One Day in the Wet 1979

Up in the Far North of Australia, there are only two seasons. From May to the end of September the season is known as the “DRY” and from October until the end of April the season is known as the “WET”. During the dry season one could expect warm to hot days with cloudless skies and cool nights but during the wet season you could expect hot to very hot days, stifling humidity and lots of rain, which has a cooling effect. On an average rainfall could be as high as 2500mm per year. The ground gets soggy, the rivers rise, the flood plains go under water, the spear grass grows 3 meters tall and the insects come out in force.

It was a Sunday and as I recall, Judith was going to a Stamp Club meeting. So I rang my mate George and said,

“Do you feel like going for a swim at Florence Falls?”

George, still a single bloke at that stage, well, not married anyway, was always ready for a bit of adventure, replied eagerly

“Yep, sounds good to me ”

I think the year was 1979. I had this Suzuki LJ 80 Ute which I had bought new in 1978. I used this Ute to the max. Drove it to work, went four wheel driving and went camping. It was a red car with a white canopy. I fitted wide tyres and a smoke stack, which is an exhaust pipe which came up behind the driver’s cabin. It made a bit of noise. I had not fitted a snorkel at that stage but it was in the pipe line of modifications to make.

So with an esky full of ice and beer in the tray, a long rope (ex army stores) and “D” shackles and a High Lift Jack plus basic tools, we set off for a day of adventure.

“Won’t be late”, we echoed as we drove out of the drive way “back before sundown, anyway”.

The 130km out the Batchelor Escarpment was uneventful apart from the fact the George was still a smoker at that stage and I would not stop for a smoke break. So he tried lighting one whilst hanging out of the window. It was quite the funniest sight to see. All the major river crossings had running water in them but were only ankle deep and we crossed without problems. We knew that the lower plains track in would most likely be swamped and as we were on our own we decided to take the back road around Christmas Creek Falls and Walkers crossing, up the Jump-Up and over the Table Top to the top of Florence Falls. Once there we found that we had the whole place to ourselves. So we relaxed, swam in the top and bottom pools of the falls, ate our sandwiches which Judith had hastily prepared for us, and washed them down with copious amounts of beer.

Around about the middle of the day we noticed a build-up of clouds out over the western plains and soon it was clear that a good old wet season storm was brewing. These storms don’t take long to build up and once the dark clouds became menacing we jumped in to the Ute and started making our way back. We decided to take the lower track as it was quite a lot shorter in length and we were confident that we would get through. We slid down the escarpment along the rough track and made it to Florence Creek. After wading through to check the depth we decided that we could make it through. The water was about waist deep. We tied a tarpaulin to the bull bar of the Suzuki to serve as a blind and we were just about to attempt the crossing when a Toyota Diesel Ute with a bloke and two young girls in it appeared on the opposite embankment. They were lost and were worried about the impending rain storm approaching.

“Just hang in there” I said, “and help us out if we get into strife and we will show you a way out”.

Well, just as well that they were there as the Suzuki snuffed it in mid-stream, but without taking in any water. We were quickly hauled out of the water and were soon drying out everything on the other side. I told our new friends that there were three ways out. The lower swampy track, the middle track and the mountain track. We decided on the middle track and set off. After a couple of kilometres we came to a stream which was running shallow but quite fast. The bloke with the Toyota figured that he would drive through first and then pull us through and without walking through the crossing first he set off. As fate would have it he got hung up on a submerged log right next to a large paperbark tree in the middle of the stream. I raced over with the rope and was busy tying it on to the tow-bar when I noticed the water rising rapidly. It dawned on me that this was a flash flood.

“Get out, get out of the car” I yelled at the occupants, “the water is rising”.

They complied.

Just then the rain storm hit us. Raindrops the size of 20cent pieces hammered down on us and lighting flamed all around is in a blinding display. But there was no time to lose. I was still trying to tie the rope on to the back of the Toyota working under the water as it was rising. At last I was able to make my way back to the Suzuki. But the gallant little vehicle was no match for the weight of the Toyota and the rising flood waters and we could just sit there and watch in dismay as the Toyota went under as high as the roof lining and the Suzuki, which was 20 metres away, up to the top of the engine hood. Luckily the accident happened next to the paperbark tree and the Toyota was saved from being washed down the creek. I tried in vain to move both vehicles but to no avail. The rain stopped after about half an hour and we waited and watched and drank a few more beers.

Another hour passed before the waters receded enough to make an attempt to get the Toyota out and after three more attempts we were successful. Then came the clean-up. There was mud deposited in side the Toyota, the radio and tape deck as well as the CB had all gone under and worst of all the engine had taken in water.

“Not a problem” said Bruce, the Toyota owner, “I have spare oil in my toolbox. We will drain the oil, take the injectors out and blow the water out of the piston cavities”.

Well……………We did just that. About a litre of water came out of the sump along with the oil. But when he took the injectors out he neglected to remove the steel washers and as he cranked the engine, the steel washers flew out in to the long grass. We furtively searched for the washers and found all but one of the six. Now what? No worries said someone. Look this key ring is about the same size. So out with a hammer and using the tow hitch as an anvil we soon had a new washer. Sort of…….

Our repairs took another one and a half hours and we were mobile again. The Toyota was not very happy, billowing smoke from the exhaust and running rough. But it was running!! We took the mountain track out which was rough and muddy but otherwise uneventful.

At the Finniss River the water was just rising over the small bridge and we were able to cross without hitch. By the time we got to Tumbling Waters creek the water was up to my waist and flowing at a steady pace. So we decided to tow the Suzuki through with the Toyota. The trouble was that as the Toyota climbed the out on the other side of the creek it stalled and Bruce could not get it started as the battery was getting weaker. George and I were left to drift downstream in the Suzuki which had started to float.

“Get out and keep the doors open so that she can sink”, I yelled.

We did just that. There we were hanging on to the bulbar to stop the vehicle from drifting away over some rapids. Then the others came to help and we were able to haul the Suzuki out of the water. Then we had to jump start the Toyota. By this late hour we had run out of beer and so we did a good run down the bitumen to the Noonamah Pub.

After phoning all the loved ones to tell them we were safe and after a few more well-earned beers we were ready to drive the 42 kilometres home. But the Toyota would not start again and we did another jump start from the Suzuki. Then we made our farewells from our new found friends and said goodbye.

“George, you drive”, said I.

And off we went.

Now we do not know who was to blame as no one could remember who the last person was to fasten the bonnet after jump-starting the Toyota. Just as we reached our cruising speed of 100km/h the bonnet flew up, smashed the windscreen and put a dent in the roof and a dent in the bonnet. We were flabbergasted!!! What a disastrous day.

We limped home, very sober, despite all the beers to go and lick our wounds. Ah well, we can still talk about it and every now and then, around a camp fire somewhere. George relishes in telling this tale, embellishing it along the way.

Posted in 4x4 Travel Stories.