Ten days over land with Australian Desert expeditions
WALKING long distances with a string of camels, silence, isolation, and desert temperatures probably isn't everyone's idea of a relaxing, good time.
But there's got to be something in it, because retired academic and finance and history author Diana Beal, of Gowrie Junction, has just returned from her fifth trek across the Simpson Desert.
"I like the quiet and that there's hardly anyone out there. We keep away from the roads, and the desert itself is beautiful," Diana said.
"There's an amazing variety of species of plants and animals, and walking with the camels is very interesting. You get to know their names, and they've each got their own character and foibles."
Diana takes part in Australian Desert Expeditions' Scientific and Ecological Surveys. The latest trip took her 10 days across the Munga-Thirri National Park, with four other 'paying trekkers', four cameleers, and scientists including botanists, ecologists and ornithologists, making a total of about 12 people.
Together they walk 15-20km per day, rising before first light to load 12 camels with food, water and technical and safety equipment, amounting to up to 300kg for the strongest camels.
For Diana, luxury on these treks is camping in a gidgee tree.
"It's got somewhere to hang things up, and gives you shelter from the wind and sun. These trees are 400-500 years old and quite stunted as there's little water, so they are well spread and excellent for camping in."
She said most people would be surprised to know that the paying participants were predominantly women in their 60s and 70s, into their 80s. Some are "birdos", others interested in vegetation or the animals.
And that is the real work of the treks, gaining environmental and conservation information - counting species and recording their ranges.
"On the last trip, which was after the rain, the desert was absolutely blooming. It's greener in the desert than here on the Darling Downs," Diana said.
There had been about 50mm of rain in the 3-4 weeks prior to the trek, and in that time plants had germinated, flowered and set seed - a gardener's delight, but an amazing pace of life.
As well as recording 60 different species of birds, on that trip, pitfall trapping was carried out to discover what nocturnal creatures were about. They set 120 traps over the 10 nights and had a 50% catch rate. Ecologists were amazed, with only a 5% rate normally achieved.
"So the desert was really hopping after the rains," Diana said.
Included in the catch were tiny ningaui, a carnivorous marsupial that weighs only as much as a 20 cent piece, along with spinifex and dusky hopping mice.
The information gathered paints a picture of the desert "at this time and place".
And time and place are never far from the trekkers' minds as they regularly find grinding stones, base plates and shards of cutting tools left by the Aborigines at clay pans over 100 years ago. On this trip, the trekkers also came across relics of the old rabbit-proof fence, built in 1895 and maintained until the 1930s, and a camp with tobacco tins and camel equipment used by either the builders or those sent to maintain the ill-fated fences.
The finds were documented, but the pieces left as they were.
"If we keep removing everything from the landscape, the things lose their veracity," the keen historian said.
And the attraction of the desert has not paled for Diana. She's keen to head off on another trip next year. If you are interested in finding out more about the treks, go to www.desertexpeditions.org.