No utensil is so generally used in the bush as the billy-can; none is more widely distributed, none better known in Australia. It is cheap, light, useful and a burden to no man. It goes with every traveller, it figures in comedy, art, writing and tragedy, and has been the repository of the last words of many a perished swagman. Often it is found with the grim message scratched on the bottom beside the dead owner.
Billies are of all sizes - from one to six quartz. Some hard up swagmen improvise by making a billy out of a fruit tin, with a bit of fencing wire for a handle.
So while the billy sits on the fire boiling, and you wait for that bush tea, share a story or two with your friends.
While the Billy Boils
Kimberly Crocs by
When I took a job at a one millon acre cattle property and tourist operation in the heart of the Kimberley, in Western Australia's top end, the first thing people warned me about was the crocodiles. They told me crazy stories of crocs 25 feet long tipping over fishing boats, and of biting cattle in half with one ferocious lunge. How the rivers were full of these slithery beasts and it wouldn't be safe to fish or swim, two things I loved to do. At the time I laughed - the luxury of ignorance I guess. I figured they were just trying to scare me, and the more they teased me, the more determined I was that their stories were fanciful. If you ever want to get me going, tell me I can't do something because I'm just a girl. Tell me stories of how the scarey animals in the woods will all come out to get me, and spiders and bitey things and nasties will make me wish I'd stayed at home. This galvanises me, coats me in armour and makes me ten foot tall and bullet proof. An idiot on a mission. Yep - I broke all the rules when it came to planning my trip. I wouldn't fly - I'd drive so I could have my own vehicle when I got there. It didn't matter I lived on the other side of the country, and needed to start work in one week. That I hadn't packed or put my furniture in storage. I was going and the harder people tried to make me stay the more determined I was to go!
It took four days of solid driving to get from Brisbane in the East, over to Kununurra in the West. I barely stopped, barely slept. When I finally pulled in to town, it was late in the evening. I went straight to the office. Of course it was closed. I rang the station, but got no response. As I walked back to my car I was hit with an incredible weariness. Suddenly the 160km left to drive went from easy to insurmountable. I found a cheap motel with air conditioning, and settled in for a few hours sleep.
I left at 4.00am and headed out on the last few kilometres of bitumen. An easy hour later I was turning off onto the dirt road that would lead me to my new home. The road was still officially closed for the wet season, but a guy at the hotel I'd stayed in assured me that I should just drive around the 'Road Closed to All Public' sign because that sign just wasn't meant for me. The River Road was the only way in or out of the property, other than helicopter or light plane. The road was bad going from the start. It was either big corrugations of mud and stones, or washouts where there was barely enough ground for my tyres to navigate safely over the deep ravines caused by the summer's torrential rain. Water pooled on the track in sheets. One of the first rules of Four Wheel Driving is that you walk any terrain you are unsure of. By 6.00am I was covered in mud from the thighs down. I walked almost half of the terrain I had to drive, worried that my vehicle, a 4WD ute would dissappear over the edge of the road, sink in a mudhole, or slide over a cliff. The country was flat one minute, and steep little hills and valleys the next. My heart was in my mouth almost the whole time. I'd never been on such a rough road before, or on my own. I had no radio, and there was no reception for my mobile phone. The property didn't know I was coming and the road was closed. You could say this was one of my less well thought out plans.
Truth is, I was terrified but still having fun. It was the most breathtaking landscape I'd ever seen. The earth was vibrant red, with a light embroidery of roughly sewn olives and greens for vegetation. No tree was taller than about 16 or twenty feet, but there were these strange boab or bottle trees which store water in their trunk lying like bloated dots on the landscape, their stunted limbs jutting above their outrageously swollen bellies, and their baldy skinny little heads poking out and surveying the countryside like malevolent spirits. Magificent raw ranges of rock in purples and all shades of orange and ochre rose from the plains and river beds, their tops worn down by the fury of the elements so that every mountain was crumbling from the top down like castles made of leggo whose turrets and battlements were gradually being dismantled by a kid with a plan for newer, better buildings. The air smelt of earth and eucalypt and river. It was thick with heat and humidity, and seemed alive somehow.
There were three rivers to cross before I reached the homestead. The first one proved easy. It was only flowing slowly, and had broad slabs of rock as a base. I walked out across it, splashing loudly for the fun of it. It was very splashy water anyway, probably from the wet season that had just finished. The river was only three feet at the deepest part, and was mostly around two feet deep. There was a big fall away to the left into a pool about fifteen feet deep. I made a mental note to keep to the right. On the way back to the car I washed off the mud and placed a wet scarf around my neck. It was almost 8 o'clock in the morning, and around 40 degrees.
The road ahead got worse, and twice I had to unbog the vehicle. I looked a fright. Clothes all filthy, makeup long since sweated or washed away. Sweaty, stinky, dirty. I was going to make a fine impression on my new employers! The second river crossing fixed all of that. It looked easy. Only about a foot deep, fast flowing but wide. I walked out across it, slipped and ended up face first in a big hole I hadn't seen. I was now clean but drenched through. It was much easier driving than walking and I crossed without incident.
The road was frightful. My wheels became so thickly coated with mud that I slipped and skidded on everything. I took to using a big stick to test the hardness of the muddy sections of track after I walked across one bit and found myself with one leg encased almost to my bottom in oozy black mud. It took me almost ten minutes to get myself out, and then there was nowhere to wash myself off. I put a tarpaulin down on the driver's seat so I didn't contaminate everything with my filth. By 2.00pm in the afternoon I had finally traversed the majority of the 160 kilometers of road, that I had originally estimated would take me a comfortable 2 and a half hours to drive. The final river was in sight. It was just below the Homestead, where my office and quarters would be. It was only a small river, not even half the width of the others. It was maybe only fifteen metres across. I walked out and was up to my waist in water within a few feet. It was deep and fast moving. Now I was scared. The river was enclosed in trees, and pandanus, palms and other vegetation were growing right in the water. There was a curving track through the water, and a bend at one end to avoid a clump of debris laden trees. It was not until you got to the middle of the river that you could see the bank on the other side. At least my vehicle wouldn't wash away. At worst I'd flood the engine, or get pushed up against vegetation. I felt much calmer. The bank was steep and slippery going in and out of the river. Right up on the bank on the Homestead side I could see a big rusty yellow road grader, it's big blade coated in mud. The cabin was empty. As I turned to go back to my truck I heard a whistle, and a long lanky aboriginal man appeared sitting in the branches of a pandanus tree about 3 feet away from me. I walked towards him until I stood below him in the water. He bent down and looked at me for a long moment, and then thumped a boney finger into my chest, knocking the wind out of me. He made a low exclamation, and said, "You dat thing."
I looked at him closely. I had no idea what he was talking about. He held my gaze like he was searching inside my soul. Thump. His finger poked me in the chest even harder this time. "You dat thing. You know. You dat thing.
"Shit! Tthe man was certifiable." I turned and began walking through the water back to my vehicle. He whistled shrilly at me, standing in the tree and gesturing.
"Hey Girly, you betta get him bloke out of dis ribba, quick smart 'fore big croc come and snap you up"
Before I could get back to the ute, this man had scrambled across through the trees and attached a big winch rope from the grader to the ute. He gestured for me to steer it as he scampered back across. As he started the motor and began to winch me across I heard a loud crash about 3 feet from my car door. I looked out and saw a big croc, about 12 feet long, slide into the river beside me. I looked forward and kept steering.
As I was pulled up the bank a small knot of staff gathered. The homestead
buildings were only one hundred meters away.
One of them gestured at the aboriginal man unhooking my ute from the
I had arrived. And there wasn't another woman in sight. What the hell had I been thinking when I applied for this position? An older man in thongs with scrawny legs like a chicken danced towards me. His Hawaiian shirt was so loud it needed volume control. "Hello darling. I'm Cookie. The chef. Well, the cook actually, which is why they call me Cookie. You'll need a cuppa, love, calm those nerves. The boys around here are brutes, but they mean well." He whispered conspiratorially in my ear, "You'll grow to love 'em after a while. How 'bout I put a tot of something in that tea for you? There's the girl." And he patted me on the arm in a motherly way. "And we'll fix that Croc for you. Black Pete and Rob have gone down there now." I dined on barbequed croc that night, washed down with VB won by Cookie. Maybe things would be okay after all.