By ERWIN CHLANDA
Hi. For those of you who are recent or intending arrivals, please note: It is official that the magnificent seven months in Central Australia have started.
The nights will be cool, the days will be warm, the sky will be blue, and on the rare occasion of rain the recommended response is to run outside, look up, spread your arms and exclaim: “Send her down, Hugh.”
Not necessarily the majority of your time, but certainly the most significant part of it, the bit you’ll never forget and you will be raving to your grandchildren about, revolves around a device called The Swag.
The definition of comfort in the bush is to sleep in a double swag on you own. The definition of passion in the bush also involves double swags but occupied by two persons. Occupation by three is not unheard of but will not be discussed further in these pages.
The swag – extremely useful for sitting or leaning on – is a canvas envelope containing a thick foam rubber mattress, sheets, one or two doonahs (depending on season), two pillows and a beanie (google that).
I usually put my toes into the wind (if there is any), close the zip all ’round for the canvas to stop just under my chin, pull the flap over my head, already covered by a beanie (see above) but short of my eyes: Now there is nothing between them and the Milky Way and – here we run out of numbers – stars in a sky seen through air with zero pollution, and especially on a moonless night, the most magic way to check out the universe.
You’re in a creek bed which of course is dry for most of the time. Weather forecasts are very reliable here, if storms are forecast (very rare, as mentioned) avoid creek beds for sleeping. Don’t sleep under gumtrees – they drop branches and they block your view of the stars.
That’s about it: Apart from the swags dotted around you (some distance away if you snore) there isn’t a great deal more: A small campfire for cooking on a BBQ plate and boiling the billy (google that) and an esky full of ice and the remainder of the fluids that last night oiled the conversation, sitting around the fire, and quite devoid of TV, mobiles, tablets and other gadgetry you thought was indispensable.
And if you suddenly can’t hear a thing, don’t panic: It is called silence.
Typical Alice conversation: “What are you doing on the weekend?” “We’re going bush.”
Bush starts about seven minutes’ drive from the post office and is an area the size of France and Germany combined (approximately).
“Out Bush” you’ll walk away from your vehicle – you’d be mad not to. There are the most glorious walks in the world in the Alice Springs region, especially the West MacDonnell ranges.
A great way is to park your vehicle near a walk (it doesn’t get much better than the Larapinta Trail which is very well documented), and do an out-and-return trek, any length you like, from your car which carried the majority of your camping gear.
It’s a hell of a job to carry a double swag on your back!
Where can you do all this? There are a few dozen official camping spots in a 1000 km radius from Alice Springs, and – at last count – 39,457 unofficial ones (approximately, that is).
Where? Ask a local. The immediate reply is likely to be “I’d have to shoot you if I told you” but after a beer or two he or she is likely to tell all. This is The Alice, you know.
It’s a huge country and people get lost from time to time. Here’s the drill.
Nominate a SAR Time with your hotel reception or a trusted local. That’s aviation jargon for ‘search and rescue’. Include where you are going and when you are intending to be back. Make sure you cancel SAR when you get back.
If you haven’t returned by the expiration of SAR ask these people to check your room, look for your car, ring your mobile and if they can’t confirm you are safe, to advise the police no more than 30 minutes later. If you are staying in a hotel, hand in your SAR in writing and get them to sign a copy.
That will define your approximate location.
You can live for three days without food, but you need, depending on temperature, three litres of water a day as a rule of thumb. Carry it in separate unbreakable containers.
Apart from that you need a book and a lighter. Why? Because the last thing you should do when you are lost is run around like a mad thing.
Find shade, clear an area from combustible material, collect wood for a small fire and green vegetation. Sit down, read your book and wait for the chopper.
The cops, who are highly trained in this, will put one up in quite a short time – most likely at first light the next day.
The nights can be cold!
When you hear the chopper light the fire, put the green stuff on it, it will make smoke that can be seen by the pilot for many kilometres.
The Tourism Central Australia website provides further information – read it before you go!
And then go and have a ball. The reward for being prepared is the joy of seeing our pristine landscape without getting into strife.