Our mint-in-box 1996 scale replica of the Sojourner Mars Rover, purchased off eBayer ‘tazfanatic’, was probably the best parcel we’ve received in the post all year. It was also the key to our adventure into Australia’s outback as it was destined to be the star in our small film to celebrate the second release of our Stargazers League collection.
The Sojourner Rover landed on Mars on 4 July 1997 after spending seven months blasting through space on its way from Earth. The tiny 30cm high space investigator was the first vehicle to successfully roam the rocky surface of Mars, beaming back images and atmospheric data to NASA headquarters. Sadly though after its 83 Martian days happily exploring the alien terrain, contact was lost with the little rover and it has not been sighted since.
We had conspired that since the had been rover that perhaps it was spending its sols discovering celestial objects on Mars. With this theory in mind we found ourselves driving through the alien expanse of the Victorian outback bound for Mungo National Park. Its dramatic sand and clay formations had romanced us on Google searches, peppering our dreams of shooting our little film amidst an ancient lunar landscape.
Our road trip from Sydney had been re-routed several times due to the seemingly limitless wet weather that had swept through before us, causing landslides and floods over our mapped route. We were only a few hours drive from Mungo and finding the roads to the park closed we reluctantly agreed to a night’s stay in Mildura. We opted out of a soggy night of camping and into what was to become a night of awkward Airbnb host/guest interactions. We chanced upon a photo of the Perry Sand Hills flicking through a local tourist guide and we decided dramatically over dinner we would leave at first light and head to the hills.
We arrived at the foot of the sand hills to find the 400 acres of red shifting sands deserted and marked only with the few footprints that curious tourists had left behind. The clouds that had been lurking above us all morning proceeded to dump their watery contents the moment we had set up our dune side picnic, resulting with us swiftly settling in for a car seat lunch. Safety bunkered in our little Suzuki capsule we waited out the downpour, which once ceased was replaced with bursts of wind we tracked at 50km/hour.
As the sun ventured out between the clouds being blown across the sky we too allowed ourselves to be blown across the dunes determined to shoot the film responsible for having us caught out in a sandstorm in the middle of nowhere. The gusts of wind saw our original storyline and shoot list discarded as we filmed what we could amidst the sand flurries. Toward the end of four sand-swept hours we found ourselves huddled together taking refuge at the base of a dune. The wind had been relentless and had filled Mark’s eyes with enough desert grit to cause them to continuously weep and render his eyes momentarily sightless.
We called a timeout and sought the shelter of our little car, managing to brew coffee inside as a second storm swept in. We watched as the small group of dune seekers that had assembled whilst we were filming flee the sands and hit the road with the storm behind them. Alone again as the sky brightened up and once again amongst the wind, we ventured out to capture the last of our shots before the afternoon light began to fade into night.
It was only back home we were able to finish uploading the footage we had shot against the red hills. As the waves of sand danced across the dunes and our little rover appeared on screen, the exasperation of finding sand in our hair, jeans and shoes for days afterward faded, as we came to appreciate the beauty of Nature’s passing wrath and the storms that were weathered that afternoon.