2023 and it seems road safety has become a thing of the past…Or has it. the road toll, so the news states, is the worst it’s been in 10-years. I’ve noticed other drivers taking more risks, and becoming impatient with little old me who tries so hard to keep to the speed limit. After all, I don’t want to upset “Karen” our Toyota Corolla’s GPS guide. She’s constantly reminding my hubby of what the speed limit is.
Anyway, in light of the danger ever-present on our roads and the desire to be safe, I am reminded how close I came to disaster on a road trip to Queensland in 1989. The following piece is part 1 of a 3-part series of that trip.
When Angels Jump Off
I considered my new leadership role a breeze, but I had yet to encounter mutiny in the Toyota.
Up the Creek and Behind Time
My boss, called me into his office. “I want you to lead the group traveling with you in the van.” He glanced at me, wise hazel eyes over silver-rimmed spectacles. “Are you okay with that?”
“Sure.” As a former secondary school teacher, I imagined a straight-forward venture; an uneventful hike up the Highway to the Conference on Queensland’s Gold Coast. All that the leadership required of me was a slight detour into the countryside of Wagga Wagga to collect Bill.
“Who else will I be taking?” I asked confident to handle anyone in the Toyota Van with me.
“You’ll have Rob,” my manager said. I pictured tall, scruffy Rob, in his early twenties as the quiet observer. My boss cleared his throat. “And three youth.” Their ages and quantities of either gender remained fuzzy around the edges until I met them. “I’d advise that you don’t let them drive.”
On the morning of my maiden journey to the Conference, Rob, with Karen (17), Tania (16) and Tom (18), stood gazing out the window of the unit my husband and I recently bought. I mentioned the tall eucalyptus trees out the front of our home would have to be chopped down. My young visitors condemned the soon-to-be slaughter of trees. The group seemed harmless enough, if they loved nature.
By the afternoon we bounced along in the trusty Toyota van, through the magical high country, a blur of misty mountains, crisp green pine trees and miles of white line on the grey bitumen. We powered northwards through Bright, wending through Wodonga, and over the river through to Albury. As we approached Wagga Wagga, the sun cast dusky orange over the fields and rolls of hay.
“Where are we meant to turn?” Tania, the chubby brunette of the youth-trio asked. A melted puddle of red in the west was all that remained of our natural source of light. I turned on the head-lights.
“Should be soon. What does the map say?” At the helm, I flicked the switch to high beam and peered through the insect-splattered screen hunting the sign.
Karen leaned her bird-like frame through the gap in the front seat, her blonde fuzz tickling my cheek. She asked, “What map?”
Behind me paper rustled and chip packets crackled.
I pointed behind me. “It’s there somewhere.”
The lanky Tom rolled his blue eyes. I dared not admit that the road map had become the latest casualty in the rush to depart. Left behind! “Anyway, don’t worry. I’ve been to Bill’s farm before.” The turn-off must be around here somewhere. A sign shrouded in darkness flitted past. Too late! On I go.
Rob stared out the window at the fading shades of blue sky.
We charged along the highway, in and out of Wagga Wagga, I was sure that the turn-off was the other side of the town. “Not too far,” I said.
“What road did you say?” Karen asked.
“I’ll recognise it when I see it.” I hoped I would. In the dark. Strange how the road I want always has the sign missing. I sped onwards, white posts every tenth of a kilometre, their red reflectors winking at me.
But none of the road names seemed right. With Wagga half-an-hour behind us, each kilometre of searching for this elusive road ate into our time. “Are you sure you know where you are going?” Rob’s question annoyed me.
“It’s just up ahead.” I wasn’t about to admit that I had no clue. I’m good at navigation. I follow my nose.
“l think we should turn back.” Tom’s deep voice boomed from the rear seat. “We should call them and get directions.”
“It’ll be a waste of time, but if you insist,” I said and turned the van around and tracked back to Wagga Wagga. These were the days before mobile phones, so we hunted down a working telephone box. I climbed from the driver’s seat and into the crisp September night. While the others waited in the van, I phoned Bill and received directions. With the precious piece of paper detailing the road to Junee and subsequent route to Bill’s block, I marched to the driver’s side of the van, hopped in and turned on the ignition.
“Stop! We have to wait for Tania and Tom!” Karen yelled.
We waited. And waited. Half an hour later, the pair strolled up the Main, cradling fish’n chips in newspaper and nibbling at steaming Chiko rolls.
As they climbed into the cabin, I said, “We could’ve been there by now, Bill’s waiting.” However, Bill had some more patience to exercise. His directions were not straight forward and an hour dragged by as we meandered through the farm blocks, one false turn after another on our tour to Junee in the dark. Tom, the young man of Aryan features, sat between the sniggering Tania and Karen. They doted on him and while sipping Coca-Cola, he lapped up all the attention slathered on him. After occupying their mouths with greasy food, the smell of which lingered, the youth tribe grew bored and simmered with repressed rage.
Acid comments spat and floated around the cabin. “Aren’t we there yet?”
“Sure you know where you’re going?…We’re two hours behind schedule…This rate, we’ll never get to Brisbane.” Under pressure, my fine skills of navigation evaporated.
In the mist, a pin-point of light appeared on the side of the road to Junee. As we approached, a white ute emerged from the fog. Beside the truck, we saw a man waving a torch. It was Bill.
With Bill and his gear bundled into the van, we sailed onto Orange.
Some three hours late, Tom was not happy. “We’ll never get there in time.”
The girls cuddled each side of him and chorused their support. “Yeah, if our leader didn’t get us lost!”
[to be continued next week, same time, same website…]
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2023
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