The road was rough and dusty, as usual. Two jackaroos, or Australian ranch hands, had been sent out from the nearest cattle station to perform their day’s labor. Their first order of business required them to head into some of the most desolate country that surrounded them.
In this part of the northern outback, that meant going into some of the most isolated pockets on the continent. Jackaroos like these were accustomed to living and working in the desert conditions, and their bronzed skin and weathered clothing testified to that. Still, even with an iron constitution, the trip to this remote area was a tough one, even by pickup. Not only would the road nearly jar a man’s teeth from his head, but as it was the end of the rainy season, the temperatures were beginning to heat up.
So the duo bounced along across the desolation. With nothing in sight, the pair talked and joked with each other to pass the time. As they slowly worked their way across the expanse, they spied something moving off in the distance. It was something unfamiliar, something odd and foreign to the regular scenery. They drove closer to investigate. As they drew closer, their curiosity only grew at the strange figure that rose and fell in the distance. Ever so slowly, the tattered pickup eased across the hot sand and unforgiving terrain of the Australian outback. As they approached, the two wide-eyed jackaroos looked at each other in disbelief. The mysterious figure they had found appeared to be a walking, stumbling and living skeleton. They had found a man by the name of Ricky Megee.
The story of Ricky Megee is a captivating tale of survival in the Australian outback. Although the story is one fraught with hardship and the reality of death, it all began with a young man full of optimism.
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Ricky had just landed a new job and was driving along a barren north Australian highway when he came across a group of stranded travelers huddled around their vehicle on the side of the road. Not wanting to pass a stranded person on this desolate stretch of highway, Ricky slowed down and pulled over. The group needed help to get their car going. Megee allowed a few of them to hop in his car so they could hitch a ride to the next town, where they could get help. The men piled in, and then … blackness. That is the last thing he remembers.
He woke up, naked in the middle of the desert, baking in the hot sun. Confusion overtook him as he tried to understand what had happened. He sat down in the shade for hours, pondering his predicament. Nobody in sight. No roads. No houses. No water. Nothing. Just desert. What was he to do?
Not being one to let pessimism crowd his psyche, Megee walked across the desert, barefoot and naked, to find help. Each morning he told himself that today was the day he would find help. His efforts proved fruitless, though, and he traveled for days without finding anyone. His best option, he soon realized, was to find a good source of water and to stay next to it. Fortunately, the rainy season was just ending, and the desert held pockets of water. He committed himself to one such waterhole and constructed a makeshift shelter.
After more than a week in isolation, Ricky was getting hungry. His stomach cramped, and his muscles ached from exhaustion. He knew he had to find food. Then, a lizard scurried past. Without even thinking, Megee lashed out and stunned the reptile, killing it instantly. With no fire, he improvised. He laid the lizard in the sun for a few hours and allowed it to dry. After that, he peeled the skin off and enjoyed his first bite to eat in the bush.
Over the course of his 71 days, Megee ate nearly everything he could find. Lizards, frogs, leeches, snakes, grasshoppers and caterpillars. Anything that slithered, crawled, scurried, or crept across the desert floor was fair game. In fact, he developed an affinity for certain kinds of frogs over others. Leeches, he said, are OK – but you must eat them quickly, otherwise they attach to the inside of your mouth.
Megee also ate plants. His rule for eating plants: If it tasted good, he ate it. This isn’t the safest way to test plants – in fact, it is dangerous — but he was fortunate. He mostly stumbled upon a few edible plants aboriginal people had used for millennia.
But as much as he tried, and as much as he ate, Ricky was slowly losing his battle with the desert. He was gradually starving to death.
After a few weeks at his first shelter, Megee decided he needed to move on. He found a different waterhole and constructed another shelter, and settled in for what he thought might be his last few days on Earth. His strength was failing, and he knew setting across the desert was fruitless.
He began to battle with the thought that he was going to die in the outback. He even mounted a cross on his shelter, marking what he believed was going to be his grave. He simply hoped his corpse would be found for his family.
In his weakened and gaunt condition, Megee also felt the need to block the entrance to his shelter at night. Dingos had been prowling around his camp, and he got the impression they were sizing him up for a meal. Each night he crawled into his shelter, hoping to keep the wild dogs out just one more night.
So it went … for 71 days. By the time the jackaroos stumbled upon him, he was only a gaunt figure of his former self. Previously a strong-and-stout chap at 233 pounds, he weighed a skeletal 100 pounds when the ranch hands arrived. He was emaciated, weak and tired — but he was alive.
What can we learn from such an amazing story of survival? First, finding shelter, water and food — in that order – are the priority. Second, a positive outlook is essential. He remembered friends and family, and the thought of seeing them kept him going.
Ricky Megee was able to stay alive in one of the world’s most inhospitable environments for more than two months. Could we?
Do you think you would have what it takes to survive more than two months in a desert? Share your thoughts in the section below: