It was February 1988. Darwin was hot and humid and 1500mm of rain had fallen since September. Despite this, the Club decided to put on a day trip and young Tony put his hand up to be Trip Leader. Someone suggested Chewing Gum Falls, as it was only about 30km along the ‘Old’ Stuart Highway from the township of Adelaide River, and the bush track, which we had previously made, in was only 4km in distance.
Chewing Gum Falls was our own name for the place, as I had led a number of ‘dry’ season trips to Wrigley Creek Falls, by pushing a track in on the outer boundary of Crown Land and Tipperary Station. One could see that water flowed in the wet season where the small creek tumbled over the escarpment, discolouring the rocks. The track included a couple of steep climbs, some flat marshy country and a creek or two. The area was quite remote and hidden from the naked eye. We had also found some unusual plants growing there and this made the place more interesting.
We met on the Saturday morning at 7am at the Axe, adjacent to the Berrimah Research Centre. The convoy was made up of 3 Suzuki 1300’s, 1 Nissan 720 Ute, a Mitsubishi L300 breadbox with a Lobo 2.6lt Conversion and huge tyres, a brand new 4Runner and two Range Rovers. The drivers of the last two vehicles mentioned, both had cans of VB in their hands at that time of the morning. Young Tony, being a single fella at the time, had a good-looking bit of skirt as his co-driver. She was wearing very little in the clothing department. I could see trouble brewing.
We set off at a steady pace and stopped at Adelaide River for refreshments and more beers, and then sped on to our turn off point, which was quite close to where the Daly River Road meets the Old Stuart Highway.
After as brief discussion as to how we were to tackle the track, which was about 300mm under water, Tony and his co-driver took off, beckoning us to follow. By this time of the year the spear grass can be up to 2 metres high in places and as no one had ventured down this faint track since the beginning of the wet, the trip leader was driving blind. Thirty seconds later he was down in the mud, having broken the thin surface crust of the soil. A quick snatch backwards and he was out of trouble. The fella in the L300 said that he had a better view of the scenery from up high, and thought that ‘his’ angle would be better. He barely made 200 metres when the van went down to its numberplate. This was a winch job. One of the fellas in a Range Rover winched him out, Fairlead in one hand, beer in the other.
Now at this stage, it might have been prudent to suggest, that we look for an alternative venue, for the day’s entertainment.
“Noooooo wayyyyyy”, said the Trip Leader, trying to impress his co-driver.
“I think,” he said, producing a map, ” that we if we could get up on to that ridge over there,” pointing at the map and with a wave of his hand, to a stony rise to the right, ” we could get to the track and cut out this boggy section. Then there is only the marshy bit to negotiate and from there on in the track should be hard.”
Well, we had to give the 4bies their all. Second gear low range, screaming up the rise, wheels spinning at top revs in the wet undergrowth, dodging Zamia Palms, and a rock or two. But we made it up to the top in typical club fashion, giving whoops of satisfaction as we thought we had achieved greatness.
“Err, mates”, said the fella in the 720 on the CB, still down below. “I think I will give it a miss, and go home”.
“What! Jim, you old woman!!!!” came the retort from the ridge.
“Oh, OK then, but reverse out, as the ground around you looks very wet”.
No, don’t take our advice.
He turned the 720 around, and it sank to the axles.
“If you are still here when we get back we will winch you out” the trip leader called out cheerily and with that we got back in to the vehicles and made our way down the incline on the other side.
From the higher vantage point we could pick a better track though the grass and palms and we managed to skirt the marshy bit. Feeling very pleased with ourselves we managed to crest the next rise to find another low-lying area which was inundated with water. Somehow we had forgotten about this one. It was pretty much flat country for about 100 metres and we could see our track on the other side traversing hard ground.
The Trip Leader gave it heaps and bogged just short of the hard ground. While he was winching I took a different tack through the mud and made about 70 metres with the muddies churning the soft stuff skywards. A winch job for me too. The rest of the participants only made it to the beginning of the swamp and bogged the two Range Rovers, the L300, the 4Runner and the other Suzuki.
We had no option but to return the way we had come to try to assist the others. This time with a higher gear and higher revs we made it back without incident. We also realised that this was the end of the trip as the way to the falls was now too badly churned up.
I managed to winch the Suzuki and the L300 out of trouble and on to higher ground. They in turn went to help the Range Rover boys while Tony and I set about helping the family in the 4Runner.
This is where the real story begins.
The 4Runner owners had only bought the vehicle two weeks prior and this was their evaluation trip to see how they would fit in with the club members and what sort of 4×4-ing we did. They had never been out bush in a 4×4 before and had no idea.
By now it was after midday and lunch was called for. We sat down for sandwiches while the vehicles settled down in the mud. A thunderclap brought us out of our reverie and we saw storm clouds approaching. This one thing we did not need right now, was more rain.
Tony said, as raindrops started falling, “Quick, I will snatch him out”.
“No”! said I, “the bloody Suzuki is too light, it won’t move the Runner, it will have to be a winch job”.
“Oh, stop arguing”, (the beer talking), ” the Trip Leader makes the decisions” said Tony, “and anyway I think you are wrong.”
I shrugged my shoulders and moved the Suzuki and the missus, out of harms way. The others attached the strap, with bow shackles to the proper recovery points on the Suzuki and the 4Runner. Now as the Suzuki did not come with recovery points from the factory. Tony had welded a steel hook on to the chassis frame of his little vehicle and it looked pretty strong. They placed a blanket over the snatch strap and Tony let the strap have a little bit of slack
“Now you get in your truck,” said Tony to the driver of the 4Runner, “and put the rear window down. Select Low Range reverse and start spinning the wheels slowly when I start to move….OK?”
“Now stand clear everyone”, Tony instructed.
The first snatch did not produce much. So Tony reversed and gave the strap a bit more slack. He then gunned the Suzuki and at the optimum point the 4Runner moved some centimetres. Encouraged by this, Tony reversed again and gave the strap about 4metres slack for the third attempt.
He dropped the clutch and took off.
As the strap tightened fully the blanket fell off on to the ground. Then there was a loud BANG! The welded hook could not take the strain and snapped off. It all happened in slow motion. The bow shackle was now a projectile hurtling back towards the 4Runner faster than a speeding bullet, or so it seemed at the time. Luckily, the hook had fallen to the ground.
The bow shackle passed through the tailgate, through the window glass and embedded itself halfway through a brand new Engel fridge.
Jaws dropped in awe. The 4Runner driver emerged from his vehicle slowly with his eyes as wide as saucers. His wife started crying and the kids didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
At the same time the fella in one of the Ranger Rovers took his eye off the winch job for the moment and burnt the winch out.
For while everyone was speechless.
It was raining now and we were getting wet. But we were so stunned, not much was said. I commandeered Tony to turn his vehicle around so that we could both winch the 4Runner out of the mire and with the two small winches, using snatch blocks, we managed to extricate the truck.
Then it took three winches to get the Range Rover out and by 4pm we were ready to head back to the bitumen. Easier said than done. It took a further two hours to do the 1km back to the Highway with two more winch jobs along the way.
Our off road excursion was 2km in distance overall and lasted 8 hours!
Once at the bitumen, the 4Runner occupants bade a hasty farewell and sped home. The rest of us made for Ida Hot Springs arriving there just on dark. We drank some beers and other stuff, ate cold food and slept on camp beds while the rainwater ran through the tents.
The next day the warm tropical sun soon dried everything out except those who were extremely hung over!
The 4Runner owners claimed insurance, had the truck repaired and traded it in on a Commodore. They never joined the Club. Once was enough with the Mad Hatters. Tony (a fictitious name to protect the innocent or guilty) got nowhere with the skirt and he laid low for a while. Jim, (also a fictitious name) managed to dig himself out of trouble and had left by the time we got back to the highway.