices but Istan remains as tight as a spring, ready to take off as soon as the starting shot is given. Like a wild bull, he waits only for an opportunity to break to the front again. ‘Just be careful’ I warn Jo, without taking my eyes off Istan. Eventually we let Jafar and Istan down too and bind their forefeet as well. We sink slowly to the ground, helpless and close to unconsciousness.

No-one speaks for a long time and Jo stares at the ground. Tanja is almost crying and I feel like digging myself down into a hole. Is this the end of the expedition? Is our dream of crossing Australia’s outback on camel to end here, like this? After all the preparations, the hard work, the sacrifices and most of all the total financial out-lays, is our idea going to ground out here in Peter’s paddock? I am desperate. What has brought about such a change in our camels? Since when? Why? The wheels of my mind grind as I sit here. We made it to Cleary, a whole 284 kilometres, and suddenly nothing is working anymore. It must have something to do with the damn L-frames, I just can’t imagine that the rutting-season, the good food and the long rest could have made such monsters out of our animals. Something about those frames is not right. ‘I want to inspect Istans’s frame and load’ I say to Jo and Tanja. ‘If you want to’ Jo says in a sad voice. I take Istan’s pack down and inspect it as best I can. I notice that the frame is bent badly and that some sections press against his ribs. ‘It could be that the frame presses against his ribs when he bucks’ I say to Jo and show her the section I mean. Jo agrees after looking over the frame herself. A going over of the saddle itself brings to light that one of the cross bars is just a hands breadth from his hump. It’s possible that the removal of hay from the padding has caused the saddle to sink so low that it bangs against his hump when he jumps. That would of course answer the question as to why Istan always shoots forward like a bullet and I decide here and now to remove the L-frames from Istan and Jafar and to leave them here on Peter’s farm. We will hang the saddlebags directly onto the saddles, as was previously the case, even if it means having to get by with only two laden saddlebags pro camel.

Jo, Tanja and I discuss the problem intensely and come up with another solution, Afghanistan saddles. Jo and Tom recommended we use them months ago but I didn’t want to listen, even Tanja was convinced they were a good idea but our friend at the time, Verne, was against them and to be honest I believed him. And now, five months later and in the middle of the bush, I am face with the realisation that it wont work without those saddles. The difference between a normal riding saddle and an Afghanistan saddle, is that the latter of the two has an enormous, flat area on top which covers the camels back almost completely and provides an equal weight distribution. The riding saddle, on the other hand, has only two narrow shoulder pads and one relatively small back pad on which the weight lies. In order to save the expedition I suggest the following: ‘Okay, we’re going to leave all of the equipment here on Peter’s farm, try to find quarters for the camels, then drive back to Goomalling with you tomorrow. There we will work together on building the new saddles. How long do you think it will take one person to make an Afghanistan saddle?’ ‘Hmm, at least ten days’ Jo answers. Unfortunately, not only is time a problem, we also have a financial one. Each saddle costs at least AU$1100 (ca.DM1400,-) and Tanja and I calculate our finances feverishly. ‘We need a sponsor desperately’ I sigh out loud. ’We’re going to make it somehow’ Tanja encourages. ‘What do you think about you two continuing to walk with a light load while I go back to Goomalling and build one of the saddles? When I’m finished I’ll bring it out to you and you can try it out. If it works then I can work on the next saddle and the next until your equipment is completely loaded on the camels.’ Jo suggests with an encouraging smile. ‘It sounds good’ we answer after Tanja and I consider Jo’s suggestion for a few minutes. With new strength and perspective we return to our camp, unload the camels and, as so often before, set up on the same spot again. Beside the camp fire I suggest going to Beacon, 20 kilometres away, in the morning and getting an iron rod welded into Istan’s and Jafar’s saddles. Then we’ll have a good alternative to the L-frames and know that it will hold for a while at least.

Day: 59

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