On the morning of our last day together as traveling companions with Wayoutback Desert Safaris, we wake to the sound of birds. We are not much more than 100 kilometers from Alice Springs, but well and truly in the heart of the outback. There are no amenities here that we have not brought with us. To reach the nearest toilet, our driver/guide points to the shovel and suggests walking a good long way from camp, well away from the water that has attracted all the birds.

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Most of us are soon mesmerised by the aviary all around us. This is a wonderland for bird watchers and long telephoto lenses. A large, awkward-looking baby hawk sits on a branch nearby, waiting for his parents to bring his breakfast. Flocks of budgies dart and soar in the sky overhead, gradually joining in larger and larger numbers until the sky seems covered with them. It is hard to imagine these same birds confined to cages, perched in solitary confinement in sombre cities around the world. Out here we can see them for the gregarious aerial acrobats they really are.

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One of our number wanders back to camp from a short walk and describes a creature Tamara thinks may have been a wild turkey. We are immersed in rich wonderland within a very dry jungle. it is magical, the perfect morning for our last day together.

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We take our time over breakfast and slowly gear up for our trip back to civilisation. Most of us have exhausted our store of clean clothes. Our one and only rendezvous for the day is with a lady named Loz, the host and spokesperson for the Oak Valley Aboriginal Community, due south of Alice Springs.

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As scruffy as we are, she takes us in. We are the Whitefellas who have shown up to hear her stories and to listen to the land. She shows us a hill full of rare fossils to start with, remains of the last retreat of inland ocean. We walk together through scrub bushland which should be rich with bush tucker, but it has been too dry. We scramble up to a sacred site replete with rock art.

She is full of stories, personal family history and tribal stories that connect her people to the land as powerfully as glue. By the end of the afternoon we will all fall under her enchantment. One story that stuck with me was about her uncle, if memory serves. Years of writing have failed to improve my memory and I am without notes.

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He lost his leg after being thrown from a horse. Despite being flown to a hospital in Adelaide, they best they could do for him was a wooden substitute. That didn’t stop him from riding, swimming swollen rivers, doing anything the young man wanted to do. In time, he made himself a better leg, articulated at the knee and ankle. Sent the old one back to the hospital as an offering.

It is time to go. We clamber back into Snooty for the drive to Alice Springs, the gathering of luggage, the brief goodbyes. Later on, a handful of us who are staying close to the centre of town will get together at a pub to drink a toast to the group adventure. In the morning, we will climb on metal birds to head our separate ways. Five rich and wondrous days will slip into memory.

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