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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2006 Travels April 26


I did smoko for the builders in the morning. Made potato rosti, cooked bacon and eggs to go with same.

The mail plane came in and we received the mail that the house sitter had forwarded from home.

The weekly supply truck came in and we helped unload it and put things away.

John used the public phone box to start making calls about jobs. Yes, there was work at Bundaberg, but it was mostly picking vegetables. That was too hard for our physical abilities and mental inclinations!

The lady near Clermont who wanted a teacher wanted him and offered him $700 a week wages. That was equal to what we would earn, combined, here. But there was no role for me. I could not see myself sitting around in the van doing little, for months on end, on some remote station.

An ad for a couple to do our sort of work, at the Bark Hut Inn, in the NT, on the road to Kakadu, seemed interesting. John tried to phone them, but could get no answer to his repeated calls. We found out later that they had just had the cyclone come through and were busy dealing with the damage. That included to the pen that held their “pet” saltie croc, where a tree branch had fallen over the fence. The croc apparently did not like chain saws, because it had attacked the man who was up a ladder cutting away the fallen timber, and taken away the saw! The worker was very shaken. A photo of the croc with the chain saw in its mouth subsequently made the front page of the Darwin paper.

John phoned friends H and D, who we had previously worked with here. They had spent the summer working at a resort on Fraser Island and we knew they were about to leave there to travel. The company had just hired replacements for them, so we were too late there. They suggested we call the Monsoon Cafe, at Wangi, near Litchfield National Park. Last Dry Season, H and D had staffed a tour company’s seasonal camp near there, and gotten to know the cafe owners. They said they were great people and they had previously mentioned us to them, as fellow seasonal workers.

So John phoned and spoke with one of the owners. Then he  wanted to talk to me, and he hired us then and there, because I could cook. He offered me $15 an hour and John $13 for outside work. John took over and negotiated that up to $16 and $14.

We decided to give it a go. It could be good. It would be new scenery in a great part of the country, at any rate. Being paid by the hour appealed too – provided we got enough hours to make it worthwhile. It might even end up being better than here.

It was arranged that we would start in a week’s time.

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John phoned the Clermont station to say we would not be coming and explain why.

Then we went and told the bosses that we would be leaving tomorrow. They were really taken aback. One said to John : “But you’ve got all the knowledge!”. I think they were both truly surprised that we were not prepared to stick around, doing some of the work and not being paid, indefinitely. Also keeping M on hold, somewhere, as we’d been asked to do, in case she was wanted later. But there did not seem to be any hard feelings, so that was good. I guess they understood.

As if to underscore the point, the couple we had encountered at Tambo arrived at lunch time. There were staff queued up, waiting for work! I wished them more joy than we’d had!

The back packer bus groups would not be coming until the Gulf Track was open, which would be another month or more. Last year, we had made it through, quite easily, on 10 April. This showed that there could be such variation in seasons and conditions, up here.

We told V and F we were going. V said that she and F would not go off camping tonight – tomorrow was their day off – but would stay to spend a last night with us. We said they had to keep to their camping plans, knowing how much they valued time away on their own.

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By the late afternoon, we had done most of our packing up.

Phoned everyone who needed to know that we were moving on: our offspring, M, the house sitter – asked her to hold the mail until we contacted her again.

An email came in from the Pungalina boss. He said the place was slowly drying out. O had bogged the tractor on the track to the Safari Camp! I found it hard to imagine that track that wet. He said it would be many weeks more before they would be able to get supplies in and open the camp.

Said our good byes to V and F, with promises to keep in touch and see each other when we could.

There was no fuss at night. It was just staff and builders to tea – no guests. The bosses went to the office after the meal, for a video conference with the Isa partners. We helped with the dinner clean up. John helped MS learn a computer program for a while. I gave her some ideas for the builders’ smokos, because it looked like she would now be doing them. Then we went off to the van.

We felt sad to be going like this, but at the same time felt we needed to be true to what we had been feeling. We had been here for eleven days and in that time, contributed substantially.

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2006 Travels April 8


The radio news at 8.30am said that the highway was open, so we decided to go for Mt Isa.

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The caravan park in the morning

Around McKinley, we could see where water had been over the road. There were some sections where the road surface was damaged, too.

We were in light rain for most of the day.

Refuelled in Cloncurry, on the way through, after 365kms. $1.29cpl. It seemed anomalous that, the further we were away from the populated areas, the cheaper the fuel was. Usually, it is the other way round.

At Isa, booked into the Argylla Caravan Park. $22.50 after discount. Told them we were not sure how long we would need to be here. We had stayed there last year, too.

The park was on the eastern edge of town, so it was a bit rural in feel and outlook, and was away from some of the noise that could occur right in town. The permanent dwellers here were tucked away in their own separate area.

Phoned Adels. The roads to there were still closed. They had two guests who were stuck there until the roads opened.

At this rate, we might not be getting there to start work before Easter. But neither would any guests, so it would not matter. But, having exerted ourselves to get here quickly, it would be boring to have to wait around for too long in Mt Isa, not to mention costing us money, instead of earning any.

Such are the vagaries of travel while the Wet Season is still on. We remarked that it had been fortunate that such a rain event had not happened this time last year. It could be ages before the roads to Pungalina are open, this year.

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We had travelled this route in just six days!

We enjoyed a bought fish and chip tea.

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2006 Travels April 3


Once we were heading out of Halls Gap, discussed our options for today. If the Truck repair was done quickly, we did not really want to dawdle away the rest of the day in Birchip, so decided to try to press on and maybe make Swan Hill for the night.

After leaving Halls Gap, stopped briefly in Stawell, so John could buy a cable for his laptop, to replace the one he’d realized  he left at home!

We were in Birchip by 1pm.

The freight truck with the new pump did not arrive until 3.15pm!

We filled in the time with a couple of tasks. I went to the Post Office and sent off a little jumper I had just finished knitting for son’s coming baby.

Refuelled Truck – $1.37cpl. Had done 446kms.

My watch had stopped working. This trip really had not begun well!

We talked with W, while waiting for the part to arrive. He told us that the water in O’s house at Pungalina had reached five foot deep. It was no longer liveable-in. O had phoned him a couple of days previous, from Borroloola – where the lady friend was working. W said that the owner of the place, A, wanted to fly W up there to work on the flooded machinery and get everything going again. But O reckoned he could do that himself. We all speculated that things up there were worse than O had let on, and that perhaps he just wanted to try to sort it all out himself. We wondered what had happened to the boats, which would have been brought back to the house area, from their places on the river, at the end of last year’s season. Or at least we presumed they had. I wondered if the wheeled container that normally held all the Safari Camp stuff through the Wet, had been parked above flood level? I hoped so, after all the work I had put in last year, to get the place properly equipped.

Once the part arrived, W was pretty fast with the repair, so we decided to stick to our plan to try for Swan Hill. The vehicle work cost us $400. Nothing to do with Landrovers is ever cheap!

It was dark when we reached Swan Hill. Booked in to the Pioneer City Caravan Park – $27 after discount.

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2006 Travels March 31


Said goodbye to the grandson, as they left for creche and work at 8.15am.

We finished our breakfast and departed, quite calmly.

Reached Birchip at noon, as previously arranged with W.

His service work revealed that Truck needed a new fuel pump. It would be Monday, at the earliest, before the part would arrive in Birchip.

We had lunch with A and W. There was lots of talk about Pungalina, where we’d all worked last year. W told us that the manager had been in Darwin with his lady friend, when the heavy rains occurred, a couple of weeks previous. A monsoon trough that stalled over the Gulf. We were surprised that he was away, at all, during the Wet season, and surprised that he was not able to pick up the likelihood of that event from the weather forecasts, in time to fly his plane back.

According to W, there had been much damage, caused when the Calvert River flooded to a high level. Water had inundated the house to a depth of about a metre. A lot of the mud brick walls had dissolved. The Troopy, and much of the machinery on the place, had been partly submerged. A lot of loose items had simply floated away.

A and W were planning to go up to Pungalina in mid-May. It would have to be via the Calvert Road in the NT, as the Gulf track would not be open by then. There would certainly be plenty of mechanical repair work to be done!

Now, with a couple of days to fill in, we decided to go to Halls Gap and see what that  area was like, after the big bushfires that had occurred in the Grampians in late January. It was only a couple of hours away. Daughter and partner were going to be there too, for an anniversary, but grandson was being looked after by friends at home.

We headed south. Refuelled at Donald – $1.39cpl. Had done 456kms.

We reached Halls Gap just on darkness, in a deluge of rain and with it freezing cold. What suddenly happened to summer? It had still been around this morning. Somebody turned the off switch!

We had phoned ahead and obtained an en suite site at the Halls Gap Parkgate Caravan Park. It cost us $33.30 a night, after discount.

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2005 Travels September 12


We were up early, in order to get a good start to what would be a long day.

We had to manoeuvre Truck and van about a bit, after hitching up, in order to get facing the right way.

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Leaving Cane Toad Clearing – lot easier than coming in was!

The little track from our clearing to the camp track was a lot wider, smoother and easier to negotiate, than when we arrived.

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Our well worn path to the safari camp

It was really sad, pulling out of our clearing, and seeing it all empty again.

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Little saplings had begun to grow under the van!

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We drove to the house so O would know we were on our way.

Truck pulled the very heavy van through the sandy stretch with no problems at all. So we did not need any help from O. We said our goodbyes to him there, by the track, and continued on.

And sometimes the drive way got a little sandy

We made quite good time to the Gulf Track, and then east along it. There were some corrugated sections, as one would expect at this end of the dry season, but it was not too bad.

Again, as we wended through the Redbank Gorge, I regretted that we had not had time to stop and explore it.

About half way between the border and Hells Gate Roadhouse, we pulled off the road for a short way, down a little track that led to a small lagoon. Eight Mile Creek? Had an early-ish lunch there.

Drove past the turnoff that led into the Doomadgee community, with no inclination to go in there at all. Not great memories for us! And on over the long cement ford across the Nicholson channels.

Took the Doomadgee to Lawn Hill track, which was in pretty reasonable condition, considering the time of year. Didn’t try to use the short cut route, but stuck to the way we knew best – along to the T intersection, with Bowthorn straight ahead, turn left and follow the track south.

The Elizabeth Creek ford was now almost dry. But that of Lawn Hill Creek, by the homestead, was running, as always – but shallow.

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Reached Adels Grove mid afternoon, and received a warm welcome.

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We were charged to stay – but only $8 a night – and were allowed to park in our old area of the staff compound down in the Grove. We were able to run a lead to the shed for power – too many trees in the Grove for the solar to work.

We cooked our own evening meal in the van tonight. For the remaining nights we would be here, we would go eat with the staff, as in past times, and in return would help with the dishes.

It was good to be footloose again!

We decided to stay a couple of days here, partly to just relax, partly to ease gradually into being around other people!

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Relative solitude in the empty staff compound – and a pleasantly green contrast to Cane Toad Clearing


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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 10


I did some more camp finalizing and John worked on a last tidy up of the vegie garden. O would have a good supply of fresh produce for some time to come!  Provided he took the time to water it, of course.

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Stew pot left out for the dingo dishwashers to clean up

For the vegie garden to be properly productive for the height of the camp season, as A had hoped, it needed to be sown quite early – earlier than it was this year. John had concluded that the shadecloth of the roof shut out a bit too much light. It was all that O had available at the time, but really should have been a lighter grade. It was makeshift and would have been better delayed and done properly – like ordering the right grade of shade cloth to come on the supply truck. It would have cost more, but would have been a better result for all the time and effort put into it.

It was quite a cloudy day today. With the heat, clouds and some humidity, we could see signs of the start of the build up to the wet season. We reckoned it would not have been all that pleasant here in October, anyway! I seemed to remember that, when we visited in 2003, it was mid-September and it was stinking hot and quite uncomfortable.

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Late Dry Season, with clouds building again

This was a good time to go!

Not too far away from the house there was a fallen ironwood tree that John was able to cut some pieces off, to take home for wood working. O had already said that he could take a couple of lengths of the milled ironwood timber. I was not sure how John was planning to transport these – ironwood is really heavy stuff.

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Fallen ironwood

We drove out a little way to take a photo of the sink hole/cave entrance that O had pointed out earlier in the season that we had to be careful of, because it was on dead flat ground, not the usual limestone ridges, and there were no indicators it was there. Not a good thing to drive or walk into. Quite scary, really. O had no idea what was down under there – it had not been explored.

I dropped a rock into the hole – from a prudent distance – but could hear no sound of it landing. Either there was a very soft base down there, or it was very deep.

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That’s a hole going deep down to the unknown

Back when O had originally pointed it out, the hole had been well hidden in the long grass. Now that had all dried out, the hole was a bit more obvious.

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Cave entrance hole lying in wait for the unwary….


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2005 Travels September 4


Worked 8 am to 10.30pm.

It was a misty morning again.

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John was finding the camp cleaning up work really hard – mowing and raking. Ever since the trip back from the coast with the Daihatsu, his back had been really sore.

He refuelled Truck. Had only done 248kms, but he was starting to feel concerned that the drums of diesel may be running low – so it was wise to keep our vehicle fairly full.

I cleaned the showers and toilets and checked the tents the men would be using.

Cooked Cornies biscuits, a tiramisu, spicy pikelets. Brought a fish from the house to defrost. Made a pineapple salad.

The guests arrived mid afternoon. O brought them down to camp in the Troopy. They had brought their own beer with them – lots of it! They actually seemed quite under the weather – I think they had been refreshing themselves in flight. The one who was piloting seemed more sober though – as I would hope!

I fed them spicy pikelets for afternoon tea, got them settled in. After their flight – and after their time at Birdsville – they just wanted to laze about for the rest of the day. That suited O, who returned to his work at the house as soon as he had deposited them at camp.

I served the usual pre dinner nibbles, which they actually collected and took back to their tents.

Dinner was threadfin salmon, cooked Asian style, with rice to  which I added peas, spring onion and corn kernels; green salad, pineapple salad, with tiramisu for dessert.

The men had brightened up with their afternoon rest and spent a while sitting round the camp fire after tea. They were nice enough guys, maybe in their 30’s.

After dinner clean up, I hard boiled eggs for tomorrow. Asked O to get out from the house freezer some “fillet” steaks to defrost. Sometimes he remembered such requests, sometimes not. One of the reasons I was missing A’s presence at the house! It was just one of the hiccups to deal with because of the way the fridges and freezers were split between house and camp.

O left the camp fire fairly early and left us to chat with the visitors until they were ready for bed. I thought O really wanted to get back to his house wall building.

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Wall was cement, faced with stone gathered about the property


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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.