Anne called me up one day.
“Hey Willie, I would like you to take Wayne out bush and show him what it is like out there. I’ll pay for the fuel and throw some drinks and a bit of tucker in as well, OK?”
How could I refuse?
Wayne was eighteen years of age. He had just finished year 12 at school and was in a quandary what to do with his life. He had scrimped and saved his pocket and odd jobs money to buy a car when he left school and with the assistance of his parents had bought a brand new Suzuki 4×4 Ute. He had some idea that he wanted to do something related to tourism, but had never been out bush.
So on this Friday afternoon we set off for what was soon to become known as Kakadu National Park, in the Northern Territory. Wayne’s dad, Colin, came with me in my Suzuki Ute while my mate George accompanied Wayne in his. We had loaded the little trucks with food, fuel and of course a few slabs of beer.
We managed to get away before lunchtime and sped out on the sealed Arnhem Highway towards Jabiru in Arnhemland. At Jabiru we turned south along the road to Pine Creek and made for the Jim Jim Motel at Cooinda. The latter place was a bush pub and camp for weary travellers, tourists and hunters, which friends of mine, Tom and Judy Opitz, owned and operated. Tom and Judy had settled in the area in the 1964 after Tom had worked for Alan Stewart, a great character and a crocodile shooter of renown.
Time out at Cooinda was having a beer behind the Jim Jim Motel with Tom and Judy. Tom used to have a couple of 44-gallon drums and he became quite adept at throwing his empty cans in the open drums from a distance. Beer always flowed freely at Cooinda and this day was no different. We had brought some provisions out for them and after unloading sat around and chewed the fat for an hour or so. Time left us behind and I suddenly realised that we had better make a move if we were to camp before dark at Barramundi Gorge.
By the time we took our leave of Tom and Judy we were quite merry. I decided that to take the old track into Barramundi Creek, along the banks of the creek itself would be too slow as it winds in and out of the creek, and so I took a compass bearing some kilometres past the creek crossing on the Pine Creek road, and headed east.
We did not drive very far when we saw the biggest buffalo that we had ever seen in our lives. It was a bull and its horns were so immense that its head hung down under the strain of the weight. It ran away, naturally, and I gave chase, with Wayne following close behind. By this time of the year the cool fires had already burnt the dry spear grass down to stubble and new growth was evident with a tinge of green through the charcoaled ground. Visibility was good as I pushed the Suzuki along, trying to catch up with this buffalo for a photo opportunity. Being slightly impaired by the contents of numerous cans of beer at Cooinda, I threw caution to the wind, and increased the speed through the scrub, dodging zamia palms, coffee rocks and burnt out pandanus stumps.
It happened in an instant.
Out of nowhere, a buffalo waddy appeared.
Now the Asian Water Buffalo, Latin name Bulbalis Bulbalis, imported to Northern Australia from Indonesia in the early 1800’s, is adept to making a mud bath for itself to cool its skin down and to ward off those parasites such as leeches, which latch on to its skin. The buffalo would find a small depression where water was accumulating, and then lie in it and wriggle around to get it covered in mud. Quite often these mud holes stay wet for months after the monsoon and the buffalo use them all the time.
My little Suzuki hit the waddy at about forty kilometres per hour and it all happened in slow motion.
A wave of mud rose above the bulbar and hit the windscreen with a force. All the gear on the back of the Ute took off high into the air and crashed down on to the plain scattering food, swags and beer in all directions. I had hit my head on the windscreen with a thud and emerged from the little truck, dazed. George and young Wayne rushed up from behind with worried looks on their faces, which in turn became alarmed. Colin was lying on the ground clutching his head and moaning.
It took me a few moments to recover and then Wayne and George helped Colin to his feet. It appeared that he had hit his head on the rear view mirror and had sliced a nice cut from his brow to the top of his head. It was bleeding profusely.
“C’mon Colin,” I said, “Its not bad, just a little cut. Now you stand still while I fix this mess for you.”
I opened a can of beer and poured it over his head. It stung of course. I told him that the alcohol content had quarterising qualities and that he would not get an infection. I am not sure whether he believed me or not but gave in meekly as I set to repair the damage. I took some small band-aids and holding both sides of the wound together, bandaged it. It was still bleeding however and I did not have bigger bandaids or a medical patch. What to do?
Colin was still complaining while I rummaged around in my toolbox, which had not opened on impact, even though it was slightly bent. I found a broad roll of masking tape and with not too much ado closed the wound up with the heavy-duty tape. It stuck fast from the top of Colin’s eyelid to the middle of his head. Now, Colin, who was a mildly attractive male, trim and taut for a man in his fifties, with a shock of pure white hair, was rather vain about his looks. On more than one occasion he had been mistaken for the singer, Kenny Rogers. He kept that vain stance whenever there were females or male competition around.
“What about my head?” Colin said to me.
“It’s really nothing” I replied, “You would know how a head wound can bleed. It’s nothing. Anyway the bleeding has stopped. Here have another beer.”
Another two quick beers later and we were on our way to Barramundi Gorge. I was a bit more careful but nevertheless pressed on at a steady pace to arrive at our destination just on dark. We had to negotiate the creek first, which was still half a metre deep in water. But we made it through and set up camp on the clear white sands of the gorge entrance.
That night around a roaring fire we had more beers and talked for hours extolling on the delights we were experiencing out here in the wilderness with no one else to contend with.
Morning dawned and we rolled out of our swags to take a refreshing dip in the crystal clear pool of water at the base of the gorge. We rustled up breakfast of bacon, eggs and snags.
Colin wasn’t happy.
“My head hurts,” he said.
I cracked a can after breakfast and took a few swigs.
“Here,” I said, “get this in to you.”
Somehow Colin did not protest. Maybe he wanted to appear tough in front of Wayne, the latter being shown how tough we bush blokes could be. Half a dozen beers later we were back where we were the day before. Pissed!
We spent the day swimming up the gorge and climbing about the wonderful rock formations carved out by the rushing waters over the eons. We looked at the different plants growing in the area and followed small animal tracks to where they disappeared in to the foliage.
Colin seemed to forget about his head. It got wet but the masking tape stuck fast. The bleeding had stopped the day before and it looked as if the wound would heal well. What Colin did not know was the extent of the cut. It was about fifty millimetres long across the left side of his forehead.
Saturday night passed without incident. After we had had a feed, we sat around the fire talking and sank a few more beers. The next day we made our way back to Darwin taking a different route to explore other places. I made sure I drove with care and stayed as much off the highways to avoid the Blue Light Taxi Brigade.
Anne was horrified when she saw what state Colin was in and rushed him off to the Hospital for remedial care. Apparently it took the nurses quite a while to remove the masking tape. The wound was on the mend and there was little they could do but to advise Colin of his impending scar as the wound had not been treated professionally or stitched.
The years passed. Colin and Anne divorced went their separate ways. One day I was walking through the lounge of the Travel Lodge Hotel and there was Colin, entertaining a very comely looking female friend.
I said “Hello Colin, how are things?”
His words were whilst addressing his lady friend, “You see this bastard here?” pointing to me, “He was the one who gave me this bloody scar!!”
Ahhh! The Scar. It was a beauty.
Colin has passed on since this time. Vale Colin.