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Duncan's pit crew have that sorted. Friends of Duncan's father, Craig Saunders and Gary Thompson have been coming to the Finke for 20-odd years but are now "too old" to race, says Saunders, whose Adelaide company makes tile-laying tools. "Craig put my bike together," says Duncan. "Special gearing, steering damper, long-range fuel tank." Now, between beers, the mates are assembling a spa bath. They've just hauled a white enamel tub off the back of their ute. "We've brought our own water," Saunders says in a big blue plastic drum. "We've brought everything," Thompson adds, lifting down a portable generator and a vacuum cleaner. "You hook it up to this" a black hose with holes in it that runs around the inside of the bath "set it on blow, and voila! Bubbles."
Among the gravel dunes between township and river, a tent town is sprouting. People stretch tarpaulins beside utes and four-wheel-drives, and unload swags and camp chairs, toolboxes, fuel cans and Eskies. A man unboxes a Coleman Hot Water On Demand portable shower while another strips to his undies behind a car door. A Thrifty rental van crawls by, towing an orange buggy. In the KTM tent, the motorbike mechanics are hard at work. "The shockies look stuffed," someone says.
The riders and their crews soon will be. At the Finke Diner marquee, a team of volunteers are firing up the barbie to cook 1,000 steaks, 1,200 sausages and 50 dozen eggs. A rider wheeling a blue-and-yellow Husaberg bike looks in hopefully. "Give that man two steaks," says tent manager Mark Long. "Husaberg's the bike I ride," he explains. "How was it?" he asks the rider, Mick Bolger, who's from the Gold Coast and on his first-ever Finke. "Bloody non-stop," Bolger says. "You couldn't see for dust."
Nearby, half a dozen kids are staging their own rally, taking turns to ride a small mountain bike. "Now turn around and come as fast as you can this way," says the six-year-old race marshal. The rider pedals furiously, wheels churning the sand. "Come on!" his friends call. "You can go faster than that!"
The big crowds here are not at the finish line, where the track is straight and flat, but on a rise just past the river where the speeding bikes soar into the air and bounce onto the track. Richard Doolan, wearing a yellow baseball cap and a day-glo orange vest, surveys the action through dust-covered bifocals. "I used to race," he says. "Learned to ride when I worked on a station." Now he's an official, keeping a special eye out for No. 619, his nephew Malcolm. "This is my grandfather's country," Doolan says. The river, which geologists estimate is 350 million years old, is "part of the dingo Dreaming. The dingo came in from the desert and saw the emu and chased it. The tracks he made are how the river was created." More recently, the Ghan railway ran through here. When it was moved to the west in 1980, the rail workers' camp of Finke was renamed Aputula: "It means dingo-emu." But even residents still call the town Finke not least because of the event that keeps it on the map. "The local people are really proud of the race," Doolan says. "We have a big sports day for the kids. Aboriginal people come from everywhere. We make a park for the campers, put piles of firewood for everyone, set up toilets. We want people to enjoy it."
The Original Tool Company team is determined to. While Duncan changes out of his race gear and does some stretches, Saunders stokes the barbecue coals under the spa and turns on the bubbles. When Duncan's fellow rider, newbie Shah Manning, arrives, Thompson will start cooking dinner. No sausages here, though: "We feed 'em carbs. Pasta." They've brought a sound system, too. And "heaps of fireworks." Who cares if the road is rough, the day is hot or the river is dry? Thompson smiles like a man who's in on a secret. "This is the best place in the world to be."