Three Years on the Road
Brett Davis

25. Adel's Grove

Adel's Grove is Lawn Hill's next door neighbour, only a handful of kilometres down the dirt road. It is owned and run by Barry and Di, two lovely people we got to know very well during our time at the national park. Originally from New Zealand, they have found the outback way of life to their liking and will probably never leave. Contrary to popular belief, Adel's Grove is not named after a woman. It is actually the initials of a European who came to this part of the country many years ago and established a kind of experimental plantation for exotic trees, hence the grove. Most of the original trees found conditions unsuitable and died, but there are still a few scattered amongst the native species which provide shaded campsites for weary travellers.

Adel's Grove is a Savannah Guide Station, one of a network of associated private enterprises across the Gulf region of Queensland and the Northern Territory, which provides tourists with guided tours of scenic and culturally significant places - an alternative to the do-it-yourself approach of the various state National Park and Wildlife Services. Barry has been in the area long enough now to be thought of as a local, and his knowledge of the park, its flora and fauna, its geology and its history are second to none. Adel's has a small landing strip, and a shop which sells the basics, like food and grog. At the height of the tourist season, they provide accommodation for the overflow from the park, where numbers are strictly regulated. But even when the park is relatively empty, many visitors choose to stay at Adel's for the services it provides which are not available at the park. They may also stay at Adel's Grove because the final section of dirt road into the national park campground is a real shocker.

Although Adel's is in many ways a direct competitor with the National Park for the business of Lawn Hill visitors, there is no animosity between the two locations. Barry even runs a canoe hire business by the side of the middle gorge of Lawn Hill creek, where the canoes are stored. One day when Di came back from Brisbane with a PC for Barry to play with, he called the ranger station and asked if anyone there knew anything about installing and using computers.

I was in the office at the time the call came in. "Sure do," I said. "It's only been my job for the last six or seven years."

A few days later I was at Adel's Grove, setting up the PC. I showed Barry how to use Windows and its inbuilt word processor called Write, but when I learned that he wanted to use the PC for his business accounts, for the design and printing of brochures and pamphlets, and for some sophisticated word processing, I suggested he buy Microsoft Office. The package arrived from Mount Isa a few days later, after which I returned to Adel's for its installation. With a bit more instruction, Barry was almost ready to attack his books and accounts, but he needed extra expertise in the use of the Excel spreadsheet package and in accounting than I could give him. This is where Karen came in.

She had been using Excel almost exclusively at Coca-Cola, and of course, she was an accountant. She put in a day of tuition as well. Armed with this little bit of knowledge, a couple of instruction manuals and a mouse, Barry was off and running. Later, we would shake our heads in disbelief when we thought about the situation. There we were, at one of the most remote national parks in Australia, and our skills in hardware and software support, and in accounting, were in demand. It made us realise the inroads that computers are making into everyday life. Even in the middle of the outback, you cannot escape them. In appreciation of our efforts, Barry offered us a guided tour of a little known and seldom visited section of the National Park called Edith Springs, and we jumped at the offer.

A couple of days later we jumped into Barry's four wheel drive and ventured through Lawn Hill station to a hard to find valley at the edge of the Constance Range. Leaving the vehicle, we walked up a gully, discovering first hand Barry's knowledge and enthusiasm for the natural world. The dry creekbed became more moist as we made our way upstream, and soon we found a small pool with a trickle of water flowing into it. Further on, the flow increased, and as we approached the end of the box canyon, we discovered a beautiful waterhole, surrounded by towering red cliffs.

Edith Springs

A small waterfall cascaded down through the rocks at the base of the cliffs, but when we looked up we could see no water coming over the rim. Barry pointed out why the place was called Edith Springs. The water was issuing from cracks in the rock, halfway up the cliff. We had a swim in the deep, cool pool, then walked back to the car via a scramble at the base of the cliffs. Here Barry pointed out some aboriginal art, and gave us more lessons in the natural sciences.

Subsequent visits to Adel's became less work oriented and more social. Di provided many a good meal, Barry provided many a good light ale, and we enjoyed quite a few games of darts in the breezeway and dining room right next to the Adel's Grove shop. Unless you are pretty good, don't challenge Barry and Di to a game of darts. There's not much to do around a caravan park during the wet season, and I suspect they get plenty of practice.

Di, me and Barry playing darts

On one occasion, our lunch had been interrupted by a short but very sharp storm, our first sign of the expected build-up to the Wet. A lot of rain fell in a short time, and Barry suggested we wait around until after dinner to give the road a chance to dry out. In the late afternoon a motorcyclist came limping into the shop on foot, carrying a paddle. Near the end of the season, Barry does not run his canoe hire business at the park itself. The canoes are available there, but without paddles. These are picked up from Adel's and the transport time to and from the park is taken into account when making the calculation for the hire period. The motorcyclist had been riding his BMW from the park to Adel's to return the paddle when the storm hit. The road had become boggy and treacherous and he had fallen. Without water, and unable to move the motorcycle either forward or back, he had left it at the side of the road and walked three or four kilometres to Adel's. He bought a couple of cans of soft drink and a bite to eat, and sat around for a while, like us, waiting for the road to dry.

In the evening, Barry drove the motorcyclist back out to his bike, either to retrieve it, or to get the biker safely on his way again. He returned at dusk, telling us that the road was improving, and that the biker had decided to return to the national park. Karen and I thought no more about it until we were driving back ourselves at almost midnight and we found ourselves sliding around on the road surface. We were forced to stop in about six inches of brown water, right in the middle of the road. I climbed out and locked the hubs, and used four wheel drive to get us out of the fifty metre long puddle. This is where the BMW rider must have had his problems, we figured. A kilometre further down the track we found an abandoned BMW, a long, sinuous furrow snaking its way up to the back wheel, and muddy footprints leading off in the direction of the park entrance. The road surface had obviously become too dangerous for its rider. We went on. Another kilometre later we almost ran over the motorcyclist, clad almost totally in hard-to-see black, and fast asleep on the actual roadway.

I stopped the truck right next to the prostrate form, wound down the window and asked if he wanted a lift. He did not move. Shit, I thought, the guy must have been run over! Maybe he's dead! I turned off the engine and opened the door. The biker suddenly awoke with a start and scrambled to his feet. He was obviously very tired and it took him a moment or two for his brain to engage.

"Would you like a lift to the campground at the national park, mate?"
"Yeah, okay."
"Have you got any gear with you?"
"No, not a thing."
"Do you need a tent or sleeping bag?"
"Uh, no, thanks. I'm all set up at the park. I was just returning the paddle so I didn't get charged for a full day's canoe hire when I got bogged. Then when the guy from Adel's Grove gave me a lift back here, I thought I could get back to the park okay, but the mud kept caking on my front tyre and jamming up under the mudguard. Every time I cleaned it out, I would travel about five metres and it was jammed up again. I did it about five or six times and gave up. It was just hopeless. I started walking back but I was too buggered. I sat down for a rest. Must have gone to sleep. What time is it?"
"Almost midnight."
"Shit. I've been out of it for three hours!" He started to climb onto the tray of the truck.
"You can ride in the cab if you want," I told him.
"No, mate. I'm covered in mud. I'll be alright up here."

For the rest of the trip to the park he stood on the tray, legs straddled, holding firmly onto the bar behind the cabin, face into the wind, as if trying to stay awake. We dropped him in the campground where he soon located his tent and crawled inside, mud and all. We saw him the next morning and offered him a lift out to his bike, but he declined, explaining that he was about to go with another fellow traveller. An hour later we saw him riding the BMW back into the campground.

The incident highlighted the difficulties Karen and I might face in getting out of Lawn Hill if the Wet came early. We originally planned to leave during the first week of December, but the occasional storm, and the regular afternoon build-up of cloud made us bring our plans forward about a week. While it would be an interesting experience to be stuck in Lawn Hill during the summer months, to see the creek in flood and waterfalls cascading down the red cliffs, we had no food stores and would be unable to travel anywhere to get some. If we could get out to get food, we could get out to return home. As well as that, we were committed to the Lord Howe sailing trip and had to be back in Sydney before the boat sailed.

On the day we left, we dropped in to say goodbye to Barry and Di, and to have a final look around their property. The Adel's Grove "homestead" is not the most aesthetic establishment in the outback. Barry and Di's home is a collection of tin sheds, awnings, shelters and caravans, all pretty rough and ready. Their bedroom is a classic example of outback architecture, made from corrugated iron. A couple of the walls are hinged at the top so they can be swung up and propped open, providing perfect flow-through ventilation. There were no mosquitoes at Lawn Hill or Adel's Grove, possibly because of the minerals in the water, so the walls of the bedroom are unscreened.

Before we left, Barry told us a story about waking up in the middle of the night thinking that Di was becoming particularly amorous, only to discover that a very large snake had slithered in through the open walls, onto the bed, and across his body. It is moments like these when Barry's expert knowledge of fauna was advantageous. If it is poisonous, react. If it is harmless, go back to sleep. Oh look, thought Barry, there's a twelve foot olive python on the bed, and he went back to sleep.

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