Many times on our latest trip I remembered and referenced I guess what could be called our first ‘overland’ trip (although no one used that word back then. It is still not me, Tim has told me to just build a bridge and get over it. So we’ll try that...), the plan was just a BIG road trip. However a tropical cyclone making its way across much of the land we were due to road trip through turned it into maybe more of an adventure than was planned, and so the seeds were sown...
In the time we had left off from work when we got home from the last trip, we spent some of it de-cluttering our mansion and found some photos from that trip.
When we first visited Australia as backpackers from the UK in 1999, we had done some car camping trips in the UK. Obviously this was a bit more of a step up, for a couple of pasty skinned poms. A 3 week trip round the entire west side of the country and then back down through the middle (why did I pick the more remote west side, which had very little publicity at the time compared to the east of Australia? Well, I didn’t think too hard about it at the time, but if you are reading this, then you probably get it).
There may have been a slight incident of getting slightly chased by the police unawares, but let us gloss over that...
Vehicle of choice was a 1986 Ford Falcon XE, 4.1L (this was a massive engine for a ‘normal’ car coming from the UK, I can’t describe how disappointed I was at its performance...) 6 cylinder, dual fuel (LPG/unleaded)
estate car station wagon.
My Australian compatriot on this platform will be heartened to hear I heeded the local advice given to me and took two spares on that trip. N and I would take turns in who got to ‘cuddle up’ to the second spare when we slept in the car, which was often. Despite many, many dirt road kilometres, some intended, some not (no GPS in those days!), plus some extreme bitumen road conditions, we never had need for either, luckily. The recent tropical storm had been through the north, leaving flooded roads, fish on the road, frogs popping under the tyres they were that numerous. At one point I lost the entire front end of the Falcon (thank fuck rear wheel drive!) into a hole in the bitumen, after that N would sit on the passenger seat window ledge so she could watch out for potholes, etc, though any flooded section. You do not need a 4x4 for adventure in Australia, but it helps!
I did a similar prep schedule to the Falcon, as I did to the Cruiser, in the lead up to that trip. Changed the oil halfway round, apart from one headlight being permanently on ‘possum watch’, I don’t remember any problems (ok, it started to overheat on one very long dirt road detour when we had to drive though a locust swarm. When we stopped and I turned the engine off, the 3 inches of solid locusts that the fan was holding to the radiator fell off, then it stopped overheating, who would’ve thought!). There probably were, but when you’re young with not much money you just accept that nothing works perfectly all the time. It was also from the era where they built cars here for ‘Australian conditions’, this was no marketing mumbo, this thing was built like a small truck, everything from engine to suspension was over built and under stressed.
Many great tales from that trip. From hitting a massive and unseen lake of standing water across the road at about 80km/h (remember only one, very poor headlight) during, I think, the only time we drove properly at night trying to get somewhere with a public phone so I could call my Mum for her birthday. I was thinking for sure I had drowned the motor, it was like driving into the sea at that speed. Obviously I had the clutch down in a flash and when we had managed to stop in something approaching a straight line, all was forgiven for the underperforming 6 to look down and see the rev counter still sat at a steady idle like nothing had ever happened. When we finally got to said outback ‘servo’ N sat inside watching me using the outside payphone (ask your parents), engulfed in bugs (Northern Territory) calling home, while a preying mantis landed on my head and proceeded to eat all the other bugs on me! I haven’t been much good at calling Mum for her birthday after that...
We went to this place as we had seen a painting of it and asked where it was, etc. It then became one of our destinations on this trip, looking back, not dissimilar to what we do now. I seem to remember there was many dirt road km to get to this point, due to another detour. These days I would probably just drive past the detour to see how bad the road was, sometimes those signs get left out for months. At the time we just followed them to the tee.
Arriving at the car park at Natures Window in Kabarri NP, we climbed out of the Falcon to be greeted by a enveloping and aggressive swarm of
mosquitoes sand flies. Diving back into the car, I wasn’t to be defeated after coming so far. So I rugged up with every piece of clothing I could lay my hands on to cover up as well as possible every available piece of exposed flesh. Then, camera in hand I bolted from the car, running the 500m down to the hole in the rock, stopped long enough to snap the two quick photos you see here. Before turning tail and legging it back up the steps to the car park, before the hungry flying squad could get a fix on me. N has this recollection of waiting in the the car only to hear ‘OPEN THE DOOR!!!’ to see me running with a cloud (no joke) of hungry bloodsuckers trying to keep up. I dived back into the Falcon and she slammed the door behind me. Peeling off the sweaty layers of my protective ‘armour’ we had a good laugh, and got ready for the long drive out.
It seemed like everyone we met was also travelling, but where they lived was ‘the best place in the world’ and quite often had ‘the best beaches in the world’ sometime with an accompanying photo in their wallet! One such group of likely lads were on a fishing trip up north, one had a brand new (1999) Land Cruiser 100 series, maroon as I recall, very flash metal at the time. Next day they invited us over for our first taste of freshly caught and cooked Barramundi (fish), the Land Cruiser now a virtual write off having ‘hit a bull’ on the drive back from fishing, half the front and one entire side properly in a mess. Welcome to Australia!
So that trip was the beginnings of where we are now. Less than 12 months after returning to the UK we packed up and headed back to Oz for good. A job offer for me the catalyst, however I think that first taste of a big, beautiful, wild and rugged country to explore. Filled with likeable larrikins, and generally positive people was a breath of fresh air for us. The exploring part dropped of our radar for a while, as we established ourselves in a new country after arriving with nothing but two rucksacks, but my spell in the Army opened my eyes once again to life outside the cities, again back to the north, funny that...
Thanks for reading.