An attractive lady in her 40s, she had just managed to restart her Cruiser after it stalled at dusk midway through the Carson River crossing. We rose from our campsite to see if she was OK as the Cruiser clambered out of the rocky ford. We tried not to look threatening but it was obvious she couldn’t make up her mind whether we were saviours or slaughterers.
We had stopped at the pretty river crossing, 35 km south of the town of Kalumburu, on the way north and decided to make it a quiet overnight stop on the return journey.
As Banjo wrote in Clancy of the Overflow: “And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him, in the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars.”
Indeed the Carson was murmuring on its bars and friends came to greet us. A brolga strolled nonchalantly along the river edge and wandered around our camp. It wasn’t looking for food – just unconcerned at our presence.
A black stallion brought two mares and a fine couple of yearlings down for a drink. He was cranky; they were curious. He gave them a bit of a towel-up when they were a bit slow to follow him away from the water. His nervousness was probably due to us but could have stemmed from the larger, younger chestnut stallion that later made an impressive appearance a little further upstream. Confrontation for stallion supremacy surely looms.
A dingo crept to the water, stopping every few meters to eye us warily before crossing the river. He looked every inch a dingo except for a bushy tail curled over his back. Clearly a basenji dingo.
Every half hour or so a vehicle splashed past. Some forded timorously, some roared through as though it was a bitumen highway. As darkness started to fall the traffic stopped. Not many travel the testing Kalumburu road at night. It’s hard enough to see the holes in daylight.
The brolga flew overhead into the sunset and gave one squawk. We were convinced he said goodnight in brolgese.
Then the Asian lady arrived on the far bank. She was bravely travelling alone towards Kalumburu in the growing gloom. She leapt out, put the hubs in, drove into the water and stalled. Oh oh. We went to help as the Cruiser roared back into life and chugged to dry land.
She looked at us nervously out of the window. “That was scary. It jumped out of low range.” We asked if she was OK. She nodded. “Is there anywhere to camp around here?”
We weren’t sure what she meant and were about to suggest she could camp with us but, we figured later, she must have watched the Wolf Creek movie. Her expressions telegraphed her thoughts. “Will I be safe if I stay here with them? Or will they do terrible things to me? How far will I have to drive in the dark to get anywhere?”
The more we tried to be friendly the more we felt as if we were potential murderers. She asked how far it was to Kalumburu. About thirty-five kilometres, we told her, but warned her about the state of the road and how difficult it would be in the dark.
She gave us another nervous smile and fled.
We sighed and returned to our campfire, contented to be alone but with an unreasonable vague sense of disappointment that we had been judged likely villains.
Our visitors continued through the night: a curlew cried its mournful notes and a lonely mickey bull bellowed in anguish. We shone our torch into the river and saw four or five sets of red eyes staring back at us.
We were 99% sure they were friendly freshies but we were only about 45km upstream from the mouth of the Carson. Saltwater crocodiles travel much further upstream than that but the horses, the brolga and the dingo had wandered into the water without fear.
I had been thinking about a paddle in the clear water the next morning but that 1% chance of something sinister lurked in our minds. Just like the Asian lady.