Lucking-in, Lucking-out.

7th August, 2021: Zipping north from Alice Springs on pure bitumen seems svelte, slippery and, well, just plain too sophisticated after the crossing of the Tanami.  Where’s the adventure in this? Now in our sixth month ‘on the road’, I want more than just bitumen and tourist highlights. Mostly I find I want interaction with local people, the characters, the quixotics, the philosophers. I also love the wonder of the ever-changing native landscape, more than the tourist gem.

Barrow Creek Hotel’s original Furphy, a broken legged one – that First World War water wagon which gave its name to the modern expression ‘A Furphy’, or rumour.
Mesas pop up without seeming rhyme or reason

We must go to Katherine to replace our tyres – the only place which has the ones Ted wants – but then the big drawcard is the Savannah Way.  We have decided to take that to Normanton and Karumba. It’s through some of the remotest communities in Australia, it’s dirt, or gravel or sand or stone and it crosses many rivers – through land where the rivers all run north into the Gulf of Carpentaria.  It’s with this little dream we start our new journey northwards.

A new vista every half hour – pity about the Buffel Grass

The land we pass through varies greatly, between salt lakes, rich wattle forests, scraggy burnt twigs – and where the Buffel Grass hasn’t penetrated, we occasionally see native bushland with our beloved mounds of spinifex. We stop at Aileron, 170 km north, named after the grazing property where one Norman and Maggie Milligan lived for 60 years, before having their ashes mixed and placed under the 17metre sculpture Anmatjere Man by artist Mark Egan.  This was followed later by the evocative Anmatjere Woman and Child.

17 metres tall!

But we’re headed for Devil’s Marbles and find the cute eponymous pub, plastered with murals.  We’ve already noticed that Alice and the NT in general seem more than enthusiastic about mural painting and sure enough, there’s another one in the making right beside the van.

The artist has all she needs – a car, a swag and a pile of paints, so from early morning until sun sets, she’s there, casually creating and always ready for a compliment or a chat.

They also have a cute way of creating a museum – here’s a car museum, Territory style.

Devil’s Marbles themselves were formed many millions of years ago from an upsurge of molten granite that cooled and became solid beneath a layer of sandstone. The cooling caused vertical and horizontal fractures creating rectangular blocks. Over time, water infiltrated the cracks and wore away the sandstone as well as the edges of the granite.

But it’s north we go, next stop Tennant Creek, again a spread-out, clean town, like all these outback towns – plenty of space to swing a cat, no matter what your income! The weather, though, is getting warmer and the bougainvillea is in flower, as is the frangipani and many crotons and palms – it is really starting to feel like the tropics, not the Red Centre.

The trees are growing tall and green, with thick trunks and we even see the occasional Boab. An occasional brilliant building among the rudimentary fascinates Ted and makes me wonder if they’re spending money wisely

We meet our Trakka Buddies, Anna and Chris Snell for lunch in Daly Waters, then finally Katherine.

Sometimes in life, you just ‘luck in’!  The caravan park we head for is situated on the bank of the Katherine River and a 350 metre walk from Katherine Hot Springs.  So with a hot spring bath every morning before breakfast and the 35 degree middle of the afternoon spent in the (freezing cold) park swimming pool, we might just never leave.

And the tyres? Well that all goes to plan, so now we have super-strong new tyres to begin our crossing of the Savannah Way. All we need to do now is shop for provisions for a lengthy remote drive and we’ll be off. Life’s good. We keep smiling at each other for no reason.

Sunday 15th August, 2021: Unravelling No. 1: At 1.30pm our little dream begins falling apart. I emerge from Woolworths to a swearing Ted as he helps lift the mountain of groceries into the van, ready for the remote country we’re headed for.

‘There’s a warning light which says we should consult a Mercedes consultant immediately. Something about the Adblue.’

Mercedes Roadside Assist contacted, we wait half the hot afternoon in the carpark until a much tattooed bloke turns up in his obligatory singlet, shorts and thongs with a baby on his hip.

‘Not much I can do until we put it on the computer. It’ll either be a computer glitch or we’ll have to tow it to Darwin. Bring it in tomorrow morning.’

‘We can drive it?’

‘Sure – it’s not speed limited, is it?’

Everything now on hold…

Monday 16th August, 2021:  I make camp with table and chairs and the dog while Ted takes the van to our new tattooed friend.

Unravelling No. 2:  Half way through the morning – the morning we had had such high hopes of leaving – Listening to the radio, I ring Ted just as he is about to ring me.

Darwin and Katherine are to go into lockdown for three days, with one confirmed case of Covid 19!

We’ve missed our chance to follow the Savannah Way, at least for three days.

Unravelling No.3: I now turn to the news to read the detail, only to find that the precise time that I visited Katherine Woolworths, is the same time that the ‘confirmed case’ was there.

I start laughing. I am a casual contact, which means immediate testing and isolation until I get a clear result, which they quote as 3 days, but who knows!? I have heard of their taking five days at times.

So we’re not going anywhere – the pool and the Hot Springs are both closed and we’re confined to our van – can’t even have the van problem diagnosed, as the Mercedes specialist is under lock-down as well.

I can’t help chuckling as I write: Just when we were on the point of leaving, Katherine is locked-down and generally f….d for three days; I’m a casual contact and potentially f….d for 14 days, and the van is broken and f….d who knows for how long.

Sure, we’re on an adventure – this is just not the sort of adventure I had in mind!

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