My Cousin Heather and her husband Ross are our travelling companions around Cape York. Heather and I were raised in the country in the same little Kiwi town, started school together on the same day, went through high school and then wandered our separate ways.
Heather was everyone’s favourite cousin. While I roughed it a little around the ridges of Australia she worked in sterile, pristine environments as a chemist, working in hospitals and pharmacies in three countries and spending her holidays skiing in swanky alpine resorts around the world.
Now she’s getting covered in dust, sitting on a port-a-loo and sleeping in the back of their unique camper trailer converted from a Troopcarrier as we make our way to where we hope we will find fish.
Having Cousin Heather along is fun and sanitising. She knows too much about germs. She sided with Tony when a hawk flashed down and tried to snatch my sandwich after we set up in an idyllic Cape York free camp beside the river near Coen.
I submitted to the tiny speck of blood on my finger was treated with peroxide and Betadine but baulked at throwing away the rest of my sandwich. I had just started eating it and thought it was an MKR-standard snack.
Tony and Heather insisted I throw it away because the hawk had touched it. Hawks have traces of rotting carrion on their beaks and claws. I felt I could just cut part of it off but the germs police thought otherwise. Sadly I jettisoned 85% of the best corned beef and salad sandwich I had ever started to consume.
Cousin Heather is handling the dusty roads well. After all, we were both raised in homes on country roads where the dust was thick and air-conditioning an unheard-of luxury. The interior of cars, including the kids, were always coated with dust.
Heather was fascinated by ant hills, meaning several stops for photographs, as we bounced and rattled up roads north of Lakeland. I thought I should use the CB to remind her of the dust and bumps of Reas Road, where she lived as a child, but Tony was warning Ross of a bad creek crossing coming up that had re-arranged all items in the cab of Isabel.
Ross radioed back that he had left his false teeth at the last crossing.
He later told us the story of Garry and Jessie with whom he had ventured up to the Gulf. They had a pop-up and pop-out camper trailer that ploughed steadily through the red dust to the north.
When the destination was reached, it was discovered that the vents behind the fridge had not been sealed. Every nook and cranny inside had been coated in thick red dust.
Garry had one of the unhappiest experiences of his life because Jessie lost the plot. Her anguish was accentuated by the realisation that, for some dumb reason, she had brought with her a wardrobe of mainly white clothes. To this day she does not know why.
Nor does she remember the morning after they arrived because - after explaining strenuously to Garry that the inverted Uluru inside their van was entirely his fault – she dusted off several wine bottles and one chair. She then turned her back on the camper and refused to have anything more to do with it until it was again clean. Sort of.
PHOTO ABOVE: The sandwich snatchers.