Snakes, spiders, crocodiles and jellyfish - tales of Australian nasties abound. But who would have thought a piece of wood could be so dangerous? Penny Bunting explains.
We were woken at 2am by screaming.
“Snake! A snake in my tent!”
We sat bolt upright in our camp beds. How long would it take a snake to slither from the neighbouring tent into ours? I scrabbled for the torch, the names of various lethal snakes racing through my mind: tiger snake, king brown, death adder.
Eighteen of us, from all around the world, had set off from Alice Springs at sunrise on the previous day. Pete, our driver and guide, told us stories of the Aboriginal Dreamtime as we drove along the Stuart Highway towards Uluru.
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere, we stopped to collect firewood. We surveyed the scene: endless, empty red desert; huge, cloudless blue sky.
“Be careful!” warned Pete, holding up a branch of mulga wood. “This stuff is poisonous.” We picked our way gingerly through the spiky branches, but were halted by a piercing shriek. It was Pete: snapping a big branch of mulga with his foot, a sharp shard had given him a four-inch gash across his leg.
We all rushed over to where he lay bleeding, profusely. “It’ll need stitching,” he announced. How was he staying so calm? “There’s a first aid kit on the bus”.
We all looked at each other. “Don’t look at me,” I said. “I can’t even sew on a button.”
Luckily, though, we had amongst us a vet and a trainee nurse. Between them they stitched up Pete – who barely made a whimper – while the rest of us wondered how we would now reach Uluru. We were still more than 100km away and the empty road stretched ahead through the baking desert.
“I’ve driven one of these buses before,” offered Greg, a Kiwi.
“No, no,” croaked Pete, overhearing. “You can’t drive – not insured. I’ll be fine.”
Top row: On the road to Yulara
Bottom row: Uluru scenes
So, after 10 minutes recovery time following his roadside surgery, Pete hobbled courageously to the bus. Wincing with pain he hauled himself into the driver’s seat, and we continued the journey – very slowly – towards Uluru. There we found a real doctor for Pete, who re-stitched his leg and administered antibiotics.
By now it was getting dark: time to set up camp. Soon we were all sitting around a roaring campfire – made with the treacherous mulga – eating chicken stew. The sky was the blackest I’ve ever seen, peppered with millions of stars.
“Look at Orion,” said my husband, pointing out the three bright stars of the hunter’s belt. “He’s upside down!”
At bedtime we set our alarms so we’d be up in time to watch the sunrise over Uluru, and quickly fell asleep.
Only to be woken by screaming.
“Snake! A snake in my tent!”
“Keep still! Don’t panic!” shouted Pete, limping across the campsite. Shining a flashlight into Greg’s tent he soon spotted the culprit: a belt, snaking out from under a carrier bag. Inside the bag a mouse, rustling: Greg had been woken by the sound, seen the belt in the gloom, and assumed the worst.
Fortunately we never did encounter tiger snakes, king browns or death adders in the Outback. But even if we had, Pete would have known exactly what to do.
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Green Adventures April 2015