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Goodbye Jo

Saddle Forest-Camp 1 — 2000-07-14

As usual we rise at 6:00 a.m. Although today is my interview day, we decided yesterday to keep walking due to the enormous time delay. Until now I’ve managed to arrange my interviews so that only every second Friday is fully booked, but today I will only be giving my weekly interview to radio station RTR in Perth before continuing on our way. Once I have completed my other chores, I set the satellite phone up and wait for the call from Perth. In the meantime, Jo is busy fastening some pack bags to Hardies saddle, as we’ve decided to get rid of his L-frame too. Tanja tends to the camels and while we are packing we are visited by numerous locals who have heard of our expedition. They don’t stay long but take pictures and videos before wishing us luck with a cheery wave.

Then at 1:30 p.m. the adventure continues. ‘Camels, walk up!’ I cry and the train sets itself in motion. We head north and Jo follows us in the Holden for a few kilometres, just to see if everything’s okay and that her students don’t cause any problems. As if this really was a special day, a sporting plane zooms directly over our heads with sirens howling! It’s time for cattle herding and some stations are so enormous that a small plane is needed in order to round up the thousands of sheep and cattle. Our easily frightened camels take no notice of the screaming thing in the air, thank goodness, and remain peaceful. About twenty minutes later, Tanja gives Jo a sign to come closer. She has been following us at quite a distance and now we want to say goodbye. Jo has a long way to go home and we don’t want her to have to drive the distance at night on the wet and slippery outback roads. We hug each other and are well into our goodbyes when suddenly we all start crying together. We squeeze one another, wish good luck and health and thank Jo from the bottom of our hearts for all her self-sacrificing help. ‘I will be praying for you and thinking of you both constantly’ Jo says ‘And we you’ Tanja and I respond. Before the goodbye gets any more painful, we give each other one more big squeeze and then turn and make our way into the unknown. We stop and wave as our teacher and friend turns the car and heads off in the other direction before disappearing around a bend. I think of Jo for a long time as we continue our march and Tanja and I speak often about our ‘Guardian Angel’ Jo and all that we were able to learn from her in the relatively short time.

During our five, very intensive months together, Jo taught us all she has learned about camels in 17 years with wondrous patience. She left nothing of importance out in the endless hours of discussion and story telling through which we learnt about camel psychology, care, plants they can eat, saddle production and repair, correct upholstering of saddles, the very important art of loading, the treatment and early diagnosis of camel wounds, the necessary vigilance, various knot techniques, the complicated roping of the animals, and much, much more. But it was also her common sense, her outlook on life and God, that helped us to believe in humanity again after all our bad experiences in the camel scene of Australia. We will remain forever thankful for her good advice and for all of the above and want to emphasise again the fact that if it wasn’t for Jo and her husband Tom, we would never have gotten to where we are now.


Five kilometres further on, we reach our first cattle grid at the entrance to Mouroubra Station, and are able to lead our caravan through a gate to the side without a problem. ‘We can only hope that there are gates next to all of the cattle grids’ I say cheerily to Tanja who answers happily ‘That would be great!’ Not much further on we reach the next grid and I stop the caravan in order to give Sebastian’s lead rope to Tanja. ‘Let me see if I can find a gate in the fence on either side of the grid’ I say and go in search. I inspect the fence closely for quite a distance to the left and right of the grid but can find no gate and return in disappointment. ‘How does it look?’ Tanja asks and I answer ‘We have to start digging!’ I lead the camels carefully into the thick bush so that we don’t have to dig up a post within sight of the road. Tanja hastily advances in search of the best way and in order to film the whole procedure. I follow her and lead the camels in zig zag through the bushes while the ever-nervous Hardie does his best to break forward. Hardie is held back by his nose line, which is fastened to Sebastians saddle, but manages to veer out to the side, making Goola, Jafar and Istan nervous and causing them to walk out of line too. Their wide saddle bags scrape along the bushes and branches break and snap, making the camels even jumpier. Suddenly I see broken bottles on the ground before me, glass bases and necks poke up out of the earth with haggard and razor sharp edges and corners. The sight shocks me as I know that the camel’s soft soles would suffer horrendous injuries if they were to step on them, broken glass has been one of our main concerns on this trip. ‘Camels udu!’ I cry courageously. Sebastian complains loudly but obeys my command, however Hardie is currently about to become entangled with his saddle bag in one of the bushes and springs to the side, intent on overtaking Sebastian. The nose line stretches like a rubber band and instead of stopping the panicked animal, it only encourages Goola to break out too. Istan and Jafar are panicked by their friends fear and flatten a few bushes in their race to the side. Suddenly, the caravan begins to circle me like the hands of a watch and Goola, Istan and Jafar head directly for the broken bottles. I can do nothing but scream commandos and pray to God. Goola’s feet miss the dangerous shards of glass by about a metre but Jafar is only a hairs breadth away. ‘Wuna! Wuna! Wuna!!!’ I call and want to look the other way as Istan tramples directly over the bottles. His forefeet miss the glass pieces by centimetres but his right hind foot connects with the edge of a sharp bottle base which slowly tips over and buries it’s jagged side into the earth. I can’t believe it, Istan must have only just touched it as he didn’t even get a scratch! Unfortunately, Tanja and I have become separated by the bushes during the commotion and she has been unable to film any of the hair raising action.

As I have mentioned before, we depend on photos and film footage but sometimes risky moments just cannot be caught on film. Anyway, we are very happy that none of the animals was injured and ten minutes later let them down thankfully at a spot we’ve found through which to pass the fence. We tie their forefeet together and I take the shovel from Goola’s saddle by unfastening the rubber bands which we made from old car tubes. Tanja watches the camels while I set to work digging my first fence post up, counting my lucky stars that the rain has softened the red earth. I find that one of the posts is rotten so only dig up one more before attempting to lay the fence flat on the ground. The fence wire is so tight that it just hangs in the air like a suspension bridge and I step back to ponder the situation, finally casting my eyes upon some dead branches and thin trees which lie nearby. These I then drag over to the fence and lay them left and right across the wire until it sinks under the weight but oh! it’s still not enough, now the dead branches are suspended like a grid about 5 cm above the ground. The problem is that the fence wires are threaded through the middle of the thick posts which now lie on the ground. If the camels were to walk over the fence they would have to place their feet between the wires and without a doubt become entangled. I don’t even want to think about what would happen then! Again I stand and ponder before this unexpected task and realise that the only thing to do is to actually bury the fence under the ground over a distance of about ten metres. About an hour later the camel bridge is finished and we release the camel’s leg binds, allowing them to stand once again. I then lead Sebastian very carefully across the buried fence, fearing that Hardie might break out to the side and swing the rest of the train around onto the wires above ground. ’It’s okay Sebastian. You’re doing a great job. Slowly, slowly,’ I whisper into his ear as suddenly Hardie does exactly what I had feared and jumps out to the side, capable of fanning his comrades out across the uncovered fence. I react quickly and jerk Sebastian across to the left so that Hardie runs right into his side and doesn’t have a chance to bend the others into a wide curve. After a short breather I pull Sebastian across in the same angle and all the other camels stride over the peril without a problem. On the other side we let the camels down again and tie their forefeet together once more, then I erect the fence and dig the two posts back in. I test the stability of the posts, stamp the earth down around them and after one and a half hours work we’ve overcome our first cattle grid. By this time it’s getting late and we have to find a spot quickly to camp for the night. We have barely reached the road to Paynes Find again before a Jeep approaches, the family has heard about us and the three little kids wanted to see the camels. We chat for a while, pose for some photos and then bid the friendly people farewell, only to find a romantic camping place under the spread of Eucalyptus trees just ten minutes later. It begins to rain as we unload the camels and I set our tent up in a kind of trance, completely exhausted, while Tanja leads the animals to graze. I can feel my back after just the first cattle grid and have to admit that I am scared witless of ending up lying flat on my back again. It’s already dark by the time Tanja returns from tending the camels and we warm ourselves by the fire while wearily devouring some dinner. The rain stops for a while and the moon shines down on this spooky place, reflecting on the large, dead trees which surround us. Their shadows appear to reach out and put fear into the hearts of anyone with a little too much fantasy. This is our first camp in which we are truly alone and on our own at last. The thought of penetrating this inhospitable land wracks my brains and I wonder: Have we bitten off more than we can chew with this project? Will we make it? Many tasks await their solution and I hope we have the strength and peace to find them all.

Day: 64






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