Mrs Whacked and I were dozing in and out of sleep in the back of our 35-year-old somewhat daggy Mazda campervan when a thought occurred. “You awake?”
Mrs W: “Hmm mumble. What?”
“I think I’ve gone deaf. I can’t hear a damn thing!”
“That’s because there’s no damn thing to hear. Now go to sleep.”
She was right, of course. We were camping on the banks of the Darling River at Bindara Station in western outback New South Wales, and at night it was quiet. If you listened very carefully, you could just about hear the Milky Way dribbling in the sky. Or the sub-aural shuffle of the sly old fox trying to get another lick of the barbecue plate.
Or the tinkling crunch of condensation in the van turning to little icicles. Did I say it was cold? Try minutes two on one morning.
We’re not usually outdoorsy types so this was a big adventure.
Two and a bit weeks in the genuine outback in old Kevin the Kamper. The two-wheel-drive Kevin. The Kevin which already had 280,000kms on the dial. Almost 2000 kms round trip, 600ks of it on dirt.
Well, I say dirt, but this stuff was so bad it dreamed of one day becoming dirt. So, what could go wrong?
Not much, as it turned out. Kevin waddled along the tracks with a certain retro dignity even though evil rocks, corrugations, bulldust, sudden cattle grids, kangaroos, emus, sheep and feral goats tested both his mettle and his metal.
Now, seeing Mrs Whacked was already awake, I thought it’d be a good time to mentally review the trip so far. The strong impression we both came away with was: how easy it is to live in Bendigo.
When the niceties of 21st century life are stripped away, everything becomes much more difficult and requires thinking and planning. Take for example - if you’ll excuse any insensitivity for a moment – taking a leak in the middle of the night when you’re in a sleeping bag, under a doonah, behind one sliding van door and other zipped annex door – AND it’s minus two.
Basic cooking over a metal plate on a camp fire is fun, sure, but you can’t say the same about stinging wood smoke which maliciously follows you all round the fire. Or washing the ash off the sausages which rolled off the wonky barbie plate.
In our Bendigo lives we take so much for granted about the basics of going to the toilet, being clean, cooking, washing clothes, being able to duck down to the supermarket for milk and bread, and clean water supply.
Water supply that far up the Darling was interesting. We carried about 70 litres of sparkling Benders drinking water with us, but the station had these sort of shower arrangements set up inside a couple of recycled iron water tanks. Quite posh by Outback standards.
But at the risk of searing your brain, picture this: a certain portly 60-something bloke is standing in this tank, naked, trying to get water to come out of the shower head. It’s open to the skies and a tad nippy.
The water won’t come out because it’s, yep, minus two. There’s an actual icicle on the shower head. And when it does thaw, it’s river water which has the colour if not the consistency of pea soup.
We have it so easy here.
But against that were things like an astonishing night sky untouched by light pollution, the deep silence, the serenity, getting way out of your comfort zone …
… and getting back on the bitumen at Balranald.