On To Longreach

pick of the day

The next morning, all we wanted was to get the hell outta dodge. We packed up and got on the road so that we would time our arrival into Longreach for when the stores opened. The drive there was familiar although not as dusty and with fewer visible kangaroo carcasses. We parked and walked to a battery store after speaking to our manufacturer and hearing their suggestions for what could be wrong, and ended up buying a new battery after we found out one of our cells was dead.

Today was frustrating for me. I was a bit angry at the cost of the caravan and then to have to deal with things not working. No-one really tells you all of that. You can pick out the details in people’s stories but no-one says, just because you have all the bells and whistles, does not mean that they are all going to work everywhere. You will have to learn to be a bit of a magician. You will also have to learn a lot more about generators and batteries and gas and electricity than you ever wanted to, because somewhere, amid all the big terms and many words, you will come up with a magic formula to make a do around. Unfortunately, all the formulas begin with a big whack of hair pulling and general frustration.

Even right after you purchase your caravan, you find out there are other things. Some might call them options but they really aren’t. They are necessaries. The option only comes in the price gamble you are willing to make. You have a price range option from cheap and nasty – you will need to replace them in 3 months, to boring but basically serviceable, to top grade, to top grade AND splashed out, to beyond ridiculous and who cares if it works, it looks spectacular. You choose. Then you go home and there are all the things you need for the day to day, inside the caravan. Again there are price options. Then you go to the luxury items and that is just an individual choice and not necessary. BUT all the other things that come up after that, end up being … more practical necessities. They are things like a generator. Like EXTRA solar panels and an extra battery. Getting everything to work together, understanding how they all work and do not work together, requires a degree in subjects I hated in school.

You find out that your battery electricity will not charge your phones or computers. It will not run your kettle or your toaster. A generator does not run air conditioning, the heater, the microwave, or any appliance with an element. It is questionable, when not plugged in at a caravan park that you will have hot water, a working pump, electricity at all, any of the appliances or the ability to charge your electronics. You can go and buy specially made appliances for caravans, but I have no idea what they will cost or whether they are guaranteed to work all the time or it is just another crap shoot to see if they will. The point is that every day you are left wondering what is not going to work or how and if you can patch together a work around to make it do. Some places do not allow you to run a generator. Some have limits of when you are allowed. The sun might not shine. Somehow you have to work between the battery, the gas, the solar and the generator to cover everything that has to be done. You have to store drinking, cooking, and cleaning water – enough to get you through a possible shut down. I sound like I am complaining, I am not. It is still a very privileged camping, it is just that no-one really explains any of this in the beginning and the costs come out of nowhere and can really take you out at the knees.

I hate to give in and have to go to fully equipped camp sites when you really want to try being on your own. Maybe we dreamed too big. Maybe we dreamed the impossible. And yet, there are all the glossy pictures showing other people doing it. How?

So far, it is clear that we have to plan things because if you need to have repairs done, there are only a certain number of places that will even have someone who could help. Parts will have to be sent, you will have to sit. You may have to make a big detour to find a city where you can get the help you need. Along the way, there are also few places that will even have stores to pick up a thing or two you might need. Food you prefer may not be available, regular things will cost a fortune. The more bells and whistles you bought in the beginning, the more things there are to break down.

I have had to adjust my mind set to this trip. I am not a princess who needs TV and hot water or even running water. I admit I like the toilet in the caravan. I like to be able to write. My new laptop has the worst possible battery ever. I had forgotten how bad a battery could be. We have our own internet connection that is terribly expensive also but I am even happy to go without internet and phone has never been a big deal. I like to know things in advance so I can prepare myself and go in with realistic expectations of what will happen. So I hope sharing this might help someone else. Derek and I like to analyze things and learn from our mistakes. We have already said, in hindsight, we should have done a great deal more free camping in preparation. We should have put ourselves under the gun and tested everything to the max. We tried things, they worked, we ticked them off. Not good enough.

Longreach was much the same as we left it, albeit a little greener. We got our battery, grabbed a sandwich, picked up some BBQ sauce that Derek left his leg and I donated an arm for, and headed on down the road. Just a short distance out, Derek found a lovely river with what appeared to be a bit of trail going down one side. He pulled over and walked down a ways to check out if we could get in and out. He returned excited. We were going in! It would be a perfect free camping experience where we could use the generator or “genie” as they call them here which is a ridiculous name. A “genie” is well known throughout the world as a dude who comes out of a lamp and grants your wishes. It is a “gee-knee.” Australians pronounce their word “jenny.” It needs an extra “n” to make it right but that would be too much effort so they leave it out knowing people like myself will pronounce it wrong and have no idea what they are talking about . I tell my hubby all the time that Australians like to be obtuse.

“OH,” Derek mentioned as we bumped and jumped our way along the dirt track back into the bush, away from the road and further along the river, ” there is already someone down there, just the truck and the caravan. I could not see anyone around but there is someone there.”

We got in entered the turn around loop, missing the old boiler someone had left there that looked like it might have been an effort to make a still. I noted that there was a fire pit in the middle of the circle and suggested we back off a bit so as to allow the first group their privacy. We did. As we were about to get out of the truck, a man came out of the caravan. He looked like he had been asleep. His white hair was all mussed and his face was creased like it had been smushed up against a fairly flat pillow, or the floor. I could see he was bare chested. Derek shouted “G’day” from the truck door and then closed it, crossed in front of the truck and walked towards the man, his hand extended. The man let go of the caravan door and strode out to meet him, stretching out his hand in return. He was absolutely, completely, stark NAKED. I immediately pulled my one leg back in, closed my truck door and turned my head to study the brush. I hoped to give him time to realize I was there and spare him any embarrassment that I had seen him.

“Naked Man” was chatty. The scrub on the other side of the truck was not that interesting but I was fascinated with it. Eventually Derek came back. I asked him if we were leaving.

“Nuh.”

“Should we? Is he OK?”

“He’s fine.”

“He’s naked.”

“Yes, but he’s harmless. He was pleasant enough and said that as long as we were OK with generators and were happy to accept him as he was, it was all good. We won’t have any problems with him.”

I was pretty sure that meant “Naked Man” would not be getting dressed. The fact he stayed outside, fidgeting with this and that while we set up, pretty much confirmed it. I was in the wilderness, had barely escaped that guy from Wolf Creek and now I was camping with a naked man in a forest by a river. No-one knew where we were. We could not be seen from the road. Did you need a pair of pants to hang your axe in, in order to be an axe-murderer?

The river was too deep, down below fairly steep banks, to entice me to go closer. I gave Derek the camera and sent him out to get some pics. “Naked Man” intercepted him on the way back and I could hear them out there talking … and talking. At one point I thought I might have to throw Derek a life line to be able to drag him back to safety. I wondered if I could still lasso? When he finally got back, Derek told me he had to finally just walk away while the man was still talking because no matter how many times he said he had to go and kept backing up, the guy kept talking. “Naked Man” had invited us to a campfire later that night.

That meant we would not be able to have our own fire without appearing rude. Damn my grandparents for all that manners business.

We had just sat down for dinner when I heard a sound and tried to warn Derek he was coming. There was a knock on the door and Derek answered. “Naked Man” was there at our door. He sort of leaned in, grabbing hold of both sides of the door jam, thrusting his special friend further in than the rest of him. The campfire was ready so any time we wanted to come…. Derek stood and moved towards the door while I tried to make smiling while stuffing the rest of my fork into my mouth and missing, look like an everyday thing. Derek thanked him and said we would just finish dinner. And then he was gone. I wiped the blood from the fork stabs from my face.

Derek told me the man had been travelling Australia for 4 years now. Not everyone was willing to take him as he was and some people either just turned around and left when they encountered him, or they demanded he adapt to them. He was quite prepared to be violent with others if he had to. He struck me as a man who had nothing much left to lose and cared nothing about anything. As was seeming the norm, he was an older man, alone, missing most his teeth, losing his social skills, but obviously lonely. There seemed to be far too many of these men around Australia. It made me wonder who discarded them and where their families were. Are the men of Australia just too hard to live with or is it the women who are the difficult ones? At least “Mr. Hall Monitor” appeared to still have most of his teeth. I wondered at what age all the other men we had encountered had started to lose theirs and if they were once men with red plastic flowers in their dining room windows, feeling a bit cocky and confident in their new freedom but fleeing their lives, none the less.

Derek decided he would go out to the campfire. I did not judge the man for not wearing any clothes. It really did not bother me at all. I actually thought it kind of funny and predictable that I would end up in the Australian bush camped next to “Mr. Naked.” It was just the unexpected moment of coming upon someone so completely comfortable and nonchalant about being nude. Clothes are really no more relevant than the body people are in. They simply house the real person and those “houses” come in all shapes and sizes. I am more interested in the person inside.

I stayed home and wrote and Derek got to share the campfire. I was a little bit jelly. I really had wanted a campfire, it was a lovely night. When Derek returned, he had a ton of stories. Another man with a fascinating life, so much more than just a naked man in the bush. It was lovely and quiet as we lay in bed for sleep, later that evening. The noise from the traffic on the road died down, the moon was bright and the stars filled the sky above us. I went to sleep thinking about how sad it is to live your life, entering your journey after school, so full of hopes and dreams. We make choices and plan our lives with some sense of a happy ending, tying all the loose ends together to have it all make sense and have been worth it. We all intend it to be that way but life gets in the way. Life and all its circumstances and situations and people who come and go, and the imprint they make on our lives, for both good and bad. I wondered about the “what if’s?” What if Derek and I had never met and he had eventually just spent more and more time alone, traveling? What if he had ended up with a caravan, following the dirt roads where they would lead, forgotten and discarded by the people he had been part of? What about his family, his partners, his children . . . the people he had worked so hard for, giving them a home, opportunities, paying their ways? Was it possible that they could have just forgotten about him and left him to live and die without anyone ever knowing or asking after him?

The answer is, it could have been him. We have children who have gone their own way and decided while he owes them every last penny he has, they owe him nothing . . . not respect, not friendship, not one spec of their attention or interest. He is not lost in the Outback but he is lost in their hearts. Derek could be any of those men, but for the circumstances that pushed him left instead of right. It is sad for me to think that any human being could live and die without much notice but it happens, and it happens in this country, far too often.

The next morning, although we woke early, he had already gone. I wanted to know his name but Derek said the man had never offered it, nor had he asked for Derek’s.  I felt really bad about that, like somehow we should have honoured this man by at least knowing his name. What if we were to be the last touch of human kindness or contact that “Mr. Naked” might ever have? It was a sobering thought about our journey’s in this world and what we choose to do, or not. I was glad that at least we had taken “Mr. Naked” as he was, genies and all.

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