south – monty’s camp. story 13
Very early. A half-hour before sunrise. Dark outside, black and still, only the occasional melodic song from a currawong indicated the coming day. Very early indeed, and Toby would not stir. He represented as an inert lump underneath his bedclothes and despite his grandfathers’ beguiling showed no inclination to rise.
Today they were to hike the ten miles down to Monty’s camp and with Tom’s haversack packed with two days food, the sleeping bags and a change of clothing were already in the dinghy, all that remained were rousing the youngster and eating breakfast.
‘ Toby, get up! ‘
‘ Toby! ‘
‘ Come on sport, I know it’s dark but we have a long way to go. Toby! ‘
Toby listened to his grandfather leave the room. He was warm. He was snug. Only his nose was exposed to the chill air of the bedroom. His mother had trained him from his earliest days to rise late and he had always found it an agreeable habit.
He heard Tom open the front door and walk down the steps and onto the beach. He heard him whistle softly, and chuckle. Toby listened intently as his grandfather then climbed back up the steps, crossed the verandah and re-entered the house. He heard him close the front door and walk through the front room, his steps bringing him all the way back to bedside, where he stood still for a moment. Breathing quietly. A clatter of dog paw on wood.
Then, and with what would have undoubtedly been a flourish, Tom first introduced cold air to the bottom of the bed, then one of the dogs, which immediately identified the occupant by the smell of his feet and then confirmed it by taking one of them into his mouth, though playfully.
Ben had taken to chewing old tyres lately.
‘ Granddad! ‘
‘ Breakfast’s ready. ‘
‘ OUCH! Ben, get off! ‘
Tom left a note tacked onto the front door.
Gone to see Monty, back Tuesday.
Via Castle Rock, Argyle Beach, Split Rock Pedestal, Little Lake, Veterans and The Big Lake Entrance.
THE DOGS BITE.
Two miles along Argyle beach the little boy began to flag. He was dressed similarly to his grandfather in baggy shorts, loose shirt and sunhat and they both had tied around their waists short lengths of rope. These were their coathangers and Toby already had one red thong hanging from his. Their discarded sweaters and a pair of binoculars hung from Tom’s rope.
This was Toby’s first coastal trek and his grandfather thought that two miles was a pretty good first effort.
‘ I’m thirsty, ‘ the lad complained from behind, ‘ can we stop now? ‘
There was no shade to be had on the wide flat beach and the dunes that rose on the west were bare of shady growth. One mile in the distance was the Split Rock Pedestal where Tom planned to have an hour’s break.
‘ Granddad. ‘
‘ Ok, we’ll have a drink here, but we have to get to the point before we can have a rest. ‘
‘ Ok. ‘
They stopped as Tom drew out an old canvas covered water bottle from his pack and handed it down to Toby. He had to show him how to unscrew the cap and then how to drink from the neck without spilling any. Toby gasped some down, paused for a breath, and went back for more. Eventually sated, he handed the bottle back to Tom.
‘ Granddad? ‘
‘ Yes mate. ‘
‘ You and Harry can count pretty good can’t you? ‘
Tom packed everything away and they resumed walking, side by side.
‘ Yeah. I suppose so. Why? ‘
Toby loped alongside, his two steps for his grandfather’s one.
‘ How far can you count? ‘
‘ What do you mean, how far? ‘
‘ A million? ‘
Tom smiled, ‘ How about a million million? ‘
‘ Could you count this sand? ‘
‘ What sand? ‘
Toby opened his small hand, the palm was covered in sand.
‘ Like this, ‘ he held his hand up for his grandfather to see.
‘ I suppose so, ‘ he replied, ‘ there’s probably about a coupla thousand there. ‘
‘ Could you count every bit on the whole beach granddad? ‘
That and the stars in the sky thought Tom, and the hairs on a little boy’s head.
‘ No mate, I don’t think I would live long enough to do that, nobody could. ‘
‘ What if you lived forever? ‘
‘ When’s forever sport? ‘
Toby looked at his hand once more before brushing away the sand, ‘ When the big rock gets moved back. A long time. ‘
He’s onto eternity already, and only six.
They slowly drew level with the first boulders of the Pedestal and Tom walked off to one side and called. ‘ Come over here and I’ll show you how to get fresh water from a stone. ‘
The headland was not high and they were able to walk around its base on the large flat sandstone boulders piled there. A shallow cave opened up on the southern side and Tom walked into it and over to the far wall. There was a small seep coming out of a long crack in the far cave wall where someone had wedged the end of a piece of string. The other end trailed down the wall and into the neck of a large plastic container that was jammed amongst the rocks on the cave floor. The container was full and when Tom lifted the string out of the container and let it hang free Toby could see that water dripped from it continuously.
‘ This is one of Monty’s, go on, have a drink. ‘
The water was pure, clean and cold.
‘ He calls this his fishermen’s tap and old Mont has about eight of them up and down the coast here. Very handy in the dry they are. These deep seeps are nearly always wet. ‘
Toby sat the container back into its position and replaced the string end into the neck, then he looked down at his feet and saw that he was crouched over thousands of perfectly formed shells of all shapes and colours. The entire floor of the cave was a trove of beautiful small shells, most of them whole. He dug his hand in and found them deeply piled upon eachother.
His grandfather called from outside the cave. ‘ Come on sport, let’s go. ‘
Tom set up lunch on a strip of grass that rose along the back of a the long promontory of rock called Veterans and whose tip stood about fifty yards out into the sea. The rock was clear of the swell and deep emerald water ran down one side.
They both sat in the shade of a grove of coastal pines and on the soft ground provided by their fallen needles. A comb-throated WattleBird sat perched on a bare limb above them, highly aggravated by the intrusion and flustered by their inattention to his warnings.
‘ Well, ‘ said Tom as he unpacked the large haversack, ‘ we have spaghetti in tins, baked beans in tins, tuna in tins, sweetened condensed milk in tins. We have Spam in tins. We have fresh damper, fresh eggs, fresh tomatoes. We have Billy tea, we have sugar. ‘
He smiled down at Toby, ‘ we will live like Kings won’t we Tobias? – and I forgot, we have fresh oysters down there, ‘ he gestured at the encrusted rocks at their feet, ‘ and probably crayfish over there, ‘ he nodded seaward.
‘ I can see why the old hermit likes it down here. ‘
After lunch Toby wandered down the spine of the rocky needle until he was on a narrow ledge just above the water. He crouched down there for a moment before calling to his grandfather.
‘ What’s this for granddad? ‘
Tom saw that Toby had found an old brass ringbolt sunk into the stone and from previous trips to the camp he knew that there was another to be found further up. They were the work of early settlers, the timber getters. Only a few signs of these pioneers were left on the coast and no tree over one hundred years old.
Excepting the massive old spotted gum in amongst the snakes and leeches out at Luncheon Creek.
‘ They used to tie up a pontoon Tobes. The people living down here in the old days cut timber in the forests and had it shipped it out from here to Sydney. We might even find some of their old houses later, if the bushfires haven’t destroyed them. ‘
They came upon Monty’s camp on the southern side of Big Lake Entrance in the late afternoon; it was almost hidden amongst a grove of paper-bark on a bend in the lake. There would have been nothing to mark its presence had Monty not hung up half a dozen singlets on one of the lowest branches.
However there was no sign of him. The camp was empty. Tom and Toby slowly walked around the dutch oven and watertanks and came to a halt at the base of the largest paperbark where a long piece of knotted rope hung from a small platform built around a couple of branches about twenty feet up.
‘ That’s where he sleeps, ‘ said Tom as he looked up, ‘ and if his surfboard is missing he will be down at the next point I’d say. ‘
Toby walked over to a little slatted hut that stood apart from the rest of the camp. He pulled open a small door set into its side and poked his head in, only to withdraw it quickly a moment later, his face screwed up in disgust.
‘ That’s his smoke house, smells pretty mature in there eh shorty? ‘
By the time they had unpacked and lit a fire for the billy a low whistle from the beach told them that Monty was on the way back. He arrived just as the water boiled.
‘ Beautiful timing, ‘ said Tom, ‘ another half an hour and the damper will be ready as well. ‘
Monty greeted everyone all around, rested his board upside down on a jerry built trestle and stripped away his wetsuit. ‘ Almost too warm for this now, ‘ he grunted as it slowly came away, ‘ I hate the wretched things. ‘ He looked over at Toby, ‘ well, what do you say little mate, going to come out for a wave with me tomorrow? ‘
Toby looked at his grandfather, who only cocked an eyebrow.
‘ Yeah, you bet Monty, and I want to catch some big ones. ‘
As the two men sat around on the old logs about the fireplace and drank tea and talked Toby wandered around the camp. The two watertanks were just forty-four gallon drums netted off against mosquitoes and fed by narrow lengths of old guttering that were tied to the nearby trees. An old green tarpaulin sheltered some chairs and table and a wooden cold closet that had shelves stacked with tinned food. There seemed to be no order in the way things were placed, no care for their maintenance.
In a while he returned to the fire and crouched close to the warmth of the coals.
‘ Monty, ‘ he asked, ‘ where’s the pup? ‘
‘ Gone matey, either a goanna or a dingo took him one night, and it wasn’t too long after I’d brought him back either. ‘
Toby obeyed an ancient instinct and drew a little closer to the fire. It was almost dark and he missed the warmth of the cottage and the security of having Alf around. Three or four small bats flitted through the air over the fire and a little way off, amongst the paper barks, a couple of possums hissed and grunted at each other. Something large splashed in the black water of the lake.
He was about to tell his grandfather that he wanted to go home when Monty handed him a mug of hot sweet cocoa and a large piece of toasted damper filled with baked beans.
‘ Tomorrow my lad, ‘ said the little man, ‘ straight after breakfast and we’re into it. I hope you don’t mind the cold water. ‘