The first thing Sophie Matterson does at new camp spot, after she has unloaded the packs from her five camels, is to put the billy on and make a cup of tea.
In April last year, the 33 year old Brisbane woman set off on a camel trek from Shark Bay in Western Australia.
On Sunday night she was bedding down at the Bonalbo Showground in the chicken shed.
The camels, Jude, Delilah, Charlie, Clayton and Mac caused quite a stir at the Dog ‘n’ Bull Hotel in Bonalbo before Sophie headed to the showground.
Like Sophie, the camels haven’t spent a lot of time with people in the past months.
After working at a camel dairy in Queensland, Sophie fell in love with the “intelligent, full of character” camels.
She decided to trek 5,000km across the width of Australia from Shark Bay to Byron Bay.
She spent months preparing her wild camels, training them to sit and work as a team. She mapped her course with precision and contacted outback stations where she could stay along the way.
The trek across the Great Victoria Desert spans 700km and is a desert lesser known than the Nullarbor and Simpson.
“I remember feeling lonely in the Great Victoria Desert,” Sophie said.
“I called my Mum on the satellite phone. I was feeling isolated and so far away from anyone and I didn’t want to turn the phone off even after my Mum hung up.”
Sophie isn’t fundraising for a cause on her trek. She simply wanted to go on an adventure with the camels.
There was a lot of time in the desert when it was just her, the camels and the big desert sky.
People ask me if I’d sit back and look at the night sky, but really, I didn’t have time, she said.
So much of her time was spent making sure the camels had enough to eat along the way, feeding herself and after walking all day, she was tired and went to sleep early.
Sophie is all too aware of the comparison between her trek and that of Robyn Davidson in 1977. The book Tracks and subsequent film made its author famous.
Sophie has already had offers from publishers to write her story.
But her story or adventure isn’t over yet. After a four-night stay at Bonalbo, Sophie and the camels head to Doubtful Creek, Spring Grove and will spend the night at Eltham. They are avoiding the major centres of Casino and Lismore.
After Eltham, it is onto Byron Bay where they will hit the ocean at Sunrise Beach.
Then what? Sophie shrugs, she isn’t sure.
Life on the road with her camel buddies clearly suits her. She has chronicled the journey in photos and through a blog that could easily become a book.
Her gentleness and enthusiasm don’t reveal what must be a steely determination to be able to forge a journey that is almost at its end.
She unpacks the saddles and gear from the camels. She worries about the moisture in the air affecting the wound on Clayton’s hump. The green of the Northern Rivers also poses the problem of worms.
A woman trekking across the width of Australia with five camels is a romantic notion.
The reality is the hard work behind it. Sophie sips her tea from a tin mug as if it is the best thing she has ever tasted.
Tonight, she rests, and makes a second cup of tea as the camels chew the green grass in Bonalbo.