Simpson Desert and Batten Hill Trip, 2007- Part 5 Mount Tietkins

Saturday, Apr 28, 2007 at 13:49

Member - John and Val

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Next day the scientists and their volunteers arrived, about a dozen people, excited to see their new camp and keen to get out into this new area. They each quickly selected a spot to camp and set up – for some that was as simple as dropping a swag and their backpack, while others erected tents or camper trailers. Once that was done the camp suddenly looked very busy. Then there was a quick cuppa before the hand-held UHF radios were handed out, the activity log marked with the area to be worked and time expected back in camp, and they were off to work.

We put the final touches to the camp. There was a shade structure and a few tables for food preparation, and washing up, a fire pit area with 2 or 3 portable BBQs, a water drum from which smaller water containers were kept topped up. The toilet consisted of a shower tent and a seat over a hole in the ground – but all paper was to go into a garbage bag to be burnt. Surprisingly this arrangement worked very well. While there was plenty of firewood lying around it took quite a bit of work to keep it supplied to the fireplace – not helped by one or two campers who were keen on burning it but not so keen on gathering it.

After our discussion with “management” out at Ngarra Ngarra, it had been agreed that, for this camp, the evening meal would be prepared at Batten Hill where there were much better cooking facilities, and brought out each day by the “Meals on Wheels” volunteer crew. This arrangement worked well and the meals were very good. Breakfast was a cheerful cook-it-yourself affair with plenty of cereal, bacon and eggs, and toast. Frying eggs in a slice of bread from which the centre had been removed was a novel approach unknown to some of the crew and the technique got a solid workout over the next few days. Lunch was, as it had been throughout, a flatbread wrap with meat, cheese and salad fillings, adequate and tasty enough but lacking in variety after 2 weeks. Washing up was a cheerful communal affair too, with most people pitching in so that task was quickly completed.

Our task for the next few days was to keep the camp running smoothly and maintain and monitor the radios, especially the UHFs carried by those in the field, in case anyone needed help. There was some time for one or other of us to get a bit of time out with the scientists. Val spent an interesting and enjoyable day out in the mulga scrub with a small group of dedicated ladies, finding tiny desert fungi – mainly puffballs about the size of a small pea and others resembling a mushroom with a pointed cap. Collected specimens were carefully labelled and wrapped so they would not be damaged during the long journey back to the lab.

There was time too for a few short walks out from the camp. There was a dry creek bed, the banks a couple of metres high in places. While there was no sign of water there were sheltered spots where mosses and ferns could find a tiny bit of water, just enough to survive. Between the steep rocky hills were gullies where the desert bloodwoods and some eremophilas were flowering, their nectar providing a banquet for insects. The rocks provided lots of nooks and crannies where insects and reptiles could find food and shelter. It was a wonderful experience to have the time to see this country in a way that we seldom do when we are simply passing through and we see it from inside the comfort of our vehicle.

Around the fire at night we had some animated conversation as the days events were recounted – perhaps with a bit of embellishment, - and the thinking behind some of the research projects was explained and discussed. Bruce, our bird expert was excited by the number and variety of birds present, the dingoes and camels were proving to be as elusive as ever, while the botanists were finding not only fungi, but mosses, lichens and liverworts in unexpected places.

The only drama was when someone left a radio lying on a rock somewhere. While it was felt that it could be written off, the person responsible for it felt so badly about it that they were determined to find it – and, after a thorough search involving many people the it was recovered.

An unexpected helicopter visit on the final day brought a bit of excitement too, the loud beat of its rotor an unexpected sound in the vast desert silence. The chopper had delivered Lindsay back from a trip to the Alice and it provided an opportunity for the photographer to get some aerial shots of the research areas.

One morning the organisers wanted to do an interview from the camp with the ABC in Alice Springs, which would have been fine except that HF was the only means by which an interview could be held. Fortunately the HF reception was reasonable until the sun came up, but after that conditions rapidly deteriorated. Our interviewee had no understanding of the limitations of HF and we could do little more than restrain our incredulity as they tried to transmit long involved sentences over the crackling ether.

After about 5 days it was time to break camp and head back to Batten Hill. The packing up was done quickly and efficiently as by now there was a good team spirit, and there were many willing hands to help. The final tasks, after the tents, tables and BBQs were packed up were to back-fill the toilet pit with sand, burn the rubbish (including the toilet paper) and quench the fire with the last of the water. We were the last to leave, and apart from a pile of ashes, some wheel tracks and trampled grass it was as if nothing had happened there.

Back at Batten Hill the mood was very different. It was very busy now with everyone all in the one place, but the out-camp team spirit was gone as many of the 50 or so people there had still not camped or worked together.

One last project was to set up a nature trail in a loop out from the Batten Hill camping area. The idea was walk over the ground to identify particular points of interest, mark the spot with a stake and take notes and photos so that a tourist brochure could be produced. Val was persuaded to take part in this venture, and although the walk on a hot afternoon was interesting, there remained a lingering doubt that the project would be brought to fruition, or that the sites could be maintained. We often wonder what became of this venture.

Finally there were group photos and a big dinner on the last night followed by some confected entertainment. And all of the scientific gear that we had been prevailed upon to bring from Canberra of course had to be got back there. Once again this had not been arranged so there was some dismay when we mentioned that it would have to take its chances travelling across the Simpson … Kevin eventually found some spaces where it could be stowed.

The following morning we were ready to leave early, so in the midst of much chaos and confusion we quietly made our farewells and headed off. In many ways it was a relief to leave what had been a bitter-sweet experience. Certainly we had had some memorable experiences, and met and worked alongside some wonderful people. But unfortunately these positive aspects were offset by some poor planning, by poor communication and a distrustful attitude from some of those running the show.

Some time later one magazine article about the expedition did appear, and we saw a scientific paper that was written about some of the fungi that were collected. Hopefully, after all that work there were other positive outcomes that we didn’t see.

J and V
"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."
- Albert Einstein
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