Inveterate travellers Inge and Ron spent four winters driving through the Australian outback and deserts. The deserts were an exhilarating and life changing experience focusing the mind on the essential and important things in life.
We were staying at a cattle station in the Painted Desert an hour's drive down a sandy track from the roadhouse at Marla on the Stuart Highway - the only roadhouse within a 400 km radius. Three blue heelers were home when we arrived but we never saw the owners and so far nobody else had turned up. Nothing was locked and after waiting for several hours that first day we had moved into room seven in the converted shearers' quarters. The days were very quiet. The nights deeply silent.
It was on our third and last night at Emily Downs when, lingering by the window looking at the brilliant night sky, tracing the constellations, I noticed it, a flickering light just down and slightly to the north of the Southern Cross — a fire. It could only be a campfire. Who was out there and what were they doing? It was impossible to say how far away the fire was. I called out to Ron and mesmerised we watched the flickering light. ‘Nothing we can do about it,’ he said after a short pause and went to bed. I watched for a long time. The silence now piercing. Eventually I too gave up and crept into bed; I must have drifted off because I woke with a jolt - silence, nothing, but something must have woken me up. Then suddenly a muffled sound at the door - the grip of silence tightening. I tiptoed to the door and slowly pressing down the handle prized it ajar. A dark shadow rising up. The dog, the dog, Old Blue was guarding the door.