Biscuits and Cheese and a Cup of Tea

Biscuits and Cheese and a Cup of Tea

I woke to the sound of falling rain on the tent. Quickly dressed, I unzipped the tent door. The clay pan we had camped on, wet and slippery, the rain steady.  A sand dune emerged in the early morning light, the sky black, foreboding.   

Suddenly, I realised those travelling with us were beginning to leave our camp site. I looked around.  Tents, stretchers, camping gear were being loaded into vehicles in the predawn. It was June 1999. We were camped at Well 39 on the Canning Stock Route in north-western Australia. Rain unexpected, uninvited. Our sleeping bags rolled up, self-inflating mattress packed away, the gas stove and bottle loaded into the Range Rover. A rushed pack up in steady rain. Five vehicles and their passengers were on an adventure. Friends together from different walks of life. 

The damp atmosphere made everything wet. Our friend John waved to us as he drove past in a Toyota Troupe. Joan and I, the last to leave, two inches of mud attached to our shoes. We started the Rangy, headed out to follow tracks in the claypan made by those departing before us. The Rangy in second gear, the clay pan slippery, we slowly made our way onto firm sand. The drive easy now as we followed a dancing red flag attached to a vehicle, unseen, shielded by tall grass lining the track, the rain easing. The first splinters of sunlight filtered through low dark clouds in the east. 

The windscreen fogged up as a sand dune emerged in the headlights, the track visible, etched into the sand hill. Reaching the top, we paused. A series of sand dunes lay before us. Lights on our friends’ vehicles dancing to the rhythm of the track beyond us. A large open plain to the east. Desert oaks, graceful, sentinels, standing tall on the edge of a vast plain. Spinifex golden brown as the rising sun dances across the plain. Clouds dark, angry in the early sun. It was a sight of great beauty, creating a sense of enormous expansiveness, of endless sand dunes, dancing grass. But then, this place is a desert. 

Time went by. The chatter on the UHF radio increased. The distance between sand dunes longer, the dunes lower, less difficult to negotiate. The sun now bright in the sky, dark clouds pushed aside, the rain dispersed. The track between the sand hills corrugated, the spinifex leaning into the track, the grass heads hitting the windscreen. On occasions the track wound around bushes which rose out of the grass, either side of the Rangy.   

We called a halt to our drive at Well 42. Progress had been better than expected, making good time over damp sand dunes. A cup of tea organised. We drove on, the sky cloudless, the sand softer as we came to Guli Lake. Here the track branched. One branch headed out across the dry lake. The other skirted around the lake. After consultation, we choose to take the direct route across the lake. As Tail End Charlie, we watched as vehicles lost traction on a very slippery track. Vehicles went in all directions as drivers attempted to stay on course. All made it across the lake. It was like driving on black ice.

Shortly after leaving the dry lake, we came upon an abandoned trailer and Yamaha motor bike. Stopping, we wandered about to see what else was around. We decided this was a good place to have lunch. If only the trailer could talk, I thought. Joan called. “Can you get the gas stove set up.  We have no hot water for a cuppa tea.” I grabbed the two-burner gas stove and bottle out of the back of the Rangy and connected gas to the stove. Joan was busy organising lunch, savoy biscuits with cheese. Looking around for somewhere to sit, I settled on the broken-down trailer. Getting comfortable, my friend John wandered over, mug in hand. “Have a seat.” I said. John sat down. “I could not believe how quickly you packed up in the rain this morning. We went without breakfast such was the rush to get away from that clay pan.” John smiled. He was quiet. A bit unusual for him.  In a past life John had been the President of the Industrial Training Commission. He had a quick mind, articulate, at times argumentative, rarely quiet. 

He smiled, pulled his hat back on his forehead, a look of bemusement crossed his face. More silence. “Well,” he said, “we packed up in a bit of a hurry this morning.” He paused then smiled again. “You know that tent Ian and I share. Well Ian woke up to hear the rain on the tent. Then he woke me. The rain was getting heavy. We got dressed, dropped the tent on the ground, rolled it up with our bed and clothes still in it. Then stuffed it in the back of the Troupe. We watched you and Joan trying to get your tent down. I had a chuckle to myself.” Another pause.

“Everything is wet. We are going to have to unpack everything tonight to dry it off. It smells damp.”  “Would a hot cup of tea soothe the nerves?” I asked.  “Absolutely,” was the reply.  “Perhaps a couple of those savoy biscuits and cheese would assist your stomach to calm your nerves.” I smiled.   “You are enjoying my discomfort” suggested John. “Absolutely” I said. 

John, Joan, and I sat together beside an old trailer abandoned on the Canning Stock Route. We enjoyed savoy biscuits with cheese and a hot cup of tea. The warm sun shone brightly now on a cloudless day. “What about Ian?” I asked. “Does he want lunch?” No said John. “He has wandered over to Ron and Karlene for lunch.” 

As time has gone by, John and I lost contact with each other. Some years later Joan and I were in Broken Hill having come across from Birdsville. We were sitting in the information centre having a cup of coffee when I heard a voice. “What are you two doing in Broken Hill?” I looked around. It was my friend John. We sat and talked. An hour went by. Although the years had passed us by, it was as though we had been together a few days ago.

“You remember that day on the Canning when you and Joan gave me savoy biscuits and cheese and a hot cup of tea.” “Yes,” I said “I remember that day, particularly unpacking the wet tent that afternoon. I think we made camp early so you and Ian could dry everything out.” He smiled. “What are you doing now?” he asked. “Not much.” I said. “We are heading back to Melbourne. Been on the road for several weeks.” “Time for lunch” John said. “My turn to shout.” We found a café, sat down, and John asked for savoy biscuits with cheese and a hot cup of tea. “Sorry sir we don’t have biscuits and cheese. We have a range of toasted sandwiches” said the waiter. We looked at each other. John had a smile on his face. Time stopped still as we remembered, laughed, told stories, and relived those shared moments over another meal in a very different place.                    

Sankofa #4
Sankofa #5