Winter is not really my thing and I’ve suffered from a few of my unfavourite things lately, all related to cold weather and, yeah, some carelessness on my part in keeping my toes warm. And it was an absolute pleasure to accompany a three year-old to her ballet and swimming classes. And get into the swing of babysitting a toddler and her baby bro. So my passion for sharing my travels and writing was misplaced, momentarily.
But the words are spilling over in my mind as I travel from place to place and it has been a year since I wandered down to the south-west corner of New South Wales, and life was rudely interrupted by a messy virus, and all of our plans went down the plughole. As much as I’d like to rant about the slow vaccine rollout and other political screw-ups, this return of pen to paper is about the things that make me happy and the pleasure that roaming with nature brings.
Spotting a veterans’ retreat on the map, I decided to give them a shout out. A welcome reply soon had me motoring to the small country town of Dareton, and setting up camp on a relaxed rural property run by a veteran (not veterinarian) and his wife, ginger cat Harry, and the resident chooks. Ruby the Rottweiler was a constant presence even though she lives over the road. I soon had a hungry crowd at the door much to Abbey’s chagrin. Not a caravan park, not a campground per se, this felt more like family. I met someone of my era who lived in Woomera SA at the same time as child-me. I chatted around the campfire with vets, police, and their families. And Kevin’s cooking was the highlight of my stay. Bugger the gold coin, I happily stuffed the donation box with cash after stuffing my face with comfort food. Found my tribe if only for a week or so.
This time it seemed important to make the trek out to Mungo National Park. I chose a sunny day and booked a ticket online for Parks NSW’s Discovery tour with an Aboriginal Ranger. Good move, as it turned out, as the tours are popular, it was a public holiday, and you can’t get what we got by standing at the lookout and gazing out across the lunette.
The turnoff is just out of Buronga on the Silver City Highway, opposite the truck stop. An excavator and a couple of portaloos stood on a plot of red dirt near the corner. I was aware the police had been digging in the hope of finding the remains of a a 21 year-old young woman murdered 30 years ago. A week later the police packed up the dig site and went home.
This is a fair weather road as half of it is pretty rough. The bitumen was an easy drive and then I hit the dirt. It should have been a smooth transition as I’m driving a 4WD however a hire SUV that cut me off ten minutes back down the road went screaming past, spraying up dirt and small stones. Then tailgated another 4WD all the way out to Mungo Lake. Bizarre? Mungo Lake has been there for 100,000 years, so there’s really no rush.
I mistakenly turned right into the Mungo Lodge carpark, still, it’s worth a look and there’s a helpful lady in the gift shop. This is an option for overnight cabin stays. A bit further up the road is the Main Campground which looks enticing. Every marked campsite has a fire pit and there’s access to rainwater tanks. I imagine the sunsets over Mungo Lake are to die for.
Keep driving up the dirt road to the visitors centre where you can park and look around at the shearers’ shed, ancient footprints, and the giant wombat. I tried to visualise giant cubic wombat poo. Don’t forget to pay the $8.00 day pass for your vehicle. It helps to maintain the park. If you didn’t book online for the Discovery tour, you’ll need to scrape up cash to join the group. After greeting the ranger, everyone hopped back into cars and followed him to the lookout in a dusty convoy.
Well, what can I say? The landscape is indescribably beautiful. The colours of the Aussie outback scream from every corner. We explored the lunette and I took around a hundred pics, as the ranger told us a tale of Mungo Man and ancient campfires. Amazingly, you can still see the remnants of fire embedded in the earth. Although it wasn’t touted as a feature, I was fascinating by the green clay glued to the soil. When water seeps into it, a verdant puddle forms. Green. My favourite colour. Nature’s signature.
Grinding tools and flint are scattered about the dunes. Saltbush and tiny yellow flowers resisting the pull of shifting sands. I felt like sitting down in the sand and waiting for the sun for drop. What a superb place on earth! I can see people from past times squatting on the ground, cooking, talking, gazing at the stars. If I return it will definitely be for an overnight stay.
A couple of days later I was packing up to return to Queensland for a fleeting visit. Not happily, but things needed to be done. That always seems to be the way. Loose ends and all that. I was trekking east to Hay on the Sturt Highway on a clear morning and a call came through. Midway through a conversation, a hot pink ute blazed past and landed in front of my car. OMG 😮 I may have yelped! Emblazoned across the back a banner, Brothers in Drag.
Trying to drive and explain the vehicle in front to my caller. A life-size mannequin sat on a chair in full evening dress and blonde wig in the tray of the ute. Don’t ask me how the lady was not blown off. Rita the Greeter was travelling relatively smoothly up the back. I was hoping to catch up with them at Hay but no sign of the ute. Seems the Brothers had participated in the annual Shitbox Rally near Alice Springs and were heading home. I googled and donated, as you do when something like this crosses your path. A highlight in what was otherwise a fairly rocky trip.
There are veterans retreats speckled across Australia. You can find them on WikiCamps or google. Much quieter than some campgrounds (although I’ve stayed at some awesome places) and open to retired and serving members of the military and emergency services. A beaut place to catch up on stories and memories.