WHAT ARE THE ODDS? A rare chance meeting of Mildura locals in the Kakadu National Park in late February was good news for celebrity cook Stefano de Pieri and his son, who had found themselves lost on a track to nowhere! Thankfully Michelle Nightingale, PICTURED with Stefano, was on hand to help save the day! Main photo: PAUL MENSCH

By JOHN DOOLEY

IN what could only be described as a billion-to-one chance meeting, Mildura’s resident celebrity cook Stefano de Pieri and his son, Domenico, were trekking back to their car after visiting the Aboriginal rock art gallery in the Kakadu National Park, when they walked smack bang into some people from Mildura they knew – and just as well! 

It turns out Stefano and his son were lost. They had inadvertently taken the wrong track while returning from their visit to the gallery, and were starting to realise that they were a long way from where they had parked their car.

Then, to their amazement, they literally walked into fellow Mildura residents Michelle Nightingale and her husband, Leigh, who were on their way to see the rock art.

“On our way back from visiting the gallery of rock art we had chosen a path thinking that it was the right one, but I soon started to get suspicious, because instead of going around the mountain, we were going away from it,” Stefano said.  

“We’d been walking a while in the heat, it was about two o’clock in the afternoon, and suddenly I saw two people, and as they approached, they removed their sunglasses and they looked at me, and I looked at them and I said, ‘I know you’  – it was Michelle from Mallee Foods and her husband. What are the chances of that? One billion to one! – it was like winning the lottery.”

Stefano said that the odds of that happening, particularly because they were virtually the only people in the park because it was still the wet season, were infinitesimal.

“To see anyone – let alone some people you know from Mildura – is incredible,” he said.

Michelle is manager at Mallee Foods, which is owned by her brother. Leigh works for Crystal Mines in Pooncarie during the week.

Stefano is a long-time client of Mallee Foods, from whom he purchases product for his restaurant. 

Needless to say, Michelle and Leigh were also amazed to run into Stefano and his son.

“Leigh and I were walking along this remote track, there was nobody around, and we were confronted with a choice – to take another track, or stay on the one we were on,” Michelle said.

“We were on our way to see the Aboriginal rock art and thought, ‘Will we do it today or tomorrow?’ I said, ‘Let’s do it today, we’re here now’, and so we followed the long track.”

Michelle said that it was an oppressively hot and humid day, and so they had ‘armed’ themselves with bottles of water, slapped on the sunscreen, sunnies and a cap, before heading down the track.

“The first thing we encountered was a wild boar, who was basking in a mud pool and fortunately, it didn’t take any interest in us!” she said. “The next thing we knew there were two people walking toward us, and as they came closer, we all stopped and looked, at which point I said, ‘Oh my god, what are you doing here?’

“To our amazement it was Stefano and his son. They were equally amazed and Domenico said, ‘Okay, you obviously know each other!’”

Michelle said that she could tell that Stefano and his son where a little distressed, because they had been walking for a long time and realised they may be lost, although they weren’t panicking.

“It was obvious that they were very hot and track-weary, and as they explained their predicament to us, they gratefully drank the cold water we were able to provide,” she said.

“We offered to give them a lift in our car back to theirs, but initially Stef said no, they’d be okay, and we went our separate ways.”

However, when Michelle and Leigh returned to their car park after seeing the rock art, they found Stefano and Domenico waiting for them.

“When we got back from seeing the rock art they were waiting for us, and were then very appreciative to accept a ride back to their car,” Michelle said.

“When we headed-off to find Stef’s car, we all realised how lost they were, they had a taken a wrong turn somewhere and were about seven kilometres from their car – a 15-kilometre round journey, which in that heat was a long way.

“They’d been walking since eight in the morning, and it shows you how easy it is to get into trouble in a remote region with no one else around.”

Stefano explained to the ‘Weekly how he came to be in the Northern Territory, and what had prompted a visit to Kakadu at the tail-end of the wet season.

“I was in Kakadu in late February with my 26-year-old son, who has been doing an ‘elective’ in Katherine as part of his medical degree, and I met up with him in Darwin and we drove in his car to Kakadu,” Stefano said.

“He had chosen the hospital in Katherine because he wanted to work in Indigenous health. 

“His medical supervisor was Dr Simon Quilty, the Chief Medical Officer in Katherine, whose brother is actually Ben Quilty – a very famous painter – who painted a striking portrait of convicted drug smuggler, Australian Myuran Sukumaran, before he was executed in Bali.”

Previously, at the commencement of his elective, Domenico’s mother, Donna, had taken him up to Katherine by car, and then she flew back to Mildura from Darwin, this meant Stefano’s son had a car while he was working up there.

“After he finished his elective, I flew up to Darwin, and he picked me up at the airport and then on the way back to Katherine to collect his gear, prior to us driving back to Mildura, we went into Kakadu National Park,” Stefano said.

“There is a mountain with some beautiful Aboriginal rock art, and so we started walking around it and we got to the gallery, but after looking at the art, we lost sight of the path back to our car.

“We took what was a very visible path, thinking that must be it, but it wasn’t. Thankfully our Mildura saviours were at hand and fate stepped in to guide us back to civilisation. It was a miracle really!”