There are a few things that I know about myself and one of them is I love spontaneous uncontrived priceless experiences. In other words experiences that just happen, don’t cost a single cent and haven’t taken months of negotiations to come to fruition.
It just so happens on this last Trackcare trip to the Little Sandy Desert I was privileged to be involved in just such an event.
We were travelling to the construction site with members of the Biriliburru Rangers and three elders, Jeffrey, Georgina and Rita, who have strong ties to the area and the build site is close to many of their sacred places.
Jeffrey is the son of Warri and Yatunga who were the last of the nomads, that at the request of family in Wiluna were picked up from the desert in 1977. The desert was in drought conditions and grave fears were held for their safety so a mission to find them was mounted and they were contacted where upon they agreed to leave on the 19th of August 1977.
Five years earlier, Georgina her Mother and Father and little brother were also contacted under similar circumstances and bought to Wiluna.
Moongooloo clay pan is only eight -10 kilometres away from Moodjool Rock hole where the family were found so this site has now become one of great importance for Georgina. (If you would like to know more about her story there is a book, Born in the Desert, about her life)
I have to say I was thrilled to see the two ladies with the Rangers as their stories and history are equally as important as the men’s and for me is where my interest lies in learning about bush tucker, edible Australian plants and the old ways of the women.
A couple of days after we had arrived at Moongooloo Georgina approached me and asked if all the women would like to come on a women’s walk the next morning, of course I leapt into action and made sure all the other women were invited to join us.
We planned to walk from camp through the bush to get to a small fresh water spring that was surrounded by a salt water creek which was about a 6km return walk.
There was Georgina, Pauline, Libby, Jenny and myself in one group and Rita headed off with a group of her own, we set off early as the days had been quite warm, armed with plenty of water nuts and dried fruits for the journey although we needn’t have worried as we grazed along the way.
It is a sight to be sure to see five women gathered around a honey Grevillea sucking the sweet syrupy nectar that dripped from the Golden flowers, much like poddy calves encircling a calf feeder at breakfast time.
Georgina taught us how to fashion soft green spinifex into a crown to place on our head to carry a Coolamon.
We gathered around the base of a small almost dead tree and dug out the roots to find a couple of fat white Bardies (witchetty grubs) they were deposited into my bag to take home for afternoon tea later.
We harvested minute seeds from a plant that smelt like mint, Georgina explained these were ground into flour and made into a damper, many would have to be gathered to feed just one person let alone a whole family.
Barngar or Sand Goanna are a much prized food source so it was with some excitement we watched as Georginas arm disappeared down a hole in search of one, but only to emerge empty handed as it was too far down, we moved on a few meters when one of our group exclaimed she had just fallen into a hole. What she had in fact done was break through the tunnel to the back door of the Barngar’s home, this time with the aid of Georginas digging stick she prodded the ground in a straight line from where Jenny had fallen through and in no time at all located the hapless Goanna.
The next thing that happened was truly remarkable, very quietly and gently Georgina slipped her hands under the sand and precisely located the head and tail and within seconds lifted it from its hiding place.
Absolutely no energy had been spent catching it, no madly chasing it about or throwing things, it was caught and dispatched with a quick whack to the back of its head with the digging stick in the matter of a minute. It was at this point I was in total awe of our hostess and teacher, this woman knows her stuff.
We moved on after this excitement reading the tracks in the sand, stopping to suck more nectar from the grevillea’s as we passed and discussing anything that came into our heads all the while slowly meandering towards our destination.
We came across a patch of what looked to be the dried out leaves of some weed that turned out to be bush onions. They don’t taste like onions more like water chestnuts and are smaller than a pine nut. We collected more to roast when we got back to camp and along with our other gatherings we were going to be in for an interesting afternoon tea.
Finally we reached the spring, which was a hole in the ground no bigger than a large pot with a small amount of fresh water in the bottom, it would have been impossible to find if it wasn’t for a fire blazing through the area the year before and all the vegetation around it had been burnt.
Even so it took us a few minutes to locate the spring and it wasn’t till we had sat in the shade and watched what was going on about us that we noticed a flock of Finches and Budgerigars flying to and hovering about a particular spot and there it was.
As Georgina said “always watch the birds they will show you” and indeed they did.
We rested in the shade and shared our simple lunch of nuts, dried fruits, biscuits and water until it was time to head back to camp and brag to the others of what we had found.
After hitching a lift part of the way back, on the water trailer for the construction site, we discovered when we returned we had been away for about five hours, but what a time we had, the rangers, Jeffrey and Rita were suitably impressed with our haul and the goanna was eyed off hungrily until Georgina said it was for us to have for afternoon tea so hands off.
Later that afternoon we met at Jennys camp where she and I had been busy cooking scones and bread as our contribution to share for afternoon tea.
It was a pleasure for a change to be the one learning instead of teaching and we watched Georgina cook the Goanna on the coals, I thought it tasted like rabbit. The Bardi’s were quickly toasted in the hot sand under the camp fire and they tasted nothing like chicken more like chicken skin on the outside and warm soft peanut butter in the middle, the onions roasted up to taste like chestnuts but are smaller than pine nuts.
I know, in the future, if a plate of toasted Bardis are ever passed my way I will be one of the first to tuck in, they are delicious.
Forget High Tea at the Ritz, our little clearing in the bush provided the best backdrop for one of the most wonderful afternoon teas I have been too, billy tea from enamel pannikin’s, fresh bush tucker and camp oven scones, you can’t get better than that.
Authentic experiences are few and far between in this day and age and my day out hunting and gathering would have to be one of the best I have had so far.
There is nothing like being in the Desert far far away from the maddening crowds and constant hum of humanity to really make you take notice and live in the moment, there is no past or future just the present and being able to be present in the present was a beautiful thing.
I know as a writer and photographer I should have been taking photos and recording everything I saw but all of us around that campfire that afternoon were so engrossed in the moment we all forgot to take photos but now we all have the pleasure of being able to recall a special time spent together without the rest of the world having to know.