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The Devil’s Throat

Cauldron Camp — 2000-09-27

We begin the day at 3:30 a.m. as planned and are underway by 7:00 a.m., happy to be starting so early. It reaches 30°C in the shade by 8:00 a.m. and we are sweating along at a pace of 5,6 km/hr. According to the GPS it’s just another 898 km to Broome. We should be happy about this but our joy is dampened when we take a look at the map. In just a few kilometres we will have to fork off to the north, although Broome lies to the north east. If we were to follow the compass we would have to walk on or next to the Great Northern Highway for many hundreds of kilometres which is of course impossible. And so we are forced into the hills to Mount Vernon. This will mean very slow going for us, I estimate that for every ten kilometres walked we will be only 3 or 4 kilometres closer to our goal. ‘It’s shocking,’ Tanja gasps. ‘Simply terrible,’ I agree. Unfortunately the track leading from Mount Vernon continues to head west, still further away from Broome, and I can only hope that the station manager at Mount Vernon can show us a track heading directly north and which will shorten our detour considerably. Our next problem is the planned route, originally we thought to follow the historical gold mines but have discovered that the way is much rockier. I have already described the difficulties that our camels have in this type of terrain but we have reached a point of no return and cannot choose an easier route anymore. We are in deep shit. The only thing we can do is hold out, make sure none of the animals is injured and try not to lose our nerves.

The Perth-Broome leg of the trip was actually supposed to be training for the big deserts of Australia, but instead it’s turned out to be seriously hard yakka. As usual my head is tortured by a thousand thoughts and Tanja and I walk side by side in silence. We’re too tired to talk and too busy drinking, then just fifteen minutes without a sip of water dries the mouth out terribly. And that’s just the beginning! I can’t and wont believe what we have gotten ourselves into. Of course the thought of giving up plagues us, but should we really consider it? Now that the expedition is finally on it’s feet? Later we would probably blame ourselves for not having tried harder. If our lives should really be in danger then of course we would throw in the towel. But then in retrospect of the trip up until now, I realise that more than once we’ve only scraped by with our lives in the last second. The line between life and death is very thin on this expedition and it’s easy to bite the dust through one tiny mistake or loss of concentration. And anyway, the question is would we even have a chance of retreating in a real emergency? A bush fire can capture us very quickly, we could easily be kicked by one of the animals and the chances of dying of thirst are more than evident right now. It’s important to weigh up the pros and cons, but at the moment these thoughts are leaving their toll on me. Tanja and I ask ourselves if we shouldn’t lead an easier life after all? We’ve been travelling now for ten years and the journey’s to last another twenty. We often catch ourselves dreaming of sleeping in on a Saturday morning, lying in a nice soft bed and not having to torture ourselves. To be able to simply swing the feet over the edge of the bed and walk a few metres to the toilet, without getting wet or having to watch out for poisonous insects, and, and, and. We often think of how comfortable it is to open the fridge and pull out some cold milk, then mix a chocolate shake in no time. Suddenly everything in the civilised world has taken on a whole new meaning. ‘When I’m back in Germany I’m going to do all that. Just lie in bed for two days and watch every Julia Roberts film there is. Then I’d paint a little and when your parents invite us to go hiking I’d give them a polite ‘No thanks’ and jump back into bed,’ Tanja dreams.

By now the thermometer has risen to 55°C in the sun and the well beaten track has become fairly stony. It’s now 1:00 p.m. which means that we’ve done our six hours for the day. Unfortunately there’s no good food for the camels to be seen anywhere and so we force ourselves to continue. My eyes are focused on the rough track and the above thoughts circle in my head. We have another 1200 kilometres at least to walk. I now have a couple of nasty looking blisters which don’t lift my spirits at all. The arch of my foot hurts so much that I imagine it will snap in two at any moment. Tanja feels the same way.

At 2:00 p.m. after 7 hard hours of walking, we find a few shady bushes on a flat surrounded by hills. We shuffle the camels up to the spot and unload them. ‘Oh my, look at that!’ I cry in horror. The bulge on Goola Badoola’s hip bone has finally burst and is erupting puss. We tend to the wound immediately. I put on a pair of thin rubber gloves and squeeze the sore empty. A fist full of puss spurts out into the air and onto the nearby camel blanket. I work quickly so as not to allow Goola time to consider kicking me with his hind feet. Then I disinfect the wound and let Goola get up. ‘I’m glad the puss is out. Now the hip should hopefully heal,’ I say with relief. We wearily lead the pack animals to two trees which they beginning hungrily munching on straight away. ‘Are those trees poisonous? What do you think?’ Tanja asks a little sceptically. ‘I don’t think so. The description doesn’t fit to these plants,’ I answer, though not 100% sure myself. We set our chairs up in the camp and go over the info on poisonous plants once more, just in case.

It’s now 3:30 p.m. and we’re sitting still as statues again. If we move then in slow motion. Sometimes I get up to take the Source water bag but even this task is painful. We hear the sound of an engine. A small red jeep suddenly emerges on the nearby road. ‘It wouldn’t surprise me if the people from Mingah Spring Station have come to look for us,’ I say, but the jeep drives by. Just five minutes later it returns. The driver suddenly sees us and turns off the dirt road, heading for our small camp. A friendly woman greets us, ‘Tracy, from Mingah Spring Station. I heard about you on the ABC news,’ she says with a laugh and shakes my hand. We talk to the warm-hearted lady for some time. ‘Oh, it’s not too hot yet,’ she exclaims as I complain about the temperature. ‘In a couple of weeks time we’ll have 48°C in the shade, then it’s hot,’ she adds and I start to feel dizzy.

‘I was born at Mount Vernon Station, about 120 kilometres from here. We had a drought from 1989 to 1991. 1990 to 1991 was the hottest and driest year, it broke all the records. Not one drop of rain from November to March. The temperatures were over 40°C for 125 days and for 58 days they even exceeded 44°C. The hottest day was 49°C in the shade. We measured a ground temperature of 72°C. It was so bad that we lost between 2000 and 3000 cattle. My parents had to remove up to a hundred dead cattle from the water holes and wells per week. By the end of May there was absolutely nothing left for the cattle to eat. Even the kangaroos dropped dead, it was just terrible. It began raining then in June and July and we were saved, just as my parents had decided to give it up. No-one knows when that will happen again. I can remember well how the cattle stood in the shade of the dried trees instead of lying down while the ground was so hot. Newly born calves died on the same day. Oh God, they were bad years and I hope that I never have to experience another drought again. Of course, it’s just a wish, we’ll be having more droughts for sure. It happens all the time in this country,’ she tells us. Tanja and I look at one another. My heart sinks listening to this story. ‘We can only hope that this year wont be so hot and dry,’ I say thoughtfully. ‘Who knows, it’s an early summer, much too hot for this time of year,’ Tracy replies. ‘Do you think that there’s a way from Mount Vernon to Turee Creek Station in the north?’ I ask, changing the subject. ‘Could be. My dad can tell you for sure. He knows his way around here best. Unfortunately there’s a few big bush fires to the north of here. Near Mount Newman they’ve got 15 big graders going but can’t get the fire under control. If you continue heading north then you’ll be going straight into dangerous territory. My goodness, you’re brave, you want to go to Broome now that the heat, cyclones and bush fires have started. Oh my, that’s not for me,’ she says, my heart sinking even further. Tracy gives a true and honest rendition of the facts and they lay heavily on our shoulders. She doesn’t want to distress us, but we are honestly terrified of venturing even deeper into the devil’s throat. She leaves us as dusk arrives. ‘I look forward to receiving you at the farm tomorrow. You can stay as long as you like. Peter, my husband, will meet you, I’ll be driving to Newmann to do some shopping at 4:30 a.m. The drive takes three hours and I want to be there when the shops open. See you in the afternoon,’ she calls to us as the small jeep heads into the sunset.

Day: 139






Linear distance:


Daily kilometres:

Max. daytime temperature:
33°C, more than 55°C in the sun

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