This Adventurous Age

Adventures travelling and working around Australia.


2015 Travels June 22


Before this recent trip, we had been in contact with A, the man who had been our employer for the six months in 2005 that we worked at Pungalina. It is now a decade since we were privileged to spend that time living at and roaming this beautiful wilderness.

To recap, Pungalina is a three quarter of a million acre property in the Gulf country of the NE corner of the NT, straddling or bordered by the Calvert River. Leichardt’s expedition of 1845 named and crossed that river here. It had sporadically been an open range pastoral property, but little worked as same, as it was too small in that country to be economic. So there really had been minimal impact on the natural environment by European activities.

The Calvert River

And what a superb natural environment it was, consisting of several different and special ecosystems, ranging from coastal, fringing the Gulf of Carpentaria, through riverine along the Calvert, to uplands, limestone outcrops, massive underground cave systems, thermal spring fed swamps, perched lakes, waterfalls…Rainforest and huge paperbarks along the rivers and creeks. Sandstone ridges and extensive swathes of savanna grass and scrublands. Really ancient stromatolite formations. The variety of habitats ensured  varied and prolific birdlife. Ditto wildlife. The scourge of northern environments – the feral pig – was not so much of a problem there, kept in check by the natural dingo populations.

Extensive underground cave systems formed in limestone

A Melbourne-based professional acquired the lease around 2000. Initially, he was interested in having the place as a hunting retreat and it was managed for him by the experienced bushman who had found it for him. The idea of running a small tourist operation grew and some foundations were laid for this venture, based on tented accommodation and guided activities.  We first visited in 2003, when this was in its early days, having met the bushman when he passed through Adels Grove and sounded us out about working there. It was a long day’s drive from Adels, with the last stage being a rough, 65km long “driveway”.

The “driveway”

But life happens, and the professional had to sell the place. The purchaser A, owned an aviation company, in Melbourne, that specialized in small group tours by air. Pungalina slotted well into his operations and he had visions of the place becoming a go-to remote experience, both for those who could fly in and those prepared to drive in there – an adventure in itself.

We arrived at this point, running the safari camp tourist operations for six months in 2005. Lived in our van, set up in a rough bush clearing, 5kms from the bushman’s home – a rather primitive  establishment. Our water came from the nearby creek, our power from the van’s solar panels. A Telstra satellite dish at the main home gave telephone and internet access from there – when the resident dingoes had not chewed up the cables. Weather permitting, a light plane brought the mail, once a week. The main source of supplies was by road train from Mt Isa, once or twice a month, as far as the Redbank Mine – someone from Pungalina would have to do the 200km round trip over the rough track to fetch these. Providing interesting and varied meals for our paying guests could sometimes be a challenge.

The bushman who originally “discovered” Pungalina, had become a part owner and was our boss on the ground for the time we were there. He had established a network of rough tracks – sometimes just wheel marks in the long grass – to various special features of the property. There was no shortage of places to explore on our days off.

Paperbark swamps…

It was remote – there were no other people for well over a hundred kms, and no easy access to anywhere, except by light plane.

We became part of the “pack” of the bushman’s three semi-wild dingoes. They spread their time between  his place and our camp and became our regular companions. Learning about their characteristics was fascinating. They would invariably chew up any accessible vehicle upholstery, electrical wiring, camp pillows. They practised payback, usually involving some destruction, on anyone who offended their dignity. They knew the often open kitchen tent at the safari camp was out of bounds and never once set paw upon the tarp that was its floor, but  would spend much time teetering right at the edge of the tarp, with head through the tent opening, sniffing away at delectable smells like roasting meat. We became firmly convinced of the value of wild dingo populations in controlling introduced problem species like cats and pigs.

Happy hour with a couple of “dings”

John guided guests fishing for barramundi in the waterholes and river. He still has never caught a barra in his life!

Again, plans did not work out as intended and in 2007 Pungalina was again sold, this time, fortunately, to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. This organization acquires properties with great conservation  and research values and attempts to manage them in appropriate ways. Since acquisition, a number of rare and unique species has been discovered on Pungalina. The sale meant that independent tourist access was no longer possible. As at the AWC Mornington sanctuary in the Kimberley, the environmentally ethical Outback Spirit tour company has been able to include Pungalina on  its tour itineraries and set up a camp at our old safari camp site.

Where did those ten years go? Our time at the incredibly special  Pungalina remains the highlight of our travel times.

Natural springs

I think all of us associated with the property before 2007 have our regrets: the owners for selling it, us for not going back again while we could.

Anyway, A told us that our bushman friend had written a book about his experiences at Pungalina, from about 1999, until his departure nearly a decade later. We ordered this and now our copy had arrived. He had titled it “Walking with Dingoes”….what else could it have possibly been?

This story of a real pioneering venture, remote from the modern Australia most of us take for granted, made fascinating reading, particularly with our knowledge of the property – and even our little cameo roles in the saga.

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2005 Travels September 11


We took today as a day off, although technically, we were in charge of the place!

John did a final fill of Truck from one of the diesel drums. We’d done 359kms since last time. With both of the camp runabout vehicles out of action, our Truck was getting quite a lot of use, back and forth from house to camp.

I gave a last cuddle to the female dingo pup. O had been trying to find homes for the two of them in a sanctuary or appropriate place for them, especially the little male. I hoped he would keep the female. She was beautiful. I would so loved to have had the sort of property where she could have come with us – beautiful little lady.

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We spent the bulk of the day packing up our camp and the van, to be ready for an early departure tomorrow, provided O returned as he said he would.

It was quite a mammoth job.

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John was rather sad to be leaving his maturing corn crop by the van.

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The lengths of milled ironwood were going to have to go in the van! Down the centre of the floor. They would have to be taken out each night, when we parked up. It was not the most satisfactory of arrangements, but John could see no alternative. They were too heavy to go on the roof rack of Truck, and too long to go inside it.

O returned late in the day. John asked him to escort us, tomorrow, as far as the really sandy section of the track out, because he had doubts about us getting through without bogging.

Tonight was our last happy hour in Cane Toad Clearing. We said farewell to our friendly fantail, who usually came to the big tree we sat under, to watch us in the evenings.

I had really mixed feelings about leaving here, after nearly six months.

Earlier in the season, O had made regular references to our returning to run the camp in 2006. But he had not mentioned that in recent times, and we did not raise the matter. At this stage, we could not feel very enthusiastic about coming back, brilliant though this year had been. Time for new adventures?

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2005 Travels September 9


O left very early in the little plane. We heard it go. He had said something yesterday about going out for a medical appointment, somewhere. He would not be back until Sunday. We were not sure where he had gone to.

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We met the mail plane. I had not needed to order any supplies, so there was only the mail bag. I had parcelled up my last box of library books to send out on the plane.

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Camp Creek, near the house, in September

I phoned the Tennant Creek newsagent and cancelled the weekly paper.

The two dingo pups were amusing themselves by shredding a piece of paper. I hoped it was nothing that O had wanted to keep! They were definitely showing the ding penchance  for chewing up whatever was available.

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Things were starting to feel a bit final.

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2005 Travels September 2


V and F left after a fairly early breakfast. They would be returning to Adels to collect their caravan and then start the drive back home to Griffith.

The mail plane came, so I had the paper to read. The “outside” world had come to seem increasingly distant and almost irrelevant.

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The house babies

We had enjoyed having friends here. Their visit had been all too short.

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2005 Travels August 31


Was an early start today, because we took our guests down the Calvert and as far as the Stinking Lagoons. I packed a picnic sandwich lunch to go.

We had set up a makeshift seat in the back of our Truck, where – in travel mode – we only have three seats. but with some extra padding put on top of the tents we carry in the seat space, it was quite adequate.

Stopped at Mystery Shovel Water Hole, briefly, to stretch legs and admire its beauty.

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Had a second stop – again brief – at the Calvert Crossing, then it was the slow and bumpy stretch to the lower river.

Went first to the Stinking Lagoons, where we walked around for a bit, while John described the trip done with the Japanese to the coast itself. There were some horses at the far end of the big lagoon – presumably station horses from Seven Emu, turned out.

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Drove to the end of the cleared track at the lower Calvert and looked at the river there, from the vantage points on top of the high cliff-like banks.

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Then back tracked to the fishing access point on the river, where John and F attempted to catch something – anything, with no luck. It looked like the tide was out at this time.

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Fishing – and keeping watch for crocodiles!

The drive back to camp seemed a long one to me – a sign that I had become very familiar with that route, I think.

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Back at Mystery Shovel Water Hole

When we got back to camp, found that a ding – probably Lachy – had torn through the fly mesh door of F’s new tent, which they had left zipped up. F’s clothes, which had been folded up in the tent, were strewn around the clearing – with the exception of John’s long trousers. He had lent F these, to keep off insects at night. These were still neatly folded on their camp bed! We decided that was a ding sign that John “belongs” here and F did not! Male territoriality…….

We felt really bad that the tent had been damaged. But I was just grateful that there had not been more damage. It was not a great ending to what had otherwise been a very enjoyable day.

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2005 Travels August 22


Worked 9am to 9pm.

A and W left.

O told us that his lady friend planned to move from Brisbane to take a job at the health centre at Borroloola – so she would be much closer! I thought that was rather a giant leap of faith on her part and wondered how well she would cope with work in what was, essentially, an aboriginal health facility. We suspected that the old, more direct track from here to the west, might now get opened up again! This track was the one we took to go to the Escarpment, across the river, but continued on, winding about some difficult and very swampy terrain, to meet the Borroloola road near the Kangaroo Creek crossing, almost to the track to Robinson River. But it would take a lot of work to make it reliably drive-able – definitely dry season only.

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Dingo pup 1

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Dingo pup 2

O was now motivated to get on with building a new house that he had plans for, next to the existing “house”. It would come in as a kit, by truck. That in itself would be an interesting exercise, given the nature of the track in here.

But, before that, he would have to get the foundations and so on, ready for it.

Our expected two new guests were Japanese, here to fish. Their plane was scheduled to get into Darwin about midnight, just gone. They were hiring a vehicle and driving from Darwin and had assured O that they would be here by late afternoon. I was rather dubious about that – it was a hell of a long way, over some fairly poor quality roads. So I had planned a meal that would not “matter” if they arrived late – or did not arrive until Tuesday.

I cooked chicken breasts to be cold meat for Tuesday.

In the event, the two men arrived at 4pm – and wanted to immediately go fishing! So O took them off to Croc Hole on Karns Creek, where they caught some sooty grunters. The name seemed to amuse them!

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Croc Hole

For a somewhat late tea, I served eggplant moussaka, carrot and zucchini strips, followed by apricots set in orange jelly, with cream.

After such a long day, the men indicated they would like to sleep late in the morning. That was fine by me! They were only interested in fishing, so a late start would not matter.

They went early to bed – good! No camp fire session tonight.

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2005 Travels August 13


I was up at 7am to make breakfast for the guests, and pack them a small smoko to take with them.

Their comment in the guest book: Unique experience and wonderful, kind hosts, made us want to return soon. We will tell our friends!

So I guess John and I had done well, as solo hosts.

John took them up to their plane in the Troopy. I took Truck up to the house to see them off, as John would be staying up there to do his garden chores, while I had camp ones.

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After they had gone, it was the usual post-guest routine: strip beds and wash sheets, towels, tablecloths, tea towels in the machine up at the house. If the safari camp business really got busy over the next couple of years, I thought to myself that they should really consider installing a washing machine somewhere at the camp. Would save a lot of to-ing and fro-ing.

I cleaned the tent and made it up again. Emptied the fridges and took the contents back to the house.

John spent much of the day in the vegie garden, catching up after his days of guiding.

While I was up at the house doing the washing, we had a cuddle with the dingo pups. Beau was quite relaxed about us handling them – and they didn’t seem to mind the attention. They were just beautiful. I would have loved to be able to have the little female one, permanently, but knew it would not be kind to the dog to try and keep it in a backyard, even a fair sized one.

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Beau’s two dingo pups.

I treated myself to a lovely long shower.

Once again, we relaxed with happy hour in our clearing and discussed the experiences of the last few days. We were quite pleased with ourselves.

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And with two of the grown ups……


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2005 Travels August 6


The survey men left, after breakfast. They had been great guests – so easy to look after.

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We had found some times to talk to them about their work – most interesting. The helicopter pilot was obviously very experienced. He was on contract to the survey company. He also did work on water bombing bushfires, and search and rescue.

They had not used up all of their avgas drums – a bonus for the property, because they were left behind.

I spent the rest of the day starting the clean up in the kitchen, ferrying stuff up to the house fridges, and turning off the camp ones. It was only a few days before we would need them again, but it would be nice to have daytime peace again, without the generator going.

With this long run of guests we’d had, A and W had benefitted from meal leftovers going up to the house for them. The dings had also gotten a lot of scraps!

It was so very nice, in this late afternoon, to have a happy hour again – just the two of us – sitting out in Cane Toad Clearing. The dings graced us with their presence – all three of them. Beau even left the babies to come and visit – briefly. She then went back to the house and mother duties, but Scunge and Lachy spent the night with us, curled up around the little warmth given out by the solar light we had in the clearing. Nice to have them! It was a bit like they were welcoming normality again.

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Lachy investigating John’s beer; Beau taking a break from babies; Scunge frowing as usual

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It was also great to be able to have a good long shower, without having to rush in and out between guest presences in camp, and amongst all the work. I luxuriated in it.

I was soooo tired!



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2005 Travels July 24


O managed to coax Beau to bring her pups to where he could reach them. She allowed him to put them into a secure cage he had cobbled together in the house/shed, beside the Troopy. She could jump over the side when she wanted out, but the pups were secure. Beautiful little creatures. One male and one female.

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Beau and babies in a much safer area

I did dinner for the six camper friends of O’s, plus him. They paid for their meal – to O. We had decided a while back that $25 a head was a fair price for my incidental evening meals.

I had to fetch needed items from the house, in the morning. I got by with just the drinks fridge turned on; it had to be on anyway, in case the guests wanted cold drinks from it.

I served pre-dinner nibbles while the visitors sat round the camp fire, yarning with O. Nuts, semi-dried tomatoes, olives, fried eggplant, salami rollups.

Main course was roast marinated beef, with vegies and gravy, and muffin Yorkshire puddings. Dessert was pannacotta with berry coulis and cream.

This meal was becoming quite routine, now. Really, the only variable was the quality of the beef, and there wasn’t anything much I could do about that. Marinate, slow cook, and hope!

Last, served some biscuits with a couple of cheeses, and walnuts. This was served when they were back around the camp fire, having coffee.

The clean up was not huge, compared to when A’s group was here. The campers were not inclined to linger too late, so we got to bed at a reasonable hour.


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2005 Travels July 19


Now that we were so much into “winter”, there were some quite heavy dews through the nights, and it sometimes felt quite chilly. The heat and humidity of when we first arrived here were but a memory!

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Bush shapes on a winter morning

I faxed off this week’s plane order. It was a small one, fruit and veg for us and the house, cheese, pasta, cereals, mettwurst for the house. And a dozen small buttons – A had been sewing children’s clothes.

Faxed off the truck orders to Mt Isa. The Woolworths order was not all that big and was evenly divided between items for the camp/ourselves, and those for the house. By contrast, the greengrocery order seemed a large one – again evenly divided. A was really getting into the spirit of this remote area ordering! Notable items were 8 dozen eggs, 10 kilos potatoes, ditto onions, a kilo of garlic for A.

Beau dingo had birthed two pups. She’d made herself a bit of a nest under the office caravan, where it was a pretty tight fit. O was worried that they might become dinner for a python but decided to leave them there for a few days – not least of which while he figured out a way to get under there to get them! At least, she stayed around the house area, rather than going bush to have her babies.

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Beau crawled in under the old Silver Bullet to make her puppy nest