Taistealaí and Troopy

I am taking some boys on a camping and football trip and my Shire troopy* is not yet repaired.  So Lachy drove down to meet me half way along the Tanami with the Youth Town Troopy so I could use it for the trip. He took my own Taistealaí back to Halls Creek. Taistealaí is not covered by Shire insurance for transporting kids.  Australia does not have an ACC system.  Here we need public liability insurance and face litigation over traffic accidents, sport accidents or even work accidents in some cases.

It is because I did not have private health insurance, and did not injure myself at work, that my left arm is now partly disabled.  Had I lied about how I injured my arm, I might be a nearly whole man today.  I was not covered for prompt treatment or for compensation. It was a year between the injury and the operation, by which time it was too late.  That would not have been a problem in NZ but I did not know this about Australia until too late.

But I digress.

The town troopy is much cleaner and tidier than mine!   Note to self….

It was quite illuminating to drive a 4.2 litre six cylinder diesel up the road for an hour, and immediately switch to a 4.8 litre V8 diesel going back over the same route.  That extra .4 of a litre and two cylinders  of the troopy does make quite a difference  in the feel of the vehicle. Definitely more power there.  I had not noticed it so much before because there had been a longer period between driving one or the other. I am not at all concerned that the six is less powerful, because it is much more economical on fuel, and in any case it still has all the power I am ever likely to need. Even if I end up in the future as a grey nomad towing my home behind me it will not be a huge affair, just a little caravan or camper trailer.

Also on the plus side, I realised that the suspension and ride in Taistealaí is more comfortable.

Both cars handle really well on the rough Tanami.  So nice to have a good vehicle.  I realise now just how inadequate the Holden Colorado was.  Particularly if one drives thse roads regularly.

One thing I have learned in the time I have been up here, is the value of a good 4WD on rough unpaved roads.  When I first got here I wrote somewhere on my blog that some locals were quite proud of the fact they drove down the Tanami and Duncan roads without ever engaging four wheel drive. I even did it myself in the Colorado.  What a dick.  I have since learned, both by training and experience, that this refusal to engage 4WD on unpaved roads is a foolish and wrong attitude. It is dangerous.  The reasoning most people give for staying in 2WD unless they are likely to get bogged, is the dubious claim that there is less wear and tear on the vehicle when running in two wheel drive only, and the probably reasonably valid argument that fuel economy is improved.  However valid these assertions may be, they are strongly counterbalanced by the incontrovertible fact that traction, control and handling, and stability are far greater on rough roads when in four wheel drive.  Therefore it is safer! When conditions can change from shingle to sand to bulldust to rock within a few metres, control is necessary at all times    Safety is paramount on these roads.  It is a bloody long way to hospital, if you’re badly injured it will seem a very long time until help arrives -assuming there is some way to call for assistance, or that someone finds you before you bleed out.  A serious accident will require helicopter evacuation because ambulances do not travel these roads.  Anyone who feels that saving a few dollars on maintenance or fuel is more important than the lives of the occupants of the vehicle, or is more significant than the increased chance the vehicle itself might be wrecked in an accident, is not thinking clearly.

And that is all I have to say about that.

*For my overseas reader(s) – a Troopy is a Toyota Landcruiser “Troop Carrier”  A vehicle that I am told was developed specifically for Australia.  It has a long wheel base and long range fuel tanks.  It seats ten to fourteen on a front bench seat and on two long seats along either side at the back.     Troopies have been the pick for people movers around the outback for years.  Now they are no longer in production many people are wondering what can replace them.  

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A Troopy
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Not a Troopy

 

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The Bright Side

Occasionally, I ask myself, as a person suffering depression – albeit medically managed – whether I am in the right job out here in a remote community far from everything I have ever known.  The black dog does get me down periodically.  My job is simple enough on the surface, but it is more important than some realise.  My role is to help and support at-risk children, try to keep them out of trouble, encourage them to attend school,  and show them that there can be a worthwhile future for them.  I am not a child minder or entertainment officer, though both those activities are tools I use to start a conversation once I identify those who most need my encouragement or support.

My community kids are a constant reminder of how well-off I am and have always been.  They keep me busy and can be very demanding, but if things get too much, my hours are flexible enough that I can take a break, rest my legs and carry on later.  Sometimes I work 9 to 1, nap until 3 and continue into the evening.  Unless it is very cold the kids are usually out until 9 or 10 at night.  Give them some balls, play some music, and they have fun without mischief.   I can usually find a moment to talk to those I need to while the others play.  The freedom I enjoy in how I go about my job is one of the best things about it.

I have learned however, that I must partition off that part of my life and keep some time for myself.  I need to be able to get away and explore the countryside – and my thoughts – alone, except for my dog.  It is good that I can have time alone. My own time is important.  I cannot be working every day, all day.   I get along very well in my own company which is an essential skill.  Even when I am down, I prefer to deal with it alone.  Misery does not always love company.  Not that I am miserable very often.  I remind myself that my record of getting through bad days, so far, is 100%. When things start to get on top of me, I am free to take a break.   Even so, I feel almost guilty when I return to a well provided and comfortable home with clean sheets on a warm bed.  Something not everyone out here has.

There are always the little golden moments that make the darker ones go away.  Today I cooked a barbecue. My little six year old admirer came up to me with a mouth full of sausage and bread with tomato sauce, and said ” I love you Mr Alan”. I know she means it.

 

 

An Interesting Day

Today was an interesting day.

First of all,  the community store was robbed of $2,600 worth of cigarettes and tobacco in the early hours.  Going by the price of things out here that would be barely a shoe-box full.  It took until about 2 pm and a community meeting before things were sorted out.  The store was shut until then. Some, but not all, of the stolen stuff was recovered.  The culprit was identified, and will not be well regarded for his actions.  The store is owned by the community itself.
I was quite glad to be diverted from it all by one of my lads, who brought me a black headed python  (Aspidites melanocephalus that he had caught at a friend’s house not far from the Youth Centre.  He wanted to save it from being eaten.  These pythons are highly prized as a delicacy in these parts.  My young friend, like me, is very fond of snakes for themselves, not for any culinary reasons. He considers himself a “snake expert” and I am happy to let him teach me.  He handles even venomous snakes with confidence, and removed a king brown  from the school only last week.    I am really getting to like that kid.  We carried our new  python friend about all day until we found somewhere to let it go.  I would really have liked to keep it, but besides being illegal, it is impractical.  Especially when it would be eyed by everyone the way you might look at a particularly delicious chocolate cake.
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Shortly after, he brought me a frogmouth that had flown into a car last night and broke its wing. I trimmed the feathers near the break, so I could splint and tape it,
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I now have it in a straw-filled cat box. I am not overly confident in the likelihood of its recovery but I am feeding it mince and milk,  and water and keeping my fingers crossed.

It occurs to me that if it does survive it will probably never fly again and I have just acquired a new dependent. If so I shall probably name it Grumpy Cat.  Look at that face.

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I took a bunch of boys and girls out into the desert looking for bush tucker, since many had not eaten breakfast because the store was not open .   Well – I drove, but they took me.   They know where all the interesting bushes are.   We brought back a bucket of “bush blackberries” to share with their families.   These are tiny little fruit that look like miniature plums.

After 2 the store opened.   I bought some sausages and bread and put on a BBQ.  Not sure I should have been cooking with a python around my neck. Lucky there were no health inspectors around.

Then another bunch of kids and I went out past lake Stretch looking for more bush tucker.  We found quite a lot.

I have now tried “bush blackberries”,  “bush tomato”, and mardijwah which I learned is a sticky gum exuded from the tree of the same name.  It is slightly sweet, with a pleasant, mild flavour and the consistency of amber coloured toffee with a runny centre like treacle.  The kids are certainly very keen on it, though apparently it causes severe flatulence.  It also , I am told,   gives one diarrhoea if one overindulges.  I drove my little friends home and got rid of them as soon as I could after I learned that.  I’m OK so far…

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Mardijwah
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A Juicy One

While I was doing this, I was also baking sourdough bread.

My Neighbours and Other Animals

Yesterday I put on a barbecue for the kids after a sports session and the party was crashed by Sadie the camel.

Like Emu, she is a community pet raised here since she was young.  She is very curious about whatever is going on, especially barbecues.  She is not keen on sausages, it turns out, but is quite fond of bread.  Try persuading a two metre camel to bugger off while you are trying to cook.  She is not easily put off when she is determined to check something out.   She tolerates the rough treatment the kids give her with admirable equanimity.  She munches away at whatever vegetation takes her fancy while they clamber all over her.  Mostly she just ignores them unless they are holding food.

She seems to have taken a shine to me. She follows me around and nuzzles my ear or pulls my hair to get my attention.  The kids even commented on it, saying I had two wives now; Sally the Goat and Sadie the Camel.  I think they find my fondness for animals quite amusing.   But not in a weird way I hope.

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Sadie the Camel

Earlier in the day one of the community elders came for a visit.   A friendly elderly gentleman,  he came for a chat about the children and to borrow some curry powder.  As we sat on the deck drinking icy cold lime cordial, he pointed to a hole in the ground near the fence.  I had not noticed it until he drew it to my attention.

It is a King Brown burrow, he told me.  He then told me how to catch the occupant, using a live mouse on a string as bait.  Not keen on doing that.   I have my own snake-catching equipment.

It is the cooler dry season now.  My neighbour should be hibernating and will not be a problem until November. Not that I think it will be a problem anyway.  I am not the sort of meal a snake would want to eat.  I am not at all concerned at having such a dangerous creature nearby.   I merely need to be careful not to accidentally surprise it.  And to that end I’ll need Sally to keep my grass short.

Rather than show a boring photo of a hole in the ground, here is a picture of a KB that I borrowed from the Internet:

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King Brown

I suspect I shall eventually have to capture my neighbour and remove it to a safe place out in the bush.  People are likely to kill it.   No one else seems as fond of snakes as I am.

I really don’t understand why that is.

 

 

Mudded

I took a bunch of my kids out for a nature walk today. We drove out along a rough sandy track to Lake Stretch and talked about the wildlife, fruits and other bush tucker that can be gathered in the area.  Some of the boys wanted to hunt goanna but their attempts met with no success.

Two of the older lads, who have been through Lore and are therefore considered to be men according to their culture, took me to the lake shore, and mudded me.  This is a “welcome to Country” ceremony.  They smeared mud in my armpits and on my back and chest. I then had to swim out to the middle of the lake so the Rainbow Serpent who dwells there would know me, and that I was now part of Country.

The boys thought the water was too cold to swim, though one had a quick dip before retreating. I found it very refreshing and exactly right.  It was the first pleasantly cool swim I have had since I came north. It impressed the guys at first that I enjoyed the swim and did not find it too cold, but they then concluded, correctly, that I come from a cold country.

Afterwards, due to a shortage of goanna, we barbecued some sausages and ate them with bread and sauce.  Then we drove out to the main road and on to another spot, a few km down the Tanami, called Salty Bore for obvious reasons that the boys carefully explained.   On the way we stopped off at another small lake which I was told is not suitable for swimming due to leeches, and the fact that some horses had died there -of what, I do not know.

Near Salty Bore there is yet another small lake similar to, but smaller than Stretch.  Another of the boys attempted to swim, but  retreated shouting loudly about how cold it was. I had to remonstrate with him over his choice of words.

All these lakes are strung out along what becomes in the wet season the bed of the Sturt River, a river that can be  kilometres wide for weeks on end, cutting off communities such as Bililuna, Mulan, Balgo and Ringer Soak from the rest of the world.  Except this year there was not much of a wet and it did not really happen.

On the shore we discovered a small green frog with a pale yellow belly and orange on the inside of his thighs. It looked a little similar to a Green Tree Frog but was not exactly the right shape, or colour scheme.  I did not have my camera along, unfortunately.  On returning and checking the Web, I concluded it may have been a young Splendid Tree Frog. It looked the same as this except without the spots.  It seems a bit far from the habitat marked on the map.  However I am 97% sure it was this little feller.

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Splendid Tree Frog

It certainly had the same equanimity as a Green Tree Frog when picked up and examined. It allowed me to look it over without complaint or struggle and just sat where I placed it after I set it down.  This seemed to impress my young friends.

I told the lads I have an affinity for frogs because, like me, they are happy in the water and on land.  The encounter gave us the opportunity to discuss nature, balance and the proposition that a man in harmony with nature  protects the creatures and their ecology and kills only to eat or to protect his family, not for “sport” or idle fun.   A point I shall need to repeat often in the coming times, because I know these kids will shoot at birds and small creatures with their slingshots just for “fun”.

Here are some photos of Lake Stretch I prepared earlier:

 

 

 

Goats, Dogs and an Emu.

Sitrep 2 from Kururrungku.

I still don’t have the internet set up at the donga, due to technical difficulties, but that should be rectified soon.  I am currently back in Halls Creek on an overnight trip with my football boys.  Wrangling a mob of teenagers is an interesting experience. And that is all I have to say about that.

I am settling in happily in the community.  I am still setting up my home and sorting out my duties. The hours are flexible though occasionally extended, some evening work is required.  I have Sundays and Mondays off.  This weekend is a holiday weekend.Since everyone gets Monday off, I get Tuesday as well.

There is a small lake nearby, lake Stretch, where in less than an hour of relaxing and communing with nature I spotted over ten species of birds.  I have almost as many hanging around the house, including cockatoos, galahs, parakeets, and some I still haven’t learned the names of.  And crows, a sacred bird hereabouts.

I took four goats with me on the last trip down, purchased from Ruby Plains station. There were two for me, and two for Tika in Mulan.  The plan was for a bit of animal husbandry and responsibility work with the kids.  I had not really done a good risk assessment.  Though the goats were happy enough in the yard, and not interested in jumping the fence, their attitude changed when a few aggressive dogs jumped in and harassed them.   They fled into the scrub, fortunately unharmed.   As a result of this debacle, the community have been very supportive and helpful, and the owner of the naughty dogs asked to have them taken away, as they were uncontrollable.  Once this was effected with the help of the rangers, we were soon able to round up the stray goats.  Three are now with Tika, and the fourth, the last to be recaptured, is with me.  She now sits with me and follows me like a dog.  She also tells me if I have visitors, something my new dog does not do.

An unexpected bonus from having the aggro dogs removed was that once they were gone the community’s pet emu, which never previously came to my end of the village, now started dropping by. Once she found I was an easy touch for a few tidbits, she started coming regularly. She likes dog food.  I just happen to have adopted a young bitch, and have some on hand. The dog was actually one of the naughty ones, but we decided she was just easily led, and pardoned her. Her owner gave her to me happily.  She is quite docile and seems content to be with me.

I have not named my two new pets yet. The community girls suggested the goat should be called Sally, which seems reasonable and I was considering naming the dog Bann Sidhe (banshee) which means faery woman in Gaelic – she is small and slight – but it seems this sounds too similar to “brother in law” in local language. So I shall think again.

So here I am with pets and a couple of dozen new children to play with.  And getting paid for it!  I shall not be posting pictures of my children because they are not really mine, but here are some photos of my new animal friends.

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