Article courtesy of SSAA’s Australian Hunter Magazine. Please click on the hyperlink to view the Australian Hunter Magazine’s official homepage.
I was on my lunch break at work and just about to sit down to a meal when I overheard one of my colleagues talking to his mate. It was an excited conversation that revolved around hunting, deer, and the guys making plans for an upcoming hunt into the outback. I talked to my mate after the phone call had finished and asked what he had planned. He explained he was organising a hunt into the centre of our country with his friend in pursuit of camels. He then went on to tell me it was to take place in a very remote location, they would most likely not see any other people, it would be hot, dry, dusty and a lot of kilometres would need to be covered in order to increase odds of encountering camels.
It all sounded amazing to me and I asked if a friend Emily, and I could go along with them. He didn’t look too impressed and went on tell me there would be no electricity, no flushing toilets, no mirrors, camp would be lean with only the bare essentials and there was the big chance of encountering snakes. I said lets book flights and it was about then I think he realised we really wanted to see the true outback.
After organising our schedules we soon found ourselves landing in Adelaide where we caught a taxi to a friends house, picked up a vehicle and commenced the long drive north. It was soon dark and the kilometres rolled by as we passed trucks hauling big loads, the odd kangaroo on the side of the road and a few cheeky foxes who skulked around the edge of our driving lights.
Finally with sunrise not too far away we pulled down a dusty driveway, met our mate from the bush, and headed towards his rural house for a few hours sleep to recharge the batteries. It didn’t take much rocking for us girls and we awoke to the sound of swallows building a nest on the verandah, crows calling, and magpies in a tree outside. These sounds were all very different to the hustle and bustle of city life but they were appreciated and absorbed by both Emily and myself.
The guys were soon up and after a quick breakfast they were organising all our food, ice and camping equipment for the next three days. We repacked our bags, had showers, and asked a few too many questions whilst we double checked to make sure our camping beauty essentials were included.
Wanting to look the part and fit in with our hunting buddies Emily and I researched camouflage gear and decided on Lamellar ContraCAM Fade in the EcoACTive Breeze shirts. I have to admit wearing camouflage was new to us girls, but after a few days in the Lamellar tops we were very impressed with the way technology has progressed and we couldn’t have been more comfortable in the heat wearing our Lamellar. They might even get a wear when we get back home as we exercise around the local parks!
We were soon told we had three minutes before departure so scrambled with our bags over to the 4wd and in no time the cruiser had hit fifth gear and we had a long cloud of dust billowing out behind our tyres. The harsh desert country had been transformed by winter rain into a green landscape and we stopped to look at the wildflowers that grew in certain location, the Stuart Desert Pea was a very attractive plant.
The boys kept reminding us we had many kilometres to cover and we needed to push on and keep the wheels turning. An isolated waterhole was passed and visions of a cooling dip were squashed as we noticed thick clumps of green weed and rancid looking water. Not exactly the bathing pool we were hoping to temper the heat in.
A few more kilometres were travelled before we slowed down, turned off the road, and headed down an isolated two track. This was a circuitous route we would commence that we expected would take a few days and our pace slowed in the 4wd accordingly.
We soon got into a routine of driving to the condition of the road and always keeping our eyes peeled for any dingoes, foxes, and camels. The boys started pointing out animal marks in the desert that had been completely invisible to us at first. The tracks of kangaroos, dingos, emus, and camels all periodically appeared on the road and we were alerted to other sign to watch for such as camel browse, beds, and droppings.
Emily and I were enthralled at how the seemingly barren desert had so much life once you started to explore and scratch away at its secrets. The camels were proving elusive although there was a no shortage of padding on the track indicating that they had recently passed through. At times the road was churned up with marks showing many animals had passed through and then often we would go five or ten kilometres before more pads appeared.
Early afternoon came and so did our need to for a quick cook up and the boys simply found a flat piece of dirt, pulled up and started a fire. Fry pans were produced and toasted sandwiches were made washed down with cold drinks. It was surreal sitting in the shade of a mulga tree without the sounds of planes, trams, trains, cars or motorbikes. Such a vastly different setting to where we were two days previously. Having no mobile service was concerning at first, but we soon adjusted and actually enjoyed the lack of effective technology out here in the bush.
The fire was put out, gear packed up and we kept the Toyota pointed north navigating over sand ridges, through clumps of scrub and at times entering wide open grassy plains. It was a visual overload interrupted by the endless kangaroos that paced our vehicle and the occasional eagle soaring high above.
Coming around a curve in the road we suddenly noticed a large tan shape standing motionless on its own. A camel, and he was close by. A firearm was loaded, a short stalk carried out and when the sound of a shot broke the still air the camel toppled over in the sand and kicked his last. It was a harsh reality of life in the outback, but we understood the ecological issues created by the massive numbers of these feral animals and tolerated the life and death sequence that was necessary in order to help restore balance to the flora and fauna.
The camel was huge with massive feet, thick woolly hair, a large hump and a long head that protruded from an even longer neck. The boys set him up for a few photos and we posed with the animal, not quite sure what our family and friends would think when they realised we really were hunting the largest land animal in the South Pacific. A knife was produced, some choice cuts of meat on the back strap taken, and we cut up the rest of the animal to allow the bush dwellers a free feed.
By now the sun was starting to lower in the west and we knew it was time to find a campsite. A sandy ridge was driven over and when a large flat area clear of thorns and scrub was found we knew we had found home for the night. As gear was unloaded, tents put up and a fire started we watched a thunderstorm roll across to our north. A rainbow soon developed and we took in a vista that we had never laid eyes on before.
Eventually the sun set and all the night creatures came alive as bugs, crickets, grasshoppers and spiders all entered the orange glow created by the flames. A rich tomato and venison mince pasta sauce simmered away in the camp oven as gnocchi came to boil and we quenched our thirst with icy cold beers and a glass or two of wine. It was a perfect setting and sleep came easy due to the big drive up the previous night.
I woke in the morning to noise around the campfire and a sun that was above the horizon. The boys were shifting timber and turning coals to create heat for the frypan to sizzle our bacon and eggs. Reluctantly we ate, carried out our packing up chores and realised we would probably never see this campsite again. We could easily have stayed here another night, but a look at the GPS showed we had plenty of kilometres to cover and once again we were back on the track pushing north. This was our chance to eat up a good portion of the circuit we wanted to cover and pressed on keeping an eye out for any ferals.
I thought we might have seen a few more rabbits in the country we travelled through and I was quite keen to try them in a casserole but they were strangely absent. My outback mate said they were patchy and only in good numbers in certain areas. A feed of goat back leg with herbs would have been tasty slow cooked in the camp oven, but we were a couple of hundred kilometres from the nearest herds to have any chance of coming across any.
The cool morning hours faded as the temperature increased and we located all types of animals and bird life but nothing with humps or canines. The topography changed considerably and we crossed a few massive dry salt lakes. Often we stopped on the edge of these lakes to look over the vast expanse that stretched to the horizon. We walked around looking over some of the animal tracks and different rock formations and wondered what the view would have looked like a few hundred years ago. The strong winds create shifting sands and massive dunes that no doubt held many secrets buried over time that perhaps will never be discovered. It was inspiring to be so remote and certainly put a new perspective on the important things in daily life.
Lunchtime came as we rolled to a halt in the shade. The last of the venison mince was turned into burgers with the assistance of spices, onion, breadcrumbs and eggs and we enjoyed the break with cool drinks giving us a chance to talk about our adventure. The camels were proving difficult to find, but we were well aware that we could have driven past many that were in patches of scrub or just out of sight over a ridge. Camel sign was still prevalent and the boys hoped it was just a matter of time before we came across more animals.
After our midday siesta came to a conclusion we continued the camel pursuit under a fierce sun and got our game face back on. The boys we staying upbeat and telling us girls to keep eyes in the bush for glimpses of colour or shapes that didn’t quite fit. To be honest we were looking, but also just enjoying the experience and often got distracted with other aspects of the journey.
Suddenly the vehicle rolled to a halt and one of the guys thought he had seen a dingo lying in the shade of a tree. A head was just visible above the grass and we reversed up to get a better view.
Unfortunately the head materialised into a male red kangaroo and we watched him bound away out of sight. Just as we were about to hit first gear, I glanced across to my right and was astounded when a large male camel came into view 100 metres away in a small clearing amongst heavy scrub. I told the boys and they went into action straight away. Firearms were loaded, steadied, and after a safety check they fired and the male toppled over in the desert. Suddenly a second bull camel appeared and he was on the move. A harder target to hit but the boys eventually found their mark and he also fell lifeless in the dust.
It was awesome to walk up to a couple more dinosaurs of the desert and we talked about the life these animals had lived, the journey they had travelled, the adversities they had overcome and the many nights spent under a carpet of stars that shine like no other.
Photos were taken and we again removed the skulls and choice cuts of meat. It was a heavy load we carried back to the vehicle and we all shared the burden. By now the afternoon was all but over and we watched an amazing sunset that was a fitting end to a great day.
We had no need to go any further in the ute when we reached it and simply weaved our way into the scrub, found a flat area, lit a fire and unpacked our gear.
Tonights meal was a camp oven full of roast vegies and herbs complimented by schnitzels and steaks. We ate like kings that night and certainly the flavour of bush cooking gets in your blood.
Sleep came easy again and one of the boys woke up at dawn to do a loop around camp in case a dingo had been attracted to the smells of our cooking and camel meat but he returned empty handed to stir up the coals and get breakfast ready.
It was shaping up to be a scorcher and we hit the road early. By now we were in new country and my rural friend was excited to see what the day would bring. We worked a lot of country, they tried glassing from many rocky ledges that gave us a height advantage and we even circled some water holes in the hope of finding a bull bedded up. But as the day wore on and we got closer to civilisation we knew we had used up all our luck on this trip. Roads become more frequent, sun tanned fencers were passed working on the wire and the occasional tourist was met as they too were seeking adventure out in wild places.
Finally we hit the bitumen, pointed the Toyota south, clicked into fifth gear for the first time in a couple of days, and listened to the rhythm of tyres on a sealed road. Nobody said much for a while, we had a lot to take in from the experience we had just gone through, and it actually felt strange to be seeing people again. We knew we had become self sufficient in the bush, reliant on nothing but our equipment and the decisions we made and it truly was a remarkable adventure.
A day later we touched back down in the city after our interstate flight and made our way to our respective homes. As Emily and I walked to our apartment we couldn’t help but look at all the people rushing around concerned and engrossed in the hustle and bustle of city life. We wondered how many would ever see a true outback sunset, eat a camel steak cooked over the coals and feel the soft texture of desert sand under bare feet where very few had ever walked before us. It might have been out first time into the red centre, but we both agree it won’t be our last.