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 (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 amongst the palm trees. We set up a large tarp for shade and spent our time bushwalking, 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 is life in the tropics!