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" Adventurer Denis Bartell cannot resist a challenge - that is why he took on the Mole, Demaresq, MacIntyre, Barwon, Darling and Murray Rivers – and won."AMPOL MARKETING NEWS May 1984

 

 

Love Australian Adventure Novels? - See some samples from my book below and click here to get your copy of my Outback Adventure novel today!

Book Samples

See my book samples below as an introduction to the journey you will experience with me when you read the book and watch the DVD

CHAPTER 1 – THE CHALLENGE – Page 1

Page 1 She clawed her way up the long slope, her little two-stroke motor screaming like a demented demon as the rpm needle headed towards the recommended max.

Blue sky momentarily filled the windscreen, then, reaching and dropping over the top, my faithful little Suzuki nose-dived into a deep red sand blow, its rim partly hidden by a covering of cane grass. The depression was filled with dead roly-poly, cane grass and other wind-blown herbage which scraped down her sides and rolled up and over her bonnet.

Devoured completely, her insides heaved and my gear flew around as she fought for freedom and then ever so slowly managed to extract us from the bunker. We paused momentarily for a breather – me and my little yellow Tonka toy out doing battle in a huge sandy arena, a wilderness of immense proportions. With another dune conquered, we still had over a thousand left to go.

A large mob of feral camels, startled by the sudden appearance and noise of this yellow intruder, wheeled as one and moved off trailed by a defiant and disgruntled old bull. They were feeding on the succulent munyaroo plants that were growing in abundance across the face of the next dune, the product of some recent patchy local rains. Further south, crowded over a long section of the lower dune face, lay the most concentrated and beautiful pink wild flower display that I have ever seen.

CHAPTER 1 – THE CHALLENGE – Page 9

Most nights there would be a welcome visitor or two who would silently materialise and prowl the extremity of the campfire’s flickering light until finally, with a dingo’s curiosity satisfied, they would move on. The most I have ever had circling me at any one time was four, which really is a few too many. Makes you think, when in the morning light the prints in the sand show clear evidence of their presence only inches away from your swag and face. Not that I have ever felt endangered – although perhaps sometime in the future, with more human contact, who knows?

Occasionally on a really big dune I would take a break and walk along the ridge to sit atop its highest windswept dome where I could gain a commanding view over the surrounding countryside. From my vantage point, the ridges stood like waves of an endless ocean, while to the north and south, interdunal corridors disappeared over the horizons. With a setting sun, lofty domes of sand and sawtooth ridges would glow red until the shadows of night relentlessly extinguished each and every one. It was all so magnificent and awe inspiring; it seemed timeless, endless. The beauty of the desert captivated me totally and at times my whole being felt at peace and at one with this unique area, while at other times the feeling of loneliness, of absolute isolation on this frozen sea, was overwhelming.

CHAPTER 1 – THE CHALLENGE – Page 18

To My dearest Mother and Father

G.W. & J.R. Jones Edwin Street Gilberton Adelaide.

Do not grieve over me darlings.

How can a man die better Than facing fearful odds For the ashes of his fathers And the country of his God.

Mr. Charles sends his kindest regards he tells me how good you were to him and he hopes the Almighty will help you.

My dearest Mother & Father

I am writing this short note, the last one I shall ever write I expect. We left the main party to return being away 9 days as we were both far from well. I had hardly any strength after 5 days spell, we started to follow the main party, after severe trials some of the camels died so we have had to walk, we are both very weak and ill the other two camels are gone and neither of us have the strength to go after them.

I managed to struggle half a mile the day before yesterday but returned utterly exhausted, there is no sign of water near here, and we have nearly finished our small supply have about two quarts left, so we cannot last long.

Somehow or other I do not fear death itself, I trust in the Almighty God. We have been hoping for relief from the main party, but I am afraid they will be too late. Any money of mine I think I should like divided between Eve Laurie and Beatrice. Now my darling parents I will wish you Goodbye, but I trust we will meet in heaven. You both have always been so good to me I should so like to see you again. Mr. Charles has been very good indeed to me, during this trip, he is not to blame that we are in this fix. It is God’s will so we should not object. Goodbye to Evie and Beat and all our friends. And now darlings, God give me strength, till our next meeting, God’s will be done.

I remain Your loving son George Lindsay Jones

CHAPTER 1 – THE CHALLENGE – Page 28

I was 45 years old and fairly secure financially. My wife, Rotha, and I had had many trips overseas and as a family with our children, David, Susan and Richard, had shared some great outback holidays. I thought I had it all together, but it was just an illusion. Something was changing within me, changing my future direction.

The desert – the outback – had ensnared me. Like so many others, I would now find the lure of the outback irresistible, the need to return frequently an unrelenting force that could not be denied. Having reached the top of the hill that I had fought so hard to conquer, having realised my dreams, a different view ahead now unfolded – a succession of even higher, different hills that waited to be climbed.

The temptation was impossible to resist. The adventurous wanderlust spirit of a barefoot kid, long suppressed, was now set free to roam.

CHAPTER 2 – EARLY DAYS – Page 30

I went to school there for a short period of time. The schoolhouse was situated on the top of a high windswept hill, and had the most magnificent views over the river and the surrounding countryside. It had the mandatory rusty iron roof and the walls were slabs of timber through which one could see daylight. We were continually poking paper into the cracks to keep out the freezing winter winds. We had a water tank, two toilets, ‘long drop’ naturally, and nearby was a large gum tree.

CHAPTER 2 – EARLY DAYS – Page 33

I remember the tropical thunder storms and lightening displays that shook the house and the incredible noise as huge hailstones pummelled down and ricocheted off our corrugated iron roof. Afterwards, pools of water covered the flats, the creek raced and roared and very soon deep puddles in the grass would be covered in froth containing the seeds of life. Millions of tadpoles, big juicy black things, thrived and matured to become an invasion on a grand scale — a deafening and ultimately irritating bombardment of noise as fornicating frogs everywhere spoke of a system still in balance.

Years later it would be no more. This barefoot kid’s wonderland, the big paddocks down the road where the cowboy rode in to graze his milk cows, where billy goat carts roamed and battles were fought with shanghais and bows and arrows, would slowly disappear under the relentless march of time and change. My waterlily-covered dam is now the site of the Moorooka Bowls Club. The creek that I swam in, canoed down when it was a raging torrent, or caught fish, eels and turtles with a bent pin on the end of a cotton thread line, has fallen to urban sprawl — a sea of houses now, where kids in Nikes have vastly different activities and childhood memories. Sadly above all, you can hardly hear a frog call there now.

With my first bike, a real flash-looking unit, I went into the hire business. The son of the corner store owner used to lighten his father’s till frequently, and I then helped to lighten his pocket. Charging anything up to five shillings per ride, with his desperation and the duration being the only controlling factors, my bike was soon showing a healthy profit on capital investment.

CHAPTER 2 – EARLY DAYS – Page 37

We dug in on the edge of a jumbled mass of rocks and laid in a good supply of pebbles for our shanghais and heaps of large stones for Saunders, who was a big lad and could hurl a missile with deadly accuracy. It wasn’t long before the yelling in the scrub left us in no doubt that they had made good their promise to return and then suddenly about 15 of them burst into the clearing, raining rocks upon us. By crikey, I thought we were done for and were going to get a hell of a beating. However we had chosen our possie well, and although we couldn’t retreat, having a sheer drop behind us, they had to cross clear ground to get at us. Rocks flew everywhere and the shanghais ran hot, but it was Saunders who carried the day. He was yelling like a banshee and hurling his giant rocks until finally they broke ranks and took off with us after them — well to be truthful, two of us probably ran after Saunders who ran after them!

CHAPTER 2 – EARLY DAYS – Page 43

My usual dunny petrol-measuring tin, which I had been told to use by my grandfather, was missing, so I acquired another which was very considerably larger and filled it to the brim. The redbacks were going to be in for a shock this time! I tossed the contents down the hole and followed it with a wax match. Well, the whole joint more or less exploded! The flimsy dunny structure shook violently, the floor glowed red between the cracks, and fingers of fire licked around my bare feet, while through the dunny seat, a mighty sheet of flame roared skywards just like the afterburner of a modern-day jet. It frightened the heck out of me and thereafter I was never so liberal with the petrol.

CHAPTER 2 – EARLY DAYS – Page 47

You don’t have to be ordinary. Create the dream, set the goals, think like a winner, get off your backside, and if you give it your best shot, anything is possible.

CHAPTER 3 – MAKING A QUID – Page 51

We prepared the three holes, inserted a good-sized chunk of explosive into each, complete with fuses and got ready with the matches. The plan was to light the fuses, jump into our vehicles and depart the scene lickity split. The signal was given. I lit up and hopped into my vehicle and roared off. At what I considered to be a safe distance, I did a broadside so I could watch the action. I couldn’t believe my eyes. They were still sitting in their truck only a few yards away from the holes, obviously trying to start the bloody thing. I don’t know who was doing the countdown or watching the shortening fuses, but suddenly the doors burst open and these two farmers took off across the donga like Olympian sprinters with Old Nick himself after them.

CHAPTER 3 – MAKING A QUID – Page 55

Our truck, fondly called Lizzie, was archaic. It had a wooden cab, no doors, holes in the floor and not all the wheels were of the same size. To help protect the tyres from punctures, we would cut the sides out of larger tyres, deflate those on the truck, slip on the prepared rubber, and reinflate, thus increasing the tread thickness enormously.

While Lizzie was unregistered, had half a windscreen, no horn, no lights and no brakes, she sure had heaps of character and the heart of a lion — although to the inexperienced eye, she possibly looked like a derelict heap of junk. On a damp, cold morning start, you would light a fire first, then remove the perished spark plug leads and heat them over the flame to dry them out. This generally did the trick, but occasionally you would have to tap the carburetor three times with a spanner. In lieu of a starter motor, mainly because we didn’t have one, we used to turn a crank handle to start the old girl.

CHAPTER 3 – MAKING A QUID – Page 57

In those days it was still possible to find nomadic Aboriginal people living life in a manner unchanged for thousands of years. Smoke from their hunting fires always graced the skies, and occasionally you would come across a group of women and children collecting grass and other seeds, or digging for lizards and snakes. Their whirlies were a simple timber structure covered with spinifex. Mostly, however, they just erected a windbreak of boughs in front of which they scooped out a line of trenches to lie in with just enough room for their dogs. Between each trench, a fire was lit to help keep warm.

CHAPTER 3 – MAKING A QUID – Page 61

This was the land of the world-famed Nullarbor Nymph, who was hunted relentlessly by the world media. To my knowledge, only one slightly blurred photo of her was ever taken, as she was caught momentarily off guard frolicking with the kangaroos. With her long hair streaming out behind, her naked breasts heaving, and her lower half suitably wrapped in a kangaroo skin, she sped off barefooted through the thick scrub, easily eluding the press photographer who, suitably plied with the local amber, and with the aid of several of the resident wags cum-bushmen and renowned trackers, had relentlessly pursued and finally located her

CHAPTER 3 – MAKING A QUID – Page 65

Life teases and tests as we walk along our chosen path. Many doors open, some perhaps only once in a lifetime. All offer new directions, new challenges, new hope. They admit the brave and those who have prepared themselves to take advantage of opportunities when presented. They are there for the dreamers and the achievers, those who believe that one little step up is far better than no steps at all.

Dreams can come true if you work at it.

CHAPTER 4 – THE DAY OF THE GECKO – Page 76

We awoke early, carefully checked over our vehicles, and climbed to the top of the hill. Ahead, the landmarks disappeared and we gazed into a sea of sand and spinifex with rolling, wave-like dunes, each crowding closely on the one before it. No tracks to follow and just the needle of a compass to guide the way; this was how I liked it. Real adventure, real challenge. The only thing topping it would be setting out to do it alone.

CHAPTER 4 – THE DAY OF THE GECKO – Page 81

The temperature reached 44 ºC and we had to continually blow out our radiators. At 4 pm, the temperature had fallen back to 38 ºC (100 ºF), the lowest in six hours but then it began to warm up again; the air lashed us with its fiery breath, and the sand on top of the dunes became softer and more difficult to negotiate.

CHAPTER 5 – IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF LINDSAY – Page 97

Again, as a future marker, I blazed a nearby corkwood tree. I hadn’t thought of carrying steel pegs and tags to mark any sites found, however, this was a more unobtrusive, natural, environmentally friendly way. At that time I didn’t visualize the extensive involvement I would ultimately have with the Simpson Desert, and thinking that I might never return, my marked trees would ultimately act as confirmation if I ever tried to direct others to the sites I had located.

CHAPTER 5 – IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF LINDSAY – Page 97

Lindsay wrote: “The well, Beelaka, is 10 chains south of a clump of dark corkwood trees which are visible for miles”. From my vantage point on the high dune, I glimpsed a dark clump of corkwood in the distance, and on running his last compass shot for 3 kilometres, I arrived right on target. There was now, with the experience I had so far gained, no doubt in my mind that I had located Beelaka native well and the birthplace of Mick McLean, the last survivor of the Wangkangurru tribe. For added confirmation, many skeletons lay exposed on the shifting sands of a nearby dune.

CHAPTER 5 – IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF LINDSAY – 105

In 1986, Mr Colin Harris from the South Australian Department of Environment and Planning contacted me to see if I would be interested in leading a Government expedition over the Simpson Desert to visit all the well sites I had found. Due to mining exploration activity and the increase in tourist numbers in the desert, they wanted to see first-hand how best to protect these sites and the area in general. We had an interesting journey and I know that one of the many highlights for them all was when I drilled and located water at several of the sites. At their request, I had acquired from my farm three steel fence droppers, which they ceremoniously positioned over the actual site where David Lindsay’s blazed tree at Wolporican had once stood.

CHAPTER 6 – BUSHMEN AND HEROES – Page 116

Difficulty in climbing some of the dunes made navigation a rather haphazard affair, and it wasn’t until I had climbed a high sandhill, and could see opening up to the northwest a vast stony plain, that I could fix my position. I took a series of compass shots of the southern extremities of the massive dunes to the north, and drew these bearings on tracing paper. Sliding this over my 1:250,000 map, I soon located my exact position. The term ‘dune’ is inadequate to describe some of the sand ridges in this area. To me, viewing them shimmering in the haze, they looked more like mountains.

CHAPTER 7 – MURRAY RIVER SOLO MARATHON – Page 125

My memories of that first night are of wildly racing flood waters. It may have been an illusion partly brought on by tiredness and a narrowing river. Whatever, it was weird. I could swear that I was actually traveling downhill, that I could see the river was tilted particularly as I rocketed around the tight bends. There were severe whirlpools clearly visible on the surface which grabbed and shook my outboard leg like a terrier would a rat. Linking it all together were the unforgettable tall gums of the Barmah State forest as they flashed by, ghostly in the glow cast by my weaving spotlight as it momentarily opened and then closed visual passages into its dark mysterious heart. The river, which had had been steadily rising, finally overflowed its banks creating an eerie scene. The trees, instead of lining the banks of my river, were now in it with me and we were all sloshing around together as my wash dissipated somewhere in their midst. As my eyes were very sore, I pulled over and had half an hour’s rest curled up in my bean bag.

CHAPTER 7 – MURRAY RIVER SOLO MARATHON – Page 130

I finally located the little park upstream of Murray Bridge where I had arranged to meet Martin; I could just see the outline of his vehicle in the pea-souper. Hours of bone-shaking corrugations and then extreme fatigue had left me weak and groggy, so much so that while trying to climb out of my boat onto dry land, my legs didn’t want to work and I slipped and ended up knee deep in the freezing water. I found Martin sound asleep in the driver’s seat, his head resting on the steering wheel. When I woke him, his first words were, “How in the bloody hell did you manage to get here? It’s impossible”. He had been so absolutely convinced that I would never find him, let alone make any progress in the fog, that he hadn’t even bothered to leave on his warning lights to help guide me.

CHAPTER 8 – DARLING RIVER SOLO MARATHON – Page 144

It wasn’t long before I smelt smoke, and then noticed flames coming from beneath my left elbow, near the radio. I cut the motor and leaned over, intending to gather water in my cupped hands to douse the flame. I assumed I must have dropped a cigarette butt at my last stop. Then it suddenly hit me that the fire was electrical. I came out of my bean bag seat fast, and spun around. Arcing was now occurring all over the boat as wires melted, sparks flew everywhere and I knew I was a goner if the fuel went up. I grabbed a collection of wires entering the battery, averted my face to protect my eyes, and pulled hard, ripping them free. There was no big bang, just pitch dark and deadly silence.

CHAPTER 9 – SOLO WEST-EAST SIMPSON DESERT CROSSING – Page 153

I rolled out of my swag at daybreak, our usual practice, to find Len already up and about and the fire lit, which was normally my job. As he ambled towards me with the billy in his hand, I gave him a cheery greeting “Hi Len, today’s the big day, mate, although you look a bit hungover. Are you alright?”

He paused at the front of his vehicle and seemed to stare straight through me before answering. “Not really Den. I had a bloody awful night and hardly slept. I just wish this pain in my chest would go away”. He leant over to siphon water out of the jerry can fixed to the vehicle bumper bar to fill the billy and looked up at me once more, his expression strangely vacant. His mouth opened as if to talk and then he fell over backwards.

CHAPTER 9 – SOLO WEST-EAST SIMPSON DESERT CROSSING – Page 156

With fifty kilometres to go, I found myself standing in a phone box, a desperate, frightened person. Tears were streaming down my face. I could not read the phone book and the name of my doctor was beyond recall. I was convinced that I was going to die of a heart attack.

CHAPTER 9 – SOLO WEST-EAST SIMPSON DESERT CROSSING – Page 161

At Alka Seltzer I assembled the cart and double-checked my equipment. My obligations to other people finished when the camera stopped rolling mid-afternoon. A few minor adjustments to the harness on the cart, a wave to the aircraft as it headed homewards, then forward I lunged, taking that first step. This one-man wagon train was on its way — the journey of a lifetime lay before me.

CHAPTER 9 – SOLO WEST-EAST SIMPSON DESERT CROSSING – Page 165

Soft sand for the last few kilometres to the lake was sheer hell and I was absolutely exhausted by the time I dropped down on to its western edge. I knew that I wouldn’t have the energy to drag my cart much further. It was hotter now and I spent the rest of the afternoon wrapped around the butt of a low bush seeking its patchy shade. The lake forked to the south and the easterly leg, about three kilometres wide, disappeared shimmering beyond sight. The two towering sandhills which rose from either shore of the main lake ran unbroken northwards, the lake gradually narrowing.

CHAPTER 9 – SOLO WEST-EAST SIMPSON DESERT CROSSING – Page 168

I was now into my last container of water, the one that I had taken first from the well. As I drew the cleaner water from the top, the remainder grew more turgid. When this was added to a packet of normally white macaroni and cheese, it took on a dark brown colour, full of grit and foreign bodies. If only the manufacturer could see his product now! I steamed off the water, using my specially prepared billy and a tube of plastic as the condensing surface. When this was finished, all that remained in my container was a baked blob of mud, sand and sundry other particles.

CHAPTER 9 – SOLO WEST-EAST SIMPSON DESERT CROSSING – Page 169

Tuesday afternoon I crossed the last major sandhill of the desert, which I had previously named “Big Red”, and passed down onto the gibber plains. Here I hoped that a station dam in the vicinity was carrying water. It was. Strange though, when I look back I never did take a wash. Perhaps after three odd weeks and with only one night to go, I savoured the anticipation of a luxurious hot shower. Or maybe it just didn’t matter any more.

CHAPTER 9 – SOLO WEST-EAST SIMPSON DESERT CROSSING – Page 169

That evening I marched through a sea of grass, eerie in the moon’s glow. A dingo ghosted along close by, stopping when I stopped, moving when I did. We shared the stars — we owned the night. Somewhere in the vagueness of it all, I do remember posing the question, “If I were to die now, would you eat me while I’m still warm or wait until I’d cooled off a little.” I missed his company when he departed in answer to the call of another from a distant place.

CHAPTER 9 – SOLO WEST-EAST SIMPSON DESERT CROSSING – Page 173

The death of my friend Len, who died in my arms in that remote creek bed, triggered my first panic attack a year later. No longer in complete control of my mind, I came crashing to my knees — a humbling experience. I thank Len for starting me down the path towards the most incredible journey I have ever undertaken, a challenge of mind and physical body way beyond my expectations or my wildest dreams.

I am proud of myself that I had the guts to ultimately tackle my problem head on. The moment I took that first tiny step in the desert, there were only two words that hammered in my brain: death or freedom.

CHAPTER 9 – SOLO WEST-EAST SIMPSON DESERT CROSSING – Page 173

In the end I had not only crossed a desert, but I’d used it to resolve a personal problem. My reward for my effort was my freedom. I had regained control of my life. The conflict between my inner mind and my conscious mind was resolved and the balance restored. I did it my way. I fought my mental battle alone in a desert arena without drugs and I won. I had defeated fear.

CHAPTER 10 – THE DESERT WALKER-GULF TO GULF – Page 182

I thanked all for their support and donations to my cause, hoisted my heavy backpack onto my back and walked out of town. I carried a small bottle of Gulf water, securely packed, which I intended to pour into the sea at journey’s end. With a mighty roar and a wing wave, the television crew flew low overhead and suddenly I was all alone — destination Adelaide some, 2500 kilometres away.

CHAPTER 10 – THE DESERT WALKER-GULF TO GULF – Page 182

It was a very hot, muggy day with not a breath of wind as I marched along across a shimmering, flat, almost treeless plain. The fierce sun beat down mercilessly on my old army hat, its sweat band soon saturated, while beads of perspiration ran in droplets down my face, at times obscuring my vision. I wasn’t accustomed to this oppressive humidity so I knew it would take a little while to adjust and settle in.

CHAPTER 10 – THE DESERT WALKER-GULF TO GULF – Page 193

With the sun now behind me, my signal mirror was useless so I raced to the radio, but was unable to make contact with either the Flying Doctor Base or the aircraft. My problems were now mounting, and to make matters worse, the engine noise which had been to the south and moving westerly, was no longer evident. I lit up my signal fires but did not put a lot of faith in them. The wind was flattening the smoke, which without suitable material to give off dense smoke, wasn’t terribly brilliant anyhow.

CHAPTER 10 – THE DESERT WALKER-GULF TO GULF – Page 204

It became incredibly hot and the glare was intense. As I sat on my pack having a lunch break, I thrilled at the visual experience, the uniqueness of my position, and my insignificance. Looking back towards my departure point of that morning, I suddenly became aware that my footprints, a thin line running as straight as a die, were all that blemished an otherwise perfectly unmarked surface. I must admit that I was pleased to see my destination gradually materialise on the horizon, and as the sun was setting, I made camp on the shore line at the northerly point of a dune that speared out onto the lake. I used the few saltbush twigs available to cook my meal and retired early to watch the night sky. How I enjoyed this period of my day, as I waited for fatigue to carry me away to another place.

CHAPTER 10 – THE DESERT WALKER-GULF TO GULF – Page 205

Like a lonely gladiator out doing battle in the middle of an enormous pure white arena, I fought for dominance to maintain my grip under his jawbone. Using his immense strength he tried desperately to dislodge me and for a while I was whipped backwards and forwards like a rag doll. Finally I got my left arm around his neck, dug in my heels and then, using every ounce of my strength, I arched backwards stretching it taut. His huge head now lay close to mine and I could smell his rancid breath. As the body of this wild thing trembled in my iron grip, a moist, incredibly soft and beautiful eye rolled backwards seeking contact with mine and it was then I saw his fear. For a moment I hesitated on my right to defy nature, then I reached for my sheath knife and slit his throat.

CHAPTER 10 – THE DESERT WALKER-GULF TO GULF – Page 214

The following evening I made camp late in a large creek bed, but was on the road again well before sunup. This was going to be an exciting day, hence I was getting an early start. It was still dark when I finally reached the top of a long climb, and there it was — an unforgettable sight. Away in the distance, a cluster of lights pinpointed Marree, the first town I had seen since departing Camooweal some eleven weeks and 1540 kilometres earlier. I paused to reflect while taking in the magic of the moment. It had been one hell of a journey so far.

CHAPTER 11 – THE SPIRIT OF ADELAIDE – Page 224

When the sun went down, so did we. Where we stopped we slept, even though we might be only a few kilometres from a town or roadhouse. Due to the low ground clearance of the solar car, we were unable to go any great distance from the side of the highway, so our sleep was always shattered by the never-ending roar of the semis. Occasionally we fluked a roadside rest area with a smooth entry surface, enabling us a measure of escape.

CHAPTER 11 – THE SPIRIT OF ADELAIDE – Page 233

Ahead lay the Adelaide Town Hall and as I silently slipped The Spirit of Adelaide into the space reserved at its entrance, I breathed a sigh of relief. We’d finally made it. The Lord Mayor of Adelaide was waiting to welcome me and I formally handed over the letters of greeting that I had carried across a continent.

CHAPTER 11 – THE SPIRIT OF ADELAIDE – Page 233

I realised full well that our effort would be rated puny, almost laughable, when compared to the million-dollar plus machines, with their well-equipped and catered-for back-up crews, who would race over the same course the following year. There were even reports that some entrants had requested that the speed limit on the South Australian section be lifted above 110 kph. We were, however, the first. We had blazed a trail for others to follow and with what we had available to us, had fought the good fight and had not given in — we had completed our mission despite the challenges that faced us.

CHAPTER 12 – GOLD FEVER – Page 237

We decided to team up and search out previously untouched ground in the hope of finding a new gold-bearing area and within a few days we did just that. On an area no larger than a house block, we unearthed one of the best finds that I had ever encountered. We worked non-stop and at the end of two weeks we had accumulated over $70,000 worth of gold. There wasn’t much left, just the occasional small piece, and I was now finding it increasingly difficult to keep them motivated. They kept reminding me that we were nearly out of food, but that wasn’t their real motivation to head for town. They would each have enough gold in their pockets to hit the pubs big time where they would stay in an alcoholic stupor for many weeks. When they did a number on themselves, they sure didn’t mess around, and I knew that this time it was going to be a big one. Finally we were completely out of food and there was no alternative but to depart. We stopped on the way at a waterhole for a swim and a wash and to dolly up the specimens before weighing and dividing all our gold into three equal packets.

CHAPTER 13 – JOURNEY TO AUSTRALIA’S INLAND SEA – Page 252

Night fell and I was still trapped in the swamp, but with a full moon I decided to carry on in the hope of reaching the main channel, and finding a dry bank to camp on. With so many narrow, silvery passageways only metres wide ripping through the trees, twisting and turning, it wasn’t surprising that after about an hour of constant battle I lost the main flow and ended up in a shallow backwater of stinking slush. The scene was really quite eerie and depressing. The Spaghetti Swamp had defeated me twice in a day and was proving more difficult to penetrate than I had expected. Well, tomorrow was another day, but for now, utterly exhausted and with great difficulty I managed to roll out my swag on top of all the gear in my canoe and sleep.

CHAPTER 13 – JOURNEY TO AUSTRALIA’S INLAND SEA – Page 253

The sun was slowly sinking and it was becoming quite dark under the dense canopy of leaves. It was also eerily quiet. I was unable to see more than a few canoe lengths in any direction and there was a constant threat of getting the canoe jammed in the fork of a tree, and then not having the physical strength to extract it against the force of the water.

CHAPTER 13 – JOURNEY TO AUSTRALIA’S INLAND SEA – Page 254

Dozens of spiders shaken loose from the branches cascaded down upon me. I didn’t know if any were poisonous, so I refrained from slapping those on my face or in my hair, preferring to let them scurry off unmolested to find hiding places amongst my belongings. I won’t hurt you if you don’t hurt me kind of thing!

CHAPTER 13 – JOURNEY TO AUSTRALIA’S INLAND SEA – Page 258

A cow, its calf still hanging out undelivered, its head chewed off by the dingoes, graphically illustrated the struggle to survive.

CHAPTER 13 – JOURNEY TO AUSTRALIA’S INLAND SEA – Page 261

She had her back to the swirling water, which if she went in, would sweep her to certain death in the broad expanse of lake ahead. I obviously was the more terrifying of her options, for finally she turned and departed terra firma, flat out. I raced from my canoe, but by the time I had her by the scruff of the neck, I was in over my waist and then fell into a bottomless hole.

The hunter and the hunted, now both in the drink, were being swept away. Things weren’t looking too good until I was able to grab an overhanging bough, and with some difficulty, hauled us both to safety.

CHAPTER 14 – JEANNE – Page 271

I went south, then finally, my phone bill to Jeanne having risen to astronomical proportions, I high-tailed it back to Noosa. The age difference hadn’t been mentioned and now I was dreaming of her sitting next to me in my four-wheel drive as we headed out into the unknown. Over a couple of cups of coffee and a few meat pies, was it possible that fate had really worked some sort of magic over two people in such a short time? I was about to find out.

CHAPTER 15 – DESERT OF DREAMS – Page 278

I’ll never forget that sudden feeling of total isolation as the desert quiet descended, broken only by the occasional breeze that stirred and creaked the huge sails of the now disused windmill. As the nearby floodout was thick with the acacias known as dead finish, I moved the camels over there so that they could feed on it as I settled down to wait.

It was late that afternoon before Channel 9, who were doing a documentary on Danny, arrived, followed by Danny and his family, and then Australian Satellite Services, who were installing my camel phone. Optus were about to launch their new satellite phone system, and with NEC, the equipment manufacturer, they thought it was a good idea for me to give the system a trial run out in the desert. What better place than the middle of the Simpson on the back of a camel?

CHAPTER 15 – DESERT OF DREAMS – Page 283

Sometime later we spotted the mob heading towards us en masse. Leading the rush was the largest bull camel that I have ever seen, a magnificent sandy specimen. I pulled out my rifle, loaded up and waited for the unknown. Muffy was now really agitated and becoming harder to control, fighting the rein as he no doubt became excited by the scent of the females in the mob, and perhaps the threat of a physical challenge by their leader, who was now closing rapidly.

CHAPTER 15 – DESERT OF DREAMS – Page 293

Early in the morning, I was awoken from a deep sleep by Danny making a hell of a racket, and yelling out that we were surrounded by wild camels. “Denis, get up quick! We’re being attacked.” I came out of my swag stark naked, surging with adrenalin, and in full flight-or-fight mode like some primitive from the past, and, grabbing my rifle, tried to sort out what was happening to us. My worst nightmare, that of a confrontation with wild camels while we were asleep, had apparently come true.

CHAPTER 15 – DESERT OF DREAMS – Page 294

That west–east crossing was without doubt the most physically difficult journey that I had undertaken. Through lack of water and nutritionally insufficient food, I had completely stripped my system — there was nothing left. I moved like a mechanical man motivated only by a will to conquer, a feeling so intense, so powerful that I would readily push myself to my death attempting to achieve my goal, still upright and still walking. It took months of good food and rest before I felt remotely well again.

CHAPTER 16 – THE DESERT MUMS – Page 315

Two were okay, and barring accident, would complete their mission. The remaining two were in real trouble, each suffering incredible pain as hour after hour they staggered on. They carried their burden without complaint, but distress was clearly evident in their faces and gait. To give in now would bring bitter disappointment to haunt them for the rest of their lives. Failure plodded along just one step behind like a vulture waiting for the moment when one step more is a step too far.

The tears that flowed that day out on the white salt crust were, however, not for their anguish, but for others. Word had just been received by satellite phone that another of their friends had lost her battle to live. They cried for them all: mothers, wives, sisters, daughters; black, white or brindle. They were walking for them, their personal pain insignificant when they thought about the greater pain and fear faced by others fighting for their very survival. In honour of all women worldwide who had lost their lives, The Desert Mums dubbed the area upon which their tears fell, Lake Courage.

CHAPTER 16 – THE DESERT MUMS – Page 330

At 10 am the blue sky above Big Red burst into life with an awesome display of colour. What an incredible sight as nets were opened and thousands of balloons turned loose! Against the fierce wind whipping overhead, they fought to rise skyward in celebration — a symbol of honour to the lives of those who are no longer with us. Spirits set free, now racing away on the wind.

CHAPTER 16 – THE DESERT MUMS – Page 333

The Desert Mums’ lives have all been enriched by their experience and normal living will never look the same to them again. They had all accepted the challenge and dared to climb another rung higher on life’s endless ladder.

CHAPTER 17 – MY MATE RON – Page 337

Well, I made a promise to him there and then. One day I would go back and camp a night on that high sandhill and he would be with me, by my side all the way. Apparently I was the last person he ever spoke to, and early the following morning, after battling his cancer for seven long years, he finally slipped away.

CHAPTER 18 – ONE LAST CAMP – Page 344

Above, the Southern Cross, which had guided me unerringly on so many occasions over dark and featureless terrain, continued its never-ending march across the night sky, ready as always to point the way. On this night, it turned my thoughts in different directions.

I’ve always encouraged the young to get out and experience our great outback and our heritage and to challenge life in general. For the not-so-young, I have endeavoured to show by example that age is not a barrier, merely an excuse, and that dreams can become reality if one is prepared to give it a go. If you haven’t already been, may the Southern Cross one day guide you on your own personal journey of outback discovery.

CHAPTER 18 – ONE LAST CAMP – Page 346

All around me bare domes and sawtooth peaks of golden sand gave irregularities to the rolling waves of ridge tops, while the valley floors below flowed with green rivers of gidgee. Then, after one final long lingering look, it was my turn to move on. I said my last goodbye to a very special place, then heading towards sun up, I turned my back forever on my Desert of Dreams.

 

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