Chapter Nine

On arrival at Mount Isa I took a room for two nights at the Mount Isa Backpackers. The town has all the fine characteristics of a great mining town. For a start it’s stinking hot in the middle of summer and the winter nights are freezing cold. Winter days in Mount Isa are glorious. But do they pay for it when the summer comes around and the heat rolls in!

The mine sits right next to the shopping center, with tall smoke stacks from the smelters towering over the town. The town’s shopping center is large and has a variety of shops, clubs, pubs and restaurants. Copper was first mined back in the 1880’s. Today the mine is the world’s biggest producer of silver and zinc, ranking in the top ten for copper and zinc.

Next morning I left the backpackers and drove into town. I stopped at a stop light and Hewie conked out. I pulled on the starter a few times but there was something more seriously wrong than that for him to just stop for no reason. With the help of a couple of bystanders I pushed him to the side of the road. Up with the bonnet, the first thing I checked was the ignition, but everything seemed okay. I kicked over the engine again and he started up again, first turn of the starter. There was something else wrong. I’ve still not found the problem, I thought to myself. But what could it be - the ignition system appears to be good condition and so does the petrol pump. Maybe it’s the condenser? The condenser that was in the distributor was the same one that came with the engine, maybe it’s getting a little old. I searched around in the tool box and found a spare condenser and fitted it. Hewie kicked over again first run of the starter. Hopefully I’d found the problem – hopefully.

Mount Isa had a large spare parts dealer so I drove over and picked up a spare length of radiator hose, enough to fit the top and bottom hoses. I spent the next morning going over Hewie with a grease gun and checked the gearbox and differential oil.

I set of on the next leg of the journey which was 464 kilometers through to Barkly Roadhouse in the Northern Territory. The only stop along the way was the small town of Camooweal, a distance of  192  kilometres from Mt. Isa. I thought about stopping the night at Camooweal but I arrived there before midday so I filled up with petrol and continued on to the Northern Territory and Queensland border for the 272 kilometer run through to Barkly Homestead. The wind was coming from the east, the day was slightly cooler, a perfect day for motoring along in Hewie. I put my wide brimmed hat on and took down the hood. About 20 kilometers out of Camooweal I passed a cyclist, towing a trailer and headed east. I gave him a wave, he looked up and waved back.

The Barkly Highway through Camooweal, Queensland, Australia. 2004.

We sat on a constant 40 mph, Hewie’s favorite speed and the hours ticked by as did the kilometers. Each two hours I’d stop, stretch and check the engine for oil leaks and any other problems. The cool following wind helped push us along and stop any overheating due to the poor condition of the radiator core. Rain had recently fallen in the area and shades of green were starting to appear on the otherwise flat, barren, desert landscape.

Roadside stop to check the water and oil. The water is free.

I was about five kilometers from Barkly Homestead when the car ahead of me stopped with the bonnet open and two guys out on the road waving me down. I pulled up and they came over. They both spoke in strong Irish accents.

“Can you please give us a hand, something is wrong with our car. It’s overheated and out of oil and water. Do you have some spare oil and water” said one of them with a very nervous look on his face.

“Out of oil? That doesn’t sound too good” I said.

The Barkly Highway.

The engine didn’t look good! It was very hot and covered in oil that was still hot and bubbling. I got out my water bottle and slowly topped the radiator up and added some oil.

“Okay start it”

He turned the ignition key and the engine kicked over, bang bang bang bang. It sounded like it’d blown a piston or done in a big end bearing.

“I think you’ve got a major problem!” I said.

“Yeah, it doesn’t sound good, what should we do?”

Just as he asked the question, another car going the other way stopped. The driver poked his head out the window

“Are you guys Okay?”

“I think the engine’s blown, we’ll need a tow” I said.

“Barkly Homestead is another five kilometers. You can get help there.”

They introduced themselves as Eddie and Dave from Ireland. Eddie came with me in Hewie while Dave stayed back to watch their car.

“What model is it?” I asked.

“It’s an 85 model XF Ford Falcon. We bought it in Sydney about three months ago. We were originally with two other backpackers who shared in the cost and running expenses, but they’ve since returned to Ireland. It’s just Dave and me now. We’re on our way to Perth via Alice Springs. How about yourself?”

“Around Australia via Darwin - hopefully” I said.

He looked Hewie over. I thought he’d ask about Hewie’s ability to do such a trip, but instead said.

“It’s small isn’t it!”

We arrived at Barkly Homestead, which consisted of a service station, restaurant, bar, motel and camp ground. We were met at the counter by a woman who organized a tow truck.

“How far down the road is it” she asked

“About five kilometers” Eddie said.

“That’s easy then. The towing rate is fifty dollars and three dollars per kilometer. That’ll be sixty five dollars. That’s cheap, I’ve seen other people get hit with bills for over three hundred dollars. So you’re lucky to break down so close to the homestead”

A four wheel drive with a car trailer came around and picked up Eddie to head back to the car while I headed over to the camp ground and pitched my tent. I’d just got it up when they arrived back with the Ford on the back of the trailer.

“What’s the verdict?” I asked.

“Not good, the engine’s blown,” said the driver as he looked towards the guys.

“Got a spare one?” asked Eddie.

“Your best chance is to take the car back to Mount Isa and get a reconditioned engine fitted there. You could get a lift in the road train that takes it back. It would cost about four hundred dollars to get it to Mount Isa. That’s cheap, it’s back-loading rates.

“What’s back-loading” Eddie asked.

“About 99% of the freight in and out of Darwin is in. Most trucks return to the southern states empty” said the tow truck operator.

“What about the cost of the re-conditioned engine when we get to Mount Isa”

“You’re probably looking at a thousand for the engine and five or six hundred to have it installed.”

Dave and Eddie looked at each other deep in thought.

“I think we’ll leave it here and hitch hike to Perth. We only have four hundred dollars each invested in the old girl – we call her Bertha. It wouldn’t be worth spending all that money on a car we only paid $1600 in the first place.” said Eddie.

“I’ll park it over near the camp ground for you, so that you can get your things out. Tomorrow morning I’ll tow it down the back” said the operator, whose name I never did get.

“Does this happen much I ask” I asked.

“Sure does, a lot of old cars coming through here die. We’ve got a junk yard down the back it’s got about 35 wrecks in it. Each year a scrap metal dealer comes through, crushes them all and takes them down south.”

After the tow truck operator bought the car over to our campsite, Eddie and Dave started sorting out what personal possessions and items they needed and what has to be left behind.

“We’ve got an extra sleeping bag here. It belongs to one of the other part owners of the car. Here you can have it. Take this also.” he handed me the sleeping bag and a twenty litre plastic fuel container”

“Hey thanks, just what I needed, a sleeping bag!”

“Thanks for rescuing us!”

“You guys don’t have to thank me for that. People are good out in the bush. There’s only a few out there who won’t stop when someone is in trouble. It’s give and take. I like to give as much as possible when I’m on the road in old Hewie here. The same thing could happen to me tomorrow” I said.

“Here are some cans of gas, will they fit your camping stove?”

“Sure will, thanks”

“Join us for dinner, we’ve got plenty of food that we need to eat or give away.”

They cooked up a spaghetti bolognaise and opened a bottle of red wine. After dinner we went over to the bar at the roadhouse for a beer.

The next morning, was icy cold, I was glad for the sleeping bag Eddie and Dave had given me the evening before. After breakfast we tried to start the Ford – she was seized tight. Eddie and Dave got their cameras out and took their last photos of her before packing up what possessions they could carry. Then they headed over to the side of the highway to hitch-hike a lift to Tennant Creek where they could catch Australia’s crack new train, the Ghan. This would take them south to Port Augusta where they could change for the train to Perth.

They’d both gone over to the bar the evening before and had met some other Irish folk there. These people evidently promised them a lift to Tennant Creek, but next morning they didn’t turn up- they’d disappeared out of the park before any of us were out of bed. I thought that was strange to offer someone a lift and not keep your promise. Bad karma. It’s a big land out here in the bush, but it’s a small country if you count the number of people.

I waved goodbye to Eddie and Dave as they stood hitch-hiking on the side of the road. There was a car or truck passing every 10 to 20 minutes headed west, most pulling into the roadhouse. They were reading their books with one eye on the oncoming traffic. They were going the same way as myself. I felt guilty passing them. But Hewie was just too small for one extra person on such a long trip, let alone including their mountain of luggage. If they didn’t get a lift, a bus headed for Tennant Creek was due to arrive late that evening. So they wouldn’t be stuck there forever if they didn’t get a lift.

Goodbye Bertha

As I drove passed them and swung left to the west I had a few quiet words to Hewie. I warned him to behave himself and not give any trouble or break down. If he did he might just end up in a lonely graveyard like Bertha, out here in the middle of nowhere.

The run through from the Barkley Roadhouse  to the t-intersection called Three Ways where the Barkley highway from the east meets the Stuart highway which runs from north to south (Darwin to Adelaide) took about four hours.

Last time I visited Three Ways was back in 1969 when I spent a day and a night there waiting for a lift through to Mount Isa. I remember it as a lonely roadhouse out in the middle of an arid plane. But this time there were more trees. I’d expected to arrive with the roadhouse on my left, but when I arrived at the intersection, there was no roadhouse. I’d been to Tennant Creek a few years back so I decided not to take the 18 kilometer run down there. Instead I made a right hand turn in the direction of Darwin. Less than a kilometer up the road I found the roadhouse on my right. It still existed but it seems they either moved the roadhouse or moved the road. I stopped in to fill up and buy a sandwich for lunch. I asked the waitress who served me why the location of the roadhouse has changed.

“A few years back they re-routed the road to Mount Isa south of the roadhouse hoping that people would think that they needed to turn left and head down to Tenant Creek to fill up with fuel and food. Tennant Creek wants its share of tourists. Too many were just stopping at the roadhouse then continuing their journey to Darwin. That’s why there are so many trees. They kind of hide the roadhouse from view as you drive in from Mount Isa.”

“But did it work?” I asked. She looked a little unsure of herself and smiled.

“I don’t know.”

I ordered a salad sandwich and a cup of tea for lunch and took a seat at one of the tables. While I sat there eating and drinking the tea I thought back to the time I was here in 1969. Thee were no trees, it was a hot barren dusty place. I’d arrived about mid-day. Drinking water was a scarce commodity at the roadhouse. You could purchase beer or soft drinks at the bar. If you wanted drinking water you virtually had to beg the people who worked at, or ran, the roadhouse for it. You couldn’t buy bottles of it back then like you can today. It seemed that few people drank the stuff back in those days, beer being the favoured beverage when thirst struck.

That afternoon two English girls arrived by thumb. Once they found I was another hitch hiker they joined me sitting in the shade of the road house restaurant. We were sitting their telling each other our travelling stories. They both were wearing cowboy style hats with corks they’d tied around the side to chase away the flies. A tourist bus came in and stopped. The door sprang open and out climbed a bus load of Australians on a tour to Darwin from Adelaide. They saw myself and the girls sitting on our backpacks. A few of them walked over and asked if they could take a picture of the girls in their Aussie style hats. Obviously they were all city slickers. We heard one say to the other.

“Look at those girls in those hats with the corks – real Australians!” Little did they know…

I finished my sandwich and drank the last drop of tea, stopped my day dream and jumped back to the present day. I filled up with petrol and checked the oil and water and headed north on the Stuart highway, destination Darwin.

That evening I stopped at a caravan and camping ground at the back of a service station at the town of Elliot. With a population of about 500 Aboriginals and 100 whites Elliot was established during World War II as a camp for troupes heading north to Darwin. The town was named after the camp commander, Captain Elliott. I set my tent up in a camp ground. It was pretty rough, but there was little else. I sliced up some tomatoes and cooked up some potatoes on my camp stove for dinner. After dinner I walked around to the front of the service station. There were two car loads of aboriginal people at the front. As I appeared on the scene, one came over and introduced himself and asked if I had a cigarette I could spare for him.

“Sorry, I don’t smoke” I said.

They were all watching to see if I’d give him a smoke. When I shook my head they all got in their cars and took off. I had the impression if I’d had given him a smoke the whole tribe would have bitten me for one.

It was about a kilometer walk up the road to the pub. I looked up along the street there were lots of black fellas and their families sitting under the trees. It was clear that I was about the only white fella around the town. Even the shop and service station was run by Indian people. I decided to walk up to the pub for a beer. Before leaving I went into the store and bought a cheap packet of smokes. The first packet of smokes that I’d bought since I gave up smoking back in 1994. I wasn’t even out of the shop door before a local on his way in stopped me and asked for a ciggy.

“No problems mate – here’s one.” A big smile came over his face as his pitch black hand moved up and took a cigarette from the freshly opened pack.

“Hey, thanks brother, have you got a light?” His eyes were big, bloodshot and watery. His face was as black as night, and he was ever grateful that I’d given him a cigarette. He told me that he wouldn’t be paid until tomorrow. I wished him a good evening and headed out onto the footpath. Two women came over and each asked me for a ciggy each. As they each took one I looked up the street where about 10 or 15 more stood there watching two of their womenfolk get a cigarette from me. By the time I reached the pub the packet was finished. I looked back and they were all merrily sitting under the trees puffing away

Underway the next morning, I stopped by at Newcastle Waters, twenty kilometers north of Elliot. Newcastle Waters is a ghost town but it was once an important cattle station. With a large expanse of water in Lake Woods just south of Elliot, Newcastle Waters was an important stop back in the days of stock routes and drovers. The local store has closed and is now preserved as a museum. After having served its last beer back in 1960, the old pub still stands. The doors where open so I walked in an sat on one of the old seats, looked about and thought about what it must have been like when the place was full of dry and dusty, beer swilling drovers.

Junction Hotel at Newcastle waters, Northern Territory, Australia.

Back out on the highway again I continued through to Daly Waters. I’d been looking forward to visiting this small town again. Like Newcastle Waters it was built on the old stock route and is seven kilometers west of the highway. On my first visit, I’d arrived there in a road train late in the evening in December 1969. From memory, the main street was still dirt, many of the townsfolk were sitting around a campfire in the middle of the street drinking beer. On one side of the road was the Daly Waters Hotel, on the other side was a mountain of empty beer cans. Instead of sitting inside the pub the locals all sat out in the middle of the road. As they’d finish their can of beer they hurled it onto the pile. Since drinking beer was most of the inhabitant’s main form or recreation, hobby, pastime and interest, you can imagine how high the pile of beer cans was. That evening, back in 1969 I slept on a bench seat out front of the hotel.

Daly Waters, Northern Territory, Australia

My arrival at Daly Waters this time was a little after midday and not much had changed. The hotel which is built of corrugated iron, still stands and appears very much as I remembered it 35 years ago. But the pile of beer cans had gone. I asked a few locals if they remembered it. None did. Most said they hadn’t been living in the town that long. Most of the locals I’d met back in 1969 had moved on or died of sclerosis of the liver. In place of the beer can mountain was a small shop and service station. The town still had its charm. The pub was open and full of tourists who’d arrived by bus. The pub also offered accommodation in the simple corrugated iron rooms. But they all had air conditioners. It was too early for a beer, although certainly hot enough for one. I kept moving for another hour before arriving in the town of Larrimah.

The bar at the Daly Waters Hotel in the Northern Territory, Australia.

The dream of a railway down the center of Australia, the Darwin to Adelaide railway ended at Larrimah. Before World War II the government of Australia came to the conclusion that they were wasting money building a railway line to what appeared to be nowhere and gave up work when the line reached a point eight kilometres south of Larrimah at a place called Birdum. But it was found that the ground around Birdum was too unstable for a railway, worse still it was a flood plain during the wet season. So Birdum was abandoned and Larrimah made the railhead – the end of the dream. For many years the line carried ore, goods and passengers up and down the track from Darwin. The short length of railway line saw most of its traffic after Darwin was bombed by the Japanese in 1944. Getting troupes and supplies overland to Darwin was a monumental effort. Everything for the war effort was transported overland from the southern cities to Mount Isa by rail. Here troupes and supplies were off loaded onto trucks and trucked through to Larrimah for the final distance by train through to Darwin. Most of this was on rough unsealed roads.

The remains of the Larrimah Railway Station in 2004.

I’d wanted to ride a train on the line and when I arrived in Darwin in 1969,  by train was the way I’d planned to leave. When the day came I headed down to the station, a freight train sat at the station with two passenger cars attached to the end of the train. The cars were full of Aboriginals, all having the time of their lives and most totally drunk from drinking cheap red wine out of large bottles, then known as flagons. Some had their arms of out the windows and were waving the bottles of wine around. There were women and kids, people were yelling and shouting, a party was happening but I didn’t feel like I’d be welcome. I’d be the only white fella on board. I walked up to the road leading out to the highway and put my thumb out. I soon got a lift, and in a short time I was sitting up the front of a road train on my way south. The driver dropped me off at Larrimah station many hours before the train was due to arrive. In fact, the train was so slow it was probably a day or more before the train would arrive. There was no one in attendance at the station, I lay my sleeping bag down on the bench seat and spent the night there. I got up the next morning and walked over to a water tap, washed my face and took a drink – yuk! it was bore water. That was the last memory I had of Larrimah, before again setting off on my trip hitch-hiking trip hitching from Darwin back to my home town of Sydney.
I hadn’t been to Larrimah in 35 years and was keen to see the town again. When I drove in, the old pub was still there but the railway station and goods shed had been demolished, probably when the line was closed back in the early 70’s. The concrete slab where station once stood was still there and also what appeared to be the ruins of a cold room. Various other pieces of railway equipment were scattered around the area. The track appeared to still be in reasonable condition.

Larrimah Hotel, Larrimah, Northern Territory, Australia. Picture taken in September 2004.

I sat there in Hewie visualizing the past and how I wished I had of braved the aboriginal party and had have ridden the train back in 1969.

As I sat there daydreaming, I saw a flash of yellow appear a little way down the track. I sat up and there coming up the old railway line from Birdum was a quad or more commonly known as a “track inspection vehicle” towing a small trailer full of people. I took my sun glasses off and cleaned them on my t-shirt.

“Is this real?” I thought to myself.

It sure was real. When it came to a stop just past the old station ruins I went over to ask the driver and passengers what was happening. A woman spoke up.

“We’re a local history group, we call ourselves The Friends of the Northern Territory Railway. Some of our members have faithfully restored this old quad car. We loaded it onto a trailer and bought it down from where we keep it at the Adelaide River railway museum. It’s the 75th year tomorrow since the first train arrived in Birdum. We’re running shuttle trips back and forth. Most of us are camped down at Birdum for the weekend. Early tomorrow morning we’re all going to get up early, stand by the track and celebrate with a small glass of port each. We’re also erecting an anniversary plaque down there to celebrate the occasion.”

“Any chance I can get a ride down there with you?” I asked.

“Yeah sure, we’ll be going back and forth all weekend. We’re having lunch over at the pub and we’ll head back down after. Lunch is just five dollars and it includes steak, sausages and salad. Why don’t you come over and join us” she said.

“Sounds like a good deal to me. Count me in!”

Another member of the group looked over towards me.

“Hey mate can you give us a hand to turn the quad around. They dismantled the turntable years ago. We all have to lift the quad up and turn it around by hand, and it’s bloody heavy,” he said.

“Can’t you just run it down there in reverse gear?” I asked.

“You can, but the radiator is pointed the wrong way and the engine tends to overheat.”

I helped them turn the quad which was named Oodnadatta.

The quad and members of the Friends of The Northern Territory Railway. Larrimah, Northern Territory 2004

I was hoping to drive Hewie down to Birdum and set up camp with the group but they all took one look at Hewie and advised against bringing him down.

“The road into Birdum hasn’t been maintained for years. There’s no town there anymore. The road is only suitable for 4 wheel drive vehicles.” A member of the group told me.

After lunch I got the offer to ride down in a four wheel drive vehicle along a back track via an old bushman’s grave, early settler wells and past the Birdum River. The first run to Birdum on the quad was full, so I took up the 4WD offer.

Lunch with the railway enthusiasts and Northern Territory historians at the Larrimah Hotel, Northern Territory, Australia. 2004.

We headed out on a rough track and came to an early settler’s grave, then stopped by an old well. Our leader was a local who sat in the front and who introduced him self to me as Uncle Fester. As we continued, the track got rougher and rougher and the two others sitting on the back seat started to look nervous.

Changing the points the points the hard way, Larrimah, Northern Territory, Australia

“Where are we?” asked the driver.

The track had disappeared altogether. We were driving through the bush pushing over small trees and bushes, making our own track. I started to get a little nervous. I hoped Uncle Fester knew his way around these parts. Does anyone have a compass?

“Are you sure you know where you’re going?” asked the driver. Uncle Fester looked over at the driver with a look on his face of total displeasure. He didn’t say it, but the words were written all over his face.

“How could he think that I didn’t know where I am. I live here!”

Larrimah yard, or what's left of it.

I was by this time looking around the vehicle to see if I could find a compass, looking at the fuel gauge and wondering how much water was in the jerry cans that were tied to the luggage rack on the roof .

We continued on for another half an hour until we came through a clearing and there in front of us was the Birdum river, cattle grazing and a group of people camped by the riverside. Uncle Fester leaned down to the cooler between his feet and pulled out another can of beer and opened it.

“See, there was nothing to worry about. I know where I’m going!” as he pulled the ring top on the can of beer to open it. I looked his way and asked him.
“What do you do around these parts?” I assumed he’d say that he had some cattle or something of that nature. He didn’t appear old enough to be retired. He had grey hair and a ragged face from what appeared to be a lifetime dedicated to drinking and smoking. But he looked me in the eye and answered my question in one word.

“Drink beer. I'm a beeroligist.” he said.

Uncle Fester, the beeroligist

I thought that there would be a house or two at Birdum but there was nothing. Just a few posts and old foundations of what was once a small town. Down at what was left of the freight yard and railway station we found the rest of the group who’d set up camp there. The only remnants of the railway equipment were the tracks, the old water tank and a few remains of the old coaling stage. We all walked to the end of the line for a group photo shot.

Just before sunset I bid farewell to my new found friends and rode aboard the last quad car heading back into Larrimah. Here I pitched my tent in the camp ground next to the pub for the night.

All there is left of a town once known as Birdum in the Northern Territory, Australia.

 

Water tank at Birdum, Northern Territory, Australia.

 

Remains of Birdum station

The further north I traveled, the warmer it was becoming. The maximum daily highs were around 34 degrees centigrade. By 10 am the temperature was well up in the mid to high 20’s. By midday it wa s well over 30. Not only was it too hot for me, I was more worried about Hewie and his old radiator. But, so far, there hadn’t been any problems with overheating since Julia Creek. Keeping him cool was just a matter of keeping my foot off the gas as much as possible and running before a following wind. Since turning north back at Three Ways the wind had swung into the southeast, or on the quarter as an old sailor would say. Dead behind, on the quarter or beam on, was acceptable to push Hewie along, comfortably and without boiling. But not a head wind, then we’d be in trouble, that’d probably bring us to a standstill.

Since leaving Elliot I’d got into the practice of getting a head start and leaving an hour before sunrise. The added advantage of this is that I’d catch the sunrise each morning. As I drove along I’d watch the red ball rise up over the red, bushfire smoked landscape. A beautiful sight, shades of red, purple and fire orange over the harsh and dry landscape. Now that I’m back here in the city writing this book, that sight and the smell of the burning bush is engraved in my mind. I want to go back and do it all again!

I departed Larrimah at five in the morning and passed by bushfires that were burning alongside the road. Each morning now had become a race against time to get to my next destination before 10 o’clock to avoid the heat. Furthermore, if the wind did decide to change direction it would blow the hardest in the middle of the day or late afternoon. The mornings were generally calm and cool.

Mount Isa was my last taste of fresh food, since then I’d basically lived on steak sandwiches and a bag of apples I bought before leaving Mount Isa. There are not too many stores on this leg of the journey, and when I did find one, all the food is frozen apart from basics like potatoes and onions. That’s fair enough, very few people live between Mount Isa and my next stop at Katherine.

A Northern Territory sunset.

Arrival at Katherine bought me back into the world I’m used to – Woolworths. I’m sorry to say, being away from it gets a little hard, I actually started to loose some weight – amazing. But that all stopped when I rolled into Katherine, there it was, the big green, yellow and red sign saying “Woolworths”, a sign we all know and love. As usual there’s a big car park out front, where I sat Hewie. The entrance is via a small arcade of shops including a cake shop,  next a coffee shop selling cappuccinos and then Woolworths. Now, which one will I enter first? Ah! the coffee shop!

The population of Katherine is about 9000 but you could probably more than double that at any time due to the massive influx of tourists. It’s generally easy to spot a tourist, especially in this part of the world. For a start they’re either sun burnt or well tanned. The other is that they all seem to dress the same. Light cottons, always a hint of khaki and leather sandals. While shopping in Woolies I stopped for a moment and looked around to try to spot a local. Of course there were the shop assistants who basically looked like Woolies shop assistants at any other Woolies store in any other part of the country. None were neither nicely sun tanned, nor horribly sunburned. Most of them were a pale white color. Apart from the local Aboriginal community, everyone else looked like a tourist. I went to the check-out. After the woman put through my groceries I asked her were there were any locals in the town.

“It’s mainly tourists in here all the time. The closest Woolies (or any store that is like Woolies) are at Mount Isa, Alice Springs, Broome and Darwin. So it doesn’t matter where you’re coming from, there’s a good chance you’ll have to stop here for some fresh food. We get everyone in here.”

I had no way to cool water while traveling, I didn’t have a fridge in Hewie  because of the the extra current it would draw, which would put extra load on the generator. Occasionally I’d stop at a service station and buy a cold bottle of water. But that didn’t taste all that good. It was too cold, the water I carried in a plastic bottle in Hewie tasted like hot plastic soup in the middle of the day. There was a camping goods store in town where I purchased one of those old fashioned car water bags. It’s a simple heavy canvas bag that I filled with water and strapped to the front of the car. The water keeps the canvas wet. As you drive along the heat and the wind evaporates the water from the wet bag which in turn takes the heat out of the water inside. Result – the water is naturally cool, just the right temperature for drinking. Not too cold not too warm – delicious!

I departed Katherine early next morning after a night at a local camp ground and arrived into Adelaide River just before 9am in the morning and pitched my tent in the camping ground behind the hotel and service station. The camp ground was well maintained with a grassy area for campers. My tent is the older A frame or triangular type of tent which makes it easy to erect between two trees. I just tied the ropes which are connected the top of each end of the tent to each tree. This makes pitching it an easy job. I often see others with their modern dome style tents struggling to put them together. The modern tents certainly have more room and would be good if you were staying a few days, but they appeared time consuming if you were just staying for the one night.

Water sprinklers were set up around the camp area which helped keep the lawns green and gave the area a cool appearance. I lay my mattress under a tree, lay down with my book and dozed off to sleep for an hour or so. I woke up with some ants biting my leg and rushed over for the methylated spirits (alcohol) to soothe the itch. I then ventured to the opposite side of the highway to visit my new friends at the Adelaide River railway Museum for the afternoon. We spent the rest of the afternoon sitting around in the shade talking about trains.

Next morning, just before sunrise, I packed up the tent, boiled some water for a cup of tea and filled my thermos with hot water at the camp kitchen. With everything packed and ready to leave, just at sunrise I pulled on the starter and Hewie refused to kick over. I got out and first checked the ignition and took the top off the distributor. The points were set to the correct gap. I pressed on the starter button on the firewall near the voltage regulator and held one of the spark plug leads about half an inch from the spark plug. A nice blue spark jumped across to the plug. “No problems there”, I thought, “what about the petrol?” I pulled the line from the petrol pump off where it connects to the carburetor, petrol gushed out and the petrol pump clicked happily away. “Now where’s the problem, I’ve checked everything but he still jump to life. A blown head gasket,” I thought to myself. I put the bonnet down and got out my tea bags and the last drop of milk I had and went back to the camp kitchen and made a cup of tea while I thought about what the problem could be. I sat there for about ten minutes, finished my cuppa, I got up, wandered over to Hewie, turned on the ignition and pulled the starter. Hewie immediately jumped to life and ran like he’d just rolled off the showroom floor. Not exactly that perfect, but you know what I mean.

As I stood there listening to Hewie idle, a cyclist, who was camped next to me, came over to enquire if I’d solved my car problems. He introduced himself as John, a tall, thin, suntanned, cyclist who was probably in his mid sixties and as fit as a fiddle. He was from a town just north of Perth in Western Australia named Geraldton. He was on a trip around Australia also, and had ridden across Nullabor Plain to Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Mt Isa and here to Adelaide River.

The Adelaide River Railway station at Adelaide River, Northern Territory, Australia.

“My next stop is Darwin and then on to Broome and down the coast to home again.”

“You’re almost at the end of your journey” I said.

“Yeah, only a few more months and I’ll be home again.”

We got onto the subject of why we were doing the round Australia trip, something that most Australians dream of doing some day.

I told him “I suppose it’s because I was born here, I’ve just got to see as much of the place as I can before I die. I can’t explain it, it’s like I’m doing the trip to somehow feel and smell the country. Also know it, have you ever gone to a dinner party or just met someone in everyday life and they tell you they’re from a place in Australia that you’ve never heard of. And don’t you feel like an idiot when you’ve got to ask them where it is?”

“Yeah, I know how you feel, I’m like that myself. But I generally tell people that the reason for my trip is that I’m on a protest ride. I’m protesting about our involvement in the war in Iraq,” he told me.

“What I really want to do is write a book about my experiences when I get back, a social history of what it was like to drive a Morris Minor around Australia in the year 2004. I may not sell many copies but maybe someone will pick up the book in fifty years time read it and think how wonderful and simple life must have been back then when someone could just get in an old car and cruise off without any restrictions or stress,” I said.

John, the cyclist at Adelaide River, Northern Territory, Australia.

“Well you’re right, just think, it might become a best seller in fifty years time. You might become famous when you’re dead,” he said.

“I suppose until then I’ll have to continue to live on rice and noodles.” I said.

“It’s getting hot I suppose that we should make tracks” he said

We both headed out onto the highway and in two hours I arrived in the city of Darwin.
Chapter 10


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