Travel Story The beauty of small things: Camping in the Great Victoria Desert

Photo of Stephen Scourfield

Rain brings the remote West Australian desert to life. 

We’ve been dug in for days in the desert, comfortable in a dip between red dunes, letting a big wet weather system pass over us. 

We’ve put up awnings and tarpaulins on poles and passed the time walking between showers, stoking the fire, making bread, painting, writing. 

This somehow luminescent sand radiates orange, sucks rain straight in until it is saturated, then starts to puddle. Yes, though we got past the claypans, we were right to pull stumps and stay put. Rain doesn’t matter in the remote outback when you stay put. It’s only trying to move on through the Great Victoria Desert that’d cause dramas.

And so, against a skyline of marble gums, screened by yellow flowering mulga and surrounded by a patchy carpet of spinifex, we calmly wait for the wet weather to pass.

After rain, the desert emerges.

This sunny morning, as the solid grey sky begins to fracture into big jigsaw pieces that slowly ease apart, revealing the slightest hint of the blue above, there is a sense of life, stretching, hatching, birth and rebirth. 

Things start to emerge ... 

The emergers ...

Near the trunk of a mulga tree, tucked in the darkness under its canopy and among its dropped needles of foliage, a fungus pushes up the lid of the Earth, flesh coloured against the lustrous land. 

The emergers ...

Ants are milling round the lip of a hole, winged and ready to fly. An established ant colony produces these winged queens and males, and they wait for conditions that are perfect for a nuptial flight. This is it, in this burst of sunshine after the disruptive rain. They fly off in a cloud, to mate.

The emergers ...

At another big ant hole, they are still busy opening up, the slightly green ants carrying sand balls out, one by one, to place around the lip. Here, on the side of the dune, they build that lip high and horizontal.

The emergers ...

In various states of exposure, puffballs arise. The bald heads of Basidiomycota pockmark burnt and cleared areas. 

The emergers ...

Just by the camp fire, a gecko appears from the ground. I drop to my knees to see its camouflaged back and tiny mouth open. It sucks in the air and the warmth. One leg and a tail are temporarily trapped by the still wet earth but, when released, he scampers towards the mulga.

I drop to my knees, thankful to already be the colour of the sand, so it doesn’t matter any more. I am thankful to be here, in the desert. I am thankful to be on my knees, in one place, seeing it all. Staying put.

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