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The fence wires coil like snakes around his legs

Supply-Camp — 2000-07-27

It is a bitterly cold night, and not only by Australian standards. My thermometer reads minus 6 degrees as I check it at 5:30 a.m. and it’s no wonder that we’re freezing, despite having sleeping bags designed for temperatures as low as minus 20 degrees. Due to the constant cold and wet of the last few weeks, the feathers have clumped together and don’t warm any where near as well as they should. We establish the fact once more that eider-down sleeping bags may be comfortable but not fit for longer periods of wet weather.

The first beams of sunlight warm our frozen bodies and we are underway again by 9:40 a.m. The animals behave well with the exception of Hardie who persists in walking next to Sebastian instead of behind him and we are able to pass grid number 27 through another open gate. The next warning sign, just a few kilometers further on, looks hefty though and I ask Tanja ‘What do you think, it looks like it could be a fair sized barrier?’ ‘Hm, I think you may be right’ she answers and I can’t believe my eyes as we finally reach the spot, two cattle grids only fifty meters apart and both without gates!

We are fairly peeved to say the least as we set the camels down. I am able to bend away the fence wires next to the first grid but the second one turns out to be a real hard case. I am able to chip the concrete hard earth away from around three of the posts with the merciless use of the pick, after which we take a lunch break so that I may rest a little. We are faced with yet another warning sign in the afternoon and find here no gate either. ‘Look, there’s a windmill. Let’s go to it and we may find a gate through to the other side’ I say in a hopeful voice, and lead the caravan along the fence to the windmill. We actually discover an old gate here after all and I don’t waste time opening it and pulling the camels through the circa one and a half meter wide space. Sebastian refuses to budge ‘Walk up Sebastian! Walk up!’ I command but he doesn’t take any notice whatsoever. Instead he tries to walk backwards, irritating the others and sending them into a dither.
I try to tempt him through a couple more times then decide to change tactics, leading him in a big circle back around to the opening. But he refuses to move even a centimeter and I begin pulling hard on his lead and nose line ‘Damn it, Sebastian! Walk up! Walk up!’
Sebastian remains stock still and bellows like a lion, making his fellow beasts more and more nervous. If I give in now then Sebastian would have won and the chances of making him move in a similar situation would be small. ‘Walk up Sebastian. Come on, it’s just an old windmill! Walk up now!’ I scream and Sebastian actually begins to move forwards, obviously frightened out of his wits by the spinning wheel above. ‘Quick Tanja, stand over there next to the post on the left’ I call to her, hoping to prevent Hardie from breaking out in that direction. I am somewhat hot under the collar by this time and yell a little too harshly ‘No, not in front of the fence! You’ll be squashed to death if something happens!’. Tanja answers ‘Of course I’m not going to stand in front of the fence!’ I lead Sebastian through the open gate as in slow motion and breath a sigh of relief once we reach the other side, phew. He didn’t attempt to break out, but now it’s Hardie’s turn and I lead him very slowly through the gate. I am relieved as the lead animals are both on the other side of the fence and confident that the others will cause no trouble, ‘Well done Sebastian! Very good Hardie!’ I call to them and pull Sebastian a little to the right as Goola’s load juggles past the fence post.

Something happens just then that should never have, Hardie becomes frightened again for some unknown reason and breaks out to the side and forwards, yanking hard on Goola’s nose line and causing him to catapult into his rear end. Now Sebastian, Hardie and Goola find themselves a few meters behind and a little to the left of the gate as Jafar sprints through in panic, slamming his pack against the fence post, with a loud crack, in the process, but at least he makes it to the other side. The last one’s a rotten egg, and in this case it’s Istan. He is too far to the side to make it safely through the opening, and bellows terribly as his colleagues literally pull him through the wire fence. I am paralyzed with shock and can only cry ‘Oh God! Oh my God!’ Istan stumbles but manages to keep on his feet somehow as I use all my strength to bring Sebastian to a halt. The others race past, spurned on by Istan’s screams of fear and the noises of breaking posts and twisting wire. Jafar gives a loud cry as his saddle is almost yanked off by Istan’s neck line, he has been stopped by the mass of fence wire now coiled around his legs like snakes.
Before the others can take off again, pulling poor Istan with them so that his legs break in the bundle of tightening wire, a pause is made in this madness and I am able to call urgently to Tanja ‘the wires! Cut through the wires!’ She is already in action even before the command is given, pulling her Leatherman from it’s belt fastening as she races in between Istan and the taut wires. Tanja frees Istan by quickly and precisely cutting through the upper two wires, then she gives him the once over and is able to give the all clear. ‘He seems to be okay!’ she calls and I feel a great weight lift from my shoulders.
We take a well deserved breather and cast a worried glance over the completely ruined fence. ‘How are we supposed to fix that?’ I ask Tanja in despair ‘At least we’re inside the fence!’ she says in reply. Unfortunately we now find ourselves inside a sheep pen and not in open country as planned, to make it there we have to pass through another gate on the other side of the pen. Tanja stays by the now sitting animals and I go to inspect the next gate ‘It doesn’t look good’ I call to her and we decide to lead the camels back through the trampled fence before we carry out repairs, fearing that we may become bound in a self-made prison if they cause problems at the other gate as well.
Ten minutes later the beasts are back where they’d started, we sit them down and bind their forefeet together, then I begin with the hard yakka. I use the pick to stab out two, 40cm deep holes in the hard earth, in which I hope to anchor both fence posts. Tanja is busy watering the camels in the meantime, she has to walk the 20 meters to the sheep trough and back 17 times before the beasts are done drinking. I have to fight against the tension in the wires and have a difficult time getting the posts sunken in the holes I dug. We don’t have anything with which to tighten the wires, three of which are still connected to the posts, but Tanja reminds me of the truckers knot which Petro showed us a few weeks ago and we are able to return the necessary tension to the fence in this way. I quickly repair the other two damaged wires with a few pieces which I find lying around and in record time, only one and a half hours, we’re ready to head off in the direction from which we just came.

Completely knackered, tired, thirsty and sweaty, I begin untying Goola’s leg ropes. Half way through he springs up and stands there on three legs, waiting for me to remove the rope dangling from his raised left foreleg. I move behind Hardie carefully, coming up in front of Goola and pushing his leg up with both hands in order to loosen the rope and remove it. Goola then thanks me by spitting directly in my face, a huge glob of slag with the smell of cesspool. I waste no time in bending down and picking up a handful of sand which I then throw directly into his mouth, the only way to stop a camel from spitting according to the camel experts.
‘Camels, walk up!’ I call, smelling like a rutting bull.

As we arrive back at the cattle grid, we set the camels down and get the spade and pick out, I summon up the last of my remaining strength and dig up three of the posts, cursing all the time. I have fine tuned my technique though and know now that I only have to bury two of the posts in order to have the third, in the middle, press down firmly on the ground. We are able to overcome the barrier quickly in this way and I have to admit that we’d have been long gone more than two and a half hours ago if I’d not had the stupid idea of taking the gate by the windmill in the first place. Finally we are on the other side of the grid but have to search for a camping spot quick smart as it’s already 4:00 p.m. We hurry along the road and keep our eyes peeled for a good place to camp, with plenty of bush tucker for the camels and reasonable access for Tom’s car tomorrow. He and Jo want to catch up with us then and bring our supplies for the next three or four months, that means we’ll be staying in the one spot for a few days and therefor need sufficient food for the animals more than ever.
Tanja points to the right ‘Look, that narrow path may be what we’re looking for’. Without a word I lead the animals down the path, only to discover that there’s not enough to eat here either and I’m forced to turn the caravan around after just 200 meters. At 5:00 p.m. we’re still searching for a place to settle down as I finally spy a narrow aisle which must have been made by a Caterpillar during the road works. The food situation is not ideal here either but we don’t have much other choice than to lead the camels down the aisle until we find a clearing in the thick bush.
Once we reach a suitable area, I sit Sebastian down and pass the lead line to Tanja in an instant. She keeps Sebastian in check as I ensure the correct positioning of his friends, who tend to settle down all higgeldy piggeldy if let alone. I give Hardie’s rear end a hefty shove just as he descends, bringing him around in line with Sebastian instead of at right angles to him. Goola has caught onto the idea of sitting in a straight line pretty well and so I’m left with the problem of how to bring Istan into place. It’s not a question of esthetics which makes me insist on them sitting in an orderly row, it’s simply a matter of having the saddles all in a line and ready for mounting in the morning. They are very heavy indeed and our job is made much easier when we can sit each animal beside his pack and heave it onto his back without having to drag the thing any great distance.
I concentrate on pushing Istan into line as he sets himself down and am taken unawares as he aims a 180° roundhouse at me, missing my shin by inches. ‘Istan are you crazy?’ I roar at him as he directs another kick my way with lightning speed. My sharp senses enable me to pull my right leg away just in time and I stand my ground despite his aggressive swings. Eventually I get him down into the correct position behind Jafar so that we can unload his saddle without a problem. It all happens in the blink of an eye and I punish him soundly with a sharp kick in the thigh once he’s settled down with his load. Istan protests loudly but it’s nothing in comparison with the injuries he could have ensued upon me, had his kicks connected with my shin. My leg would have been broken in two for sure, if not splittered completely, not a nice thought considering where we are. My kick to his thigh caused him no pain, it’s much too well padded for that, but the action has served to show him that such behavior is not acceptable. I truly hope that he will learn not to kick, bite or spit during this expedition, all of which I have been subject too by him already. He has bitten me twice and has kicked and spat at me numerous times, not to mention the two occasions on which he has struck out at our beloved Jo, without causing serious injury to her thank goodness. This evening has reminded again that we have to keep a special eye on Istan during this trip. Carelessness, inattention, aggression and laziness are punished very quickly on such an expedition as this.

I use the wireless to establish contact with Jo and Tom at 6:30 p.m. ‘Yes, we’ve found a camping spot. We’ll mark some branches out on the Yalgoo road with glow tape tomorrow, so that you can find us.’ ‘That’s good, Denis. We look forward to seeing you both again’ Tom answers in his friendly voice. I chat a little with Jo but we soon agree to postpone our talk until the morrow, seeing as the channel is being used by so many others at this time also and is constantly interrupted by static. ‘Okay, let’s talk again tomorrow – same time, same channel’ I answer ‘All right Denis, say hello to Tanja for us and enjoy this evening after your difficult day. See you tomorrow evening, over and out!’ ‘Thanks Jo, drive carefully, over and out!’ I close the conversation. The camp is set up and the billy boiling at 7:00 p.m. (billy = bush kettle)

Day: 77






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