We’re leaving Menu Camp today. We were up early enough, and collapsed and packed our tents and sleeping bags swiftly enough, that we were all in time to photograph the sunrise. Then we had breakfast (toast and Vegemite, hurrah!–I’ve missed it), packed up the truck, and hit the road.
It’s winter, the dry season up here, so the sky was clear and brilliant. The scenery changed frequently, with varied plants, and animals punctuating the remarkable landscapes. Began to see boabs, those weird, bloated tree that you only see in this corner of Australia.
We traded eucalypt savannah for weird, lunar desolation and dead trees, then back to savannah. Smoke on the horizon again. Guessing it’s the annual burn-off that Aborigines have so long done in this region, and which more recent arrivals have learned to do, to prevent uncontrolled wild fires. A massive, ancient, red-rock escarpment rose to our right, the jumbled slopes and flat top covered with trees, but the perpendicular red walls, bare. So many grasses: short and golden, tall and red, like sheets of velvet in some places, rigid tufts in others, green, yellow, tan, from a few inches up to seven feet tall.
Rapid-fire wonders: bustards, huge black cockatoos, clouds of corellas (small, white cockatoo species), “ant” hills (really termite mounds), kapok flowers, feral donkeys (one with a small, black foal), butcher birds, and bursts of small, dark swallows with white breasts. At a large waterhole, we saw cormorants and egrets, and the trees were filled with galahs. Melaleuka scented the air, though they were outnumbered by gum trees. Still, the constant background for these changing vistas was heat, dust, and rocks.
Into Bradshaw Station complex. Not a planned stop, but the trailer hitch needed to be fixed. We took advantage of the stop to photograph flocks of cockatoos, the imposing escarpment, purple-flowered wild tomatoes, yellow-flowered kapok, and pink-flowered turkey bushes.
Hitch fixed, we were on our way—though only to the edge of the Angalarri River, which feeds into the Victoria River, the largest river in the Northern Territory. Joe Bradshaw, for whom the station was named, was the first white man to settle the far side of the Victoria River.
The only way across the Angalarri is by boat, but there is a barge here that is used for moving equipment, supplies, vehicles, and livestock, and it is plenty big enough for our 4WD and a bunch of campers. We crossed the river at an angle, which gave us the opportunity to see a considerable amount of wildlife or signs of wildlife. This is a tidal river, so there are saltwater crocodiles here, and we saw a fair number of crocodile “slides” down muddy slopes into the water. Kangaroos and wallabies watched us from the banks. I was delighted to see mudskippers hopping along the shore. Wattles, with their fragrant, yellow flowers, grew in large clumps. Birdlife included black cormorants, whistling kites, and a white-faced heron. We also saw a number of gorgeous white-breasted sea eagles, which prompted the gentleman driving the boat to relate the mating rituals of these impressive birds. To get the attention of the female (which is the larger bird), the male catches a fish, takes it high in the air, then drops it, going into a power dive and catching the fish again just before it hits the water. If the female is impressed, the two fly high into the air, lock talons, and spiral toward earth, letting go just before they crash. They mate for life.