Thankfully it did have water - a tannin-stained puddle reminiscent of a desperate stop I made in Northern Rivers with the pack'n'paddle boys. But water it is, #1 on my list of priorities at the moment, so we've
stopped for the night, Nugget and Sarah looking balefully at the tufts of dry grass they have to pick at. There are so many brumby and dingo tracks around, and Nugget and Sarah must be tempted to forage further afield, so I suspect it'll be a restless night, even with Nugget's bell on its loudest setting, the electric fence on "rapid" and the loaded gun next to me. I'm beginning to pray for water and grass to be at Kingsborough (some 20 kms away)because, like I said, this can't keep up.
Tuesday 5th July
We made it! There were times today I was beginning to wonder... We were on the track as the sun broke the mauve dawn - Nugget and Sarah seemed as keen to leave that place as I was. I had taken them down to the puddle for a drink after having to chew that dry grass all night -Nugget took heaps but Sarah wouldn't drink at all. I thought of wiping Promite on her tongue to make her thirsty, but let her decide - hence the old adage, I guess.
100 metres down the track there were piles of very fresh brumby droppings that of course these two were very interested in. I hadn't heard them all night though - I'm glad Sarah's not in season at the moment. We were following an extremely faint 4x4 track which eventually led to some old gold prospecting sites, where I left it on a bearing down to St Kilda creek. Surprised to find a few murky waterholes, I let the horses have a drink and a feed on the marginally more substantial grass (although it wasn't any greener!) while I had my breakfast... leftovers from last night's feasting. I suppose I shouldn't limit myself to eating well only when conditions suit, but it is difficult without firewood, water and time to spare.
Going to get Nugget, he simply walked firmly away from me - he'd had enough, thanks very much, and without hobbles or an electric fence around him, there was nothing I could do about it! Oh no! This was all I needed. Literally in the middle of nowhere,with Nugget and Sarah off to "join the wild bush horses'! Luckily Sarah stepped on her lead rope and stopped short, so I tied her to a tree and retrieved the remains of my breakfast - offering this and crooning to Nugget. Hunger got the better of him, and soon we were off again, down the creek, and off the trail...
I knew exactly, in hindsight, where we lost it, but it seemed pointless to go back when I could take a new bearing and adjust for it, knowing I was bound by a fence to the east. A couple of frustrating hours later I was truly worried - we were in some crazy, crazy country, very dry (despite the grey clouds overhead) and rocky (the horses were stumbling over everything now) yet I was sure there'd be a track perpendicular to us on the next main ridge - (I'd told that to the horses as we fell through the last few gullies) but doubt was setting in - a navigator's worst nightmare.
I was looking for a vague trail - had I gone past it? Should I turn and try to hit the fence - but suppose that didn't exist any more? No, snap out of it, you must be right. So we stayed on the bearing, and I nearly wept with joy when the track was found; just a faint line through the most inhospitable country.
Anyhow, we trudged wearily into Kingsborough, the hills dotted with what looked like fairly modern ruins. Virtually in the centre of this scene of desolation was an oasis of green - fruiting pawpaw, citrus, banana, coconut, macadamia nut, and dams full of precious water - all fenced off from the vandalous cattle. Ike came out to greet me - the guidebook diplomatically says "seek advice on the best place to camp" - making no promises, but sure enough he invited us in.. .Sarah and Nugget were soon romping around like two excited kids, and I was being given a tour of the house he is building out of cast concrete bricks - a slow but meticulous job he has spent 10 years on so far.
After a hot shower by the dam (hot water via diesel burner) and a feast of bananas, Ike showed me a gold nugget he had found, set on a chain - it was HUGE - and so heavy, no wonder he wasn't wearing it. I've been reading from his mammoth book collection (all picked up from library sales), and after dinner (cooked on gas) I'll be sleeping on a real mattress!