The Same Place, Chapter 5: On Public Land

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Published on 15.02.10 09:29 Age: 10 yrs
Category: The Same Place

Letters : 19950 Words : 3624

By: Cedar

Yet it was a question that was quickly answered by a set of tell-tale signs. "Mungo! This is a national park!"

"Yep, it's also where we start our journey," said Mungo eager to begin the journey.

"Surely you don't mean to start your walkabout here?" Kylie asked incredulously. She imagined the walkabout to take place in undisturbed country. The bush tracks of a national park did not seem like the right auspices for such a journey. Besides, these places were really more of a haven for tourists. Still, maybe it was better to start out easy, and then ease into things. After all, having some trails was certainly better than having no trail at all.

"It wasn't always a national park," said Mungo his voice reflecting on the changes brought on by time. "We should start walking. We have a lot of ground to cover."

Kylie was curious as to how much ground constituted "a lot of ground?" Before they began, there was something she needed to do. "Give me just one second," she took off her pack and got out the Scout camera from its case. The Scout was pretty simple in its operation; just point and shoot. There were a few advanced functions, but the default settings were surprisingly high quality. She checked the tape and the battery. The battery was at full charge, and the tape was at the start of the reel and ready to roll. Removing the lens cap, she began to dictate.

"Greetings, and welcome to our documentary series on the Walkabout tradition. Our guide is Mungo, a member of the Wirranii people whose people have been practicing the tradition of the walkabout for countless centuries." As she spoke she put Mungo in the center of the frame. "Mungo has been generous enough to tell his story." Kylie wasn't particularly happy with this narration. It seemed a bit forced, and hardly the poetic diction she was going for. Still some narration was necessary to keep track of events. She could always dub over things during the editing process.

"What about your story?" asked Mungo.

Kylie hit the stop button on the camera. Mungo speaking had caught her off guard. Mungo's question would need to be edited out. His story was the important one, not hers. "What do you mean?" she asked.

"Ain't ya gonna tell your story too?" asked Mungo. "You ain't even mentioned yer name yet."

"My story...my story isn't worth telling..." said Kylie dejected. It was true. She was a washed-up-has-been at age 38. Nothing about that made for a good story."

"Nah!" said Mungo. "You aughta put yer own spin on things. Spend some time in front of the camera. Tell 'em yer name. You're Kylie Burns. This is your production."

It was good advice, but it was difficult advice to take. "People don't want to hear from me..." said Kylie still putting herself down. The look in Mungo's eyes said he disagreed but he didn't say anything more on the matter. Rather, he turned and began to walk up the trail, keeping a slow pace to allow Kylie to catch up.

Leaving the parking lot behind them, Kylie's spirits began to pick up. The trail was fairly easy to begin with. It was quite warm outside, and it felt good to be outdoors and getting some exercise. Had she been at work today, she would have been going through the most stressful time of the day.

Although they did not stop for lunch, they did munch on fresh berries that grew wild along the side of the trail. It was hardly more than a snack, but it gave Kylie more than enough energy to keep going. In between they took sips from water jugs. Both of their hands were dyed a deep purple from the juices of the berries; the same was true of their lips. The weather was warm, but not excessively hot. It was pleasant.

The reactions of young children were the most amusing to Kylie. Nearly all of the reactions were peppered with the same three questions. "Why is that man naked?" "Can I go naked too?" "Why not?" It was funny to see the adult's faces turned red, the way they twisted in the wind trying to answer such simple questions.

Still, there were a few people who were less than courteous. There were some people who frowned, but they were in the minority. There were some who felt the need to say or yell mean spirited things, but they were even rarer. One man in particular was quite nasty, and Kylie was worried that he would actually try to harm Mungo, harmless little Mungo! Fortunately it did not come to that.

Kylie had to wonder about the reactions of their fellow hikers. How would people have reacted the first time Mungo came through? Before this was a park? Mungo had spoken as though he had been this way before. She also had to wonder how people would have reacted if she had joined him in his nudity. There would be a time for that, but now was not that time.

As she trekked, she began to notice a few problems with her documentary angle. First, despite the portability of the Scout, it was difficult to walk and hold the camera to film. It was exceptionally difficult to do without jostling the camera and ruining the shot. There was an easy fix for this; to simply take most of the shots during breaks, or when they had set up camp for the evening. The second problem was a bit more difficult; Mungo. Mungo was more of the "silent type." This struck Kylie as a bit odd, because at the Koala Bares he had always seemed so outgoing. Then again, he was more of the type to join conversations, rather than start them. This problem also had an easy fix, she would need to draw him out into conversation. The two problems were both easily fixed, but capturing this documentary was not nearly as easy as she had originally thought.

"We'll stop here," said Mungo breaking the silence. He had led them to a remarkable bluff overlooking a verdant valley. The view was breathtaking. They were really high up, which was surprising, because the trail had not seemed particularly steep.

"Wow, Mungo, this is fantastic!" Kylie said taking out her camera to take a shot of the scenery. It was a great shot, but would have been even better if it was sunset. Still sunset wasn't all that far off. "So we're staying here for the night?"

"Nope, we've a bit farther to go," said Mungo. His admission brought Kylie crashing back into reality. She wanted to stay here to get her sunset shot. She was tired, and her feet were starting to hurt. Did they really have to go further? "Down there," he said pointing. "We'll camp by the waterfall." Kylie couldn't see a waterfall, but if she listened closely she though she could hear one. "We're headin' that way tomorrow," said Mungo as he pointed north to a vast expanse of scrubland. To Kylie, it seemed so far away.

Still, even though they had farther to go, Mungo didn't seem to be in any sort of hurry to start bush-walking again. Kylie took the opportunity to set on a nearby rock and rest. It seemed that no sooner had she taken a seat, when their peace was interrupted by two travelers, a male and a female. Kylie could see them pointing and gesturing at her and Mungo. Did they mean to cause her trouble? She wished they would go away. They of course did not.

"Excuse me, are you Kylie Burns?" asked the male bush walker. He was dressed similar to how Zoot had been that morning; wearing khaki shorts and a floral print shirt. That similarity, was the only thing he had in common with Zoot. He had brown hair instead of blonde, and his face was round, and his cheeks dimpled.

"Umm...yes...do I...do I know you?"

"We're big fans of your news broadcast," he said. "Amy! You were right, it IS her," he said calling back to his companion. "I'm Tim, by the way, Tim Kirby, and this is my wife Amy," he said introducing his companion. She wore a yellow sundress, and had red hair and freckles. Like her husband, she had a round face. These two seemed like they were made for each other. This last point only served to accent the fact that Kylie was, herself, unmarried.

"Hi, I'm Amy," she said introducing herself, and briskly shaking Kylie's hand. "We're big fans of your show. Really big fans."

"Well, thanks," said Kylie. "It's always nice to meet my fans." Normally that was true, but this was an exception. It served as a cruel reminder of the job she was leaving behind. Also, this couple seemed a little too perky. Right now she wanted to enjoy the view, not have a conversation.

"So what brings you out here?" asked Tim.

"Well the view," said Kylie gesturing at the surrounding landscape. These people seemed to be rather rudely ignoring Mungo. This wasn't especially surprising. They were HER fans after all. She kept looking over at him, hoping he would save her from further conversation with the Kirbys. Mungo, meanwhile, was content to enjoy the view in silence.

"So you won't be doing the news tonight?" asked Tim.

Kylie was not keen on answering that question. She didn't want to admit to her fans, and even to herself, that her return to the news was unlikely. "Not tonight, I'm on holiday."

"On holiday?" asked Amy. "But you've brought your camera with you. You bring your work with you on holiday?"

It was a harmless question, but to Kylie it seemed like a scathing indictment. "Oh that, it's...private." Amy did have a point. This was, after all, her first holiday in many years, and here she was lugging around a camera, focused on her work.

"Well good for you," said Amy encouragingly. "When I go on holiday, I really can't be bothered to think about work at all. I guess that's why you're a big TV star and I'm not."

Again, Amy wasn't trying to be mean, but this conversation was excruciating. She wanted it to be over as soon as possible. It brought back all the bad feelings of the past few days. Frankly, she felt like crying. Yet she managed to keep her emotions in check.

She noticed, as the conversation continued, that the Kirby's kept staring over at Mungo. They were trying to be discrete about it. But staring into their eyes, she could see their eyes darting back and forth between her and Mungo. They did not seem offended by his nudity; more curious than anything.

By the time their conversation was over, Kylie had posed for a few photos and autographed their guidebook. As if the autograph of an ex-reporter would be worth anything! The Kirby's even offered for her to join them at their campsite. Kylie politely declined.

"Let's go, Mungo," she said as she walked by him and headed down the track. He quickly caught up to her.

"You alright?" he asked.

"I'm fine."

"Wanna talk about it?"

"No!"

If anything, her conversation with the Kirbys helped to motivate Kylie to move faster. She wanted to put distance between her and them. She wanted to put distance between her and the city, and bush-walking did just that. It felt odd to be in the lead. There was really only one trail to follow, so there was no way to get lost. Still, this was Mungo's trip. Shouldn't he be in the lead? Yet he didn't seem at all bothered by her taking the lead.

Soon they were at the waterfall, their final destination for the evening. Much to Kylie's disappointment there was a tent set up nearby. She was hoping for a peaceful evening without the distraction of other people. "You sure you want to stay here?" she asked.

"Yeah. We'll camp 'ere."

"Really I'm fine. We can go a bit farther," Kylie offered. Yet her legs were very tired, and her stomach rumbled loudly.

"We'll camp 'ere." He was insistent. He dropped his pack, and took out what looked like a rolled up cloth. The cloth turned out to be a tent, which he proceeded to begin setting up. It was an antiquated A-frame style tent made of a heavier canvas material. Who knew how many decades old this tent was? It was a far cry from the light weight nylon tents featured at most camping stores.

In watching Mungo set up the tent, she realized how ill prepared she was for sleeping. She had not brought a sleeping bag or inflatable mattress, but then Mungo had not said to bring either of those things. Looking at his mostly empty pack, she doubted he had either. She hadn't even brought a pillow! It began to sink in that this was going to be significantly more difficult than just camping. This was going to be "roughing it" in every sense of the word. At least the tent had a canvas floor...

She eyeballed the tent, and was surprised at just how small it was. She had her doubts about how it would sleep two people comfortably. "So we'll both sleep in the tent?"

"Nah. I ain't sleepin' in the tent. It's for you."

Kylie was a bit flattered that Mungo had packed a whole tent that he did not plan to use. He had obviously taken some thought into her comfort on this trip. His generosity was actually quite humbling. "You didn't need to pack a tent just for me."

"You're me guest," was his reply. "Are ya hungry?"

She wanted to say 'yes, I'm starving,' but simply said "Yes." "Do you want me to help you with anything?"

"You stay here. I'll be back with somethin' to eat," he said as he disappeared off the trail in search of food.

What did he mean by "something to eat" Kylie wondered. She hoped that the evening's dinner consisted of more than just wild berries. When Mungo returned, he was bearing an armful of what he called "bush tomatoes." Much to Kylie's surprise, the fruit did taste like a tomato, although it lacked some of the characteristic acidity of a tomato. While it was a far cry from a three course meal (really more of a one course meal), it was both filling and satisfying. Once again, Kylie's spirits were beginning to pick up. Yet they were quickly brought back down again when the owners of the abandoned tent returned. It belonged to none other than the Kirbys.

Naturally, the Kirbys were thrilled to see her, much more so than she was to see them. Despite her hopes that they would leave her alone, they instead wanted to continue their conversation from up on the ridge. Kylie answered their questions, but wished they would just leave her in peace. Still, they were just trying to be friendly. They even offered Kylie a share of their dehydrated Lasagna meal that they were preparing. Even for dehydrated food, it gave off a pleasant aroma. The offer was tempting, but Kylie declined. Dehydrated food was not in the spirit of this journey.

As the conversation wore on, Kylie looked to Mungo for support. Her friend was happy enough to enjoy the solace of the evening, while leaving chatter with the Kirbys to her. She felt herself wishing he would join in the conversation; anything to distract the Kirbys from their endless string of questioning. Mungo did finally speak, but he did not join the conversation.

"I'm goin' for a swim." That was all he said before wading into the deep collecting pool below the waterfall.

Kylie looked on in envy. A swim would feel nice. She wanted to wash off the dust from the day's trip. Still, she had not packed a bathing suit in her pack. Ordinarily, this would not pose much of a problem. Yet in the presence of the Kirby's this seemed prohibitive.

The Kirbys meanwhile encouraged Kylie to go for a swim if she wanted to. The offer was tempting. It would both let her get clean and give her some much needed personal space. Still, despite (or perhaps because of) their insistence, Kylie decided not to swim that evening.

She excused herself saying that she was feeling tired and would like to get some rest. The tent was a welcome part of the campsite, because it allowed her to get away from her fans, and enjoy the silence of a still evening. She took her remaining clothes from her pack, and balled them up into a makeshift pillow. The ground was more forgiving than she thought. In minutes she was asleep.

Light trickling in through small holes in the canvas served to let her know that morning had arrived. She stretched out, feeling refreshed, but still a little sore from all that walking. She was covered in a cold sweat. This was characteristic of when she had nightmares or other bad dreams. She must have had a bad dream last night. But about what? She couldn't remember.

She re-packed her pack, and climbed out of the tent. She was happy to see that their camp neighbors were still asleep. Mungo was awake and tending to a small fire. Kylie was sorry she had gone to sleep so early and missed the fire, but there would be other opportunities on this journey.

He was scooping cooled ashes from the fire pit, and rubbing them all over his body. The white from the ashes against the dark brown of his skin made him look almost spectral in his appearance.

"What are you doing?" asked Kylie as he rubbed ashes against his face.

"Protectin' me skin," he said. "The ashes help prevent sunburn."

"You know, I do have sunscreen," offered Kylie, unsure why someone with such dark skin woud be worried about sunburn anyway.

"Nah. That's for you," he said declining her offer. He went back to rubbing the ashes to cover his face. The next thing he did was horrifying to Kylie. He took a small pinch of ashes and put it in his mouth.

"What are you DOING?" she shrieked. She hadn't meant for it to come out quite so loud. She hoped she hadn't accidentally woken the Kirbys. Was Mungo EATING ashes?

He took his index finger and put it inside his mouth, rubbing the ashes against his teeth. "Better than toothpaste. Prevents cavities. Want some?" 

"No thanks, I have the real thing," said Kylie. She would have offered him some of her toothpaste, but she doubted he would accept. It was at that moment that she hoped she had packed enough toothpaste and sunscreen for the duration of the trip. She didn't like the idea of using ash when those critical items ran out. Kylie decided to take advantage of real sunscreen and real toothpaste while she still had the chance. She brushed her teeth, and rubbed sun block onto her exposed arms and her face.

"Are ya hungry?" asked Mungo.

"There's fish in the water. I could catch ya some," Mungo offered.

This was a sweet offer given how much work it sounded like. Still, a breakfast of fish did not sound especially appetizing. She also didn't want to wait any longer and risk the Kirbys waking up. "Nah, let's go."

Mungo collapsed the tent, and rolled it back up and into his pack. With both their packs on, there was nothing preventing them from leaving. Kylie looked out at the pristine pool and lamented that she had not had a chance to swim. She still had time before the Kirbys might wake up, but she decided against it. She hoped there would be other opportunities to swim along their trip.

As they hiked out that morning, Kylie was eager to put distance between her and the Kirbys; to put distance between her and the worries of Koala Bay. 

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