George Vasey (55) was the medic on Great Walks' recent camel trip with Australian Desert Expeditions. Here he talks about the pleasures of volunteering and his experience exploring the Simpson Desert.
"How does one sum up their first experience in the world’s largest parallel sand dune desert and Australia’s fourth largest desert? I am not sure how to answer that, but I will attempt to do the experience justice.
Despite my 55 years on this beautiful continent of ours, I have never managed to get to see our desert up close or even to get to Alice Springs. So, I knew that this trip that I was undertaking was to be an experience of any form – unforgettable. I went with so many questions, but satisfied my curious side by being open to whatever came along and take delight in the unexpected. No expectations. I was blown away.
The opportunity to volunteer as a medic and crew with Australian Desert Expeditions (ADE) came from left field – you know the friend of a friend who knew someone else who had done it and it would be great – at a time when my Kokoda backpack looked like staying unpacked for the second season in a row.
With the blessings of my family I thought, why not? I mean what could possibly go wrong? My life is enriched by experiences. Whatever the result of the experience it is one that give me stories to recount if anyone cares to listen! I’m sure the Simpson Desert for 2.5 weeks with camels and people would give me a treasure trove!
Oh, it is so vast and beautiful. Delicate. Intriguing. Flying at 30,000 feet is an injustice. Travelling by 4WD a bit better. This country to be appreciated; needs slow travel. I need slow travel.
It needs to be done on foot. Your own! Throw in a string or two of camels to carry the load and you have an experience that will stay with you. It delivers and teaches in so many aspects. Geographical, historical (esp. our First Nations peoples), culture, environmental, meteorological, flora and fauna, resilience, physical fitness, my medical training, etc. There are not many experiences in life that can deliver a plate up like this day after day!
My day would generally start at approx. 0530 as I sat up in my swag facing the oncoming dawn reflecting and giving thanks on the time I have had and what lies ahead for the day. No flies!
A little fire to boil the billy for that much loved cup of tea and to just stare into. Breakfast. Then all the moving parts start. So many tasks, but shared by what by any standard of measure is an awesome diverse group of people. This is one of the absolutely unexpected delights – great friendships are formed. Breakfast for the guests readied, camels out to graze, saddles and equipment to organise that would make an Army Quartermaster cry!
Health checks on those with known difficulties, reading the mood of crew and guests alike to be proactive on issues so they don’t become one. A privilege in my role is to be able to talk to all and sundry and check in. I get their stories and if they are unfortunate, they get a bit of mine.
A case to suit this point.
On what was a particularly warm afternoon I was attending one of our guests whom was feeling a bit hot and bothered. I sat with this delightful lady and her husband on a small sandhill overlooking this beautiful little oasis with the camels and others in the distance. She was in the shade that all this little Coolabah tree could offer us and the flies seemed to delight in us stopping. It was surreal. In the middle of Australia, in an austere environment, caring for and talking to this person who was a stranger to me two days ago.
She asked me about my role. I reflected to her what a privilege it was looking after people in this environment and the experience it afforded me, as I sat in the sand swatting the odd fly away. I must have looked a sight attending her. No shower for now over two weeks – but who really cares?
Camels. They get a bad rap. Totally underrated. You have to work with them to truly appreciate the “ship of the desert”. I have worked in the past with large animals but to turn these once feral animals into well trained “tautliners” is testimony to the animal itself and the cameleers involved.
Powerful. You just have to look at big Claude’s shoulders and legs. Front row every time. The hydraulics in Sarge’s feet are something to view as you walk alongside him.
Intelligent. I am sure Jaffa wondered at me as he looked down upon me from his lofty height. And to prove that one can be beautiful and brawny – nice long brown eyelashes you have Eddy!!
Personalities abound amongst the strings and I am sure the head cameleers feel like the primary school teacher at the beginning of the year trying to organise their young pupils that maximises their potential. Mission might be a lifelong task!
This little foray delivered.
In areas that I expected but in so many that I did not.
To work in the great vast outdoors and absorb what it offered – and what a smorgasbord it is. To provide care and compassion to those that needed it. To work with animals that one can only stand back and admire. To work with great people whom taught me many skills and were patient and kind when my flow ebbed. To reflect on my own life and appreciate what I have.
Would I go back again repeating the same and expecting a different result? No, that would be madness as Einstein once was quoted. I want the same repeated, with the same result!"
Make sure you read Great Walks' story about walking with camels in the Simpson Desert in the latest issue.