Day 12…we gave the camels tidy doses of rum to warm them…

Wednesday, 13th August 2008.
We only just made it back to the train line at Tragowel. the road was so wet and slippery we almost slid into the bore drains and got bogged several times. When we finally arrived back at the road intersection it was 09.30 and then while I was lacing up my boots Frank called. Once I had finished talking to Frank about the Plant Camp it was 10.30 and I really needed to get on the road. Annie went to the nearest sealed road and I headed across to the Tragowel Swamp. As soon as I hit the road the phone rang again. It was Prue Bentley from the Breakfast Show on ‘ABC Mildura and Swan Hill’ wanting to do an interview on the road for their Outside Broadcast from Pioneers Week at Swan Hill. I arranged a time and place to meet Prue and hurried along in the vain hope of getting off the dirt roads and on to the sealed roads in time to meet Prue.

I got to the Tragowell Swamp and met up with Annie for a cup of tea and porridge for breakfast. When the Expedition arrived here in the evening they were wet, tired and cold. Landells gave the camels ‘tidy doses of rum to warm them’ and Beckler noted ‘the Expedition members took the stimulant with rather more enthusiasm than the camels !’. In order to maintain historical accuracy I felt it was only appropriate that I also took a ‘tidy dose of rum’ at Tragowell. I had planned on being here last night and drinking the rum at the end of a long day on the trail, but because of the rain I had given it away after 37km and so it now meant I would have to have rum with my breakfast of porridge oats. Never one to back away from my responsibilities as a historian, I filled a pannikin with rum, toasted the expedition and let it chase my breakfast down. As I have been living in the Sunshine State for the last twelve years, what else could I chose as my breakfast tipple other than Bundaberg Rum ? The Bundaberg Distillery wasn’t established until 1888, so I am sure it wans’t Bundy that Landells was feeding the camels, but I found it fine. For those of you who have not been fortunate enough to spend time in Tropical Far North Queensland, the single biggest crop in the coastal areas is sugar cane (followed by bananas). Cane has been grown in the north for over 120 years, but it really became prominant after WWII when Italian, Cypriot and Maltese migrants arrived and started sugar farming in earnest. Even today the second biggest language group around the Cairns area and up on to the Atherton Tablelands is Italian. The cane is harvested around this time of year and once it has been crushed and processed the by-product is that sticky, black syrup called mollasses. In most countries in the world mollasses is fed to cattle to make them fat and shiny, but in Queensland it is put to a much more noble use. It is placed in shiny, silver tankers and driven down to Bundaberg where it is distilled and placed into bottles with white polar bears on them (not because there are so many polar bears in the Tropics, but because the polar bear symbolises the rum’s ability to counter the winter chills).

As soon as I had emptied my pannikin it was time to lace up my boots and hit the trail to meet Prue. I had only been walking ten minutes when she zipped by in the red Holden with the ABC signwriting on the side. She stopped and wound down the window. I stuck my head in and said ‘G’Day’ and hoped that the smell of Bundy didn’t put her off too much. We walked along a side track while doing the interview, the crunch of gravel under my boot being part of the soundscape that gave the impression of movement. Ten minutes later and with a couple of photos snapped on the ABC camera and Prue was gone, rushing back to the Outside Broadcast van at Swan Hill for ‘Pioneer’s Week’.

The rest of the day passed rather uneventfully and I crossed the Loddon and headed out to Reedy Lake. Once at the lake I decided on a wash and scrub up in spite of the temperature of the water and then once the swags were rolled out we had the first night without rain for nearly a week.

Distance travelled today; 31.7 km.
Today Dave is at Lake Charm, north of Kerang.
After twelve days of travel, Burke was at Tragowel.
Dave has had one day off so far. Burke and the expedition have had three days off by this stage.

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