Night rolled quickly into day, but what a day it was.
Surprisingly, I was first to shed the doona (OK it wasn’t cold, just fresh) and indulge in a drover’s breakfast … aka a pee, a cigarette and a bit of a look around. That involved taking in the fog. It was quite heavy between us and the bright blue sky … a long narrow band of fog (can you have a band of fog?) snaked its way along the river. It was beautiful.
The first official task was to breathe life into the fire (easily done cos I’m a bag of wind) and fill the billy from the river. It was tea time.
I wandered to the water, billy in hand, and then realised we’d left our baited lines in all night. I retrieved Liam’s unharmed worm and then started on mine. Snagged, I thought, because the line had drifted from the deepish middle of the river to the bank.
No, it wasn’t snagged; there was a beast attached and he was still intent on a fight. I reeled in a decent, better-the-pan-sized yellowbelly. Guilt, not joy, was the order of the day. Had this poor bugger been on the line all night? I hoped not and rather that he’d had a fit of the early-morning hunger pangs and hadn’t been discomforted for too long.
Liam emerged from his tent and came down to meet my latest acquisition. “We gonna cook him?” “Nah, reckon the poor bastard has had enough grief being on the line for maybe the whole night. Time to let him go.” Liam grabbed him and ran plenty of water through his gills and away he went, full of fight for another, hopefully fairer to him, day. We felt good about it.
It’s a bloody good feeling, sitting by the fire with a cup of billy tea, a smoke and pondering what to do with the day. That inherent feeling, of not having to do anything other than what we wanted to do, ran wild.
“Reckon bacon and eggs on toast and more tea would be a good place to start,” said Liam, “I’ll cook.”
While he was busy in the kitchen, I grabbed a shovel and wandered off to do what I had to do. It was a good time to reflect on what was looming as a problem with my three-way fridge. I’d cooled it on 240 volts the night before we left, and run it on 12 volts in the ute on the trip up. It is obviously having trouble keeping its cool – something that was never going to afflict us on this trip. I’ll get it checked out by someone who knows these things. It was a faithful servant during my 10-month trip a couple of years ago, so I’m quite fond of it. But given that I’m hitting the road at the end of the year for a rest-of-my-life road trip, I’m gonna need something that reliably keeps its cool. Sure, I have a big (think a size for giving the kids a bath) icebox but given that I’ll hopefully be spending big slabs of time without ice being an option, I need to rethink. A Waeco three-way fridge-freezer is on the radar if the old girl fails to pass muster.
Breakfast did its job … the boy can cook. And he did the dishes.
We sat by the fire … it was just for the ambience, it certainly wasn’t cold … and another cuppa did its thing.
“What about we take a long walk into the bush?” said Liam, “Maybe an hour or two. Have a good look around.”
We hadn’t come all this way to ignore what was around us, so we reluctantly (the holiday mood had well and truly kicked in) extracted ourselves from the comfort of a chair by the fire and headed to our digs to dress the part.
What followed was another lesson from Liam. “Got to get my adventure pack,” he said. I looked quizzical enough, so he explained. “I bought a backpack with a bladder in it. You can never have too much water with you. And it’s bright red, deliberately, in case I get lost. I always carry a first-aid kit, a cigarette lighter, some kindling, a water bottle ... you never know. You should get one for your big trip.” It’s on the to-do list.
As we were walking through the bush, scouting for a ready supply of firewood and keeping an eye out for a wild pig or whatever, he said: “I reckon we should do a first-aid course.” He was right. I’m gonna be by myself in the bush a lot and a first-aid course is nothing to carry. We’re booked in for a one-day course in Melbourne next weekend.
Wild pigs were missing from the landscape although, the shotgun blasts in the distance from the night before were an indication that there may be the odd one about. Claypans, with a high but intermittent grass presence, we also another indication.
Instead of porkers we made do with the odd (OK, maybe it wasn’t odd, it’s their home) kangaroo or three, although they weren’t that keen on sharing their space with us. I still get a real kick out of seeing roos in the bush.
After an hour or so, we wandered back to the river and sussed out a couple of likely fishing spots (there were deep holes and lots of fallen timber) tucked in under the willows at the bend in the river near out camp.
We’d spotted enough firewood on the walk to warrant a trip with the LandCruiser into a spot where there were no tracks but the omnipresent fear of really soft, swampy ground. Liam walked ahead to suss it out. No problems.
We threw heaps of fallen timber onto the back of the ute, some of it hanging a metre or two over the tailgate. It’s a good thing to retrieve fallen branches and help to keep the forest floor a bit cleaner … bushfires readily spring to mind.
Getting the ute out of the bush was a breeze, even for someone with my limited four-wheel-driving experience (it’s all about learning), and we headed back to camp to unload and chop enough to keep the cold at bay for the night.
Time for another Liam lesson. Sure, we each had an axe, but I’d also brought the Vanuatu bush knife and a WW2 machete that saw service with my old man in New Guinea. The bush knife is standard for most locals in Vanuatu - people carry them on the streets – and they use them for everything from chopping down trees to slashing excessive greenery, probably even as a toothpick. (OK, I made that up.)
With a solid base in place, he carved through smaller branches (think an inch or two in the old money) most times with a single blow, clean as a whistle.
“There’s a sweet spot about a third of the way down the blade [I’ve included this picture with one of my size 11s to give an idea of the size of the thing] … I got to be pretty good with one while I was over there. Not up to the locals’ standard, mind you, but pretty good,” he said. Then he set about the bigger stuff … think about eight inches or so, again in the old money. It was shades of the Time Warp … it’s a cut to the left, it’s a cut to the right … and he smashed his way through a huge amount quicker than I could have done it with an axe. Still, he’s young and fit. I had a few cracks and liked what I saw. It does work a treat, although rings on fingers are not the ideal accompaniment to such activity and I retired hurt (it was pride, not pain) with a bloody finger.
We decided after the fire was strutting its stuff to give the yabbies and worms another swimming lesson, not that any fish would take any notice.
“Shit, I just got worm in my eye,” said Liam as he threaded a wriggler onto a hook. A spurt of worm (now they’re not words often used together) had gone straight into his eye (that’s Liam, not the worm). Perhaps it was revenge.
Enough fishing. There was certainly no catching involved … the fish simply weren’t hungry but we were.
Slow-cooked lamb casserole with lots of veg and some noodles was the order of the day, but not before a couple of pre-dinner beers and then we attacked a magnum of 2007 Chateau Tahbilk shiraz with the food, a better than fine way to see out the day … and night.
It was doona time.