A brief encounter

In another of his memoirs, Barry recalls an unusual experience in the desert…

Barry Edge writes…

A Brief Encounter

Those who know me will be aware that I love the Australian desert country. I can remember exactly the where and when my conversion took place. It was early morning Friday 15th April 1960 when waking up to my first beautiful sunrise over Mt Magnet, Western Australia and although surrounded by desert country I was totally mesmeriser by it all and simply fell in love with my new home. In fact, it was to be a defining moment in time giving rise to a lifetime ‘Downunder.

Several minutes passed when out of nowhere two Aborigines were standing in front of me…

By car I live less than 10 minutes from the upper wide reaches of the Swan River, and less than 45 minutes from the nearest of wide sandy beaches. But for all the sun, surf and sail attractions offered I still prefer the vastness of the outback and desert countries – especially the Great Victoria Dessert, Australia’s largest, which stretches east from Kalgoorlie, Western Australia into South Australia.

It’s an ancient and timeless place occupied by a number of Aboriginal groups collectively known as ‘The Spinifex People’. This has been their ancestral home for 24 plus thousand years and like most desert regions is stark yet beautiful, dangerous yet forgiving, vibrant yet tranquil. Their story is of an incredible people who have lived under the most unliveable conditions ever encountered by human kind, and their culture – simple at first glance – is incredibly complex.

Back in 1974 I was contracted to do maintenance work on a homestead north of Kalgoorlie which was surrounded by desert vegetation in the form of scrubland. Summer temperatures soar into the 40s and can be very unpleasant if you are not used to it whilst at night temperatures plummet to very cold – the contrast between the two does not escape you.

Like all outback regions of Australia the desert country around the homestead was a place you ventured into with a combination of the very best of modern day technology and the very best of local knowledge provided by experienced Aboriginal trackers.

I would start work just before daybreak and finish around 1pm – by which time it was way too hot to continue – and head back to the homestead. No camp fires were permitted so my tucker bag would contain lots of sandwiches, fruit and water.

There was nothing worthy of note on the first day: I did the tasks to hand, ate my ‘snappin’ aroud 9am, finished around 1pm, then back to the homestead. The events of the second day, however, remain a mystery to this day.

It was around mid-morning when taking a break to eat my ‘snappin’ and read my book – the eerie silence broken only by the soft rush of a hot breeze coming in from the east. I can remember pausing to survey and ponder yet again the mysteries of an ancient land before returning to my book.

Several minutes passed when out of nowhere two Aborigines were standing in front of me – a man and woman.

No words were spoken but I knew from the way they were looking at my tucker bag they wanted to share my food and water. With my nod and smile they took some of the sandwiches and water and sat down a few yards away. They were quietly talking to each other in their own language but several times waved their arms toward me in what I assumed was their way of saying thank you.

I went back to my book.

With the book chapter finished it was time to get back to work but when I looked up the two Aborigines were nowhere to be seen. I quickly scanned 360ᴼ but all I could see was desert as far as the eye could see – a kind of ‘Now you see them; now you don’t’ – and when later mentioning my experience at the homestead the response was ‘They were probably on ‘Walkabout’.

In the hope I’d see them again the next day I organised extra sandwiches and water. They didn’t show, and I never saw them again.

See you later,

Barry Edge
Western Australia
August 10, 2018

 

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