Reg and I have always had 'itchy feet,' and loved to travel. Sometimes we ventured into places where our car could not reach. This is a story of a time, in our young mid-life, when we connected up with others for the safety reasons of traveling through the outback in a group. We trundled off with a group of strangers, staring a paid tour director and driver, and use of his well-equipped vehicle set up with remote distance radio contact equipment. It was an everything will be provided, including the cook and all meals, you just enjoy the scenery tour.
We followed the Burke and Wills explorers trail, up into Cameron Corner, the intersection of three of the states of Australia. This country is referred to as ‘Back of Burke.’ We toured through Innaminka, Birdsville, Boulia and, through the Gemtree country of the Harts Range.
Travelling in a group of thirty-two people presented a few problems of a personal nature. The trip went flawlessly in regards to the running of the Rolls Royce engine bus and experienced driver.
However, halfway into the sixteen-day adventure the failure to plan for personal needs became wearing. I’ll go so far as to say, it was an appallingly managed tour.
Reg and I share a love for each other and the landscape. Since this tour we have been wary of hitching ourselves into any organised by others, tour. I am aware that most tours are brilliantly run. This tour experience is no reflection on the high standard of the tour industry.
In telling this story of the desert pee, I should start by saying that our bus had a toilet.
However, the bus driver had a temper.
It was the driver’s job to maintain the bus, and that included emptying the toilet. Yes, you guessed it. He didn’t want to do that part of his duties, so he banned us from using the toilet, and became threatening if we ignored his orders. Steven King would do more justice than I can to this story. I’ll stick with the facts.
I wish that back then in my thirties I’d had the courage that I have in my later life and had publicly given that driver a piece of my mind. What could he have done? Thrown me out, driven off, and left me to die in the desert? Hardly, not with thirty-one witnesses. Gee, maybe I should have tried that driver passenger stand-off and given myself great material for a triller-or horror story. The driver was that intimidating. He had us all dependent on him and bluffed.
We, the passengers, needed to use the toilet.
At the beginning of the trip, the driver would pull up near a public toilet, stop the bus while we all piled out.
“I drive off in ten minutes whether you are on the bus or not.” He then told us about the sixty-year-old lady he drove away and left alone in a country town two-thousand miles from her home and never went back for. There was something in the driver’s manner that made us believe him. When the queue to the men’s toilet dispersed, and there remained one outside the ladies toilet, women put concern about being left behind ahead of propriety and we split the queue into two. After that, it became a case of if a toilet is free, then grab it. Who cared, by that stage, what the door sign said?
As the country towns turned into bushland without facilities, it became a case of piling out and ladies finding a tree to hide behind on the left, and men finding one on the right.
I’m not sure how come half the men became disorientated as half of them didn’t seem to realise where right-hand side of the truck was. Hmm, is that another potential Steven King type plot in the making?
That system worked reasonably for a few days. By ten days into the trip, couples got rather tired of being segregated in their brief wanderings. When they were granted a rare opportunity to leg stretch, they wandered in every direction, as the bus driver sat in the bus, guarding the toilet door, making sure no one used it, so he would not have to dig a hole in a sand dune and empty it.
Parts of the trip were, despite these conditions, were sheer magic. The Coopers Creek near Innaminka and the Birdsville track was pure heaven of birdlife that enthralled me. I loved, and painted, the old Royal Hotel at Birdsville. I did have to paint it at home, as the driver only gave us time to take a photo.
On the day that we traveled through Sturt’s Stony Desert, with no bush for privacy, nothing to squat behind, I confess—I was somewhat uncomfortable. I’ve never attended to my toilet needs in front of thirty strangers. Back then in my thirties, I was still somewhat shy and modest, yet too scared of the intimidating driver to barge my way past him into the toilet in the bus. I planned to hold it all in until it was dark.
So after dinner, after everyone had gathered around a communal campfire with a paper cup of cheap cask wine, which is extremely welcomed at the end of a hot day's travel, I took a torch and snuck off alone.
I walked out into the desert. Turned the torch off and relieved myself.
I can not describe—well, I'm sure you can imagine—I felt more comfortable. With my clothes readjusted I reached out, picked up the torch and turned it on.
On the ground, between me, and where the torch had been, was a desert taipan—the deadliest snake in the world.
Common sense is not always all that common.
I've been guilty of a lot of very foolish blunders in my learning to live close to this beautiful country. One thing I have learned is to treat nature with respect and to demand respect from other people. I’d like to see any man attempt to try to block me from using a toilet today.
I have learned is that the night time is when my country, Australia, abounds in wildlife. Most of our native creatures are nocturnal.
Groping around on a desert floor in the dark, as I did, takes the prize in stupidity. Standing up to bullies, not allowing them to intimidate ourselves and others, is something that we all need to learn to do.
Well, I hope you had a laugh at my desert pee story and perhaps feel less foolish if you have made a few greenhorn boo-boos adjusting to living 'out back', at any stage, yourself.
Some of Reg and my, most memorable, funny moments have been when our lack of bush inexperience has allowed wildlife to get the better of us. Like when Reg and I packed half of our wedding cake to take away on our bushland camping honeymoon. While we made love on our wedding night, we weren’t aware we were being watched. Not only had the possums arrived, but they also sat on our table watching our performance while eating our wedding cake. Now, who is supposed to be the master race? Bush creatures own the bush at night; we must learn to live in harmony with them and each.
Copyright © Ryn Shell 2021
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