I've seen the needle
And the damage done
'The Needle and the Damage Done', Neil Young
Neil might have been talking about a different kind of needle, but I reckon if he'd gone walking through spinifex, he'd have written the same lyrics all over again. Spinifex is a bastard, and if I never see it again, I won't complain. However, seeing as it's as common as mud in the outback, I think I'm going to be spending plenty of time in its pleasurable company in the coming weeks.
Spinifex is a type of grass that grows in clumps. It looks nice enough, but closer inspection shows the clump to be made up of seriously sharp spikes, as thin and as dangerous as needles, and when you walk through the stuff it lacerates your legs. The points aren't quite tough enough to puncture leg skin, but they scratch, and if you accidentally fall and use your hands to stop yourself hitting the ground by grabbing a nearby clump of spinifex, you too will have the delightful job of trying to get hundreds of little splinters out of your hand for the next few days. I'm still trying to find them all...
Spinifex is also the reason for controlled burning, as practised by the Aborigines for thousands of years, and more recently by park rangers. After about four or five years spinifex gets too tough for kangaroos to eat, so if you burn it in a bushfire, it starts growing again and the roos can eat it for the next few years. It's called 'firestick farming', and it works; I found that the areas where there had been recent bushfires were much easier to walk through.
Still, we'd known this leg of the walk would be tough, as it took us over the hills of the Chichester Ranges, which roll around without any real distinguishing points for miles. We spent most of the day guessing where we were on the map, and we cut north too soon, heading for a creek that we though must lead to the Pillinginni Creek, only to find it was flowing the wrong way and obviously led back to the George again. Damn!
Never mind, we did manage to get radio contact for the first time in the trip, being on the top of the range, so it wasn't too worrying, but it took longer than anticipated to find the start of Pillinginni Creek. It also turned out to be a very overgrown creek bed, with loads of gums, bushes and nasty plants with sharp bits, so by the time we reached water and cliffs, we were knackered and pretty lacerated.
The problem was that Pillinginni Creek, in its beauty, is very rocky, and its vertical sides are very close together, reducing the number of campsites to, well, zero. We ended up sleeping on a silt bar on a corner of the creek – quite a comfortable spot, as it turned out – and after a refreshing dip in the creek, we turned in for the night. By this stage sleeping on the ground wasn't much of a problem; it's amazing how you adapt when you have to.