On the Never-Never

I’ve long fantasised aboutsetting off on a horseback journey;the morning saddle routine, the smell of horse on my skin, the sounds of their snuffly breathing as I sleep. Donkeys could be fun too, my belongings swaddled and strapped to their flanks, the click clack of their hooves down a pilgrimage path. Perhaps it’s an inspiration borne of my first read of Robyn Davidson’s Tracks, the tale of a solo woman’s journey across the Australian desert with camels.

It may not be quite the original dream, but when my partner and I set off last week for a winter sojourn to far north Queensland towing asmall second-hand caravan, there was a definite whiff of the aforementioned adventure inmy mind.

For one, our rig can be temperamental as a horse. While some hills she veritably gallops up, others she stamps and neighs in protest. Shy ofblustering winds and steep ridges, she knocks back fuel like a trooper. And like a horse, one must endeavour to find an appropriate place to tether before nightfall.

Our caravan also has her own saddling routine. Hitching and unhitching requires specialequipment such as stabiliser bars with their levers and pins, chains, jockey wheels and an implementation checklist. One must remember to activate the brakes, turn the gas off, and the power lead in or out at appropriate times. The interior saddle packs require precision packing and must be secured with rubber bands lest they tip and spill.

Finally saddled, packed, watered and fed, we set off to a small fanfare of family, with me side-saddle on the window and waving. Pretty soon the open road stretched out in front of us like a black snake in motion. We turned to each other and laughed in anticipation.

Of course, it’s not the road itself that is exciting but the lure of the unknown; the places and people yet to encounter, the new smells and sights, the promise of white sand beaches marked only by our footprints.

A week in though, and our woollen layers are thick as ever.

The first watering hole was Bellingen, where I lived for a couple of years while writing my book. Apart from catching up with friends, I visited one of my favourite places – the Never Never Creekin the Promised Land. There are no prizes for guesses why the valley is named thus. With dramatic views of the Dorrigo escarpment, the creek emerges from the rainforest like a mirage. Impossibly clear and pretty-pebbled,with swimming holes at every other bend and subtropical palms flickering reflections, it’s the kind of place that hurts to leave.

Greener pastures beckoned though and we saddled up for our next date with friends-of-friends on their permaculture acreage near Nambour on the Sunshine Coast. Sunny it is not today, but we managed to squeeze in a couple of dry hours helping clear overgrown paths amidst their ‘food forest’ which includes several varieties of banana (thai, dwarf cavendish and lady finger), white and pink guava, coffee, jaboticaba, gramachandra,brazillian cherry, cassava, lemonade, grapefruit, turmeric, ginger, mulberry, kafir lime, fejoa, lillypilly, carombola (star fruit), tahitian lime, myer lemon, honey murcott, bush lemon, persimmon, ice cream bean, jackfruit, tree tomato (tamarillo), custard apple, acerola, chiku, chocolate and white sapote, kava, oval cumquat, sugar, betel leaf plant, bay tree, clove tree, tropical pear, blood plum, pinto peanut, chia seed, lychee, longan, macadamia, avocado, cacao and carob.

Still at the start of our travels, I feel like I could gypsy forever.

For the next new weeks I shall be sharing stories from the journey, not with pen and ink on horseback as once imagined, but high and dry with my keyboard aboard our trusty steed