Tuesday, September 8, 1981
[Extract from Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981]
As our personal car hunt takes a positive turn, Mum’s car, the one we are borrowing, suffers a devastating blow to its tyre—staked by a bolt. And so, I am reminded of the attack of the tacks as the T-Team drove the unsealed highway back to Adelaide almost 40 years ago…]
So for the first time in the entire two months of the Safari, Dad permitted my older cousin (C1) to drive. After reaching the South Australian border and the degradation of the road to dirt, he drove at a steady fifty-five kilometres per hour. Bull dust billowed on each side of the vehicle, and we kept the windows sealed.
Richard sat in the middle and I sat on the passenger side nearest the window. My feet ached. Feeling faint with the heat magnified in the confined unventilated area, I peeled off my shoes and socks.
‘Pooh!’ Rich fanned his nose. ‘Do you have to?’
‘But it’s hot.’ I massaged my foot. ‘I can’t smell any foot odour.’
A smile grew between C1’s beard and moustache, then the cabin filled with fumes of sulphur dioxide.
‘Ugh!’ I exclaimed and then reached for the handle to wind down the window.
‘You can talk.’ C1 put a handkerchief to his nose. ‘When was the last time you washed your socks?’
‘Point taken,’ I gasped, and then picked up a book fanning the air to the back of the Rover causing my younger cousin (C2) to protest and Dad to cough.
Ker-chunk! Ker-chunk! C1 eased the Rover to a shuddering stop.
I looked at the odometer. We’d travelled 180km from Alice Springs. ‘Oh, no! And we’ve only just left.’ I opened the door and dropped from the Rover.
Richard edged his way out and then paced around the vehicle. He bent down to inspect a back tyre. ‘We have a puncture.’
Dad and cousins piled out. Richard commenced his jacking up the Rover, and removing the tyre. He lifted the spare off the rear door of the Rover. He bounced it towards the axle, and then stopped.
He frowned and said, ‘The spare’s flat.’
While my brother repaired the puncture, we lingered by the roadside. Dad kicked the mound of graded dirt. C1 pulled out another book from his satchel and read. C2 stared at the long stretch of road, counting the cars that passed. I sat in a ditch and picked my nails. An hour passed. Richard continued working. He’d already used up two dud patches on the tube. The repairs seemed to be taking forever.
‘Why don’t we have lunch?’ I said.
Dad, his hands in his pockets, shuffled over to Richard. ‘How long do you think you’ll be?’
Richard peeled off the third patch that didn’t take. ‘Oh, another half an hour.”
Half an hour times three. In real-time, one-and-a-half-hours.
Dad stroked his beard. ‘Yes, I think we’ll have lunch then.’
We gathered a few sticks together for a fire to boil the billy. With my cup of tea and cake, I deserted the group to sit under a shady mulga tree. Another half-hour dragged in the heat.
I returned to the men. They stood like statues in a semi-circle around Richard who now battled with a pump. No matter how hard or long he pumped, the tyre didn’t seem to be doing much.
Richard wiped drops of sweat from his temple and grunted. ‘Come on, you idiot, work!’ He resumed pushing the lever up and down, faster and faster. He stopped and checked the gauge. ‘Damn thing hasn’t moved.’ He kicked the pump. ‘Work!’
‘I don’t think that’ll help,’ Dad said.
‘The pump’s broken. The gauge hasn’t moved off twenty k-p-a.’
Dad kicked the tyre. ‘Is that enough?’
‘I s’pose it’ll have to do.’
Richard shook his head. He placed the half-inflated tyre on the Rover’s back axle, and then tightened the nuts.
C1 resumed his driver’s position with Richard and C2 in the front. I put up with Dad and the dust in the back cabin. My father decided to manicure his nails with his teeth. Drove me insane! Every few seconds, he puffed out a bitten nail onto the floor, the luggage, and the dirty laundry pile. I looked away as his nibbled his nail stumps, but the spitting sound grated on my senses setting my teeth on edge. I placed a pillow over my ears and rested my head on a soft bag. I began to doze.
Thudda! Thudda! Thudda!
The Rover rocked and jerked to a juddering halt. Again we piled out. This time a trailer tyre had been ripped to shreds. Bits of the tyre left a sorry trail down the highway.
Dad poked his toe at a fragment of rubber. ‘How did that happen?’
‘The rocks,’ Richard replied. Then removing the spare trailer tyre, he bounced it into position.
Again, we stood around and watched Richard change the tyre. Again, we piled back in the Rover and continued our journey. And yet again I had to sit in the rear of the Rover with Dad.
This time, Dad nodded off to sleep and snored. Richard who was driving, had barely driven ten minutes before Dad had fallen asleep. I watched Dad’s head loll from side to side, and with a snort, he’d jerk his head up, and then his head flopped followed by a deep rumble. Again, I covered my ears with a pillow and rested on my soft bag.
The rumbles penetrated my pillow. They grew louder and louder, sounding like an earthquake. I sat up and looked around. Dad wide-eyed and awake stared at me. The rumbling turned into a loud roar.
‘So, it wasn’t you snoring,’ Dad said.
‘I thought it was you.’ My voice vibrated with the jack-hammer effect. ‘Is it the corrugations?’
‘I don’t think so.’ Dad sounded like a Dalek. He leaned through the window connected to the front. ‘Richard, I think you better stop.’
‘Not again,’ I groaned.
[to be continued…]
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017; updated 2021
Feature Photo: Car-nage © L.M. Kling 2013