Desert Tracks...Day 2
H4C ‘Stories from the Saddle’
This month see’s me based between Alice Springs and Darwin with NTICPA President and NTSDE Chair duties, along with Mummy Duties i.e. attending the ASSOA in-school week and CDU Awards night for my youngest daughter to be presented with her ASPIRE Scholarship.
I can’t honestly say I’m a big fan of being in town, I’d much rather be home at the station working with my horses! When I do come to town, it often seams to be for extended periods and I always catch that special something which makes me sick! I’m not fond of the hustle and bustle, people rushing everywhere and the traffic, life just seems to move too fast...leave me in the desert any day!
Join me as I reminisce: ‘Stories from the Saddle’ tells of the adventures we had during our 1,000km horse ride across the Northern Territory, raising awareness for Bush Kids.
The morning after having Mister Dingo stalk our camp arrived in picturesque Winter splendour. The sun showered spectacular red and orange rays across the countryside, bringing everything to life as it rose. June meant the clock hit 7.30am before the lazy Winter sun began to show. Although this was our dry season there were a few wispy clouds in the sky, making for a striking light display when it finally made its appearance bringing life to our second ‘day on the road’.
We’d been up since 5.30am, fed the horses and rolled our swags. I let Tintin out of the naughty corner, hoping he’d learnt his lesson…‘It’s not acceptable to chase your friends around all night when you should be sleeping.’ Especially when we’ve still got over 970kms to ride.
The most important job of the morning was feeding and watering the horses and was always first on my agenda. It also gave me the opportunity to look over the horses and make sure there weren’t any injuries from the day before, or new ones which had occurred during overnight play sessions.
Our morning routine was always done in darkness, usually with little help from torchlight because the horses really didn’t like the bright light flashing around. It scared them, so we tried to keep our torches off most of the time. It’s amazing how well we learnt to roll our swags and pack up our stretchers by feel, in the dark.
We camped the night before on the Wilson Creek and having had a good wet season the Christmas before there was still a fairly decent waterhole where Rod, Norma, Dennis and Marg picked to set up camp for the night. Best of all we weren’t in crocodile country yet so there was no danger camping right beside the water's edge!
Rod and Dennis had a beautiful fire going so we could all warm up and eat breakfast. It wasn’t overly cold, about 12 degrees. Although it felt fresh at the time, I would have traded that weather for the heat to come in a heartbeat. Little did we realise this would be one of the last mornings we’d need a fire to warm up beside as we headed north.
All saddled up, our saddlebags packed and bulging with Norma’s famous bacon and egg sandwich, a cup-of-tea in our travel mugs for smoko, a litre of water bottles, snacks, first aid equipment, a spare halter, two-way, satellite phone and of course toilet paper, we were on the road by 8am.
We walked the horses through the icy water of the Wilson to freshen their legs and reduce any swelling which wasn’t yet evident from the day before as we left camp. Tash was riding Gypsy and you could see he really wanted to lie down in the water….Gypsy loves water, he always has. He’s just loves being able to splash and roll in it...but in instances where other horses are happy to kick and splash, he has to go that extra step and lay down for a good ol’ swim. I can read him fairly easily and if you keep him moving he doesn’t lay but if you miss reading those subtle signals...down he goes! On this occasion Tash managed to keep him moving and narrowly avoided a cold, wet start to the day!
I was riding Dually and leading Tintin, Tash was leading Bloany. We waved goodbye to our wonderful crew and headed off…the horses didn’t quite have the same bounce in their step as they did the day before and by the time we got back to the main road they were a bit out of sorts. They knew which way home was and we weren’t letting them go that way.
This was as far away from the station the three bush ponies had ever been. Dually the seasoned traveller was just playing along with their antics throwing some bad manners of his own into the mix. I could almost read their minds ‘ok guys this is enough…a joke is a joke but now it’s time to go home…this day is not going to end well for one of us!’ When you’re trying to convince half a ton of horse flesh they’re not getting their own way, it’s important to have the right attitude. It’s like trying to avoid the temper tantrum of an extremely large two year old. Actually to be completely fair these three were still young horses and very green (a word used to describe an inexperienced or not yet fully trained young horse) It’s important to be the leader so they know they’re safe, they can trust you and that you’ll do what’s right by them. On this day, apparently Tash wasn’t emitting the right vibes because the leader of their little team was very clearly Bloany! I can giggle now at the thought of how the day unfolded and for the most part, it was at Tash’s expense! Sorry Tash!
I hadn’t actually taught the younger horses to lead from another horse. My thoughts were we could teach them along the way...after all it was a case of necessity. But Tash was having trouble getting her two to ‘mate up’ and be nice to each other. Bloany and Gypsy weren’t cooperating and Tash, not being overly familiar with either of them wasn’t coming across as the leader, according to Bloany! So he decided he’d had quite enough, this party was now over and it was time for him to go home, thank you very much!
Now stop me if you’ve heard this one...so Bloany decided he was ‘out’, pulling back, he freed himself from Tash’s hands and galloped off, kicking up his heals for home. Tash took off after him, Gypsy wasn’t at all impressed, he was probably thinking ‘just let him go, we don’t need him anyway!’ as Tash got close, Bloany would take off again, he was having a wonderful ol’ time. The faster Tash and Gypsy got the faster Bloany raced, until she pull up and Bloany pulled up too. We were about 40kms from the station and thankfully just far enough to make him second guess his actions and this fun game of cat and mouse came to an end. A huge waste of energy and time for all of us, except Bloany, he thought he was king of his domain and calling the shots now! This wasn’t the last hierarchy challenge between Bloany and Tash, but after their next game of catchy, the rules quickly changed and it wasn’t so much fun pulling away anymore.
We’d charged the satellite phone via the inverter overnight and once all the excitement had settled down I called home to check in and let them know how we were going. I also called my sister Lilly who had graciously offered to keep our social media updated for us while we were out of mobile reception.
We thought we’d also take the opportunity, while the sat phone seemed to be on a good signal, to call into the ABC Radio program Macca at ‘Australia All Over’ which turned into quite the ordeal. I was trying to shelter between the horses and a bush so the wind wouldn’t interfere with the speaker and distort my voice, all the while trying to keep the satellite from dropping out. I had my head perched sideways so the aerial could point up to the sky, with my hat also sheltering the phone from the wind but not interfere with the aerial. Meanwhile the horses were getting impatient and just wanted to get this show back on the road.
If anyone has ever rung Macca on a Sunday morning, you’d know what I’m talking about, there’s always quite a wait until it’s your turn to talk. We lost about an hour sitting on the side of the road for about five minutes of air time. My nerves took over a little and I got off the phone thinking of all the things I should have said! Our family often listen to Macca and love hearing about all the stories from around our beautiful country so it was great to be a part of other people’s Sunday morning and let them know about some of the issues, kids growing up in the bush face and why we were doing this incredible ride.
Back on the horses and riding along again it was easy to see where the Warlpiri Aboriginal people of the Tanami get their ideas for the beautiful paintings and artwork they create. The soft red sands were a patchwork of desert wildlife tracks.
We could see the delicate tracks of a ‘Bilby dance’, soft prints pressed into the vivid red sands. You could almost see them in their tracks as they frolicked in what could be imagined as a beautiful courtship dance.
We could also see many different sizes and shapes of bird tracks, aimlessly prancing along in random circular patterns as though their owners weren’t exactly sure which way they wanted to go. Their destination probably wasn’t important at all, it was simply all about the crazy mixed up journey, according to those little tracks.
We wondered how long it took for the owners of these precious little tracks to create this tapestry in the soft red blanket of the Lajamanu Road shoulders. There hadn’t been any rain for months and what traffic there was, had been sticking to the middle of the road. We imagined it would be some time before this beautiful pallet would be wiped clean by the strong winds, enabling the artists to reprint the scenes all over again.
The tracks were clear and crisp and it felt as if the desert animals had only just been there moments before. We saw the huge soft, padded tracks of camels and the striking oblong hoof tracks (different to the circular tracks of a horse) of donkey mobs including their baby foals. We saw scrub cattle tracks and the tracks of the notorious outback predators, cats and dingo’s. The dingo tracks continued along the edge of the road for the next couple of hundred kilometres, very rarely disappearing into the scrub before coming back onto the road again. Perhaps it was our Mister Dingo from the night before, joining in on a leg of the ride. At one point, clearly imprinted in the sands, we could see the tracks of a camel and cat on one side of the road and a dingo and donkey on the other. They were all walking in the same direction along the sides of the road. The mind boggles at the scene which would have taken place if all four of those animals were walking along the road at the same time! 😉
It was easy to feel like the tracks might continue all the way to Darwin with us and over the next couple of days I almost took the presence of these precious desert animal tracks for granted. Strangely I derived a kind of familiar security from sharing our path, as if the animals were watching over us and keeping us safe as we rode along in the middle of nowhere.
Eventually the desert tracks became less frequent and after a few days they pretty much stopped altogether. The country was changing and these desert animals didn’t venture this far north. The inspirational little tracks began to disappeared and so too did the romantic and imaginative stories I’d conjured up in my mind about the lives of these wonderful creatures through their Desert Tracks.