Big Red Tour
Through Outback Australia

Chapter 14
Don't Take This Vehicle Into the Desert

© Jens Hültman

Rock Forms, Broome, Kimberley, Western Australia, Australia, Pacific

Rock Forms, Broome, Kimberley, WA

Ken Gillham
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As you drive towards Broome you feel the dampness of the North engulfing you. It's like a wet kiss from a tipsy woman. It's a pleasant feeling after the dry heat of the Centre. It's a feeling that says 'Relax! Slow down!'

The wristband on my watch had broken. The first thing I did in Broome was to try to get a man at one of the pedestrian malls who made leather repairs to glue it together for me—an operation requiring a maximum of sixty seconds.

'Come back on Monday', he said, irritated. 'I'm busy.'

Welcome to the tropics, mate. Monday was three days away. I decided that this was a sign from God—I should not worry about time anymore. And I mostly didn't for the next few months. I checked in at the Roebuck hotel, "The Roey". The usual crowd of men with too many tattoos, too little hair, too-big beards and too-fat stomachs were hanging out in the public bar. The reception was air-conditioned and featured a polite lady who could have worked in an office in Melbourne. She did not look as though she appreciated men with tattoos and beer bellies very much.

Australia is often a schizophrenic place, embodying an odd combination of the primitive and the refined. Speaking of the primitive, on the main street I bumped into the F'n H Tour again. They greeted me with overwhelming enthusiasm.

'How's your car?' Ron inquired.

This is the first subject on the road and in the bush. First, you worry about the car, then about yourself.

'I've got a new window', I explained proudly. 'It cost me eighty dollars, but I guess it's worth it.'

Ron commended me on a good deal.

'You better watch out son', he added. 'Now that car is a sacred site.'


'Well, that window probably came from a car that'd been rolled by some Aboriginal. Since everything they own is a sacred site, then your whole car must be a sacred site since that window is hanging onto it. Watch it, son, they might come and claim it at any moment.'

From his comment, I gathered that Ron was not a keen supporter of the Aboriginal land rights movement. I switched to complaining about the rental company and their idea of business—renting wrecks and bombs like poor old Fidelity to unsuspecting foreigners like me. Ron shook his head and told me that those Germans were 'a bloody shame for the country'. 'Immigration policies in this country are all f***d up', he told me. In the case of Kurt und Hartmut, ja, I could only agree.

What disturbed me most was the statement from Kurt that Australian car mechanics did not understand a thing about Landcruisers and that they were just out for your money. I had been treated nicely by Norm in Meekathara, in the mining shop in Newman and by the panel beater in Roeburne. No one had tried to charge me an arm and a leg for their repairs. I muttered that 'if those Germans wanted to come to Australia and live here, then they should respect the Aussies and not whinge so much, and besides, why didn't they learn to speak English properly?'

Jan and Kath and indeed the whole F'n H entourage, took wholeheartedly to this little improvised outbreak. Jan and Kath had tears in their eyes. They proclaimed that in spite of being a foreigner from a country whose whereabouts they had little clue about, I was a much better Australian than a lot of people who had been living here for years. It was as if I had been a long lost son returning from the Frozen North. I asked them what F'n H meant.

'Where the F****g Hell are we?' Dwayne explained to me, and laughed. That's because we never know where we are when we're out in the bush. Ron always asks: 'Where the F***g Hell are we?'

Jan farted loudly. Everybody laughed. Jan excused herself and blamed the raw onions in the salad she'd had for lunch. Dwayne continued to tell me how Kath had had a severe bout of diarrhoea in Kalgoorlie. Dwayne had recommended she buy a butt plug and ram it up her rectum to keep the faeces in place. Dwayne and Jan's moods were substantially elevated. 'Butt plug!' They almost fell over on the ground laughing. Ron and Kath thought it less amusing.

The famous Street in Kalgoorlie came up in the conversation. We talked about skimpies and topless bars. Ron told me that his daughter-in-law, who lives with his son in Kalgoorlie, worked in one of those bars. Unfortunately, she worked behind the scenes, he complained to me. She should work right front up in the bar, since in his mind she had great boobies. More men than his son should get a chance to enjoy the sight of them unveiled.

I drove to the Toyota dealer. I asked them to have a look at the 4WD. When I got Fidelity back, their laconic comment was: 'Don't take this vehicle into the desert.'

According to them, the leaking hub needed to be fixed right away. They would be happy to do it and to send the bill to the rental company. I went to the public telephone in order to call Kurt und Hartmut, ja. Two tourist girls were using the only calling card telephone. I got in the queue.

A very drunk Aboriginal came up to me. He was short with a round face. He looked different from the taller, slender people out in the desert.

'How yer, Bru?' he asked me. "Bru" as in brother.

I tried to talk to him, but not much sense came out of him. His name was Derek. He had been drinking all day. He asked me what I was doing. When I told him I was going to make a telephone call to Victoria, he approved of the idea. He announced his intention of telephoning his brother-in-law so that they could do more drinking together. He was not successful in his attempt to make that call. Derek stared at me with bloodshot eyes. I asked him if his people had land rights.

'Land rights,' he slurred. Land rights are OK, but it's no good when they all go into town and go on the rock.

In one sentence, Derek summed up Aborigines' situation. He asked me where I was going. I did not feel like going off to drink with him. I told him I was going back to the hotel to have a shower. He approved of that idea as well.

'I'm gonna wash my fucking dick so some fucking pussy can sit on it', he exclaimed. He staggered away, still calling me Bru.

This proves that the common opinion held by white Australians that Aborigines don't wash is wrong. Derek clearly understood that intimate hygiene would increase his chances for intercourse with the opposite sex. The tourist girls fled, disgusted.

I got hold of Kurt. Kurt at first denied that Landcruisers could have a leak in the front diff. He then denied that this could have any impact on the functionality of the 4WD. He then denied that you needed the 4WD at all. Only in the most extreme situations, such as if you were severely bogged down in sand. Then and only then.

Kurt continued to assure me that road conditions in the Kimberley were so excellent that 4WD transmission was not necessary at all. Earlier in the afternoon, I had talked to a man from the rescue service. He told me how they had been flying out people with helicopters the week before. Kurt then continued to tell me that since I had travelled on what he referred to as the "Old Gunbarrel" then I could suit myself.

'Haff you connected the 4WD?' he asked. 'Ach ja, zen anything can happen in zis conditions. Ja.'

Like the leak in the hubs. I had faxed them my planned route. They had not objected to it. Hartmut had even commented that it would be a nice trip. What was this? Why were they blaming the Gunbarrel for the problems with their old bomb? I asked Kurt if the Gunbarrel had attached the nipple to the breather hose with blue silicon. This irony was lost on him. 'Ach ja, ze road can't attach nipples, nein?'

'Ach ja, you see zis Australian car mechanics are just fishing for money', Kurt explained to me again. 'Ze rain season is over and zey need zomething to do, ja.'

That the mechanics probably are busier when it is dry season and all the tourists are passing by had nothing to do with his criminal logic. Kurt annoyed me severely. I could not be bothered talking to him anymore. I wished I had been one of the judges in the Nürenberg trials. I could have hung them high at that moment.

I called Nigel. We discussed the leaking hub. He was inconclusive at this point as to whether Toyota or the rental company was right. Nigel proposed an alternative route around the Kimberley, along the Great Northern Highway. I felt depressed. The Kimberley was my main goal—I had been dreaming for ten years of going there. I decided to continue to Derby the next day and see if I could get the vehicle repaired.

Chapter 15 →