We ate an early camp breakfast (poached eggs, canned spaghetti, bread rolls, tea) in the relative cool of six a.m. The sun was just an ominous red glow on the horizon.
Around seven, just after the sun's first rays hit the tops of the trees, the cockatoos and galahs started their racket. They perched in their hundreds on top of the concrete water tower, dropped off in graceful dives, flew around in ragged circles.
By eight we'd packed up the tent and moved on.
Mid-morning found us at Tocumwal, on the New South Wales side of the Murray river. People retire here to fish, boat and do nothing.
Just out of town lies what was once a World War Two airfield. Purpose-built in 1943 as a USAAF base during the height of the Japanese assault on the Pacific, it was at the time the largest airfield in the Southern Hemisphere. Three of seven hangars remain - massive concrete, timber and iron constructions - a fourth burned down a couple of years ago after a farmer filled it with hay which ignited.
Displays in the museum section of the airfield include a wealth of historic photographs and printed materials but unfortunately no actual Liberator bombers. After the war when manufacturing materials were in short supply, smelters were brought onto the runways and the 'planes were turned into aluminium ingots. In the 'fifties, you were probably driving around in a recycled Liberator.
39 degrees by early afternoon.
For lunch, we ate sandwiches made with fresh bread, cold meat, lettuce and tomatoes purchased from the small supermarket. During the afternoon, we paddled in the Murray river, shaded by the massive river gums that line the edge of the river.
Later, we retired to possibly the quietest country pub I have ever visited, tucked away in a back street of Tocumwal (which would be one back from the main street), for a VCB. One or two customers, farmers, finished their beers in silence and went off with a genial wave in our general direction.
Left Tocumwal around nine. The atmosphere was already a furnace.
Crossed back into Victoria and wound through Goulburn Valley orchard and wine country. Stopped for lunch (pre-made salad sandwiches in the ice-cooler) at a tiny town whose name escapes me, parking in the only shade we could find, a bunch of peppercorn trees outside the school, empty for the holidays. The town itself seemed vacant but was probably just sleeping in the intense heat. Sunblinds down over windows closed like eyes.
An hour or two down the road, Nagambie was baking in the afternoon sun, but look at the lake! tempting and cool. We headed for a camping ground we had stayed at eight years ago - but it had been permanently closed late last year. Fortunately, around the other side of the lake we found a cabin - right by the water. And air-conditioned!
We checked in at a small, run-down office in which a ginger cat was dozing on the desk, then dumped our gear in our cabin and went straight down the short hill to the lake's edge. People lay under shade trees, teenagers swam. We melted onto the grass with a book and the newspaper.
The 38-degree afternoon unravelled, shedding hot golden shards of light higher and higher in the trees; gums, straggly pines.
A head bobbed out across the water. Followed by another. One human, one canine. A Labrabor? They disappeared into the horizon. The other side of the lake is several hundred metres at least. After a while, the heads were visible again. They moved slowly closer and eventually reached the shore. They had been swimming for at least an hour; the dog - a shaggy, wet Golden Retriever and an old man. What a life.
The sun was almost gone when we went back to our cabin for a late dinner of cold fried chicken on lettuce, quartered tomatoes, wedges of cheese, celery, bread rolls.
The air-conditioner hummed, coughed, stopped and started through the night. Next morning, there was a mewling at the door. It was the ginger cat. I gave it a piece of left-over chicken and a saucer of milk.