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"Candlelight and Glitter"

We've all heard that term, 'candlelight and glitter.' It conjures up scenes of candles and romance, gorgeous women wearing glorious gowns and dancing with handsome men in glittering ballrooms, with soft music playing and silver candlesticks gleaming. Well, that's not how most of us live, is it? In fact most of us would be lucky to have candles lit on the table more than once or twice a year. As for the romance, beautiful gowns, ballrooms and soft music, I've never known much of that, except in the movies.


However, I did have an experience of candlelight, glitter, and even a bit of romance, far removed from that described above. Picture if you will, a scene in the Australian outback, near Innamincka, which is near the junction of the New South Wales, Queensland and South Australian borders, and is considered one of the most remote tourist destinations in the Australia, a small outback settlement in the very top corner of our state along the Strzelecki Track, and on the bank of the Cooper Creek. In times past it was an essential stopping place for outback travellers, with its own Australian Inland Mission hospital, a store, telegraph station and pub. Now it consists of a store, pub, post office and motel, in the middle of nowhere.


In the footsteps of some famous explorers such as Burke, Stuart and Strzezlecki, we had traveled north for an outback adventure holiday. My husband Ken had spent six months preparing for this trip, building a specially outfitted trailer in which to carry our equipment and supplies. Our children Terry, Michael and David had special permission to be away from school, and were terribly excited about spending ten days in the Australian Outback together with their cousins. With Ken's two sisters Pam and Dorothy, their husbands and families we made a party of sixteen. In the low red sand hills near the river we'd made our camp; three tents, one campfire, and one makeshift outback toilet. At night our chairs ringed the campfire as we watched the water boiling for our billy tea. The glowing red coals surrounding the camp ovens which contained our meal of braised rabbit and vegetables, and Jam Roly Poly Pudding were also warming our hands and setting our happy faces aglow.

Cooper Creek

(Note) The Cooper is currently in flood. Feb 2004
When we had arrived the Cooper Creek was in flood, and running a banker, which in Australian parlance means full to overflowing. It was becoming more mobile by the minute with water spreading over the flat surrounding landscape, creating little lakes where shortly before there had been red sand, dry grass and low scrub. The water sang a merry song as it ran over logs and rocks at the edge of the creek making its way down from the Thompson and Barcoo rivers, through the channel country in Queensland, to this normally parched desert country and eventually on to Lake Eyre in South Australia. When the Cooper floods, it brings new life to the outback. It spreads green along its way, providing water for huge spreads of Sturt's Desert Pea, flowering Red Hops, and bringing to life dormant aquatic creatures.

Starry Night

The sky was high and wide, and at night the stars glittered as diamonds. When one spends most of one's life in the city, or even in a country town, one does not experience the height or breadth of the outback night-time sky. It is blacker than ink. The air is as crisp as a chardonnay, with the stars in that great dome overhead almost begging to be plucked as fruit. The outback silence is palpable. No sounds of traffic penetrate the night time stillness, no barking dogs, squealing tyres, banging car doors, or raised voices of the unhappy couple next door.

Creative Cooking in Camp

Our meals were feasts of innovation. Each plate contained one piece of browned rabbit and glorious onion gravy, surrounded by carrots, diced potatoes and celery with huge herb dumplings to sop up the gravy. No white linen cloths graced our tables, we ate using a fork, with plates resting on our knees and cleaned every last little bit of meat from the bones using our fingers. Several of the children took it in turns with the tea towels to dry the washed plates for the second course. One of the men scraped back the hot coals, using a spade, and then using a long stick, the lid of the camp oven was carefully lifted to reveal the perfectly cooked dessert, browned evenly on top, and resting in a delicious sticky jammy sauce. We used the same plates and forks to eat our dessert, and then a second shift of dish washers took their places by the table that held the washing up bowl and tray, with the next shift of children to help with the drying up. Everyone had a job to do and a contribution to make for this family expedition to work successfully and as parents we had determined that this would be so. Our wonderful repast was followed by a welcome mug of steaming hot tea, as we sat around the campfire playing 'I Spy,' a game usually reserved for keeping children amused on long trips in the car. In this case however, we all enjoyed the game, invariably wondered why we didn't do it more often, and probably promised ourselves that we would.

Camping Fun

At bedtime, children were washed in warm water, held in the same bowl used for washing the dishes, changed into pyjamas and tucked up in their sleeping bags. Eventually the little voices calling from tent to tent ceased, and the benediction of the night fell all around us as we too made our way to our tents and zip-up sleeping rooms within with warm sleeping bags, lit by the light of a lantern. Daybreak came early, accompanied by first birdcall as wild duck flew to the creek and splashed gently into its flowing waters. Flocks of colourful budgerigars, all chattering with a high pitched scream, flew down to the water to drink, and having done so, wheeled around in the blue sky before leaving for the day. Galahs in the tall gums scolded their chicks, telling them not to be so impatient for their food, as the sun emerged from behind the red ramparts of the sand hills, spreading its pink and golden light across the early morning landscape. Voices of children chatting quietly amongst themselves floated softly on the crisp morning air as they scouted for small twigs for the fire, and the older ones helped with the task of getting it going, to make an early morning cup of billy tea, with the obligatory gum leaf of course. The addition of one gum leaf to give the tea a slightly eucalyptus taste is widely used in the Australian outback, especially among those who travel in the cattle camps. Excited voices told us that they had found a little lizard in the sand hills, and another had seen a rabbit bounding out of sight into its burrow. Rubbing our hands together to banish the cramping cold of night, we would wrap them around a mug of hot tea and stand with our backs to the crackling camp fire in an attempt to warm our bodies. The cold doesn't last long in outback Australia though, as the sun comes over the horizon spreading its warmth over the camp; we would retreat gratefully to the shade of the graceful gum trees lining the bank of the Cooper Creek. The fish in the creek were plentiful and both men and children armed themselves with fishing lines and hooks baited with fat wriggling worms dug from the damp creek bank. Shouts of pleasure erupted each time there was a catch, and before long there were sufficient fish to feed all of us for tea that night. Mothers washed clothes in the plastic bowls, and using nature's clothes drier, pegged them onto the tent ropes. Having tidied up the bedding and done the chores it is then their time for lying on a rug under the shade of the gum trees with a good book, or a game of cards or scrabble.

The Dig Tree

In the interest of our children's education, we decided that we would travel to the 'Dig Tree', the site of the Burke and Wills disastrous expedition of 1860-1861. This expedition which began in August 1860 was the result of an attempt to win a prize of 2000 pounds, offered for the first person to cross Australia from south to north. Leaving a Mr. Brahe at Cooper Creek, Burke and Wills forged north, but due to poor planning the expedition was a failure, coming within sight of the northern sea, but not able to reach it. Returning to Cooper Creek in April 1861 with insufficient food or supplies, the expedition was stunned to find that Brahe had left Cooper Creek a matter of an hour or so before their arrival, taking fit pack animals with him. Before he left, having waited one extra month for their return, Brahe had buried supplies in a hole near the tree now titled 'The Dig Tree.' Burke and Wills however, were too weak and ill to continue, as were their camels, and after wandering lost for some time in the desert, died in June 1861.

Taking our supplies of fruit and sandwiches filled with camp pie and tomato sauce with us, we travelled along the unmade outback tracks to the historic Dig Tree. There was not a lot to see at the site, although the tree was marked. It is preserved as a historic site today, but our family expedition was in 1973, and we were just a little sad to see how insignificant a place it was, although we were standing on the very place where our famous explorers had camped.

Storekeeper or Surgeon

On our return trip we called in to the Innamincka store for an unexpected treat of an iceblock on a stick. The store didn't have the capacity to store ice-cream at that time, and in the event of a power failure, iceblocks could be simpler to manage, and not as expensive if a loss occurred. The store was built at the site of the old telegraph station, Innamincka Hotel and Australian Inland Mission hospital. We couldn't imagine how people could possibly have run a hospital in this remote and painfully lonely place, without the conveniences of modern day life, let alone the necessary things to care for injured and sick patients. Today the doctor comes into Innamincka by airplane, and if a personal call is not necessary gives advice over the outback radio network, as he did on the evening when my brother in law managed to have a fish hook embedded in his thumb. Proprietors of outback businesses and cattle stations are often required to be stand-in medical personnel, and on this occasion the wife of the owner of the Innamincka store took down the medical kit, and administered a shot of morphine, while her husband removed the fishing hook from Eric's throbbing thumb, as per the instructions received over the radio from the Flying Doctor headquarters in Broken Hill.

Fish Dinner

Dinner that evening was glorious freshly caught and cooked fish that had grown in the unpolluted waters of the Cooper, grilled over hot coals, accompanied by baked potatoes, tinned beetroot and mayonnaise, bread and butter. No greasy chips or modern mixed salad, this was a simple meal, using only the most basic of ingredients. The food was treated with respect and presented at the point of readiness to each diner. The fish was followed by tinned peaches with hot custard, freshly made, as we had been able to purchase fresh milk from the Innamincka store. Our magnificent meal was eaten by the light of the camp fire and lanterns, with the glittering Australian night sky overhead.


Others can have all the other stuff, the insubstantial, the modern, the artificial, but I would choose what our outback has to offer any day. It has enough romance, glittering stars, beauty and colour for me, and though my children are now adults with children of their own, the memory is still as fresh as yesterday. When I hear them discussing their outback adventure holiday, their voices are filled with the awe of rememberance as they recall arduous journey in vehicles not as well equipped as the four wheel drive vehicles of today, the excitement and the pleasure and just darned good fun. I also hear longing for the outback, and know that they would like their children to have such an experience too.

The above family trip took place in May 1973

Years around my Father


My father was in his seventy ninth year at the time of his death. He had lived through times of conflict, had made the transition from being a student to working in a coal mine, from being young and fit to living with a mine related injury, from living in Industrial Wales to living in Australia as a migrant, from being an employee to building and operating a small business in a rural town.

He was approximately five feet eleven inches tall, and of course was less than that at the time of his death, which had been the result of a ten-year decline in health following some mini-strokes and a heart attack. However he still possessed the thick hair that had lost its natural brown colour, and which I had known for all of my life. He had been that colour from his thirties. Although not a man of robust health he worked with all of his resources to maintain and renovate our home. He put the same effort into the building, establishment and operation of a business after the end of WWII.

Brought up in a Welsh mining village with Methodist chapels meant possessing a set of values that could not be waived under any circumstances. He brought these values to his personal life, family life and business dealings.

Dad was a strict father for whom we four children felt respect in all things. One didn’t dare open one’s mouth at the meal table for fear of Dad’s cane on the knuckles whilst he was listening to the ABC news broadcast.

In my late teen years my father had been stricken with an illness that kept him confined to bed for months at a time. My mother found that operating the business on her own with the support of we children was difficult, and the decision was taken to sell the business so that Dad could retire and recover his health. After helping the new owners of the business to settle in they left for a well-deserved holiday travelling with their car and caravan to Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland.

As a family we were relieved to see Mum and Dad enjoying their retirement, however this was short-lived when Dad became ill again after a few years, to the extent that it threatened his life. At this time mum and dad were operating a business on Henley Beach Road at Thebarton. I can remember being there to help Mum because Dad was bed-ridden for most of the time. The shop was not air-conditioned and Dad was spending his days in discomfort. Relief came at last when they bought a home at Oaklands where Dad could stay whilst Mum went to work. Mum would spend hours making special fruit juices for dad to consume, as this seemed to be the only food that he could tolerate. At one stage the Doctor advised Mum that Dad was probably within weeks of dying. However, my mother was made of sterner stuff and she persisted with her fruit juice regime. It took many months but Dad did eventually make a recovery, although he bore the effects of that illness for the remainder of his life.

Eventually Mum and Dad were able to retire and moved to Glengowrie where Dad spent his days reading his books although there was a problem with his sight, and listening to his collection of records containing orchestral performances.

During their early retirement Mum and Dad made several visits back to the land of his childhood, and although they enjoyed visiting, Dad vowed that he would never go back to Wales to live as it had changed too much from the time of his youth.

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