The Dinner, Bed and Breakfast tents had varied clientele. Most were from the small groups brought up by the company tours. The owners were working hard to attract other companies’ bus tour groups and there were a couple of lots of those while we were there.
Some travellers did not want to chance their caravans over the road from Gregory Downs, so left their vans there and booked into our accommodation for a night or two.
Some guests flew in, in their own planes. I was surprised to find how many travellers were flying around the country in their own planes. Someone from Adels would pick them up from the airstrip and transport them between Adels and the National Park, as required.
A meal service was not advertised for campground guests, as we did not really have the facilities to expand the meals service, until the new building was finished. But occasionally some would smell the cooking, or wander past, and ask if they could get an evening meal. The boss would set a price of $20 or $25 for this, depending on what was on the menu – this would often put would-be diners off!
The week after we started work, the annual “dig group” arrived, to be accommodated in the tents – and fed – for nearly a fortnight.
Some were palaeontologists, some were experts in natural history, flora/ fauna. They came from the Uni of NSW and the Australian Museum. Many were real experts in the fossils of the Riversleigh fields. Their leader was Professor Mike Archer, of some renown – partly for his view that the extinct thylacine might be able to be re-created via fossil DNA. His wife – a researcher in the same fields, was part of the group, and they brought their two primary school aged daughters.
The scientific group left early each day for the fields. The boss did their breakfasts and made lunches for them to take. They got back about 4pm, and got together out in the eating area to compare notes and finds for the day.
A couple of times during their stay, they gave talks to anyone from the campground and other accommodation who wanted to attend. We served tea, coffee and biscuits after, and the attendees were asked to donate to the RFDS tin.
Mike Archer was an excellent speaker, and the subject matter – mostly dealing with the significance of the Riversleigh fields – was much more interesting than I had anticipated. Quite fascinating, in fact.
The period of their stay was a sustained busy time for us, with normal days off suspended, so it was rather a relief when it was over.
Some general recollections of the time at Adels:
Not long after I’d started work in the kitchen, the cook and I were getting organized for the day’s work, and she was checking the menu the boss had written out. She said that trifle was listed for dessert and that, when she started, the boss had told her it was a popular dessert. But her experience was that there was always a lot left over. We talked about how she made it, and all sounded normal – cake, jelly and custard layers. But then she mentioned that she stirred them all together! I tactfully suggested, as we made it that day, that the layers looked really nice left separate. She took the hint, and the resultant trifle was all eaten. One problem solved!
Some days our cooking schedule was quite tight, if numbers were up and the oven was involved, due to there being only one. The gas came from bottles – and could be guaranteed to run out at the most inopportune time. If we were not using a cooktop, too, it could be some time before we discovered that whatever was supposed to be cooking in the oven – wasn’t!
Campers exploring along the creek would get curious and wander up from the Grove to see what was behind the buildings. Some would come over and decide it was a great camp kitchen. A few times, cook or I came back from our break to find campers setting up to use the kitchen! A couple of lots became quite unpleasant when we explained it was not for public use.
The numbers we were cooking for that night would have been notified to us at 11am. By that time, if it was a company tour day, someone from the office would have rung through with the number on board. Occasionally there would be an unbooked later customer or two, which could throw out numbers as did campers who wanted a meal. The boss was loathe to turn away customers and this could throw our catering out a bit. OK for roasts and silverside, but if it was a fish night, we would usually not have much surplus defrosted.
Guests could be really trying – some because they just didn’t stop to think, others I was sure, deliberately. All the tour guests were asked to advise ahead of any special diet needs. We had a supply of frozen gluten free bread. We coped with the occasional diabetic, and regular vegetarians. But one woman from a non-company tour group, came to us in the kitchen, 15 minutes before service time – the group had been in camp for several hours by then – and told us she was vegetarian, lactose intolerant, and allergic to onions and garlic! The menu for that night was spag bol and bread and butter custard. We pointed out there wasn’t much we could do, with that timing, but give her a plate of salad. She wasn’t happy!
We got really fed up with the men (always males) who would front up to the serving area, as we were dishing up maybe fifty plates of food, and expect us to drop everything and fetch them one of their beers from the coolroom – where we’d agreed to store it as a favour. They would get stroppy when we said they’d have to wait.
One afternoon a lady from a tour group sat out in the eating area, watching cook and I prepare dinner. Not long before serving time, she marched up, declared she was a chef in Sydney and didn’t think our kitchen was up to standard! She pulled the plug out of the sink in which we were washing up prep dishes and declared we hadn’t turned the hot water on frequently enough for dish washing. She turned on the tap – the one, cold, one. I picked up the two buckets we used for fetching hot water and shoved them at her, telling her she would find the hot water about 100 metres that way – and since she’d emptied our sink, she could go fetch the water to refill it! She stomped off then, having embarrassed herself in front of her group members – who appeared amused, so I guessed she’d been throwing her weight around there too. John fetched the hot water.
I am sure our kitchen was not up to Sydney standards – but the Gulf, and the whole outback for that matter – is different. We kept it as clean as we could, and followed the best practices we could. In all my weeks there, had no reported issues with the food, amongst guests or staff.
We did have to be careful to cover any food left out on the benches, that wasn’t right by us, because the bower birds would fly in on raids. They were very bold. The “walker birds” would clean up anything dropped on the floor. Bar shouldered doves prefer to walk everywhere and we certainly had some very fat ones hanging around the kitchen area.
I did sometimes worry about the untreated water that was our water supply, being downstream of the National Park and its campground and swimmers. But the greatest concern was the high level of calcium carbonate suspended in it. For my own drinking water, I ran the water through my filter jug at the van, then boiled and cooled it. That at least got rid of some of the calcium from it.
There was a big old white bull that had taken to wandering about the campground. He’d obviously found enough goodies around the place to not be deterred by the boss closing the gates at night. He was very good at sneaking in, then wandering about, scaring campers and getting tangled in guy ropes and generally being a pest. One night, he must have somehow fallen into the creek, and couldn’t get out again. Some tourists found him in the morning, floating, with all four legs sticking up in the air! Very dead. It was quite an operation to get the body out, with the fork lift and a truck.
Leisure time at the van was lovely, with the active bird life all round. I never got sick of watching and listening. There was a pair of barking owls in the Grove that we would hear at night, sounding for all the world like yappy little dogs. Sometimes a group of agile wallabies would sneak under our van to sleep. If they were startled in the night, they would bounce up, forgetting about the low clearance – then we would be woken by the thumps and the van shaking.
A group of primary school children stayed a night, as a school camp. The boss was seen, showing them a very long olive python, handling it and letting them touch it. One of the men asked where he’d found that? Boss said it was the one that lived in the workshop. The men didn’t know of any python in the very dark and gloomy shed, but they had been regularly kicking aside a pile of coiled up “old rope” that regularly seemed to be in the way when they went in! That work practice changed!
Boss lady was extremely busy with the demands of the rapid expansion of the business. This, and the effect of her pregnancy, seemed to impact on her memory. There were a couple of times when she forgot to complete the necessary orders for supplies. She would be part way through doing so, get interrupted, and not get back to same. The first we would know of this was when the supply truck did not have what was needed. We usually had enough stock on hand to get by, although once she had to go and “borrow” vegetables from the cook at the nearby mine.
More serious for the office ladies were the few times she would take a booking on the remote phone handset, whilst away from the office, and then forget to record same. Rather embarrassing when six rigs turned up, at the height of the busy time, expecting six adjacent sites! Boss man was even worse, with after hours booking phone calls – he would rub out an area of the bookings book, record the new name in the space, then leave it for others to sort out! I suspected that part of the reason campers began to be allowed into the Grove area, was as an overflow area for messed up bookings. Everyone, in these early days, was on a sharp learning curve.
It was quite exciting to see the new building taking shape, during the weeks we worked at Adels. It would move the operation of the place up to a much more professional level.
One issue that began to cause some concern whilst we were there was that of the future of the canoe hire at the National Park. This had operated for years before the sale of Adels Grove, having been initially established by the prior owners. The local aboriginal leadership was beginning to make statements to the effect that – if Adels wanted to keep doing the canoe hire, they would have to employ local aboriginals to run it. We had already seen how the aboriginal Rangers at the park operated – swanning about in their uniforms and doing nothing! Adels would still need to employ white staff to oversee the aboriginal “workers” – which would probably make it uneconomic. It could become another saga like Riversleigh – left to the “locals” to run and organise, and nothing happens!
It seemed to us that it really was such a shame, the extent to which the whole aboriginal thing is a brake to enterprise and development, up north. We saw the same kind of thing, on Cape York, in ’98.