Day 4 – The Creativity of Camp Cooks


Their day starts long before anyone else’s. Camp cooks Bill and Heather Anderson are up before the first glow of light warms the eastern horizon. The camp fire is still warm from last night.

A modern incongruous touch is provided by a bright red fire extinguisher propped against a tree. This might be The Borella Ride, recreating aspects of a soldier’s 1000 kilometre trek to sign up, but it’s being done with 21st century sensibilities, not the harsh reality of 1915.

Early morning the beauty of the Outback is convincing, even if we all know the sun will rise to burning heat by 11am. For now the wisps of smoke rising as Bill encourages small flames are framed against a blue-tinged distant shot of trees. The local birds are beginning to stir.

To keep 30 people on the road is no small feat. But it’s more than the daily supply of calories needed here.

Morale is just as important as the physical upkeep of people who are facing every day hundreds of kilometres of road, and the enormous distances of the Outback coupled with little in the way of variety beyond the occasional rocky outcrop or a small river.

That’s why culinary adventures such as lamb shanks in sauce are greeted with enthusiasm, followed by positive cheers at the sight of roasted bananas stuffed with chocolate and marshmallows. (Given where they were introduced, these are now known as Renner Banana Benders.)

Variety is set every day on The Borella Ride by the cooks, who have delighted in difference even at breakfasts, with egg and bacon one day followed by homemade hash browns the next.

It’s all done too by traditional means, with a minimum nod to modernity given by a pair of gas rings supplementing the cooking fires in barbeque emplacements. One of the gas rings went Absent Without Leave for a few days, hijacked by misplacement into one of the many vehicles needed to support the Riders and their horses as steady progress is made up the Stuart Highway. It returned to enthusiastic greetings, but in the meantime the camp ovens had been put to new ingenuity.

The team mentality of the Ride is “one in all in” and there are plenty of volunteers to step up for potato peeling, cutting onions, opening cans, or whatever is necessary. But the initiative and direction and the vast bulk of the work is done by Heather and Bill, a husband and wife team. Camp cook Heather Anderson has cooked for large groups of children in Outback situations, although she normally works in Waikerie, South Australia, as a hospital administrator. With her three boys now well off her hands, Heather is fitting more travel into her life, but it’s generally around Asia rather than the Outback. Husband Bill has much more of a background in the vast interior: he spent 30 years as a Telstra Outback technician, and then turned his survival skills to hosting overseas children’s groups in Australian bush adventures. He lives with Heather near the Murray River in South Australia and spends time restoring boats as well as travelling overseas.

Bill especially admits some of the interest in the Borella Ride was from a fascination with the military history of Australia. Recently he walked the Kokoda Track in memory of his mother’s brother William Ramsey of the 2/10th Battalion, killed in the Buna campaign in World War II.

Albert Borella would have hunted his own game, most likely each night, with the rifle or shotgun that was as much essential equipment a hundred years ago as was a hat or billy. But Borella had no refrigerator to be plugged in on horseback, and so each day would have been a survival battle.

The Borella Ride by comparison is getting it rather easier, but even so it’s a challenge. It’s one made all the easier by the skills of two incredible camp cooks.

The Borella Ride continues up the Stuart Highway.

By Dr Tom Lewis, Lead Historian for The Borella Ride

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