RESTLESS/Chapter 6


Back to Australia

Whilst we were away from Australia the dollar had been floated on to the international market which made it much stronger against the South African Rand. Our other money was still in transit and instead of having $10,000 to buy a car and a caravan we had $7500.

We had organised with our friend’s wife to pick us up at the airport but when no one turned up we rang them and the wife answered and she said that her husband was in a mining camp out in the bush and that she had no car and would explain all to us when we arrived at her place. So, it was an expensive ride there. The caravan we had left with them had been sold by them and the money had been transferred to South Africa the year before. We also left a Ford Ute with them for their use and as I had been thoughtful to help them out as they were always struggling, and stated the lower price in a letter should they want to buy it.  In the meantime, they had  lent the ute to my mate’s brother, who, had taken it to Melbourne and left unpaid parking tickets everywhere as the car was still in my name. This I found out later when letters of demand started turning up at our mail. Our friend’s wife paid us out for the Ford but at the discounted price. That is why I had to buy a vehicle. When I went to their shed to get my gear that I had stored there it was gone. Our mate had taken it with him and she had no money to pay us. Needless to say, the friendship was discontinued.

We shopped around and eventually bought an old Landrover Series 3 Station Wagon and a caravan with a pop-up bed. Judith hated the caravan and I disliked the Landrover. Nevertheless, we had to put our dislikes aside and get on with it. We stayed in a caravan park for a week while we waited for our box to be unloaded from the container it had been transported in.

At last we were on the road heading north. We took a couple of weeks to get to Broome and then decided to stay there for a while. I had the phone company Telecom come and install a phone and then we were all set up in a shady spot in the caravan park. Life went on.

We became involved doing small manual labour and video jobs for Lord Alastair McAlpine, the British entrepreneur businessman from who was developing a Wildlife Park and some residential projects. About a month later we became involved with the tourist promotion association and both of us started working on a Welcome Tourist Booklet. About two weeks into this project Judith experienced rather amorous attention from a local and when he was told to bugger-off, he persisted. So, we packed our van and pulled the pin and took off for Darwin.

In Darwin my mate George wanted me to paint the roof and the top caps on the outer walls of his units. The roof was OK as I did the middle area first. Then I lay an extension ladder up against the wall with the bottom legs firmly set into the car port roof to paint the wall and the caps. But I had to stand on the top rung of the ladder to reach the top caps of the wall and it was then that the ladder gave way. I tumbled down the roof, getting mixed up with the ladder with my shin and with paint from the full 4 litre paint tin. Red paint and blood from my leg mixed freely. The ladder bounced off the carport roof and clattered to the ground. I followed with the paint tin still swinging in my hand, bounced on to the carport roof causing two panels to bend slightly and rolled along stopping at the edge of the roof. My leg hurt and I was dazed. I looked at my shin and could see the shinbone with dark blood oozing through the paint. All was quiet as there was no one around.

Then I saw a man on the third floor outside walkway of the units behind where I lay and I called out to him. It took a while for him to register and then he saw me as I waved.

At first, he cried, “Oh No!” but I assured him that it was mostly paint and asked if he could come down and put the ladder up for me. This he did after walking down three flights of stairs, going out into the street and then walking around the building where I was lying to manhandle the ladder so that I could get down off the carport roof. I thanked him and told him that I would take myself to the hospital after I had cleaned up a bit.

I drove back to the house. The girls also got a fright when they saw me but Judith, being ever practical, told me to strip my paint clothes off and brought me some clean gear while I washed the water-based paint out of my hair and beard and exposed limbs.

We drove to the hospital Emergency Entrance where a nurse took one look at my leg, put me on a bed and wheeled me into the Emergency Theatre where my wounds were cleaned up. The cuts to my arms and head were superficial and only needed bandages but my leg received a number of injections and 21 stitches!

I lay up for a couple of weeks after that.

Then I started getting restless, and we took to the road again. This time to Cairns.

I should have known better than to go to Cairns as Queensland employers were renowned for underpaying their staff. I thought of setting up a business just cleaning shop windows. I bought a bucket and some squeegees and flannel rags and I picked up some work but it would take a long while to build up clients as there was opposition and the shopkeepers were reticent in paying for work done. I was registered at the Commonwealth Employment Service and one day they left a message at the caravan park where we were staying to say that there may be a job opportunity for us both on a station. We had two interviews and the upshot was that these people were starting a tourist venture on their station and wanted workers with tourism experience.

In the mean time I met a pommy bloke who was very interested in my Landrover and offered swap his Nissan Patrol G60 for it. I said OK and the deal was done and he paid for all the transfer costs.

We packed up and made for Escott Station in the Gulf Region, between Burketown and Doomagee. The owners wanted to start a tourist camping venture and we were to set it up. Our camp was 18 kilometres from the Homestead. We set up a vegie garden, our caravan on site and installed 6 luxury tents with beds. Now we were to wait until the Dry season for the tourists to start travelling. We used to go to the Homestead on a Saturday night for a drink in the bar or to buy stuff from the shop. The owns were difficult people to deal with. You were hard pressed getting them in to a conversation. On our way in one Saturday I saw a mob of wild pigs on the track and started chasing them with the Nissan. They got away but I found one piglet on the tack presumably dead and put it in the back of our truck. On the way back that evening the ‘dead’ piglet came alive again and squealed in the back of the truck. I threw some blanket over it and it quietened down. We left it in the truck for the night and the following morning I built a rough pen for ‘Pigsy’ and placed it in there. Judith started feeding it and after about two weeks ‘Pigsy’ was tame. We let her out to roam around but had to keep her away from the vegie patch. She followed Judith around every where she walked. She came into the van and slept on some old blankets in a corner under the table. One night, she woke us up squealing as wild pigs were nearby. I jumped outside with my rifle to send them off or knock one over but they disappeared into the night. I built another fence around our precious garden with some droppers and a straining fork which I found lying amongst some of the rubbish left behind from previous mustering camps.

After about three months we went in on a Saturday night and I asked when we were going to get paid as we were now running low on money. The owners said “There’s no pay here, mate. Everyone here is on the Dole” I said that our payments had been cancelled as we took on this job. We paid our own way there and I figured that they owed us $3000 before tax. I said” But you have brought us here on false pretences. It is illegal to employ someone and not pay them” The owners took us aside and said that if we didn’t like it, we could piss-off. I said OK but you will still owe us and we will come and collect our cheque on the way past. We had nowhere to go with “Pigsy” and left her on the station in a pig pen and the station mechanic said that he would feed her until the time was right. We packed up the van and we were sad to leave our spot on the edge of the Nicholson River. It was a Monday and we stopped at the Homestead and we were given a cheque for $1800 and told that they did not have more money. Take it or leave it. I took the cheque and we drove the 30 kilometres in to Burketown. At the post office we cashed the cheque. The Postmistress gave us a ‘chit’ to take to the Pub over the road to get the money as they had lots of cash on hand. One the way back to our car the Postmistress called us over to tell us that we were two minutes ahead of the Escott Station owners as they rang to cancel the cheque. We needed a spare tyre and went to the hardware store where the owners would not sell anything to us and told us to leave the premises. It was time to head out of Burketown.

We drove quietly away through the long grass which by now had covered the road as there had been little traffic in to Burketown. We camped near a creek and the mozzies drove us insane. The next day I managed to get a second hand spare at the Burke and Wills Roadhouse and we camped in the caravan park at Julia Creek that night. I put a tube in the spare tyre and we had a proper spare wheel again.

The following day we heard a grinding noise from the rear of the old Nissan and I guessed that the wheel-bearing and input shaft had broken in the differential. I climbed underneath and removed the rear driveshaft. I shifted the gears into four-wheel drive mode, locked the hubs and we continued on quietly all the way to Cloncurry.

The next morning, I tried to find a Nissan dealer in Queensland but after a number of blanks I went to the towns electrician who also sold cars on the side. We did a deal. I gave him the Nissan and $250 and he gave me a Valiant Station Wagon which we dubbed the Queen Mary. It had rego and all and looked good for an old car.

It got us back to Darwin.

Posted in Life Stories.