Tuesday, September 8, 1981
[Extract from Trekking With the T-Team: Central Australian Safari 1981]
So for the first time in the entire two months of the Safari, Dad permitted 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.
My brother (MB) 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!’ MB fanned his nose. ‘Do you have to?’
‘But it’s hot.’ I massaged my foot. ‘I can’t smell any foot odour.’
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 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.
MB 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. MB 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 road-side. 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. MB 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 my brother. ‘How long do you think you’ll be?’
MB 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,’ I muttered.
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 MB who now battled with a pump. No matter how hard or long he pumped, the tyre didn’t seem to be doing much.
MB 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.’
MB 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 MB 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 he 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,’ MB replied. Then removing the spare trailer tyre, he bounced it into position.
Again, we stood around and watched MB 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. MB 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 Darlek. He leaned through the window connected to the front. ‘MB, I think you better stop.’
‘Not again,’ I groaned.
Once more we all dismounted from the Rover and once more MB shook his head at the pathetic sight of an airless tyre, this time, the Rover’s, squashed flat on the corrugated sand. Once more we stood guard while MB jacked up the Rover, removed the flattened lump of rubber, soaked it in a bowl of water, found the leak and commenced the ritual of repairs. And once more he swore as he ripped off the first, then the second, then the third patch in the set that wouldn’t take. Finally, he hurled the remaining patches and glue into the spinifex.
Dad gazed to the horizon and the sun fast sinking toward it. ‘What did you do that for?’
‘They’re a bunch of duds.’ MB hunted through the tool kit for another packet of tyre patches. ‘How long did you have that set?’
‘Oh, er, um,’ Dad rubbed his moustache, and mumbled, ‘only a few years.’
‘Well, the glue was cactus.’ MB pulled out a patch from a newer looking box, and then lighting a match, exposed the patch to the flame. After roughening the tube at the damage site, he sealed the patch over the puncture. He stuffed the tube back in the tyre. ‘Now, let’s see what we can do about the pump.’
After returning to the tool box for some more tools, he fiddled with an electric pump, and then attached it to the Rover’s battery.
We all cheered as the pump chugged into action and filled the tyre with its much-needed air. Mission accomplished, we once again climbed back in the Rover and then raced towards Oodnadatta.
Weariness from the constant stopping and starting, and tyre-changing meant that not much conversation happened between C2 and me. The current corrugations that filled the cabin with a sound like heavy machinery didn’t help. I knew Dad wanted to drive through the night to reach Adelaide. No stopping now. We’d suffered enough delays, and Dad intimated he just wanted to get home, or if not home, at least to the comforts of a creek-bed filled with soft sand, like Algebuckina.
However, Dad’s dream of sleeping in cushioned comfort stalled. Ninety kilometres north of Oodnadatta, another trailer tyre blow-out brought us to a complete halt. By this time night had fallen and the diagnosis was grim. We had run out of spares for the trailer.
The T-men stood at the scene of the tyre carnage. MB combed the area and shining light from a torch he gathered up shreds of evidence. Dad and his nephews stared with mouths downturned at the remains of the victim, the rim with a few bits of rubber hanging off it.
‘It made quite a few sparks,’ I said. ‘Better than fireworks.’
‘This is not the time to be funny.’ Dad gazed at the gravel road languishing in darkness. ‘We’re in a lot of trouble and I’d appreciate if you could take this seriously.’ He clasped his hands and cleared his throat. I was sure he’d burst into prayer at any moment.
MB shone the torch in the direction of the Rover. I turned to look. The Rover listed to one side. Surely that can’t be the dip at the edge of the road.
‘MB,’ I said walking over to the back-passenger side of the vehicle. ‘What’s going on with the Rover?’
The torchlight landed on me. ‘Look, we’re—’ Dad began. The light fell on the tyre, a very flat-to-the-rim tyre. ‘Oh.’
I pointed at the tyre imitating a pancake. ‘See, I told you.’ I put my hands on my hips and sighed. ‘Just not our day. Four flat tyres in half a day. How can that be?’
MB stood staring at the latest casualty. ‘Someone must’ve put tacks on the road.’
‘Does that mean we’re going to camp here tonight?’ C1 asked.
‘Looks like we’ll have to,’ Dad said. ‘And it won’t be very comfortable, it’s all stony.’
[…to be continued]
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017
Feature Photo: Car-nage © Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2013
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