This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


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2005 Travels May 31

TUESDAY 31 MAY     PUNGALINA

The dings had gravitated to our camp overnight. Guess they liked company too!

Usual morning tasks. I helped with the watering, doing the pumpkin and melon areas outside the vegie garden, the paw paws, and running the hose at the base of the lemon and lime trees, for a while.

Campers were expected tomorrow. Two or three couples, for a week.  O wanted to put them out at the Bluff camping area and had done some cleaning up and slashing of that camp area, but John was to go out and make sure it was all good.

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The camp area had been slashed and cleaned up

He was also to construct a bush toilet out there. He found an empty drum, and cut the centre out of an old chair. Equipped with these and some other items, we drove to the Bluff camp – on the Calvert, north of Fig Tree Camp. The camp area was back some distance from where O kept the boat there.

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Bluff Water Hole – Calvert River

The toilet was the drum, sunk a bit into the ground, and secured with rocks. The chair was placed over that, and a screen around it. John set up a carton containing ash and sand, by it, for the campers to cover the drum contents as needed. I suspected John was hoping that drum emptying duties did not fall to him, at some stage!

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The camp area was a pleasant one. A reasonable grass cover over the soft river sand, plenty of trees around for shade. The area was big enough to fit them all with room to spread out of they wanted.

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The Bluff Camp Area

 


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2005 Travels May 23

MONDAY 23 MAY      PUNGALINA

Two men arrived by vehicle, to camp. O took them down to the Fig Tree camp, on the Calvert. They were staying for two nights. He charged them $80 a night – $40 each. Given the lack of services or facilities, the camping charge was quite high, but – at this stage – he was not really wanting to encourage independent camping.

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Calvert River at Fig Tree Camp

While we were up at the house, watering the gardens, there was some noise from the dings, off in the creek gully that led down to the river. O investigated, and found that they had bailed up an old kangaroo. It was too infirm to defend itself against the three dogs and eventually O went and finished it off with the rifle. The dings really didn’t need it for food – was more that their opportunistic hunting instincts kicked in.


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2005 Travels May 15

SUNDAY 15 MAY     PUNGALINA

We had been at Pungalina five weeks today. It had ceased to feel foreign or strange and we were really feeling at home.

We were up early, of course, at dawn. The river was gently steaming in the cool air of the early morning.

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Calvert steaming at dawn

Ablutions were performed at the water’s edge. The rest of the morning routine occurred back up the hill, behind some bushes.

The fire was lit for water for breakfast tea and coffee, and we had cereal and toast from the supplies I’d brought.

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The message should be clear!

Packed up the camp. Drove back to the lower river section, where O set off again with the slasher, to complete the rest of his track – another 20kms or so, and to slash a side track across to Big Stinking Lagoon, just to the west.

John set up to fish in the river.

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Here. we could get down the bank to river level, to fish

I walked some way along the track that O had slashed, to find photo points, and watch birds. Then I sat near where John was fishing and watched him, and birds.

We could see lots of fish in the water below, including some big ones.

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John caught a queenfish. Great – fresh fish for dinner, sometime soon.

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While John was fishing, we saw a Brahminy Kite catch a fish, pulling it from the water further across the river. It dived down, grabbed the fish in its claws, then flew off.

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Brahminy Kite with fish dinner

O eventually returned to our fishing place, with the slasher. He decided to spend a little time fishing, too.

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He initially used one of John’s rods and hooked a big something, but the line broke when the drag seized on the reel. He then went and got his own gear out of the Troopy  and managed to land a much larger queenfish. He made it look so easy…..But then, he’d had a lot more practice.

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Master and apprentice!

O trundled off back to the Calvert crossing, with his tractor and we eventually followed with the Troopy,  giving him time to get somewhat ahead.

It took nearly three hours to drive that section, because of the terrain. Much of the track there was over rocky ground – rough. The tractor was not that much slower than the Troopy!

Back at the ford, there was some discussion about relocating plant. We had two tractors and one Troopy at the river. John assured O that he was quite capable of driving one of the tractors along as far as the point, near Mystery Shovel Water Hole, where the side track to Bathtub Springs goes off. It was some 12kms. O wanted to leave the slasher there so that, when the area had dried out more, he could slash the loop track that led into Bathtub Springs and on around to near Kirkby Waters.

It was decided that John should drive the tractor with the slasher on, as this was more stable than the one with the blade, which was a bit risky on any slope. O could deal with that!

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The Troopy was left to me.

John thoroughly enjoyed his tractor jaunt, though the seat was hard and he got jolted around a lot. It was not exactly a modern tractor with some form of suspension!

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I drove the Troopy to the designated corner and waited for John and O to catch up. I collected John and we drove back to the van. O drove the blade tractor home, so he was somewhat later. We offloaded our gear, then did a vehicle shuffle to return the Troopy to the house.

That had been a most interesting and enjoyable couple of days. Having us around to help with things like  vehicle shuttles obviously made things much easier for O.

I cooked our queenfish for dinner – as fillets. Yummy.

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Locations from Calvert ford to end of track (Google Earth)


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2005 Travels May 14

SATURDAY 14 MAY     PUNGALINA

It had been arranged that we would take the Troopy and follow O’s tracks, well to the north of the Calvert crossing, to where he hoped to be with the slashing today. We would collect him and return to the Calvert crossing, where we would all camp overnight. Tomorrow, he would finish slashing the track and, maybe, he and John would get in some fishing.

Across the river was actually the Seven Emu property, but O had an arrangement with the owner of that property, to be able to have the track to the lower river through his land.

We made reasonable time to the Calvert crossing because the track was slashed and as clear as it was going to get, and because I’d been over it in the Troopy a few times.

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Mystery Shovel Water Hole

The Calvert River at the  crossing point was in quite a wide and shallow valley. The track dropped down a slight incline, changing from the usual hard dirt, to river gravels. There was a swathe of saplings and weeds like Noogoora Burr – seeds deposited by the river and growing above the usual flood level. The crossing point was very shallow with a gravel and stone bed. One could understand why it might have seemed a logical point for Leichhardt to have crossed – had he not found somewhere a bit further north for this. I doubted, though, whether his place could have been as good as this one.

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Calvert River ford

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Upstream side of the Calvert crossing

The far bank was an area of gravels and dirt, with some trees and scrub growing. This was not all that wide, then there was a sharp climb up a ridge line, with a tributary creek to one side. This was crossed a bit further along, where it was dry.

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The track stayed away from the river for some kms, keeping to mostly solid, rocky ground. Various water courses were crossed, mostly dry. In one section, we climbed slowly up a series of low “steps” formed from ripple rock.

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There was a pretty little creek and lagoon here – I called it Ripple Rock Creek. The track was still a little boggy just past there due to another tiny creek.

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Ripple Rock Creek

We found O at 55kms from the house. He had done well and was pleased with himself. He was well into a section where the track had approached close to the Calvert again. John and I had a look at the river, whilst O finished up the bit he was doing.

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First stop at the lower Calvert River

The Calvert was an impressive body of water here. It was tide influenced here, and actually was for almost all the way back to the crossing point. Predominantly fresh water for some of that way, but with some rise and fall of level, and becoming more salty the closer to the mouth it reached.

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There were small islands in the channel in this reach and some broad sand banks.

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At one point, not far from where we met up with O, the track followed very close to the cliff that was the top of the river’s valley – a bit too close for my comfort. I hoped it had not been undermined during the wet season floods!

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A bit close to the drop off edge!

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Our way had come along the top of the high bank

 

It was late afternoon by the time the three of us got back to the Calvert crossing.

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Calvert crossing – looking across to where we camped

Camp was to be on the narrow, fairly flat bank section, on the northern side. John and I set up the dome tent. O had a swag.

O put up the sign that John had made – nailed to a tree by the crossing.

Tea was steaks cooked on a grill over the open fire, with potatoes in foil done in the fire ashes at the side. We opened a can of fruit. Sat around the campfire, chatting, for a while, then turned in. We went to sleep to the sound of the river water running over the stones of the river bed at the crossing.

O told us that, when he was down here before Xmas, he saw a 4 metre saltie croc at this crossing – but he thought it was merely passing by on its way up or down stream! Certainly, the river seemed too shallow at this point to be a main home to one. But we would be very careful at the water’s edge!


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2005 Travels May 13

FRIDAY 13 MAY     PUNGALINA

Usual work for John and hours of research at the computer on my part.

John painted a sign on an old drum lid, as he had done in other jobs. O wanted the sign to put up at the point where the coast track crosses the Calvert. He wanted to deter unauthorized people coming onto the property from the Seven Emu Station side, to the west.

The original Gulf Track (Old Queensland Road) – now extremely rough and overgrown – came through from Wollogorang, to the east, crossed the river at this point, then continued on through to Seven Emu. This latter section, though very rough, was still driveable, and there had been a few unwelcome visitors turn up that way. These days, it was hard to find evidence that this was, in the 1880’s, a major stock route, over which many thousands of cattle were driven from the eastern states to the NT and the Kimberley of WA.

We’d had some discussion with O about the route of the explorer Leichhardt’s expedition through this way. John was particularly interested given he is related to John Roper who was part of that exploring party. It seemed that O’s crossing point of the Calvert was at one time thought to be where Leichhardt crossed, (but eventually this had been shown to have been at a point a little further north.) But the old stock route had followed some of the explorer’s line, but crossing at this easier, more shallow and less tidal point.

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The Calvert River was named by Leichhardt for a member of the expedition.

O had set out at dawn with the slasher. He would camp out again tonight. Making this track drivable again was a big job and one that usually needed repeating after every wet season.

We did the mail plane routine.

The disc of the Curreys catalogue was in the mail. That would really help me.

We brought the Troopy down to our camp and transferred the gear we would need for an overnight camp into it: small tent, lilo, bedding, food.

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Computer games!


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2005 Travels May 8

SUNDAY 8 MAY     PUNGALINA

Today, O planned to start on the cleaning up of his track to the coast – in reality, the 75-80kms to the lower, tidal section of the Calvert, rather than to the actual shore of the Gulf.  However, he thought – from what he’d seen by flying over the area – he might, this year,  be able to forge a route from the lower river, over the tricky salt flat bogs, to the actual coast, but had not yet tried to get there by vehicle. Traversing such coastal salt flats needed to be undertaken with great caution. Such terrain could swallow vehicles totally.

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Salt flats west of the Calvert River mouth (Google Earth)

O thought the ground would be dry enough, now, to begin to clear the ravages of the wet season, and cyclone, on his track north.

Over the previous dry seasons, O had surveyed the eventual route of his coast track in his light Jabiru plane. He had used GPS fixings to plot a possible route, then went out on quad bike and foot to determine the actual best route on the ground. He had then slashed and evened this to be suitable for the 4 wheel drive Troopy to be able to drive over.

This track gave visitor access to the fishing of the tidal reach of the river, as well as seeing some great scenery.

O was taking one of the tractors, with a blade on, so he could push aside trees that had fallen over the track. Cyclone Harvey, in early February, came right over Pungalina. The winds got to over 100kmh and 6 cm of rain fell in a short time. This might not sound like all that much, but runoff was enough to raise the level of the river by metres.

Trees around these parts get weakened by termites too, so it often does not take much to make them fall. Thus there was a lot of debris to be cleared off the track.

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Unusually marked tree along the route to the coast

We were asked to take the Troopy, follow the tractor tracks and pick up O at about 4pm, from whatever point he’d reached, and bring him back to the house. He estimated that, even leaving at dawn,  he would not even get half of the distance and wanted to leave the tractor there so he could continue the work from that point.

We had a little sleep in, and left our camp about 10am, to go collect the Troopy from the house, then set off. Initially, the way took us on a familiar route, north past the Fig Tree and Bluff Water Hole turn offs. From there it was new ground for us.

After that, we were trying to follow thin tractor tracks through high, drying grass. We needed to travel slowly, because the ground was rough and we often couldn’t see rocks and ruts in the ground until we were onto them.

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Following the path of the tractor

As we progressed further, tracking O became harder and harder.

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We came to one place where the tractor traces entered a small creek, but we could see no exit signs straight across the other side. We hunted, on foot, for a while, and eventually found that he’d gone down the creek bed itself for some distance, before driving out on the other side.

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Tracks go in, but then where?

We eventually caught up with O, a bit beyond a beautiful lagoon, at 4pm. Great timing, right as instructed. We did not tell him that this was rather accidental, as we’d thought we’d have caught him a lot earlier. We had considerably underestimated how slow the going would be.

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Mystery Shovel Water Hole

The beautiful lagoon had been named Mystery Shovel Water Hole, by O. When he was initially surveying the track route, he’d found an old shovel there. No idea of how or why it had gotten there, except that it definitely was not recent. It was a really lovely spot, on a tributary creek of the Calvert.

O drove the Troopy – and us – back to the house, at a faster pace than we had made! But it was still dark by the time we got there. We collected Truck and went back to camp, for a fast meal and early night. The physical effort of bracing over the rough track and the concentration of trying to follow the way, had been really tiring. But it had been a really interesting day. Exploring Pungalina was quite fascinating.

 


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2005 Travels April 24

SUNDAY 24 APRIL     PUNGALINA

This was our day off. Again, it seemed like there might be storms – big cloud build up, but no rain resulted.

O was going to tow the new boat on its trailer to the Bluff Waterhole, further down the Calvert River. The track there was now dry enough to do this. The boat would stay moored there for the season. There was already a boat on the Croc Hole waterhole on Karns Creek – the closest fishing hole to the camp. So, our soon to arrive guests – who were coming for the fishing – would have two areas in which to fish from boats.

Later, when tracks had dried out some more, and could be cleaned up, O planned to have a boat moored at a waterhole further down the river again, that he called Bathtub Springs.

Loved the names O had given places on the property!

The Calvert for much of its length, is a series of beautiful deep waterholes, some as long as maybe six kms, separated by stretches of shallows, rock bars and tangles of dead trees brought down by floods. So it was not possible to take the boats to their destinations by using the river. Even in the lower tidal section, a boat could not travel far upriver before being blocked by sandbars and sections of narrows.

O asked if we wanted to tag along, to help him manhandle the boat into position. For us, that was a chance to see more of the place.

The way out to the Bluff took the same track as to Fig Tree Camp, with which we were familiar, but after some way, kept going straight ahead, where we had turned off to the left to go to that camp.

We saw two wild dingoes in the scrub, not too far from the house. As we were in our Truck, couldn’t ask O at the time, but wondered if one of them was the male he called “Darryl” – the old male who was, presumably – Scunge’s mate and the father of Beau and Locky. He had earlier told us that the house dingoes sometimes take food out to Darryl, so I guess that alone was incentive for him to visit regularly. But he never came inside the fenced home garden area, even though the way in was wide and open.

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Wild dingoes

 A few kms past the Fig Tree turn off, we took a turn to the left from the main track. This led to the river but O had to stop a bit short of it, where the going was rough. Here, we unhitched the boat trailer and manhandled it on further, to the water’s edge, where there was a place shelving enough to enable us to launch the boat off the trailer, then tie it securely to trees on the bank. This was right at the downstream end of the Bluff Waterhole. It wasn’t too hard to get the boat down to the water, but it would have been very difficult for O on his own.

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Calvert River at Bluff Waterhole

O left to go back home and do more work. We wandered around the edge of the river for a bit, then went back to our camp, to bird watch and laze about for the rest of the day.


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2005 Travels April 12

TUESDAY 12 APRIL     PUNGALINA

The sky was very cloudy. It looked as though it might rain, but didn’t. There was quite a wind in the morning and through to mid-afternoon, which kept the humidity down. But that rose after about 4pm.

Despite the cloud, the solar system charged the van batteries up quite well – got to the green light on the controller, and into the 13’s in the batteries.

Having a proper toilet to use this morning was great. Trekking off into the long grass with the spade was not the greatest start to the day, yesterday!

We had grapefruit and cereal for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch. I was pleased to have some appetite and wondered if the heat of the day was affecting this  by the evening?

The three men went off for the day – driving to the west, across the Calvert, to near Surprise Creek. This was a tributary that entered the Calvert at the upstream end of the long Escarpment waterhole, and which had some interesting waterfalls near the junction. They were able to get the vehicle within about a km of the creek, but had to manhandle the couple of canoes they were taking to leave there for tourist use, the rest of the way. Hard work over that terrain.

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In the morning, we went and worked in the vegie patch for three hours. John dug beds. I did the fine weeding and transplanted basil and eggplants to better places, and watered. Our watering tasks were to include watering the rather large house garden area, moving sprinklers around that, making sure the lemon, lime and pumpkins were watered.

We had a little driving outing too. Drove north to the Fig Tree Camp, where we briefly camped in 2003. We had to go cut some stakes for a teepee structure for the climbing beans that O wanted planting. We cut these from along the track, then continued on to have a look at Fig Tree.

We bird spotted along the way. There were lots of crimson finches out at Fig Tree.

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Crimson Finch

The Calvert River there was decidedly higher than it had been in 2003 – as one would expect at this time of the year.

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Calvert River at Fig Tree Camp and a cloudy, humid day

After lunch John went back up to the house, to use tools there to make a wooden frame for a piece of mirror he found in the container. This would become a little mirror in one of the showers.

I washed our clothes from yesterday. Went to clean the toilet and showers, but there was no water. I wasn’t sure how to operate the pump to fill the tank from the creek, so decided to wait for John to return. So I sat by the creek and watched birds and tata lizards, and just enjoyed it. There was no sign of the big water monitor we had seen around the creek yesterday, or the smaller one we’d also seen around.

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Safari Camp Creek

Later in the afternoon, I started to feel off colour again.

I cooked ham steaks, eggs and fries for John’s tea. I had a cup of vegie soup from a packet, and a few fries. Felt a bit better after that.

O came down while I was cooking, to check if we were ok, he said. He’d already told us that a small order of foodstuffs could be brought in from Tennant Creek, on the weekly mail plane – but nothing like meat or frozen goods, at this time of the year, because the plane was loaded the night before. I gave him my want list for some groceries – and for the Weekend Australian, to be a standing order, delivered from the newsagent to the plane. John ordered some more packets of vegie seeds.

O mentioned that, when he was in Melbourne before Easter, he and A went to see the guy who had fixed our van solar system – an authority on alternative power systems. We had mentioned to A about him and suggested he might have some ideas about power options for Pungalina. Was nice to know he had listened to our suggestion.

I asked O if he had any beef mince at the house. He said no – but he had some beef he could mince up – maybe. I replied that I had been going to offer to cook hamburgers/patties for the men’s last night here, tomorrow. O replied “I’ll mince it”! I did hope that I would not have to beg for items of food all the time.

Decided to try John’s cortisone cream on the itchy rashes on my hands and ankles.

This morning, there was a big cane toad outside our van. We decided to christen the place Cane Toad Clearing.

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I’m a cane toad

 

Yesterday, we had put out all the solar lights brought from Melbourne for the camp, and stuck them in a pile of raked grass near the van, to charge up. Thought these were attracting insects at night, hence toads.

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Solar lights charging up

Ran the generator again at night, to give us the 240v light and to run the big fan.

It did seem a little cooler tonight.


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2005 Travels February

 BACKGROUND……

In 2003, we worked the tourist season at Adels Grove, in far NW Qld. During the course of this, we met O, who managed a new, small, tourism venture at a remote property in the NT Gulf country. He invited us to visit there, with a view to seeing if we would like to work there in 2004.

We did drive up there and camped in our tent for a week, finding out about the safari camp operation and the property in general. I came away with plenty of doubts about the conditions in which I would be expected to cater for guests. John came away very keen.

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During 2003 at Adels, I also encountered A, the Melbourne based owner of a small aviation company, that conducted tours to interesting and remote places. I had mentioned Pungalina to him, as a possible new stop over on his tours of the Top End.

The 2004 employment did not come to pass. When O contacted us he simply said that things had changed and what would happen in 2004 was uncertain. And so we went touring in WA.

O contacted us again, late in 2004, to say that the way forward was more clear and to ask if we might still be interested. When we said possibly, he replied that the new owner of Pungalina – A, the aviation company owner, would contact us to interview us about working there.

In 1999, the Pungalina pastoral lease had been bought by a Melbourne man, in a kind of partnership with O, who scouted the property for him. R provided the finance; O would live there as a caretaker, and do necessary development work, like building an airstrip.

As we’d found out, in 2003, R and O had started the small tourism venture there – a safari camp for small groups. When we’d been to look at it, that year, it seemed quite ad hoc and reliant on young backpacker type staff.

Unfortunately, in 2004, R had to sell the place, as part of a divorce settlement. It was bought by A and his wife S – as dovetailing neatly with their air tour business. They had visions of it becoming a significant destination on their tours. They maintained a similar arrangement with O – he would live at Pungalina and do the required development work, in a form of partnership.

2005 would be the first full operational season under this new ownership.

A and S came to see us at home, and I made a light lunch for them. We discussed their expectations for the way the safari camp should be run. I sensed an undercurrent that they were looking for a more professional, less casual approach. S seemed particularly unimpressed that when they called in there, last year, with a tour group, they were fed pumpkin soup by the backpacker staff person – and not much else. It had not made a great initial impact! But maybe they also were not fully aware of the issues of managing somewhere so remote?

It was agreed that we would take on the roles of managing the safari camp and looking after guests – although obviously O would still be in overall charge and have the key role in guiding visitor activities.

We would receive the same pay as at Adels – $350 clear a week, and keep. Industry super would be paid. We would have 1.5 days off a week, but would take those flexibly, when it suited the camp needs.

One very good piece of news was that A had bought, last year, a second hand commercial gas stove and oven, and had it transported in, with considerable difficulty, late in the year. So the cooking facilities would not be the hole in the top of a fire drum that I’d feared. However, A still seemed to expect some “bush cooking” – for the atmosphere.  He mentioned barramundi wrapped in ti-tree leaves and cooked in a fire pit! Really? Unless O could do that, it wasn’t going to happen! I had visions of unwrapping fish charcoal in front of hungry guests.

A clearly wanted us to provide greater feedback about what was going on up there, than he had received to date. This, we could see, had the potential for a rather difficult situation for us, in terms of loyalties, but was something we’d have to figure out as we went along.

They also mentioned that O was arranging for a mechanic friend of his from northern Victoria, to go and spend two or three months there, later in the year, working on the camp vehicles – particularly on building what A called the “billy cart” – a large, open air vehicle that could transport 12-14 people at a time around some of the property’s tracks.

It certainly seemed that S and A were serious about turning the Pungalina camp into a quality experience for guests.

So our plans firmed up. We would drive up to Adels Grove and work there over the busy Easter period and after, until such time as the Gulf Track was opened. O would make contact to arrange for us then to drive into Pungalina.

We would manage the safari camp there, then, for the season – maybe as late as October or November  – then come home.

M at Adels was very happy that we were available to work in the lead up to Easter and beyond. She accepted the uncertainty about how long this would be for.

A arranged with us that we would take some things that they had bought, up for the camp, and they would in return pay our fuel and accommodation costs en route. There were new towels, some hot water bottles (I guess mid-year nights could be chilly), water drinking bottles, some pairs of boot protectors, small mirrors, water shoes, snorkelling masks.

It was agreed that John would make some of his folding wooden tables to take up for use at the accommodation tents. He would be paid for these. We would buy some solar powered lights for around the camp. I would get some staple food supplies in Cloncurry on the way through – non perishables, of course. All such costs would be reimbursed.

S and A seemed very open to the idea that there may be quite a lot needed to bring the camp up to the standard they wanted.

A folder containing a draft of their Procedures Manual was dropped in for us. Clearly, a good deal of thought had gone into this and I found it very useful, if a little daunting! I thought that, in parts, it was perhaps geared to backpacker workers – who had not worked in hospitality before, or in remote parts. There was quite a lot of emphasis on cleanliness! And on behaving like staff, rather than guests….

ABOUT PUNGALINA

The property was 500,000 acres. It was a pastoral lease, but seemed to have never really been operating as a successful venture – too small for those parts! It originally was part of neighbouring Seven Emu Station, to its west, but was of such little value to the operation that it was separated off and sold as a separate lease in about 1971. During the 70’s some improvements were made to the place, as was supposed to happen for pastoral leases: some yards were built, some parts fenced, a large shed/house built, some cattle were run.  In the early 80’s, a government built track provided access to the “homestead” area. By the mid 80’s, however, any occupancy or work on Pungalina had been abandoned. The destocking for Brucellosis and TB in the early 80’s appeared to have been the final thing making the property unviable.

Apparently there had. at some stage way back, been a home of sorts, further north than the 70’s home site, on Pungalina Creek, a tributary of the Calvert. This was over the western side of the Calvert, on Seven Emu, and presumably accessed from that side. Some mango trees still remained there.

Pungalina contained a range of landform types and habitats. Sandstone escarpments, low limestone ranges with caves under some sections. Some wetland areas were filled by rain events, some were spring fed and permanent. There was the riverine environment along the Calvert. Clearly, it was rich in animal and bird life. The decades of neglect, coupled with the fact that it was never really consistently grazed, had allowed the place to return to virtually its original state, which made it really quite unique.

In the late 1990’s, O was working with a hunting safari business in the Gulf country and it was there that he met the client who expressed a wish to own a cattle station. O found that Pungalina could be available and they went and inspected it – as best they could, given the years of neglect of its few tracks. R was convinced that the property had potential to fulfill his dreams of having a cattle station and perhaps a hunting safari venture.

So R purchased the lease and O moved onto the property in late 1999. He occupied the old tin shed “house”, set on a bluff above the Calvert River.

The initial idea of running a cattle operation did not happen. There were some feral cattle on the place – left over from earlier times and probably some strays from neighbouring Seven Emu and Wollogorang. Early on, they did a muster of the place, with the help of staff from Seven Emu, and sold off the feral beasts that were rounded up, excepting a small herd destined to provide meat for O and any tourism venture.

O had a massive array of tasks before him, after he moved in. He made the old tin hut and the elderly caravan that was there, habitable. A verandah went onto part of the hut. One end of it was to be the living quarters. He lined inside the tin roof with great sheets of paperbark – effective insulation, but I always hated the thoughts of what was actually living up in there! Most of the tin walls of this part of the  original hut were replaced by a low wall of mud bricks with shade cloth above it completing the wall. One full, solid wall of mud brick provided the framework for the wood burning stove and a sink.

The other end retained its tin walls and was the store area and garage for his vehicle. An old caravan – the Silver Bullet – once used to house mobile road work crews – provided a bathroom and toilet (once there was water connected), a spare bedroom and another bedroom or – for a while – schoolroom; in our time there it served as an office. Another old caravan behind the house was vaguely habitable.

O had installed running water to the house and Silver Bullet – from a pump in the river that fed into a tank he’d put up on a nearby low hill. A diesel generator eventually provided electricity.

It should be noted that there was little to work with when he’d moved in to the place. Everything he needed had to be gotten, somehow, to either Wollogorang Roadhouse or the Redbank Mine, and then he would drive the 64km long, rough, sandy track to the Gulf Road to go collect whatever. This was only possible, of course, in the Dry season.

Initially, O had no means of contact with the outside world, but eventually, through Telstra, a sat phone service was installed.

An early imperative was to construct an airstrip – for Flying Doctor access as well as access to the outside world in the Wet season. O’s big old bulldozer was brought from storage at Charleville. R helped source some second hand machinery. Then, a new machinery shed needed to be built.

The airstrip build was a massive achievement by O. The space for it was made 500 metres wide and the strip was 1.5kms long. The area had to be flattened, huge rocks moved out of the way. It was made even with gravel – plenty of that around the river – then it was rolled, watered, rolled some more.

Unfortunately, just after the airstrip was finished, there was the huge Wet season of 2000/01 and over 100 inches of rain fell on Pungalina. The airstrip was washed away by the flooding Calvert River. It was rebuilt by O and serviceable by mid 2001. Apart from air access in a medical emergency, that also meant service by the weekly mail plane from Tennant Creek, and an alternative way for guests to come in. Once O bought a small light plane, he was able to use that to scout the property, find various features worth checking out and plot where access tracks might go.

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The airstrip and machinery shed

A vegetable garden was set up – sort of; it was fenced to keep the feral cattle out. Banana and pawpaw trees were encouraged to grow around the house.

O fenced a sizeable area that would become a paddock for some cattle, where it would be easier to find and kill a beast, as needed.

Then the tasks were exploration, track making, setting up a camp to accommodate the tourists that O and R had decided the venture would focus on. By the time we were there in 2005, O had gained the agreement of the owner of Seven Emu, and made a rough track from the northern border of Pungalina, through Seven Emu, to the tidal section of the lower Calvert River, close to the coast.

So, after a mammoth and difficult endeavour, that would have defeated many mortals, the safari camp tourism venture started in 2003.

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2003 Travels September 16

TUESDAY 16 SEPTEMBER     PUNGALINA

First thing this morning, there was a light mist lying over the river. This gave it a totally different look, with the trees on the opposite bank being reflected in the water. The sun burned the mist off fairly quickly, though.

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Misty morning Calvert River

After breakfast, drove ourselves back to O’s house, feeling quite proud of ourselves for remembering the way – there were a few side tracks. Once away from the river, the country we went through was tall, dry grass interspersed with some scrub and taller trees.

Near the house, the track passed a fenced paddock. This was the only fence we’d seen, since passing through the locked gate back out near the Savannah Way.

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Wildlife!

O directed us to go out to the escarpment overlooking the Calvert River, upstream from the house. He gave us directions for crossing the Calvert, in a shallow section just north of the house, and then for how to get to the Escarpment.

The river crossing was wide but not too rough. But the tracks were rough and rocky in parts.

The scarp country was rocky and dry and different to other parts of the property that we’d seen, to date. There were several “families” of large termite mounds beside the track to the scarp.

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A family of termite mounds

There were certainly a variety of different environments on this property.

From the top of the cliff, we looked down on a great curve in the river, in one of its deeper sections. It was quite breath taking.

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The Calvert River from the top of the escarpment

The bank on the far side was sandy and would certainly be under water in the Wet.

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The change of vegetation from the dry grass and scrub, to the lush riverine growth beside the water, was really obvious from above. From what we saw on our walk, the river was a series of long, deep waterholes, separated by sections of shallows and rockResize of 09-15-2003 16 Calvert River from escarpment.jpg

 

We spent several hours wandering around out there, and walking for quite a distance along the top of the scarp.

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Exploring the escarpment; Truck parked on track behind

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Looking downstream at the edge of the escarpment – where John stood, earlier

Slowly negotiated our way back to the river then across it. There was quite a wide section of river worn rocks and pebbles, then a wet section to a little bank of land, followed by another wet section and a steep climb up the bank on the house side.

 

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Approaching the river. Tree line shows main channel.

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Track through rocky section. Would be under water in the Wet season

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Crossing goes over little bank in the middle, then through the main channel

Back on the home side of the river, again following O’s directions, we drove to the safari camp, following a track, roughly south, that started near the homestead. The camp seemed to be about 5kms from the house.

We found a really attractive setup at the safari camp. It was designed to cater for a small number of guests at a time – full catering and guiding.

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A guest tent. Dining tent at back

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Guest tents. Kitchen tent in background

A lush looking green grassed central lawn had several two person tents well spaced out around it. In a curve of a small creek was a large marquee style tent that was a dining “room” and another that was the kitchen tent. Facilities in the latter were rather primitive, though. There were some portable benches, a small sink, a domestic refrigerator and a few metal storage shelves. One wall was flyscreen mesh, which provided a little ventilation, but it was really hot in there!

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Kitchen tent

Outside the kitchen tent was a campfire area. Here was a 44 gallon drum, with some circles cut out of the top, and a square opening down towards the base. A fire was lit in the drum and the top was the “stove” – temperature control would be rather imprecise.

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Creek side camp fire seating area. Drum “stove” by tree.

There was a collection of camp ovens used for cooking in the campfire.

Apart from the drum top and camp oven cookery, there was talk of cooking locally caught barramundi, wrapped in bark from paperbark trees, in a fire pit dug in the ground. This was a very long way from my comfort zone!

I was somewhat dubious about being required to prepare meals in these conditions, but John was, of course, sure it could be done. Hmmm – I would have to think hard about that one!

Around the campfire pit were seats made from logs. This area, too, was close to the creek, with a constant little background noise of the water flowing past – it was a spring-fed, permanent creek.

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Creek by the seating area and camp fire

It was certainly a very attractive area, contrasting with the wild grass growth across the creek, and the scrub beyond the cleared camp area.

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Spring fed creek by safari camp

The camp had only been established and going for a couple of seasons – early days yet. We did not like to ask how many guests they’d had, to date. There were just the two types of accommodation – bush camping, with no real facilities, as we were doing, or the catered camp, with a fee of over $300 per night per person.

After wandering around and exploring the camp, we made our way back to our river side establishment, and spent the rest of the afternoon and evening, as last night. There was much discussion about the pros and cons of working here. John was very keen on the idea – a new adventure beckoned! But I had reservations, mostly to do with cooking facilities.

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The big river water hole by Fig Tree Camp – and pandanus