Mrs Wilson is dreading what lies ahead. The build-up has started in the north of Australia. She’s been in the Top End for six years and hopes it will be her last summer here.
I didn’t get her name or photo but the pretty blonde woman, abut 50ish, could have been Rebel Wilson’s mum. She was slimmer and older than the chubby Australian actress but she had the same pleasant, pretty, slightly vulnerable appeal.
Mrs Wilson was behind the counter at the service station, helpful and friendly. I said it was a bit sticky; she said it was disgusting. Some were saying the wet would start early because there wasn’t one last year; she said “Who knows? It might not come at all. Then you have humidity, 100% or even 110%, 24/7.”
I wondered what 110% 24/7 would be like and wondered if it was like drowning but didn’t query it. Mrs Wilson was too emphatic. I did mention she was in the air-conditioned office at the service station so maybe it wasn’t too bad.
She shook her head mournfully. “I only work here until 1pm. Here’s where I make the money. Then I go and work on our mango farm in the stinking heat for nothing.
“Last year we didn’t have a wet at all so we had 18 months of build-up. You’ve heard of people going troppo. That’s real. They do. I am over it.”
Mrs Wilson comes from the wheat belt north of Perth and she’s heading back next year, as soon as she and her husband take in the next harvest and sell the farm. All the kids have moved back that way and she can’t wait to follow them.
We were heading for Shady Camp on the Mary River, east of Darwin and towards Kakadu. Millions of mango trees lined the Arnhem Highway in plantations more extensive than anything I had imagined.
Shady Camp is a pocket of the Mary River National Park where a barrage across the Mary keeps salt water out of the wetlands. Except on high tides. On either side of the barrage is the world’s finest concentration of snapping handbags.
Crocodiles aside, Shady Camp is a pretty spot. We chatted to Paul, a retired teacher who was camped there with an old school friend Rita, a ceramic artist and teacher from near Byron Bay. Her husband had died four years ago; she had met up with Paul again at a school reunion. “He was the first boy I ever kissed,” she confided with a smile.
We were pretty sure they were kissing again. The setting was romantic as a golden moon rising above the pandanus reflected off a glass of red.
Rita was handling the build-up just fine. She didn’t mind the heat and was rather enjoying the humidity. She even paddled in the mud on the downstream side at low tide to get a fishing rod a quarry worker had lost the night before. He caught a fish that was seized by a fish hawk, wrenching the rod from his hands.
Full moon was the next night. It was even more romantic but spoiled just a tad by four blokes from Darwin on an overnight fishing trip. They lobbed on to the barrage mid-afternoon in high spirits, loudly swearing, drinking, doing roaring burn-outs, ignoring parks fishing regulation and chucking rocks at crocs (maybe not such a bad thing).
About midnight the full tide was spilling over the barrage. Excitement grew as a 4m croc slid across the barrage. Then a 5m croc waddled across to go downstream. None of the boys were actually sleeping on the barrage at that time but some were on the wrong side of the river. They scampered back barely touching the water and sometime early in the morning they roared off.
Maybe they were a bit troppo. Mrs Wilson would have deduced that.