Pitipalya Waterhole – Outback Story #1 9 March 2007

One of the quintessential days of our trip was the first Wednesday. We had been camping for two nights at that point and it had been really hot – each day got over 100 but on Thursday it was about 110. The villages had lots of people in them because they were getting organized to go out bush for “men’s business”. There were people driving around everywhere and then they would sit in their cars for a while and then drive around again; all very excited and worked-up.

We were doing the same because Karen was organizing an expedition into the bush to dig for witchetty grubs. So we were driving around to different houses, stopping and hanging out while Karen tried to find someone to take us, then driving around again. It is a matter of waiting until everyone gets their act together. Then all of a sudden three women and a girl (chewing tobacco) hop into our cars. Patricia’s car only has space for 3 so Karen sat on Patricia’s lap. (Keep in mind it is 110 degrees!) In our car in the front seat is Tjulkiwa, the younger sister, in the back seat is Maxine and Laura the 16 year old. Mrs. Mick got into the front passenger seat of my car, with only Maureen (driving) and me. She is about 90 years old and blind. She can hardly walk but is quite excited about going with us. Maxine is in charge but Tjulkiwa is in the front seat of Pat’s car, and they are arguing a bit about where the best witchetty grubs will be.

About 20 km along the road one they suddenly say turn here! Phil (driving) says “where?” because there isn’t any road there that we can see. So we diverge onto a very small track across the desert. It rained a day before so the desert is a bit wet and in places it is pretty dicey. But we keep going. Maxine says the land looks really good, I wonder what she is seeing. It is desert and we wouldn’t know if it was looking good or not!

The trip gets even crazier as we slide through muddy patches and across creek beds. Maxine is giving us all sorts of encouragement. “Where we are going is so beautiful. The water is so beautiful.” Karen says it reminds her of an adult giving encouragement to little children. Mrs. Mick in the our car, even though she is blind, knew exactly where we were and kept telling Maureen and I things like “Oh, big bump coming.” And “river here”.

We drive into a slightly hilly area and they say we can walk from there. They promptly sit down in the dirt under a small tree and point us in the right direction. Just a little way up the canyon is Pitipalya, a pretty consistent water hole. And there is water in it. It is black as can be but given the heat and the dust, we all take a dip anyway, tossing out the camel dung first.

We head back to the cars, have a quick lunch (it is now 2pm) on the hood of the cars and start back to Pipalatjaya. But on the way the ladies insist that we stop first to get grass from the creek bed to make baskets, and then to get the bark off a dead eucalyptus tree that they burn and mix with tobacco to make the chewing tobacco.

When we went back to Pip the next morning, they showed us the baskets they have been making with the grass we collected and we purchased three of them, with much negotiating from Karen. The store is open so we stop to get a cool drink and drive around town some more (by now we “get” the culture :)).

Did you notice that we didn’t get witchitty grubs?