ABC Online publishes short stories by all sorts of people. on 23 August 2016 my story on the recently undertaken Melbourne to Broome trip is posted.
Two Dogs in the Painted Desert
I throw caution to the wind and decide to take the shortcut.
In the 1960’s my father sold his Melbourne nursery and bought another piece of land to build a new one. My school holiday task was to clear the land for the new nursery. It was overgrown and furrowed, hardened from harsh summers. Amongst the scrub and thistles we came across an old trailer. Now it is fifty years later, and I am charged with the task of transporting our possessions from Gippsland to the Kimberley almost 6000 kilometres away, to join my partner working in Broome.
The trailer has sat unused in my sister’s backyard. There has been a debate over whether it can make the distance. Eventually, we decide to give it a go so we hook trailer up to the second-hand 4WD I have bought.
The subtly changing landscape creeps into the skin, drawing the traveller in. The journey starts with Gippsland Red Gums which give way to northern Ghost Gums. Rain has exploded the grasses, from straw fields through to saltbush turning into patches of scrub.
The journey to Alice Springs, goes smoothly. I am tempted by the Tanami Track, both for the sense of adventure and that it cuts over 1500 kilometres off the journey. It is 1000 kilometres of dirt, corrugated road and I heed my partner’s pleadings not to take it.
But, but … the tarred road north is straight, flat and boring. Three or four days of that and I fear falling asleep at the wheel. Or maybe I’m just a risk-taker seeking an excuse. Whatever, I am alone and I relish the fact that there is no-one around to bare witness. I decide to take a shortcut using the facetiously named Buchanan and Buntine “Highways” and only 400 kilometres of dirt.
The track takes me through Kalkarindji, formerly known as Wave Hill, and home to the famous strike. It is approaching the fiftieth anniversary of the start of the nine-year strike, which concluded with the photo of Gough Whitlam pouring soil into the hand of Vincent Lingiari.
Then there are the saltpans and lines of gums marking riverbeds. Throughout the redness of the land breaks through, and then in patches the sun reflects off moisture and silicon to give a purple hue. Here and there a rocky outcrop or the odd mesa, or in the distance the line of a razorback range. I see Roos and Dingoes, Wedge Tail Eagles, Emus and Bustards. Finally the expanse of the Kimberley welcomes. One of the most beautiful parts of the planet, seemingly scarcely populated, yet with layers of complexity.
That night I reach Hall’s Creek, tired but exuberant. I have knocked two days off the trip, and call people to haughtily announce my achievement, ‘Trailer’s fine.’ I declare. Tomorrow, Broome!
Departing at the crack of dawn, forty kilometres down the road the trailer blows a tyre. It has been ripped to shreds. When I look underneath I notice pieces of leaf spring hang down. Easing back into Halls Creek, I find Mick the Welder, whose business card says, “What’s Broken Now?” Genial and full of yarns Mick’s inspection shows that my smart-arsed decision-making has rendered brutal consequences. Not only are the springs broken, the U-bolts holding the axle on are about to snap, and a couple of bolts holding the wheel have sheared. The mudguards flap loosely and, while we stand there, the tail light lens pops out and drops to the floor. Trailer is as good as dead. We strike a deal: Mick will take care of my possessions inside trailer until I can collect them. In return, the trailer is his.
Growing consternation at trashing trailer is tempered by knowing it may very well live again. Who knows what kind of life awaits it now, swapping a suburban Melbourne backyard for Mick’s red dirt yard. Mick is keen to rehabilitate it. It is comforting to think that the trailer will live to fight another day much like the wonderful film, The Never Ending Story. Instead of the luck dragon carrying a child off to another adventure, the trailer will faithfully follow another person’s dreams down a dusty track to a new life.