Simpson Desert and Batten Hill Trip, 2007- Part 4 Ngarra Ngarra Swamp

Thursday, Apr 26, 2007 at 17:21


Having reached Kevin and Megan’s camp at Ngarra Ngarra Swamp near Lake Caroline we attempted to make contact with Batten Hill, only to find, as Kevin had already discovered, that it was impossible to get through using HF. We continued trying unsuccessfully to make contact throughout the next day. We weren’t concerned, thinking that Lindsay would have reported that all was well once he arrived back at Batten Hill.

In the meantime Kevin and Megan had found themselves with unexpected responsibilities, like digging a latrine, preparing all the food, significant tasks they had originally been told would not be expected of them. Water was short, with just a 44 gallon drum of fresh water for maybe a dozen people. Although there was plenty of water nearby in a small lake it was very muddy and was also quickly evaporating. We tried digging a hole at the edge of the water to make it easier to access but the level seemed to be receding almost as fast as we could dig.

We were rather surprised the following day when one of the expedition leaders arrived, not in the best of moods. Having not had any report from Lindsay he assumed that we had all let him down and he had come to tell us so. There followed an intense discussion when a few ‘home truths” were aired about perceived shortcomings in expedition arrangements and the disparity between expectations and actualities. With the air cleared and everyone slightly mollified, it was then agreed that we would stay on to assist Kevin and Megan until it was time for everyone to leave that camp.

After that we could enjoy the campsite and its environs for a day or two. The little ephemeral lake was surrounded by a band of vivid green vegetation and sizeable gum trees, all sustained by the water that collects and lies in depressions for a few short weeks or months after rain. Close to the edges of the lake where the ground was damp were big sundews (Drosera), insectiverous plants with leaves covered with drops of sticky glue that sparkled in the sunlight. There were also tiny blue-grey liverworts, primitive plants that we would not usually associate with a desert environment.

The presence of water and vegetation meant that the lake was visited by big flocks of birds – peachface parrots, budgerigars, finches and cockatoos - coming in to drink. Drinking seemed to be a precarious, nervous activity, most birds barely alighting, some drinking on the wing, all the time maintaining a cacophony of calls. Thirst slaked they retreated to the taller trees accompanied by much noisy chattering. With so much colour and movement the whole place had an oasis-like quality; but we were mindful that the dry red dunes, covered with spinifex were just a few metres away.

Around the fire at night the volunteers and scientists recounted their day’s adventures. Apparently the dingoes were very cunning and were not visiting the bait stations from where it had been hoped to get DNA samples from their saliva. The team looking for desert moles had travelled long distances, excavated deep trenches but had found (not unexpectedly) no trace of those elusive animals. The journalist and photographer were gathering plenty of material for articles, but when we were asked to build a huge bonfire for a nightime camp shot we felt obliged to explain that although it might look spectacular we were not keen on the environmental message such a shot would convey – and the whole purpose of the expedition was supposed to be about conserving the environment at this rather special place.

Finally it was time for the whole group to head back to Batten Hill. The camp was dismantled and gear stowed back on the vehicles. John drove the damaged vehicle, and took it and its driver out towards Lake Caroline for a quick 4WD course. During this excursion he found that there was a problem with the radio in that vehicle. The young driver began fiddling with the knobs, trying to get UHF reception – not much chance - it was an HF radio which in any case he had no idea how to use!

Meanwhile Val took the passenger from the damaged vehicle, a delightful lady collecting desert fungi. This was an activity that Val understood and several stops were made along the track to collect bark samples that might contain fungi or slime moulds. It was great fun and very interesting to view the country from this new perspective.

Back in camp a hot shower was very welcome, although the showers and donkey boiler at Batten Hill were working overtime to deal with such a large number of people. There were of course no washing machines so a bit of time was spent hand washing dusty clothes.

Having ruled out Mount Barrington as an out-camp site, we needed to find somewhere else that would be suitable. So the next day we were sent out again to survey around the bush tucker circuit, about 20km south of base camp, for a site for the second out-camp, from which the scientists could access suitable country for their research. Ken led the way again but this time Val drove, taking Mike the other radio operator who so far had spent all his time at Batten Hill. John took over the base radio operator role.

We left with instructions from the scientists about what features were required –different habitats including mulga and mallee scrub for birds, rocky areas for dingoes, and so on. As well as having a very enjoyable day driving around this very scenic area we were pretty pleased to find what we thought was a suitable site at Mt. Tietkins, a flat area beside a high rocky hill with plenty of mallee and mulga scrub close by. We had lunch there, giving us time to walk around and check the variety of landforms and vegetation all easily accessible from that spot.

Back at camp that night our recommendation was accepted and plans hastily arranged to set up the second out-camp there. It was agreed that the next day we would go out there on our own and get the basics of the camp established – dig a toilet pit, erect our tent to house stores and food, gather an initial supply of firewood ready for the influx of scientists and volunteers the next day.

As we headed out to our new camp we stopped at every track intersection to leave markers so that these rest of the group would be able to find us when they came out the next day. It was great to be out on our own again, and although we had a busy day getting the site organised, it was quite a memorable one, topped off by a lovely sunset and a campfire under the stars.
J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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