Hi-jinks on the Marraki Plains 1978

At around 8 in the morning the phone rang.

Would I like to join the others for a quick drive out to the Marrakai Plains to see if we could bag some wild pigs? We should be back home by 5pm.

Seemed OK to me!

A quick check with the missus and I was given some time off.

Missus said that I should take some oranges, an extra bottle of water and some sandwiches.

“Nah! A slab of beer would suffice,” said I. But she insisted.

Just as well!

 

While I was packing the open top Suzuki 4×4 my neighbour Don, looked over the fence.

“Hey, where ya going, Willie?”

“Pig shootin’ mate..wanna come with”?

“Yerrrr…..how long you gunna be”?

“Back at 5, latest, bring your rifle”

“Uhmmm….I have to be at a function tonight a 6”

“No worries mate, we’ll be back by then

“You sure? as it’s the Softball Association’s Annual Dinner night, and I am the President and have to make a speech”

“Yerr mate, I said no worries, promise. I’ve got the beer, you bring a sandwich or two”

(Oh gawd, what have I done! Never make promises which can be broken!)

 

We set off down The Track (as the Stuart Highway out of Darwin is fondly known by) to the 47 Mile Turnoff. There were three open top Suzuki 2stroke 4bies, a Daihatsu F20 and Murray, the hunt organiser, on a Yamaha 500 dirt bike. We sped along the bitumen highway as quick as the little cars could go, billowing blue 2-stroke smoke from the exhaust pipes.

By the time we got to the Adelaide River on the Old Jim Jim track after turning off at the 47 Mile, we were ready for a beer or two. Having beers that early in the morning cannot be good, but what the hell, we were on a high, of hunter’s expectations.

Soon after, we were wending our way along the cluttered banks of the Adelaide River. Wild bamboo and mimosa trees were taking over from the natural bush. Finding pigs was going to prove difficult, but, as luck would have, it we found a small mob grazing on the plain. Guns blazed at random and we soon knocked off a couple them. Then we tested the carcasses for tuberculosis by cutting a slit under the forequarter to check out for the colour of the glands. When blue they are supposed to be infected with TB. The pigs were positive and we left them there for the dingoes, hawks and crows.

The hunters spread out a bit and Don and I were driving along at slow pace when a full grown bull water buffalo came storming out of a mimosa thicket right in front of the little Suzuki.

“Oi, you!” I yelled and gave chase. The buffalo was loping along at a steady pace and soon I was close to him. Don had his 8mm movie camera running and was hanging on to the open windscreen with one hand, while half standing and filming over the top of the windscreen.

“Go closer!” yelled Don. I gunned the Suzuki and nudged the buffalo on its flank with the bulbar.

“That’s good. Wow”!

I nudged the buff again and he increased his pace trying to get away from me.

One millisecond later, or so it seemed, a small mangrove rivulet appeared out of nowhere. The buffalo stumbled and fell into the muddy depression, his front legs sinking deep into the mud. His momentum saw him roll over on to his back and his front legs came out of the mud with force, sending wet ooze into the sky. There was nowhere for me to go but forwards at that moment and the little Suzuki mounted the buffalo and came top rest on his belly.

The buffalo gave out an almighty bellow as the red-hot exhaust singed his hairy skin and it started thrashing about madly!

I slammed the gear lever into reverse and spun the Suzuki’s wheels, but we weren’t moving. The buffalo was straining to get up from its position underneath and was thrashing about with all four hooves. In this frenzy, the hooves were slamming into the body of the vehicle. Then I threw the gears into 4×4 and it flew off the buffalo. Trying to get away from it was my main objective and I kept on reversing as fast as the little truck would go without looking where I was going, and straight into a mimosa bush with its long prickly thorns!

The buffalo scrambled out of the mud, regained its feet, and came after us with a vengeance. Horns down and SLAM!, in to the bulbar. I thought I heard glass break. Then it came again and hooked its horn onto the bulbar and lifted the Suzuki off the ground. This time I nearly shit myself. Don let go of his hold on the windscreen and half fell out of little truck. I thought we were done for!

Just at that moment, as if in slow motion, Murray appeared on the scene. He spun the Yamaha in a wheelie right next to the buffalo. It diverted its attention immediately to this new threat and went after Murray. The latter sped away at speed and the buffalo followed. Both Don and I were dazed (apart from being a bit pissed), but could see the buffalo disappearing in to the dust.

Then came another loud BANG! as Rosco�s 30-06 went off and the gallant buffalo fell to its knees. It was dead where it lay, felled by a bullet right behind the ear and into the brain.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuuuuck you, Willie”!, Don screamed at me as he was trying to disentangled himself from the mimosa thorns.

“Every time I go anywhere with you, you get me into fucking trouble! I can’t see, I’m blind, I’m blind” he wimpered.

“Geezus Don, calm down, you only have some blood in your eyes”

“Noooo, fuck you, I am blind”!!

When we mounted the buffalo, when it was reclining in the mud, Don, who had the camera to his right eye, moved downwards on impact. The camera hit the windscreen and the eyepiece opened up Don’s eyebrow to a 5 mil cut. Humans bleed like stuck pigs from a head wound.

Everyone gathered round and we helped Don out of his predicament, poured some water over the wound and washed the blood out of his eyes. Rosco had a first aid kit, a needle and some cotton thread. Don wouldn’t comply. He was a stocky, well built bloke in those days, and it took five of us hold him down. We poured almost half a bottle of whiskey down his throat and while his brain was in a spin, Murray delicately stitched the wound with a needle and some cotton thread. We didn’t have any antiseptic for the wound so we sacrificed a bit more whiskey.

“Hell Murray”, I said, “That was quick thinking. You have saved our lives, mate. I owe you one”!

“Nah”! said Murray, “It was nothing. Anyway, Rosco saved mine”

I drove the Suzuki out of the thicket. The bulbar was bent, both the headlights and park lights were busted, the engine hood had a ding in it and both front side mudguards were dented. This was going to cost!

Don was moving about in a drunken state, muttering, “Fuck you, Fuck you”! His eye was starting to swell up badly and he was going to have a world class black eye!

Rosco and Murray cut some meat off the buffalo to take home.

Time passed.

“Take me home NOW”! Don yelled at us.

“No! I am definitely not driving with you, you crazy bastard”! Meaning me, I suppose. Don was upset, to say the least.

We gathered ourselves and started heading north towards the Arnhem Highway.

It wasn’t long before we came to another mangrove rivulet. This one was wider than the buffalo one. The first little truck in bogged right down and we snatched him out. We then proceeded to build a bridge out of bamboo saplings, leaves and any other foliage we could find. This took about an hour and we got all of the vehicles across. It was getting late.

Don looked at his watch with his good eye and exclaimed. ” Geesuz, it is 5 o’clock! I can see me missing the dinner. I fuckin’ hate you, Willie”!

There was no point in arguing.

All to soon we found out that we had built a bridge on to an island surrounded by mangrove swamps and that there was no way off, except to go back to our bamboo bridge.

We crossed the bridge again and it held up until the last vehicle came through. The Suzuki sank to its chassis in the ooze. On the third snatch it came out of the mud with a POP!

Then the sun dropped below the horizon. You can’t drive around the scrub in the dark. We were going nowhere!

We lit a big fire with dry timber collected in a hurry. We had some buffalo meat, two oranges, 4 beers and some water.
It wasn’t long before the mosquitoes came out in droves and had us at their mercy. Poor Don was hurting badly and groaning. He was afforded to sit in the Daihatsu, which had a closed cab. But it was too hot. The mosquitoes were relentless.

I was dressed in a singlet, shorts, thongs and a hat. I had an old post office mail bag which I had acquired somewhere. I cut a hole in it in the middle at the bottom of the bag and inverted it, sticking my head through the hole. This kept the mosquitoes off my body but not off my head and feet. The next day I would look like I had gone twelve rounds with a heavy weight boxer. Each and every one of us was the same. And we suffered that night!

Around 9pm, my wife Judith started getting worried and rang another friend, Mal. We were now four hours overdue. Mal said that he would drive out to Noonamah and find a high spot there to see if he could reach us by radio. We had three old VHF Radio sets in our 4bies. They were obsolete Telecom equipment, which we were able to buy at a low cost. Mal, who was a radio technician, used to alter them for private use and most of the 4WD Club members had bought one, from him.

Mal drove about 45 kilometres out of town, found a hill he had known of, and called us up close on 10pm. Although it was quite a distance to where we were, the radio waves carried his voice through and we were able to hear him quite clearly. This way we were able to get messages to all our relatives to put their minds at ease.

The night wore on. We tried some campfire yarns but we were all too tired. Don kept on moaning and muttering to himself. I think it was the worst night of my life. To top it all off we could hear traffic on the Arnhem Highway in the distance. It sounded so close from time to time but then faded away again.

As the sun rose the following morning the mosquitoes left us alone. Our faces and feet and hands were puffed up from all the bites. Don’s right eye was the size of a cricket ball and pitch black. He was morose.

In the early morning sun we tried to pick our way through the mimosa thickets, getting bushed every so often. It turned out that we were only about twenty five kilometres from the Arnhem Highway but it took us most of the morning to find the old Jim Jim Road. Finally we were on the bitumen and heading home and getting there just before mid afternoon.

Don was taken straight to the outpatient’s ward at the hospital. I went home and bathed my wounds.

 

 

 

 

Epilogue:

Don spent a day in hospital getting proper care and he was a week off work. He sported that humungous black eye for about two weeks before the swelling subsided. He recovered, however, and had no apparent health concerns pertaining to this injury in later life. Every time Don saw me during the following months, he said, “Fuck you”!, and walked away. But he got over it. We remained friends until I moved away from Darwin in 1992. I haven’t seen him since. I did get to see the movie. It was all blurred and there were some glimpses of the galloping buffalo. The sound however, was fantastic. You couldn’t show it to young kids though!

I was able to repay my debt to Murray a while later, but that’s another story, as they say.

I recall it cost around $300 to repair the Suzuki, which in 1977, was a big mob of money.

The years passed.

One day, Judith and I, were returning from lands far away. We had arrived in Perth, bought an old Landy, and a caravan, and had driven north to the Northern Territory. It was October and the monsoon build-up had started. It was hot, hot, hot, when we stopped at Halls Creek.

That evening we made for the pub and a few quiet beers.

We got talking to an old station hand in the bar. The conversation, whetted by a few more beers shouted to and fro, eventually ended up discussing four wheel drives. We mentioned we had had string of Suzuki’s over the years. The old fella’s eyes lit up.

“Maaaate, I heard a story about a crazy bloody bastard up in the Territory”

“Excuse me language, missus” he said, looking at Judith.

“But there was this crazy bloke who parked a Suzuki on a buffalo once”!!!!!…

 

Posted in 4x4 Travel Stories.