The mosquitos at Mount Dare were vicious. As soon as we arrived they began to dive bomb us. We all dressed for dinner, in long trousers and sleeves for the first time in a week. In the hotel dining room the blue light of the insect destroyer sizzled and buzzed every few seconds. Despite the fly mesh on the doors, the insect invaders were breaching man’s defences.
Nonetheless, spirits were high. We enjoyed the novelty of sitting around a table, eating good food that had been cooked for us. The steak and chips were declared the best anyone had ever tasted. We were all looking forward to visiting Old Andado the next day, Molly Clark’s place. We listened as Howard recounted the story of Molly.
Molly was a true outback pioneer. She and her husband,, Malcolm “Mac” Clark, ran the Andado cattle station in the Northern Territory from 1955. They worked hard to build a successful business and earn enough money to own the station outright. Sadly, tragedy struck in 1978 when Mac died in an aircraft accident and in 1979 when their eldest son was killed when his truck collided with a freight train. Molly continued to run the station, but fate dealt her another blow when the station was one of the first to be tested for tuberculosis. When traces of TB were found, her entire stock had to be destroyed. There was no compensation or insurance policy to cushion her from the loss and in 1984 she lost the property they had worked so hard to own. It was sold for a pittance. Not one to give up easily, three years later Molly was back. Not in the new homestead that had been built, but having secured a lease around Old Andado, the original property homestead. She lived there for almost thirty years, welcoming travellers who visited and wanted to experience a little of the true outback life.
Molly died in 2012 and left the property to her five grandchildren who set up a trust to retain the property. Some of our group had met Molly on their last visit and we now planned to return to pay our respects. The house has been retained exactly as Molly left it and gives a unique insight into the reality of living in the outback.
The next morning we set out on the road to Molly’s place. The red clay roads were deeply rutted and no one was surprised when after kilometres of picking a track through the damaged road surface a sign announced “Four Wheel Drive Recommended”.
We crossed the border from South Australia to the Northern Territory and followed the track through a working cattle station. We were still on the margins of the Simpson Desert, but as we drove further into The Territory, the land grew greener and greener. Lush paddocks dotted with trees, it suggested parkland rather than an arid desert.
“This is no way to show the outback!”, exclaimed Olive. Having seen this area in drier times, she was afraid we would get the wrong idea and imagine that the arid country always looked this way. The miracle of good rains had revealed the underlying fertility of the red clay. The cattle had shiny, glossy coats and were alert and happy. Grasses, wildflowers and trees were all growing fast in the warmth and the wet.
We drove through red clay pans that were tinged with green and even had to splash our way through pools of water covering the track. The clear blue sky and clay red land reflected in the water caught my painterly eye and I longed to set up an easel and capture the colour combinations. A photo had to do.
When we finally reached Molly’s place at Old Andado and looked down over the property, we were expecting tragedy but found a verdant paradise. The overall impression was of a fertile coffee plantation in some exotic land and not an arid Australian cattle station where it was a battle to survive. Such is the power of life-giving rain.
The tour of Molly’s house was moving. It was if she had just stepped out for the afternoon. The contents of the house were complete, allowing us to see the detail that made up her day to day life. Everything from biscuit tin to teapot, from bookshelf to Australian flag remained. Her presence in the house was strong, making this more than just a living museum to late twentieth century outback life. I did not feel any need to mourn Molly. She would have tut tutted at that nonsense. But although I never met her, I felt I knew her and respected her. The house will not stand forever, but her legend will, I am sure, live on.
We drove away with respect for a way of life now all but gone. On the road again. A short detour off our route to Alice Springs took us to the Mac Clark Acacia Reserve. The reserve protects a stand of extremely rare acacia (wattle) trees, the acacia puece, or waddy-wood. They are found only in three locations in the world. Here in the Northern Territory and in Queensland. They live for hundreds of years and yield extremely hard wood. So hard a nail cannot penetrate it.
We stood and marvelled at these tall spiky trees standing in red earth encrusted with glossy black stones. They looked a little like pines, or she oaks, but their leaves were not pliable. They grew steely needles, like animal spines. Yet their seed pods were pale green, like snow peas, and almost succulent. A remnant of the tall forests that shrouded this land in days gone by.
With still 200 km to travel to Alice Springs, we decided to find a camp spot just off the track. Howard spotted a site nestled below towering rocky sandstone hills. The convoy stopped to make camp. We watched the colours change in the sky as the sun went down, while Howard and Malcolm scaled the rocky heights above us.