Every school holidays parents would drop a group of us off somewhere along the Flinders, and days later we would appear somewhere on the other side of the range. That's how I know the hidden track that runs in from Nectar Brook. I finished a day early with a client in Whyalla, and in a sentimental moment, found the old track on the way home, and eased the car in to the base of the range. I decided I had time to climb the first ridge.
I saw a mirage on a station track into Finke once; a range of sheer cliffs away to the south east where there is nothing but Simpson Desert sand. It looked like a great escarpment out of North Africa. You can pick a mirage because the 'mirror' is always faulty. You get imperfections in the landscape; missing teeth in the view.
The mirage I saw from the top of Nectar Brook was like nothing I'd ever seen. Not a hint of a missing tooth. It looked a long way off—a distant coastline, but it was hung down into Beautiful Valley hiding the main range. If I hadn't known I was looking into the Flinders, I'd never have picked it as a mirage!
It was good to be back in the hills. When the next Whyalla job came up, I volunteered. We have to work all weekend, and they give us time and a half "in lieu." This time I packed my gear to camp a day or two in the valley past the ridge.
I wasn't going back hoping for more mirage. You only see that once or twice in a lifetime, and that's if you're lucky. But it was still there, and somehow, I realise now, I knew it would be.
The east side of the ridge has forty or fifty feet of old decaying cliff, which had me working very hard to get down safely. There's a lot of thick scrubby stuff at the base, so I was a hundred feet down before I even had time to look out to the east again.
The best prognosis was that I was having some kind of lucid dream, which is no good state to be scrabbling around on a ridge. I sat against a tree and carefully reviewed who, and where, I was. I could see a coast barely three miles away, while looking east. My compass said east, the sun was in the right place for east, and I knew I had come from the west. I repeated this mantra and prepared to climb back to the west, knowing I was in some kind of psychosis, and hoping I could get to the safety of friends in Port Augusta… until I smelt the sea salt, and forgot it all. I knew I had to go down.
Off the ridge, I walked two miles of flat grassland to the water. I calculated I had time to walk three hours along the coast before camping, and the same after a dawn start tomorrow. This would still give me time to get back to the car by dark. As though I was on the Heysen Trail, and this was all completely normal!
The coastline is featureless here. I turned around to take bearings off the ridge so I would know where to climb back tomorrow… and there is no ridge. It's grassland to the horizon. There is no mobile signal, my compass does not work, and there is no sun; just light. There is no going back.
So I write this last letter, and will hurl it as far out from the beach as I can when I empty my first water bottle. And then I will go what was once south, and see what I can make of this new world.
© Andrew Prior
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