We survived getting lost in the bush, just, but a few months later I did something really dumb. I killed a dugite. With a broken shovel. It was slithering toward the roadhouse kitchen and I couldn't imagine what we'd do if it went inside so I grabbed a shovel head and chopped it in two. The new cook, (an aboriginal lady called Joy,) came running out and said, 'You got to bury him now, in different places or he'll come back together!' One bite and I would have died. When the police heard about it they bought us out a 'snake' gun. It did a great job turning crows into cartoon explosions of black feathers. Remind me to tell you more about the 'police runs' next time..
We had no idea where we were when the lights failed in the Ute. We HOPED we were heading back towards the highway, but who knew? The 'track' was just faint tyre marks. No one had driven down it for a long time. Fortunately we had a torch so I got out and walked in front searching for tyre prints while Terry followed behind in first gear. Then the torch died too. I heard Terry scrabbling around in the bottom of the Ute and then a tiny flame appeared. He'd found a cigarette lighter! So now I'm walking in front of the Ute with only a cigarette lighter to guide us. I remember my thumb blistering as the flint got hotter. The flame got smaller and smaller and then finally, it died too. We were completely in the dark with no radio and no way of knowing where we were. I will never forget the relief when I saw a little red light through the canopy. Not aliens but the beacon on top of the telecommunications tower, the one you could see from the roadhouse...
But the evening with the Maccas happened months into our year when we were really missing civilization, (and hamburgers.) I need to go back to the beginning, to our first insane week. The week we got lost in the bush... We'd driven 20 minutes down a dirt track to the bore pump, (our only source of water besides a tanker.) Terry, serviced it, (don't forget, he'd fixed a generator a few days before,) then we decided to go back via a water hole we'd heard about. We found the water hole alright, down an even smaller dirt track, and it was amazing. Afgans used to water their camels there. We sat on the rocks drinking Bundy and Coke feeling like we were the only people on earth then we set off down an even smaller track that supposedly led back to the highway. Ten minutes down the track the bush got really dense and the track was almost impossible to see. Twilight didn't last long under the canopy and pretty soon Terry had to turn the lights on. Five minutes later, when it was completely dark, the lights failed...
Where did we have the Big Macs? Around sunset I loaded a card table and two chairs into the ute and then I drove Terry down to the airstrip. Our assistant manager turned up with champagne then Joy, our cook, came stomping through the salt bush with a tray. When she lifted the tea towel, voila! Two Big Macs! A big red kangaroo came over to see what was going on at one point. What an evening..
Obviously there are no supermarkets in the Nullarbor so all our supplies had to come by truck. Once a fortnight everything we needed arrived - frozen milk, frozen bread, frozen meat, frozen veges, canned everything, a chemical waste dump of cleaning chemicals, an alpine range of toilet rolls, enough linen for all the beds in Buckingham Palace, but mostly beer. VB and Emu. The real fuel of the Nullarbor. Once or twice something really interesting came though. Like the time I ordered Maccas for Terry's 25th birthday. The story made the West Australian. Wayne Tagg, the manager of Fremantle MacDonald's, had a mate in the port who snap froze 25 Big Macs for me. They experimented with leaving the lettuce in but in the end decided to send a fresh lettuce separately. Tomorrow I'll tell you where we ate them...
#2 The old managers threw us a bunch of keys as they got on the bus to leave saying, 'One is for the ambulance.' Suddenly we were volunteer ambulance drivers! 23/24 years old and no first aid training what-so-ever. Our 'patch' was a 400 km stretch of the Eyre Highway. Norseman hospital was two and a half hours away...
...and yes, the ambulance still haunts me a bit. I remember the elderly couple who's caravan had jack-knifed. St Johns told us off for putting the husband's gurney in backwards so he could face his wife but we all felt the moment when she started to slip away from us. Terry cranked the oxygen up and I tried to decide whether to pull over or go even faster but I'm sure it was her husband willing her to live that kept her alive. But I'm getting ahead of myself. There's the supply truck to tell you about first, and the bore pump, and the night we got lost in the bush. (Keep reading and post a comment if there's anything you want to know more about.)
I promised I'd serialize the year Terry and I spent running a roadhouse in the Nullarbor, (so you would know where my new novel came from, not to mention my new picture book which is due out next year and will be called 'Hello From Nowhere'. So here's how it started...
We got off the bus, the then Managers got fired over the phone, and we, (two enthusiastic bartenders from the Sail and Anchor,) got the job! On our first night in charge the generator died. Terry had never even owned a car and suddenly he had to fix a generator. (I held the torch.) In the middle of it all Paul McNamee, (famous tennis player,) arrived wanting a room!!! Stay tuned for your next installment..
It must be a good idea!
This blog is a kind of stream of thought. It's all about where I'm at right now with my writing, and all kinds of other things!