On a path less trav­elled

THE FAM­ILY TOURIST

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JAMES JEF­FREY

IN all the time we’ve spent to­gether as a fam­ily driv­ing in the Aus­tralian out­back, we’ve seen some amaz­ing things. Not least have been the majesty of the desert in full bloom; bur­row­ing frogs freshly emerged from their slum­ber like glis­ten­ing, brown golf balls; trees that seem to ex­plode with the green of bud­gies; and the un­set­tling, white des­o­la­tion of South Aus­tralia’s Lake Frome.

Then there was the com­edy of op­ti­mism that was a very de­ter­mined crow try­ing to lift a big, dead python off the road and fly off with it; if you can pic­ture a spar­row try­ing to make off with a sausage roll, you’ll get some some idea of the scale of the op­er­a­tion.

Noth­ing, how­ever, has quite pre­pared us for Klaus Men­zel, who ap­pears, in his unique con­veyance, as a puz­zling lump on the south­west Queens­land hori­zon on the road be­tween Eulo (‘‘est. pop­u­la­tion: 50 peo­ple & 1500 lizards’’, ac­cord­ing to the sign) and the turn-off for Cur­rawinya Na­tional Park.

Daisy, 10, Leo, 7, and wife Bel (age not given, but look­ing as de­light­fully fresh as she did in her 20s) have been scan­ning for flocks of baby emus, which have been ap­pear­ing with al­most metro­nomic reg­u­lar­ity since we left Charleville. The sight of what we are fast ap­proach­ing, how­ever, makes the emus take their leave from our brains and the words evap­o­rate from our tongues. It’s enig­matic and slow-mov­ing, and it’s only as we zip past that the vi­sion of a grey-haired Ger­man driv­ing a car pow­ered by a pair of camels is seared into my brain; I re­act in the most nat­u­ral way pos­si­ble and nearly drive off the road.

Once I re­cover and the sub­se­quent vol­ley of re­crim­i­na­tions in my di­rec­tion draws to a close, we unan­i­mously agree to stop. We pull over and ev­ery­one leaps out of the car to watch. The camels sway hyp­not­i­cally as they plod to­wards us. The car — an old, Ja­panese four-wheeldrive that’s had its en­gine re­moved — is teth­ered to them with ropes and straps and a pair of long, wooden poles. Above it all is a box­ing kan­ga­roo flag, jaunty even in this breeze­less heat.

Klaus, as he soon in­tro­duces him­self, hops out with­out any fur­ther ado (the driver’s door has been re­moved) and greets us cheer­ily. He’s sen­si­bly dressed — hat with a neck flap, high-vis shirt, gaiters, boots and a pair of can­vas trousers that may once have been white but are now turn­ing the colour of his camels. Willy and Snowy, the camels, gaze at us in­sou­ciantly, then get bored and turn their at­ten­tion to the blond grass. That doesn’t hold them long, ei­ther, and they stare at the road ahead. True trav­ellers.

Klaus shows us how it all works and hands Leo the leash that hangs from one of the camel’s hal­ters. Leo is very pleased with this turn of events. Daisy soon be­comes fix­ated on Klaus’s life­style: get­ting by on his sav­ings or his pen­sion, liv­ing on the road with his camels and meet­ing peo­ple along the way. For the next few hours, Daisy gives us the strong im­pres­sion that she’s rad­i­cally re­think­ing her life plans.

Klaus ex­plains he’s on his way to Alice Springs but will stop some­where soon to ride out the sum­mer. It’s a good strat­egy; amid the en­joy­able heat of spring­time in the desert, we’re al­ready start­ing to feel the first fur­nace-like over­tures of sum­mer.

Even­tu­ally we say our good­byes and as we drive off to­wards Cur­rawinya, we glance back at the trio rock­ing gen­tly to­wards Alice.

JAMES JEF­FREY

Klaus Men­zel’s camel-pow­ered four-wheel-drive

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