Day 3 – Renner Springs an Oasis for Borella


Renner Springs is on a highway to nowhere, or so it seems. But for Albert Borella a century ago, it was an oasis. It was where he transitioned from walking to riding – and for that reason alone it would have lived in his memory forever.

Alan and Christine Revell are the owners of this present day oasis on the road north or south, depending on whether you’re coming or going to the great Top End.

The Borella Ride trickles into their roadhouse one by one through the day. First is the advance team, four wheel drive laden with all of the extra materials than seems to never find a place: signage for the side of the road; traffic control bollards, someone’s bag that didn’t make the big truck.

Then one of the 4WDs and a trailer, again laden to the limit. Then the two camp cooks, Heather and Bill Anderson, with the trailer cold room and the dry goods on the back of the ute. There’s got to be less every day, observes Bill, as he alights, with the food consumed every day by the team.

The real focus is the Borella Riders, back some 30 kilometres or so on the road. Or the Borella Walkers, if you like, for today is the last day of the walking section. We caught them some time back. Our speedo was reading 130, and the air-conditioner on four out of five. It’s in the high thirties outside, but inside it’s comfortable. We have cold water and we have a few snacks left over from breakfast.

In the distance can be seen a flashing orange light. It’s the rear traffic control vehicle. We slow to catch the convoy, and then pass the rear vehicle at a walking pace.

In the adjoining lane – and then we pass them and take our place in line – are three of the Borella Riders.

We all feel collectively guilty as we pass.

It’s a wonder Albert Borella just didn’t quit and go – anywhere! – just to avoid this immense journey. And he did not know if he would be accepted by the armed forces, and he did not know if he would survive the war then enveloping the world in 1915.

To plod on, setting one foot in front of another, in the immense empty distance and heat of the Outback, takes tremendous fortitude. It is tough even today for the Riders, who know they have a support team, a good meal ahead of them and a cold shower at Renner Springs, where the roadhouse is cool and shady, with peacocks out the front and a range of cabins out the back.

Tonight is a minor stop – there are only a few score people living round here. But Ted Egan will sing a little; there will be some of the Travelling Display put out for anyone passing, and the son of the VC soldier, Rowan Borella, 81, will present a framed set of medals to Alan and Christine the owners. Over the next three years and beyond travelers will read of Borella – a great traveller and a great soldier.

The rest of the team arrives over the course of the day: camera people; traffic controllers, Danny Mellow driving the Pantech with Borella information all over the sides. What makes these Australian’s test their mettle in this way?

Pride in Albert Borella of course, the sole Territory soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Pride in Australia’s Outback, the enormous northern sprawl which test endurance and effort and has much to offer.

And a willingness to test themselves to see if they are made of the same stuff: the dogged determination that characterized Albert Borella VC’s battles in both war and peace, and which brought him home with the highest honour of all.

The Borella Ride continues up the Stuart Highway.

By Dr Tom Lewis, Lead Historian for The Borella Ride

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