Australia 1976 to 1982
The next two days we looked for cars and eventually settled for a Ford Panel van. I wanted to buy a new Suzuki 4×4 for less money than the Ford but was overruled by Judith. The third day we were on our way north up the Hume Highway to Sydney, and then the Gold Coast in Queensland.
Once at the Gold Cost we started looking around for a suitable place for Judith to set up a flower-shop. Selling flowers and making flower arrangements. We found a place in a new development in Cavill Avenue called, The Mark.
The Mark had been built with the purpose of having a shopping centre on the first two floors and residential units on the five floors above. The owners were Brits who had sold a factory in England and had come to Australia on a Business Visa with permanent residence promised.
Judith’s little business pottered along but we needed more money to survive. We started out living in a unit, but when we acquired a female Dobermann the owner told us that having a dog was not allowed but he had a house to rent at a cheaper price close-by. The house was very rustic, full of cobwebs and mould but we washed it and scrubbed the walls and it came up a treat. The owner was very happy and said if we could paint the inside of the house, we may have some free rent.
I saw an advert in the local paper for a Bread-run. After an interview I was told where to get my bread, which I would buy and resell in in the suburb of Woodridge. Buying into this business cost $1200. I paid but wrote on the receipt ‘subject to a contract being signed within 12 weeks. And off I went delivering bread. Get up in the wee hours of the morning, pick up your bread from the bakery and off you go. Drive a along the highway about 60 kilometres to the suburb and deliver bread to existing customers and may be pick up other customers along the way. I was running all the time and most house were tropical ones, elevated from the surface of the ground. Customers would put their money out for breads and on the whole, they were very good. I had little trouble with dogs barking or having a go at me, nipping at my heels. After expenses I was making about $100 a week. But the job called for being very fit. The old Ford we had was getting hot and I decided to trade it in on a new Ford Escort panel-van. It was bright red,
The twelve-week period came and went and one day I slipped on something on the stairs of a house and fell heavily breaking my right kneecap. I managed get home and checked in to the hospital in Nerang and they looked after me. I rang the company I was supposed to be contracted to and explained my situation. They were sympathetic but said that they could muster another buyer straight away and goodbye to me. I went to a Solicitor in Surfers Paradise, told him my tale of woe and showed him my receipt. He reckoned that I had been smart. He wrote a letter to the company and charged me $50 and I received my cheque back within a week.
Judith plodded along in her little alcove making a meagre living. While I took on collecting waste paper from high rise apartments and selling those in Tweed Heads across the border of Queensland and New South Wales. In the mean time I had bought a cute Suzuki 4×4 539cc 2-stroke. I traded a Ford Fairlane in as it stopped opposite the car-yard and refused to start. The Zook had a striped canopy and that caught my attention. We scraped all our pennies together to pay for the Zook. Then I wanted a CB Radio and had to take out a loan for that. On top of that I bought a large covered trailer from a bloke I had befriended who ran the Shell Servo in Surfers Paradise. I only had half the money and he let me have it on credit. He even let me take it to the Northern Territory where I put it to good use and paid it off two months later.
But I am getting ahead of myself. While Judith and I were scraping an income together, what with paying rent on Paradise Island and paying a trailer off. I also had a motorbike but one day, on a wet street I slid in under a bus and decided that it was not for me and sold it for the same price I had paid for it. I was getting bouts of severe asthma and Judith had to rush me to Southport Hospital on more than one occasion. We decided to go back to the Northern Territory. I flew to Darwin to find work and was offered a job in vehicle parts and also the same type of work at another company. There was labouring work as well but, in that heat, it wasn’t too attractive. I flew back to Brisbane where Judith collected me. We sold off most of the furniture we had brought from South Africa in a container, to get enough money together for the journey to the north. We packed all our gear plus our Cockatoo ‘Snowy’ and his cage. I had drilled holes in the side panel of the trailer for him to get some air. Our Doberman ‘Tique’, loved the Suzuki and was happy to sit on her bed and watch the cars.
I think that the towing capacity of the Suzuki was about 600kg.I found out where the closest weighbridge was and that it operated 24/7 so that trucks can use it to gauge their load.
We left in the dead of night and soon after weighed the trailer at the weighbridge. It came in at 1710kg, almost three times the legal weight.
Knowing that the Scenic Rim and steep mountain passes lay ahead of us, we decided to head up the Bruce Highway of the Queensland coastal region to about Ayr in the Far North where the Great Dividing Range is at its lowest point.
To get going I had 4×4 mode locked in High Range until we had built up enough speed to revert back to 2×4.
We crossed the Storey Bridge at about 3am and got through the city quite quickly as most traffic lights remained Green. Somewhere along the highway we stopped and sat in our seats and slept fitfully.
We had breakfast at a roadhouse. The road was hilly in places but luckily there were overtaking lanes. I talked to the trucks as they came up behind me and explained my slow pace. They just laughed and crawled past us up the hills. When we told them that we were heading to Darwin they just whistled and wished us good luck!
I always wanted to go to Rainbow Beach which starts at the small hamlet of Noosa where there were some shacks on the banks of the Noosa Inlet, the Noosa River and Noosa Heads which was the water passage out to sea. There was also a nice swimming beach. We saw a sign that read Noosa and turned off the highway. We had never been along this road and it soon started climbing up and up and I had to stop to put the Zook in Low Range so that the little engine and gearbox could take us up the hill. It was seriously steep and we breathed a sigh of relief when we reached the summit. He engine was almost boiling. There was a car workshop and a café and we grabbed a few sandwiches to give us some energy. We were told that we were driving across part of the Great Divide and there were even steeper hills up ahead that we may not get over them. I asked the Service Station owner if I could hire his ute to take the trailer down the hill but he refused point blank and told me that I was stupid and will have to get myself out of this mess myself. And so, we took a deep breath, put the little car in Low Range first gear and gently eased her down the hill. At the steepest part I had my foot on the brake as well and with all wheels locked up the weight of the tailer kept on pushing forward. All four tyres were screeching and so as to save the tread of the tyres I had to release the brakes for a few metres and then on again. I even had the handbrake up. Near bottom I took the Zook out of gear and let her run and she swished down the road silently. But then we could see the T junction up ahead and wondered if we would pull up in time before smashing in to the embankment on the opposite side of the road. We brace dour selves as I pumped the brakes hard and managed to stop right on the T of the T-junction. I think we got some grey hairs that day. At the side of the road we opened the back of the trailer to see how Snowy was doing. Well, he had got bored and had eaten everything within his reach. Luckily it was only a light shade and some towels. He had eaten great chunks out of them. It was time to take him with us on the rear open space behind our seats.
I tied Snowy’s cage to the corner pillar of the rear part of the canvas hood and he had a thorough good time. screeching at the passing cars. We found a road heading in the direction of Noosa Heads and a while later when we stopped at a motel a little short of Noosa Heads. We stayed two nights and left Snowy with the motel owner for entertainment and set off to drive the sands of Rainbow Beach.
We took the rough track and then crossed a sandbar to get on to the beach. It is 23 kilometres long and is hard packed. It is best to drive it when the tide turns to recede and as it takes 12 hours before the tide starts coming in again there is plenty of time to drive it.
The steep dunes at the base of the beach display a variety of colours most likely created by the leaching of water through the area turning organic waste into intense colours.
We spent a lovely few hours swimming and walking the beach and at one stage had Tique running beside the 4×4. At Rainbow Beach we took the backtrack through the sands to avoid dipping the Suzuki in the salt water as the tide was coming in and there were a series of rocky outcrops to cross. We were able to hose down any sand on the Zook after purchasing some sweet things at the Deli.
Back at the motel we collected Snowy. And went out to look for some food.
The next morning, we were back on the road to Bundaberg and then Rockhampton. From there onwards the road was starting to get better. In those days some of the coastal road was still gravel and we were warned that the road may be washed out along the way. So, we opted to take the road in the valley of the Mackenzie Ranges. Then we had the misfortune to be accosted in a Road Rage (unknown in 1970) for no reason other than we were super slow. The Hooligans would stop dead in front of us so that I had to brake to avoid a collision. Then they tried to push us off the road as I was unable to stop in time and went past them. They accelerated to pull alongside us and yelled abuse. So, I dropped back and stopped they all got out of their car and started walking towards us. I had my rifle in its case in the back of the car and deftly slipped it out. In slow motion they turned and ran as I fired a shot, over their heads. They were gone and out of sight within seconds and we were safe again. I worried for a while as they could call the Police but we sailed through Sarina and Mackay and found a camp on a beautiful beach at what is now known as Hillsborough National Park. The beach had jumping stones which bounced on the rocks if you dropped them. We spent two days camping there and swam at the safe swimming beach and lazing in the shade.
Two more days of driving at 70 kilometres per hour and we climbed the low range on the edge of Bowling Green National Park. This name has always intrigued me. Nightfall and we pulled up at an obscure pub along the road west of Charters Towers where the owner had a large black pig as a pet. A few beers lots of laughs and they wanted to get us in to the local Sunday Cricket match. We pitched our tent in the dark after having a feed of pub food which was good as per the norm. Early morning saw us pull out on to a misty environment, deciding to get ahead and give the day’s cricket a miss. Everyone was still asleep or most likely nursing hangovers from the camaraderie of the night before.
We were now on the Flinders Highway, driving ten hours per day for roughly 600 kilometres. We estimated we would take another four to five days to get to Darwin. The road was reasonably flat. The Suzuki only had a 40-litre fuel tank and we made quite a number of fuel stops. Luckily on the highways north there were enough fuel outlets. We did carry spare jerrycan full of petrol with us for just in case.
The journey was uneventful except for a near accident. A fierce side draught wind caught us and the caravan started swaying side to side. Not having the power to accelerate out of it a applied the brakes gently first and as we slowed down, I put more pressure on the pedal. We stopped dead but the trailer kept on moving and pushed the back wheels off the road surface, bending the A-frame. I put the wheels into 4×4 mode and levelled the rig out before inspecting the damage. We spent the next hour using the hydraulic jack to straighten the frame again. After that we sailed on to Darwin. Our last camp for the trip was at Long Airfield, between Pine Creek and Hayes Creek.
Upon arriving in Darwin, we bought a newspaper at the Berrimah Bush Shop to check out the adverts for units or caravans to rent. We made for Nightcliff and rented a caravan off ‘Honest’ Bill Collins, Car Salesman. He was a likeable bloke, and we got on well. We told him we will rent by the week and give him fair notice when we are going to move to a unit.
We got jobs straight away. Judith in the Deli at Woolworths (which she hated) and I was picking up labouring jobs every day. And then a company which was rebuilding cyclone damaged houses got me to knock out all the wall panels and take all the broken bits to the Tip with my trailer.
About a month later we moved out of the caravan to share a Unit across the street with Stig, Michelle and Nick. That was good while it lasted. On Saturday nights we used climb up on to the roof of the units, take our chairs and an esky full of beer with us and watch Speedway for free as the track was still at Nightcliff. We all got on fine but Nick would not pull his weight doing dishes and tidying the unit so we forced him out. This of course meant we had to pay more in rent between us. A couple of months later Stig and Michelle were going south and we gave up the unit and moved closer in to town to Mary Street, Stuart Park. Meanwhile, when we lived at the units, we met George and Maureen. George had a unit by himself and had any number of girls with him sharing all. Maureen became a lodger and used to organise dates for George. Well, as things go, George bought some land at Sabine Road, Millner and caravan and started building 3 units. Maureen moved in with him and eventually they got married and had a son, Christopher.
By this time Judith was sick and tired of the Deli. We started a small business selling Frangipani flowers in the Restaurants at night. That went well for a while. I used to drive from place to place while Judith walked around the tables selling her flowers. We were going along nicely when another couple started muscling in on our business. We were so disgusted we stopped altogether. Judith saw an advert for advertising staff for Newscorp’s N.T. News and applied for the job and she secured it. I managed to get a job in the government and I was settled in nicely being a pen pusher. The money was good and life was good.
I received a phone call in about March 1980, from the Managing Director of the Toyota Dealership in Darwin, informing me of the launch of the new ‘ARGO’ all-terrain vehicle. The dealer had taken on the franchise for these handy little machines, which would no doubt be of benefit to Government agencies, the Mining Industry and Station owners. Access in to all kinds of extremely difficult terrain could now be possible
The launch was to being held at the Leanyer Swamp on the outskirts of Darwin and Malcolm and I were invited along as representatives of the Northern Territory 4WD Association. I was working for the NT Government in a job where money was lent out to struggling tourism and small business developers. Malcolm was working for Telecom Corporation and his field of expertise took him through difficult terrain to get to communications towers. This was an opportunity to see how these little machines work and what they could do for the tourism industry.
We arrived at the given time and inspected the array of six wheel and 8 wheeled all terrain vehicles. Cute little blighters they were. The Manufacturers representative gave us a talk, and a run down of how these off road machines functioned etc. Then it was time for a test and Malcolm and I, the MD of Toyota and one of the manufacturers Reps climbed into an 8-wheel drive Argo and set off down a rather steep embankment towards the Leanyer Swamp. I recall the time was a tad after the wet season and the Leanyer Swamp was still what it was then, a Swamp. Lots of mushy vegetation, some clear moving water and quite a few mosquitoes. Other participants, set off across the rise next to the swamp in 6 and 4 wheel drive Argo’s to check out their off-road-ability and cross country traits. Seeing as Malcolm and I were deemed to have some 4×4 knowledge we were accorded the drive of this great little terrain tamer.
We proceeded straight out into the swamp with Malcolm behind the levers and at first the little machine performed admirably. The small aggressive tread pattern tyres churned through the mushy conditions. I was sitting in the rear of this open vehicle and noticed that with four heavy blokes in this little machine the draught of the water was quite close to edge of the body. I remarked to the Rep about this but he assured me that they were completely unsinkable. It would not have worried me unduly, as I am a good swimmer, but we were in crocodile territory and the thought of having to swim for safety crossed my mind. We bumped and lurched over a few hidden obstacles in the swamp but the little machine took it in its stride. Meanwhile the Rep was extolling the virtues of this All Terrain vehicle.
When we had traversed about a kilometre of slush, Malcolm turned the Argo around and we were on our way back to shore, so to speak. It was at about this time that we noticed that the vehicle was losing power and struggling to gain any speed. The shoreline looked very far away as the Argo chugged to a halt about 750metres from dry land. We all looked at one another.
It transpired that waterweeds had twisted around the axles of the Argo and had built up in numbers so as to render the wheels virtually inoperative. There we were, sitting in the middle of the swamp, with no means of rescue. A floating bog, so to speak. There were no Mobile Phones in 1980. We had no two-way radio with us. So we had no communication with the outside world. The two company executives were dressed in trousers and smart clothes and looked apprehensive of getting into water. So I took my shoes and socks off, and climbed over the side into the murky water and started swimming frog style with one hand hanging on to the Argo. The prospect of a wayward crocodile coming for a closer inspection was in the back of my mind and I told the others to keep a look out. After about 250 metres of tugging the floating vehicle I started to feel the bottom of the swamp and invited Malcolm to get out as well as the going had now become more difficult. Eventually the two of us got the Argo to the shore, had a good laugh about it and declared that the manufacturers needed to go back to the drawing board to iron out problems such as what we had just encountered.
We made the news the next day.
The death of a HI LUX
We, as the Northern Territory Four Wheel Drive Association, had completed building the Hidden Valley 4×4 competition and testing track, when the launch of the new 2.8 litre diesel Toyota Hi Lux took place. The year was 1989 and the Argo ‘incident’ had long been forgotten. The Toyota dealership wanted an area so show off the new vehicle and approached me to use the Hidden Valley facility.
The day started out fine. The marquees were set up, loudspeakers installed, a sausage sizzle was underway and invited guests were arriving. I was busy pumping water into a hole between two of the mounds and walked over to have a look under hood of the new Hi Lux. There were various people in attendance including some journalists from the Sydney Morning Herald and other motoring journalists as well. I noticed immediately that the air intake of the demo vehicle engine was positioned below the headlight and addressed a question to a Toyota marketing executive as to the functionality of it, given that here in the north of Australia, as with other parts of the world, there is a high incidence of water with many creek crossings to get to destinations. I was told quite sternly that Toyota knew what they were doing and who was I to question the capability of the Toyota engineers. I shrugged my shoulders and walked back, to where the hole was being filled. When this was done I sauntered back over to the main Marquee and told the organiser of the day that the track was now ready for use. The prologue for the days’ events was for the vehicles to be driven around the 4×4 course and then taken out on a set trek along highways and in the NT bush.
The Managing Director of the Toyota franchise walked over to me and asked if I could take him and two Sydney journalists around the track in a Twin-cab Hi Lux. After introductions, we made our way over to a very good-looking iridescent green Hi Lux Twin-cab and started to drive the track. I did a number of ramp-over runs, a deep gully crossing, a steep sideways tilt track. Then we came to the water hole.
I explained to the MD that maybe it would not be a good idea to go through the water as it was most likely over bonnet height and that the little truck might take water in.
The MD said, ” No, you drive through it”
I said, “OK. If you say so”
I inched the Hi Lux forward slowly into the waterhole, knowing that it would come over the bonnet.
“Give it some boot mate,” said the MD.
So I did.
A little bit of muddy water splashed over the front of the Hi Lux and as we got to the deepest part, the engine stopped.
Water started seeping in at the lower doorsills.
“I knew this was going to happen”, I said.
“What’s happened?” a journalist asked from the back seat.
“The engine is dead,” I said
I signalled for some help from my mates who were there. Soon there was another vehicle and a rope and someone who was prepared to get wet. The Hi Lux was towed out to the vehicle display clearing.
The MD said, “Turn the key to see if it will fire.”
I said, “It probably won’t.” It didn’t!
I said, “Now maybe someone will look at the position of the air intake!”
That comment went down like a lead balloon. And for the rest of the day, I was shunned by the Representatives of Toyota, and the Organiser. Once I glimpsed to see the Organiser talking to others and pointing his finger at me. I was as popular as rats under the house.
Later I was to learn from a Toyota mechanic that he had never seen such a stuffed diesel engine. A new engine was installed and the vehicle was sold.
By 1990 most Hi Lux light utes were fitted with a much higher air intake and many were fitted with snorkels as well.
Hi-jinks on the Marrakai Plains
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 to 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 Roscoe’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 millimetre 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.
“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.
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 Landrover, 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”!!!!!…
One Day in the Wet
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.
Together 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. 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 o,ur 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”.
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 inside 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 maximum speed of 90kmh 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.
Hunting Magpie Geese:
I was working for a government instrumentality in Darwin. The government used to hire consultants to advise on aspects of business promotion. One such consultant by the name of Ron and I became firm friends. He was a few years my senior and hailed from South Australia. Ron was a businessman from the south with a penchant for hunting. He had all types of rifles and used to fly in his fixed-wing plane to remote locations to hunt a variety of animals but mainly feral ones, such as camels and ostriches. We got talking one day and I mentioned that the Magpie Geese were arriving on the Marrakai Plains from the north and that they were good tucker.
Magpie Geese would flock in the thousands on the Marrakai and Humpty Doo Plains. If you went early in the morning and crept up to a billabong or waterhole, where they were congregating, you would have a good chance of bagging a few.
Now, we only used to cut out the breast meat of the geese, which is a rich, dark meat, and put it on ice straight away after the kill in the esky. The rest of the goose is discarded for the Hawks and Wedge-tail Eagles to enjoy. Once you have fired your shotgun the geese take off, naturally and fly out of range. The surrounding country on the plains has numerous waterholes and mangrove mud creeks so there is little chance of getting a second chance of bagging breakfast.
Ahhh, there is nothing nicer that throwing some Magpie meat on the fire in the early morning! We would leave Darwin long before sunup and speed out to the Humpty Doo Plains after skirting past Humpty Doo Homestead and get out on there just on picaninny daylight. We would set up a makeshift camp with an icebox for the meat and a lean-to for shade and I would prepare the 4×4 for the morning’s hunt. I had a Suzuki Ute 4×4 in those days. It was a little red car which I named Hot Stuff! The little ute was almost totally capable of being dismantled. I would take the sides of the tray off and take the doors off as well. I would then have a harness of sorts made up of old trouser belts so that the shooter standing on the tray would not need to hold on to the roll cage whilst the vehicle was in motion. Then we would go out on the plains.
The idea was that just on sunrise we would creep up quietly along the fringes of the plains making use of as much tree cover as we could and then I would charge out in the little ute with lights on and horn blaring to get up as close to the geese as we could. There would be three shooters in total, myself, my passenger and one other on the tray. We all had pump-action shotguns. We would get the geese up and flying and then pick out individual birds out of the rising mass, left, right and centre. We could shoot up to 25 geese and we were always at pains not to wound any in the crossfire. Then we would go on foot, collect the spoils and return back to camp to cut the meat off the geese and pack it into the ice before tossing the carcasses into a pile under a Pandanus Palm tree for the feral pigs, dingoes and ants to deal with. Then we would have a beer or two before driving back to town. This ruse worked well for a while. We would give the geese a rest for a few weeks before going out again, tackling the hordes from another vantage point.
On an almost fateful morning, the geese had moved on to another waterhole on the plains. We had to hunt about a bit to find them. As the sun broke the horison I could see that there would be a good stretch of plain to cross before getting close to the flock. Ron was standing on the back of the ute, I was driving and Ben was my passenger. Unbeknownst to me Ron had loosened his belt and was hanging on to the roll cage with one had whilst holding the loaded shotgun in the other hand.
I must have been doing about 40 kilometres per hour halfway along my trajectory when I heard a scratching sound. The next thing I knew I was thrown against the steering wheel and windscreen of the little ute with some force. The ute had come to a Dead Stop! Ben hit his head on the door frame and that stopped him from falling out whilst Ron overbalanced in a forward motion behind the roll-cage, became airborne over the cab, hit the front of the bonnet with his chest and slid off that into the black-soil mud beyond the bull-bar. He got up wild-eyed, retrieving his shotgun from the mud, glared at me and stated “YOU ARE MAD……YOU BASTARD ….YOU ARE GOING TO GET ME KILLED”….. and strode away in the direction of our camp. I let him go and got out to see what had happened.
I had driven over an old disused fence which had fallen down a long time ago and the wires had been lying prone on the ground since that time. The right-hand-front-wheel of the ute had flicked this hidden obstacle up and it in turn had twisted over the rear wheel to become entangled over the rear axle. Our progress had only been a few metres from the point of contact when the fence became taught and stopped the ute in its tracks! Ben and I went to task to cut the wires away with pliers and side-cutters so as to free the vehicle. No damage had been sustained to the ute and we did not sustain any injuries by a stroke of luck but we eventually had a few bruises.
Our hunting day was over as the geese had flown away. Ron also declined hunting invitations for a while until he weakened. But riding on the back of the ute was definitely a thing of the past!!
Wet Season Antics
It was Easter 1978 and we had joined the Suzuki Club of Darwin only a short while before. In those days I was still learning the 4×4 ropes driving a whizz-bang Suzuki 2 stroke. And what a fun little runabout it was.
We set off on the Thursday before Easter for Florence Falls in the Batchelor Escarpment, east of Darwin (this was long before the area known as Litchfield National Park came into being) in a convoy of ten vehicles. We had to take the top track in to the falls to the south of Bamboo Creek to get on to the Batchelor Escarpment, as the floodplains were impassable, even in a Suzuki. And so, we crossed the Finniss River, which was flowing just under the causeway.
It always seems to rain over Easter, even if the dates vary year by year, and this particular year was no different. Nevertheless, we had a good weekend camping and the bottom of the falls in and among the palm trees. We set up a large tarp for shade and spent our time bush-walking, cooking, swimming, drinking and doing silly things, like jumping off the top of the falls. We had noticed big fella rain clouds in the east all weekend but the rain never came to our campsite.
We packed up at lunchtime on Easter Monday and made our way back to Darwin and arriving at a flooded Finniss River crossing. The river was running slowly though, held back by the many river gums, which grow in the riverbed. It meanders out of quite a large billabong, where in late years the infamous crocodile ‘ Sweetheart ‘ was caught.
Our intrepid trip leader surveyed the situation after walking through waist deep water at about the one metre level and decided that we had to make a dash for it just in case the river kept rising. All of our vehicles had snorkels (this was a prerequisite to coming on trips) and we had a club exhaust breather, which was attached to individual vehicles as we walked them through the river. Campers on the other side of the Finniss looked at us in disbelief and reckoned that we were mad. Maybe we were!!!
So with eight blokes hanging on to the sides of the Suzuki’s we ferried each vehicle to the other side, using second gear low range and a steady throttle. We had fitted the radiator plates, which stopped the fans from chewing through the radiators, but no blinds were necessary, as the Suzuki’s engines would run under water if they had to. The hard tops did well with very little water ingestion but the soft tops fared the worst. We had a soft top. The water poured in to cabin and very soon the missus was sitting up to her tits in water inside the little 4by. Her eyes were widening by the minute. My lovely Royce CB/Radio/Tape deck went under big time and that spelled the end of it. I soon learned to fit radios and other electronic stuff as high up as possible after that.
We took all ten vehicles through without mishap but some of the occupants were very wet and in the late afternoon the cold set in even though you would not believe that you could get cold in the hot, steamy tropics.
We were still drying out our vehicles and ourselves when a Troopy and a Subaru appeared on the southern bank of the river. We all traipsed across the flooded river again to lend a hand. There was no way the Subaru was going to get through but the Troopy owner decided that he would tie the Subi on to the back of his truck with a rope, and with all of us hanging on the Troopy, we should make it across. After some discussion we advised the Subi owner to close cars’ windows.
Halfway across the river the water got too deep for the Subi and it went under water completely for about 20 metres. This made for a very good photograph, which eventually made its way to all the 4×4 shops in Darwin. The occupants of the Subi were freaked out but arrived safe and dry on the other side.
It was a wet and cold ride home but an experience never to be forgotten.
Such was life in the tropics!
For the next while life ticked along. The Territory became ‘independent’ from Canberra and the unit I worked for became the Northern Territory Development Corporation. We became the ‘Lender of last resort’ and I was sent out to various places to ascertain what the proponents wanted business loans for. This took me by Chartered Plane all over the Territory. I used to fly via commercial airlines to Katherine where I was picked up by Till-air and on to my destination which was normally out in to station country. It was an interesting time. My ‘Boss’, Lindsay Mulder, and I were given a Government Cheque-book and told to go and buy some vehicles, which we did. We also needed an office car and normally government cars were white but we found this Blue Mazda 323. The big bosses groaned but left it like that and that little car must have done 500,000km, owned by a string of departments, over 20 years. It stuck out like a sore thumb.
By this time, we were living in a Government rental house in Dripstone Road, Casuarina and our corporation had grown and had also moved out to Casuarina so it only took four minutes to walk, to work.
The Government came up with a scheme that if you could show that you had $4000 in the bank, they would help you buy the land and you could then borrow money from a bank to build your house.
My boss Lindsay reckoned that we should go for it but as we had no money, he said he would lend us the deposit until the money has been seen and then we could repay him when the money had been secured. As a surety we gave him Judith’s diamond ring. She wasn’t all too happy about that.
But that is what happened. Slowly.
Our old Snowy died and one Sunday morning I tripped over Tique, the dog, who was lying in the sun and dug my knee into her side. She yelped and carried on and then she was quiet. I checked her out and gave her a cuddle and said that I was sorry and she seemed O.K. We went out somewhere and on our return home she was lying under a shrub in the garden, panting and she died soon after. We buried her out on our bush block at Bees Creek. I felt terrible about the whole business. I must have hurt her deeply but she didn’t complain and I thought that she would be O.K. But it wasn’t to be.
In the mean time I had a run in with the new head of the corporation, who was a career public servant and was being bloody minded about things. He took my lovely office chair off me; I had been sitting in it for two years and he made me rewrite business applications for no apparent reason and I decided to leave and go run tours out to the still very new Kakadu National Park. But I stayed in my job so as to get as much money behind me until I was virtually forced out of the position.
I had met Anne Ross at a function somewhere. Mother of four, two boys and two girls, he was a bubbly personality and was running Anne’s Courtesy Tours around Darwin. It was a successful business. She had started her business by picking up tourists off the street and showing them around Darwin. Eventually she obtained a Hire Car and Bus Licence and was well on her way to becoming well known throughout Australia. As I had a similar licence I did Moonlight jobs for her, picking up and delivering customers in one of our swank cars. I had a nice Ford LTD. One day I picked up the Minister for Agriculture who recognised me and a few days later the head of the corporation quizzed me about it. I had been dobbed in. Oh no, you can’t do that. Its not allowed. I pointed out that the Head of one of the Government Departments ran a Luxury Tourist Business. Um, Ah, Yes, Well. Just try not to be recognised.
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.
I traded one of our Suzuki’s in on a new Nissan Patrol MK wagon 7 seater, 5-speed gearbox with a 3.3litre six cylinder diesel powered engine. I had it painted with our business name Adventure Unlimited and made my debut in to the Tourist Market at a Northern Territory Touring Seminar. I worked very hard at my business and during slack times I worked for a mate in the construction industry building large shed. Later we acquired a Ford bus from another tour operator and we were running extra tours out to Kakadu with either Judith driving or our friend Graham.
We had to leave the Government house when I left the government and our house out at Bees Creek wasn’t ready yet but it had a roof on. The builder then decided to go on holiday to Perth and we were stuck in a 12ft caravan. We moved in and Graham and his mates came to help us put the ceilings in one weekend between tours. We sacked the builder and finished the house with sub-contractors. Eventually it was done.
We had a 5kva diesel generator to run the fridge and lights during the time when we had it on. At one stage Judith bought a horse whose name was Thomas Fischer. The gelding was named after an erstwhile Manager of Victoria River Downs Station (VRD). One day George was there and we were looking after some other horses and I decided to ride Thomas Fisher. Well Thomas didn’t like that one bit and shied dumping me back on Mother Earth. Jude and George could not stop laughing and went for a ride. I declined a second fall.
In the wet season the frogs got in everywhere where there was a hollow pipe and sang along with the generator. When we turned the generator off at a round 11pm the frogs would still carry on for another half a hour. We had no curtains on the windows and could see the starry nights. In the early morning we would be woken up by the sounds of Kangaroos slurping water from the fish ponds.
We had built the house on a slight rise. When the tropical wet-season storms broke, it would rain sheets of water. Lighting was also common and on one occasion struck a tree behind our house, splitting it in half with the tree still standing and smouldering.
At one stage we ran tours out to our place and people seemed to enjoy that but we only did that for a short time
By the end of 1981 our lives were running in opposite directions, we owed a lot of money but had assets we had accumulated here and there and so we decided to remedy our lives by selling our place and most of the junk that we had been hoarding we would get out of it without owing money. I held garage sales over the weekends for a month and sold everything I could lay my hands on. But when we left Bees Creek we still had a caravan, a truck, my Nissan Patrol and a Pontiac Firebird.
We had been for an interview for a multitude of job specifications, in Kununurra, in the Kimberley of Western Australia.
The job at Kununurra, working at a caravan park only lasted six months. The owner of the park used to speak down to us and it irked me. The bloke who gave us he truck had second thoughts about it and he came down to Kununurra with a Ford F100 4×4 and some extra cash and took the truck and the Pontiac back with him.
And so, we loaded the Ford F100 4×4, hooked the caravan up and left the caravan park after giving the regulatory notice.
It was time to hit the road.
Just outside Fitzroy Crossing we met up with a road gang laying new bitumen down and started chatting. We ended up staying in the Fitzroy Crossing Caravan Park for a week. There was a group of revellers at the Pub not too far from the caravan park, the night before. I went for a stroll along the river bank and there was a metre high pile of empty beer cans in a heap outside the front of the pub in the dusty car park. Suddenly the cans moved and an old Aboriginal woman rose from the cans and accosted me with“You gotta smoke”?
”No, I don’t smoke”
Our caravan had broken a spring and I managed to get it welded at the Power Station.
We moved on to Derby where William Dampier had said in 1699 “A place only fit for savages and flies”
We went to a Pub for a meal and back at our truck we found an esky missing. Luckily the thieves had taken the pots and pans esky and not our food and beer esky.
We put our van in storage in Derby and went camping in the rugged Kimberley.
We had idyllic time clambering over rocks to get to weathered sandstone overhangs where the Wandjina ancient head paintings adorn the walls. Aboriginal folklore states that the Wandjina is the supreme Creator and a symbol of fertility and rain.
We lazily drove through this ancient landscape, which was part of the Devonian Period and formed fossilised coral beds, we visited Galvan’s Gorge, Bell’s Gorge, Manning Gorge and Barnett River Gorge. At Manning Gorge the station owner came down and told us he was going to pump some water into his house tanks and there will be a bit of noise but not for long. Bloody hell, what a racket! The diesel engine noise reverberated in the gorge for close on three hours and nearly drove us insane.
As we were tropical people in those day’s we wore Australian thongs on our feet. On our way back from Barnett River Gorge, we went to camp at Adcock Gorge. We had the place to ourselves and relaxed watching the birdlife. Then we decided to go for a walk to look for rock art. I thought I saw a cave at the top of the falls and was inching my way up from rock ledge with Judith following close behind. Right at the apex of the now trickling waterfall Judith slipped on some wet moss and gasped. With that sound I turned around and instinctively grabbed at her, but she was already over the edge. She had a free fall for about three metres and hit a rock which jutted out of the cliff face, with her hip and then fell another twenty-five metres into the pool below. Luckily that where she fell the pool was deep.
I scrambled down the rock ledge, slipping and sliding all the way and jumped into the pool the last five metres. Judith was lying face down in the pool. As I landed next to her, I yanked her head out of the water by her hair in one movement. She had been so stunned that she didn’t inhale too much water. I helped her, coughing and spluttering to our campsite, took her wet clothes off and wrapped up in her sleeping bag. The bag had a hood. She sat there, shivering, eyes wide from fright. All she could say was ‘The Camera, the camera”. I told her quietly to forget the camera and stirred the smouldering fire to boil the billy for a cup of hot tea. While that was on the boil I went and gave her a hug and told that she was safe. Once she was getting the tea in to her, I went and retrieved the Zeiss Ikon, a fancy camera of the time which had belonged to my late Father and which she had cherished. Judith recovered well. One tough cookie, she is.
Back in Derby we collected our van and moved on to Roebuck Bay Caravan Park in Broome. Even in those days you had to queue in the street for a site. The Park let you take power at $5 per day.
We explored as much as there was to see in Broome and on to the FREE beach where we got an overall tan. One evening we decided to go down to Red Rocks Beach for a wine and some Oysters. There were some wheel tracks which I took as the normal approach down the dune to the beach. And down we went, found a spot at the rocks and had our wine and oysters.
On the way out I slipped the gearbox into four-wheel drive mode and slowly climbed out the dune and about half way up the a loud banging sound in the front of the Ford and after that we were back to two wheel drive. There I made the mistake by running backwards down the dune to get a run-up to the top. By now I had dropped the tyres to 10psi. Once again, we got to about the middle of the dune. This time I put the brakes on.
I now hauled the large spare wheel out of its spot under the tray and started digging a hole to bury the tyre as an anchor as I only had a manual Tirfor winch. Every pull I moved the truck 30mm. I had another 29 metrest to go. Luckily it was a moonlit night and we could see quite well. We buried the tyre 6 times. I lost about 10 kilos that night, At the last bit I put Judith behind the wheel with instructions go when she gets traction and to keep on going until she got to hard ground. It was 2am when we pulled in to camp, turned the air on and fell on our bed.
The Ford was on the nose with me and so a couple of days later we drove to Port Hedland and swapped it for a smaller utility and a beach buggy. We did a few beach runs with the buggy which was a lot of fun but then it broke down and I had to be towed back to where my ute was parked. I sold it a couple of days later and made $100 profit!
While we were lying on the beach in Broome we decided to go back to South Africa for a few months. I rang my Mother to tell her that we were coming in about a month’s time. In the mean time we dragged our 3 ton caravan all the way to Perth with our Ford Courier utility and we were invited by friends to stay with them. The mirrors on the ute we not wide enough to see out around the van. On country roads and small towns there wasn’t a problem. In the city there was and I got given the finger on a number of occasions when I changed lanes. You would either hear a screech of tyres on the smooth bitumen roads or a distinct blaring on a car horn. Our friends lived on the corner of a street with a roundabout. It was a modest house with a small yard and reversing the van in whilst blocking the traffic was something else.
We spent a couple of weeks there sorting things out. They we going to use the van as an extra room for their boys and also use the ute as a second car. It didn’t workout that way. But more about that in a following chapter.
The day of our departure came and we were dropped off at the airport and there was staff dispute going and the airline workers went on strike for the day. The plane sat on the tarmac. Eventually at 10pm the strike was over, dispute settled and we were on our way. Somehow, I got a middle seat and I had a Zimbabwean returning home, sitting next to me. He fell asleep and rested his head on my shoulder. I kept on flicking his head off me but he just came back.
In those days Qantas used to fly to Harare in Zimbabwe for political reasons, and then we would pick up South African Airways flight to Johannesburg and another flight to Cape Town. But due to the Qantas strike we missed our connection and to Johannesburg and had to make do in the tin shed they called the international airport lounge. I struck a conversation with a bloke with a guitar and found a bottle Scotch Whiskey that I had brought from Australia and we sang and emptied the bottle and fell into a deep sleep at around 4am.
Our connecting flight came in at 6am and the luggage and passengers were loaded on board, engines warming but nobody could wake me. All I could say was “fuggoff”. Dilemma! Problem presented to Judith and she agreed to fly on with the luggage and that I could come on a later flight. So she went to South Africa while I slept it off in the Transit Lounge.
I woke up at a desk lying with my head on my arms. I raised my head and looked straight into the eye of a Zimbabwe Security Officer. He wagged a fat finger at me proclaiming “You ‘ave been a naughty Boy…..you ‘ave been a naughty Boy”
My mouth tasted like Cocky’s Cage and was dry from all the snoring my head hurt and I had to go to the toilet immediately. Two security guards with me. That done, I asked what was going on. None of the Security Mob knew and eventually an office lady came out and explained the situation to me. I was hungry and so I asked if I could eat something. However, the restaurant was in Zimbabwe and I was in No Mans Land. So, I ate a sumptuous meal guarded by two security officers and then returned to No Man’s Land safely.
When it was time to leave, I presented my Passport, the engines were warming again and this young bloke didn’t return with my Passport. There was an emergency button on the counter and pressed that and a young lady came out and I quickly told her my tale of woe. She flew back into an office yelling at someone and very sheepishly stamped my passport and escorted me to the boarding ramp. I was on my way, heading south to South Africa.