Kim Williams | 1 September 2016
Camp 7: waterfall, tributary of Drysdale River near junction with Charnley River, Gardner Plateau, Caroline Ranges, Central Kimberley, July 2014.
Map reading: 16˚18’ S, 125˚ 51’ E
It’s the eighth day of our 12 day walk in the remote heart of the Kimberley. We’re on the edge of the 200,000 hectare Mt Elizabeth Station. Peter Lacy, the Aboriginal owner, had driven us a few hours along a rough track and dropped us off a week earlier, somewhere on the Drysdale River. Since then, we’ve been following watercourses in rugged stone country, navigating with maps and compasses. The last few days we’ve been heading along a magnificent steep gorge, absorbing the rock art, plants, animals and pristine waterways.
There are no walking tracks out here. Distance in kilometres is irrelevant. Sometimes it can take an hour to get through fifty metres of thick pandanus. It is so remote that I can imagine that we are the first white people to have walked in this place. There’s plenty of evidence of the Aboriginal presence here over millennia – stunning images of Wandjina and animals painted on rock.
We’re camped on top of a waterfall, with a giant rockpool below. Today is a ‘rest’ day – we’ll be staying two nights at the waterfall, so we don’t have to lug our heavy packs today. We’re doing a day walk up the Charnley River hoping to find more rock art, then walking in a circuit along another side creek and back to camp a different way. I’m feeling affected by the heat today.
I should have rested back at camp and read a book or done some drawing, but I don’t want to miss an adventure.
After perhaps 3km of walking upstream, we reach the side creek. Rox and Naja decide to turn back, to have a restful afternoon at camp. The other four of us press on up the side creek until we find a substantial rock art site. I’m not feeling well, so I decide to head back to camp after lunch. Mailin joins me, while Lou and Hannah keep going.
Notice the landforms around you – don’t always rely on others in the group.
As Mailin and I head back down the Charnley, we stumble upon Rox and Naja, sitting in a clearing near the river, distressed and very relieved to see us. They had gotten lost on the way back to camp, so they decided to rest to gather their wits. I have a map and compass – they relax in the knowledge that we’ll find ‘home’ together. It’s fairly straightforward: head downstream (north-west), turn northwards at the junction of the Charnley and the gorge, then a thirty minute walk to our campsite at the waterfall.
When you return the way you came, things always look very different from the opposite direction.
I march ahead confidently with the map and compass, the other three chatting happily behind me. It’s probably around 2pm. We walk alongside the mirrored water of the river. The reflection is so brilliant it’s hard to tell which way the river is flowing. Checking the map occasionally, I convince myself of our location.
When navigating by map, you are not always where you think you are. The physical features are far more nuanced and complex than the lines on a map.
We follow the Charnley for what seems to me an unusually long time. We’re seduced by the beauty of the river, which is now as straight as a highway. I don’t remember this. Slowly my anxiety grows and I begin looking for our footprints heading outwards from earlier in the day; I’m sure our turnoff to the gorge must be just ahead. It should be simple. The others are oblivious to my worry. They feel safe in my hands. There are no more footprints and the sun is getting low. I express my doubts, but the other three are in a happy bubble and are not ready to worry with me.
A combination of modest navigation skills and instinct can be confusing.
When I finally announce that we really are lost, the others quickly sober. We make a decision to go on for another half hour downstream, then turn back to try and find our hidden gorge in the opposite direction. Fortunately no-one panics: we have a couple of chocolate bars, there’s loads of fresh water, and Lou will eventually realise we’re lost and come looking for us. At worst, she’ll set off the emergency beacon and a rescue helicopter might arrive in a day or two. I’m comforted by the collective optimism.
When taking a map reading, why are the north-south lines called eastings, and the east-west lines called northings?
After half an hour, we agree to turn around and head back upstream. Now we are all on high alert, our senses vibrating with fear. I am looking at every contour on the map, constantly stopping and cross-checking with the compass. The sun behind us is getting low and we’re hot and tired. We’re all imagining a cold night huddled together with only a map for a blanket, but we keep walking.
When the wind is blowing from the south it is called a southerly, but when we’re walking from the south we’re heading north.
At length, I spot a break in the rocks to our left (north). I’ve abandoned map-reading and am now operating on instinct and hope. The others follow me across the braided streams, a tangle of watercourses and rock formations that my all-too-human brain had not fully absorbed earlier in the day. What was simple in my mind is complex on the ground. Eventually the terrain becomes familiar, my hopes quietly rise, and fifteen minutes later we are hugging and whooping at the edge of our giant rock pool. Home. There are Lou and Hannah, standing at the top of the waterfall waiting for us. Throwing our filthy clothes aside, we all dive into the water. Even the freshwater crocodiles are happy to see us.
1 cup of rolled oats, toasted over the campfire with the seeds of 3 cardamom pods
100gm block of chocolate, any kind
A good dollop of tahini
½ to ¾ cup almonds, placed in a ziplock bag and pounded with a rock into small pieces
Handful of sultanas or raisins, chopped with a pocket knife
Melt the chocolate in a pan over the campfire. Stir in tahini, toasted oats, cardamom seeds, nuts and sultanas. Using a lunch box lid or equivalent, spread the mixture into something resembling a large family size block of chocolate. Place on a small rock in a backwater of a river so that it doesn’t float away; allow it to cool and set. Enjoy with good company.
Thanks to Jo Stirling for graphic support.