East Meets West

I had no schedule when I left Alice Springs, so when I came across the turnoff that led to Ayres Rock, I decided I'd go and have a look. As I stood on a road in the middle of Australia I marvelled at the harsh, dry beauty of the place and considered how easy it would be for those early explorers to go missing.

I imagined a lost man out there and felt great pity for him, for although the country was soft in its beauty, its arid harshness would show no mercy to a man dying of thirst.

Not too long after, I saw a green panel van that was heading north and I was very happy to see it pull over. I made my way to the passenger side window where I was surprised to find a Japanese fella gesturing for me to put my gear into the back of his van, so I stowed it and joined him in the front.

The first thing he did, was offer me a cold can of beer from a large esky sitting beside him on the bench seat. He didn't drive off straight away and as we introduced ourselves, I realised with a smile that he could hardly speak English. However, I understood his name was Egar. Once the formalities were over we took off for Ayres Rock.

As Egar and I hurtled along in the centre of Australia, with Simon and Garfunkle cranked up on the stereo and the beer flowing freely, I quickly realised my new friend was drunk. Although I was enjoying myself, I was tired from my night in Alice Springs so I gestured to Egar that I wanted to have a sleep in the back. He looked a bit disappointed that I was piking out on him but he pulled over anyway and I got into the back of the van and fell straight to sleep.

A bit later, Egar woke me up shaking my leg saying, "Big rock, big rock," so I got up. What I saw when I got out of the van blew me away. We were still about seventy or more clicks from The Rock, but from that distance its sheer size could be put into perspective. Although I'd seen pictures of it, I could never have imagined it in reality. It was massive and its colours of red brown and ochre were amazing.

Now that I was awake and back in the front with him, Egar impatiently thrust another beer into my hand and cranked up Simon and Garfunkle again. As we sped along, listening to the song "The Boxer", drinking cold tinnies with Uluru as the backdrop, I thought, Bloody brilliant!

We pulled up at the base of the Rock and got out of the van. I walked over to touch it and read the plaques telling of people who had died there and the various reasons for their demise. When Egar and I had seen all that there was to see, we drove to the back of the Rock where we set up camp, lit a fire in the fading light and cooked something to eat. When we were contented and full, we got right on the party trail.

While I was in Darwin I had gone looking for a cheap second-hand guitar, but I wasn't able to find one so I'd bought a harmonica instead. I quickly taught myself the tune, "Skippy the Bush Kangaroo," much to the disgust of the people who'd been staying at the backpackers. Anyway, what would they know? Egar reckoned it was the duck's nuts.

As we sat there, I thought about what he would tell his family of our night together when he got back to Japan. I reckoned it would have gone something like this. "I was sitting on the ground around a camp fire at Ayres Rock, drinking beer with an Aussie bloke in jeans, a singlet and thongs, wearing a hat and playing Skippy the Bush Kangaroo on his harmonica." I chuckled at the thought.

Our party in the desert was going along great, but at about eight o'clock I was disappointed to find that we had run out of beer. I was delighted though, when Egar went into the back of the van and got out another half carton. When we finished that off, we were still in a party mood, so Egar sort of explained that we'd passed a pub or something on the way in. Without any more prompting, we wobbled to the van and drove about twenty or so kilometres east of the Rock where we found a camp ground, but more importantly, a pub.

Egar wanted me to pick the drink so we went halves in a bottle of Bundaberg Rum and headed quickly back to our camp. I saw for the first time, a big sign that read, "No Camping and No Fires. $10,000 Fine if Prosecuted." In my hazy state, I realised that Egar hadn't understood the sign when he'd passed it earlier that day and I hadn't seen it because I was asleep.

Rather than break up our party I decided to ignore it and just play dumb if we got caught. When we got back to our camp, I set up my tent, ready for bed. I stoked up the fire with the wood that we'd collected earlier, took out the harmonica again at Egar's constant urging and once again ripped right into "Skippy the Bush Kangaroo".

We got through half of the Bundy, which proved to be a bit strong for my mate and he was soon passed out on the floor of my tent. So now sitting by the fire on my own, my gaze fixed on the silhouette of Ayres Rock standing silently in the moonlight, I suddenly got the idea that no one has tried to climb the back of Ayres Rock before! No sooner had this thought entered my mind than I was jogging, drunkenly, towards it and soon, I was at the great monolith.

Armed only with my hat, thongs and not a lot of thought, I started up the steep ascent which I found surprisingly easy to climb. Then, at about thirty or forty feet up I hit a steep spot and got stuck. I knew straight away that I was in trouble and when I tried to clamber down, I realised just how deep. The slope that I'd gone up was too sharp to go down, so I slowly turned myself around so I could sit and survey the situation. This didn't help at all and in the end I reckoned I'd just bite the bullet and slide down on my bum. I started to do this, but with about ten feet to go, I lost control and slipped off the rock, thumping heavily onto the desert floor.

Although I wasn't hurt, I lay there for a minute gathering my wits and when I got onto my feet I realised I'd broken the strap on one of my thongs. The desert floor was very prickly which made it incredibly difficult to walk anywhere, but as I had no choice, I started hobbling in the direction I thought our camp might be. Unfortunately, the fire was out and I couldn't see our camp, but luckily enough when I got a bit closer I could make out the tent and van in the moonlight. Egar was passed out in my tent, so I crashed out in the front of the panel van.

It seemed that I had no sooner passed out than I was being woken abruptly by someone yanking me out of the van by my bloodied foot. I landed heavily on the ground and as I was coming round I heard through the heavy haze of my severe hangover, "What the hell do you think you're doing, camping here? I am going to hit you with the full force of the law over this. Do you realise that you're up for a ten thousand dollar fine?"

The hangover that I was now nursing was one of my most severe ever and I was so sick I couldn't care less about a fine, no matter what the price. I was so mad at him abusing me that I just told him where to go.

I didn't say anything more but just sat there until I'd come round a bit. Then I found my smokes, lit one and very quietly asked the Ranger what was going on. I knew exactly what he was talking about as I blearily recalled the sign, however, when he told me about the no camping rule, I just acted dumb.

After he told me of the ten foot sign that we passed on the way in I explained about Egar, who was sleeping in my tent and how he couldn't read English. I also explained how I was

sleeping on the way in and so didn't see the sign. The Ranger responded by saying he didn't believe me. He went on to say how there was no one else there but me, to which I replied that Egar was in the tent.

The Ranger argued that there wasn't anyone in the tentŅor anywhere elseŅand said again that the only person in the area was me. I didn't really take things seriously, however and said, "Oh, bugger it! A dingo ate my Japanese mate."

The Ranger, who wasn't in a humorous mood, told me not to be a smart arse. Then I heard him exclaim, "What the...?" I looked in the same direction and saw Egar running along the track that went around Ayres Rock. He was heading towards our camp, dressed in a beautifully white karate suit. The ranger waited for Egar to arrive and at hearing Egar's sloppy English and that he was in training, he laughed and said, "Just pay your fee at the Ranger's Station if you want to climb the Rock."

Still laughing, he got in his four wheel drive and left.

Book Reviews

  • Steve, wow! What a great movie your book would make - absolutely riveting stuff! AND - the best investment I have made in years!

    Yvana
  • It's 4.55p.m. and I've just finished reading the book. Wow!!!!!That's what I'm feeling. Wow!!! Now that I've held the actual book in my hands and read it cover to cover, I can truly say this is a great book. Onya! Stevo!

    Meg
  • Monkey On The Wing, has been the most inspirational story I have ever read. Steve, your story is remarkable, reading your book bought me tears of sadness and happiness.

    Monique