My world is very small tonight. There's a babble from the creek as it pours over the stepping-stones, and the stars are visible over the light from the fire. The shadows flicker up the multi-coloured trunks of the Red River Gums surrounding the little clearing where my tent and other camping bits and bobs are. The nearest civilisation is 20 miles away, and I'm totally alone: not a human for miles.
The fire is incredibly hot, but it's throwing off enough red light to light my computer screen, so I can type. There are animals all round – I occasionally hear the rustle of a possum looking for food, the croak of a frog, the call of a wild bird – and the weather is warm, still and clear. This is what bush camping is all about: fire, the sounds of the world, and isolation.
Dave and Karen, the couple I met in the Grampians a week ago, left earlier today. I'd rung them on my way through Adelaide, and we spent Friday night in typical Aussie fashion: drinking ridiculous amounts of beer. God, it felt good after abstaining for most of my road trip: drinking and driving is bad enough, but getting up, packing away a tent and driving with a hangover is another thing altogether.
We arrived here on Saturday afternoon after a journey through some of the smallest towns in the world, 'we' being three humans and two dogs, Thor and Tia, Thor being a cute little black puppy, and Tia a very fat Staffordshire bull terrier, with the nickname of Lumpy Dog. Our destination: World's End, 150km northeast of Adelaide and somewhere in the vicinity of Burra, the place where the copper was discovered that saved South Australia from bankruptcy. It sounds quite close to civilisation, but there's nothing to the north and east but desolate outback.
When we got here we set up camp and started to get a good fire going, and the whole Saturday night was the most incredible experience. We cooked on a little cooking fire Karen made, as Dave had brought the wrong connector for the gas barbie (which didn't make him too popular); you make a cooking fire by digging a little hole, lining it with rocks, and putting the red-hot coals from the main fire in the hole to create a really hot, smoke-free fire.
We marvelled at the night sky, and saw the comet in the northeast. We fished for yabbies in the creek, and caught a fair amount. Yabbies are like prawns with big pincers like lobster: they're freshwater crayfish, and you catch them in a yabbie net from waterholes in slow-flowing creeks, and chuck them into a boiling billy of water, which we had on a stand over the fire. Yabbies are lovely – they taste like fishy prawns – and there's something amazingly Australian about catching yabbies in a creek...
On Sunday we went for a bush walk into the hills round the camp, and hung out by a watering hole for the afternoon. It was really hot, and that afternoon our creek had been invaded by a family reunion.
Apparently family reunions are all the rage in Australia: people can sometimes feel a bit rootless here, and if a family member bothers to trace the family tree – and a lot of families do – then the family reunion is a must. It normally takes the form of a big gathering at a convenient spot, and this family thought World's End was convenient. It's a nice spot for a reunion, without a doubt, but it's a bit harsh coming along to a public site, setting up a loudspeaker and stand, getting what must have been over 200 people together, and ruining the peace. So as soon as we saw all these cars arrive and everyone putting their nametags on, we went bushwalking.
How amused were we on our return, then, to see the last car trying to leave, but coughing, spluttering and refusing to work? Dave and Karen had to go, and rang the RAA for the poor family who were stranded, but I saw an opportunity and roped in the kids to collect firewood. We then sat there in my camp, making tea and waiting for the RAA to find the end of the world. You should have seen their faces: they thought I was a serious bushman, with my dirty clothes, campfire, cooking stuff and so on. They were horrified at the prospect of spending the night there, stranded, but I couldn't wait. Luckily the RAA man fixed them up, but not after I'd got another address and an invitation to pop in if I was ever back in the area.
And so I've been left alone, miles from anywhere, with just me and a fire and a campsite, sitting under the southern stars, with the firelight flickering on the bushes, and the possums tackling the mess left behind by the day's visitors. It's paradise...