That Wonderful First Time, Part 1.

 

I think we all remember our first time. The nervousness, the anticipation, the absolute wonder of the unknown about to be fully exposed to you. All those thoughts chasing each other endlessly around your mind. This is going to be great. I’ve waited so long for this. What if I make a mistake? What if I handle all the bits and pieces wrong and end up ruining the whole experience and end up looking like a fool in front of my mates? What if I don’t take the proper precautions and end up paying for it for the rest of my life?

But enough about that harrowing experience, this is a four wheel drive blog after all. But speaking of first times, the first time you get out off-road is just as exciting as any other thing you may have done for the first time. No one really knows what they’re doing when they first end up at the point where the bitumen meets the dirt. That moment when order, civilisation and the man-made give way to the real world of nature and where everything you’ve ever learnt about driving is thrown out the window because here there are no lane markings, and quite often no lanes, no signs telling you how fast to go and you now have to rely more on your wits than what the handbook says.

I was lucky with my first time. Way back in distant past, in 1992 and just before the 18th celebration of my entry into this world, I was a young apprentice mechanic in the Australian Army, the best looking Army in the world. That was the second year of my time at the Army College of Knowledge and the year an opportunity which was too good to refuse presented itself .

A former soldier and instructor at the College, Graeme, had formed his own four wheel drive school and was in the process of making his own instructional videos and he was planning a trip across the Simpson Desert as the content for the fourth video. Luckily for me and half a dozen other apprentoids he was still good mates with a Sergeant and current instructor of the College who from this point forward shall be known as Moe. Over a few drinks one night Graham and Moe were discussing the upcoming trip and Moe suggested the possibility of bringing a few apprentices a long for the ride, to which Graeme happily agreed and after a bit of organising and a selection process to see who would go, by late March 1992 all was ready and we were off.

The day of departure.
The day of departure.

Our journey would take us from the thriving metropolis on the New South Wales and Vicweigan border, Albury/Wodonga though Tibooburra, Innamincka, Birdsville, across the Simpson via the Rig Road, Mt Dare, Alice Springs and back down through Fink Gorge, Uluru, Marree, Oodnadatta, Renmark and back home. It would take nearly three weeks, cross two or three major deserts and one or two pubs which of course we all avoided as we were clean living teetotallers. And best of all the Army was footing the bill and providing a 110 Landrover and Landcruiser Troopy. Not bad for a first time huh?

So the first couple of days were nothing to get excited about as we basically just followed the black top. But from Tibooburra onwards the fun bit began. Whereas we had traveled in excess of 1000 k’s on the first two days, Tibooburra to Innamincka took all day but was only around 300 km, although a quick stop and obligatory photo opportunity at Cameron’s Corner did account for around an hour.

Cameron Corner 92
Some rough looking heads in that photo.

From Innamincka we hit the Strezlecki Desert on our way through to Birdsville. Now would be an opportune time to advise that we had a couple of tag alongs with us in the form of a three blokes from Ford testing the new (at the time) Ford Raider prior to its release on the Australian market. “How did they go?” I hear you ask. Well let me answer that question with a question. “How many Ford Raiders do you see going around these days?” Exactly.

It was on this part of the Strezlecki that one particular short coming became apparent, and although it has been know to happen to other vehicles it did not bode well for the Raider’s future in Oz. A couple of hours out from Innamincka the Raider encountered a rather heavy bump in the road. Not an uncommon occurrence in that area. But what was uncommon was the shattering sound of the Raider’s rear window self-destructing as a result of said bump.

The subsequent large opening at the back of the car let quite a bit of that lovely red dust into the interior and by the time we made it to Birdsville everything inside that poor Raider was a uniform red colour, including the two poor buggers who had been sitting comfortably in the front seat all day. They looked something similar to a spray tan gone horribly wrong, with avalanches of dust falling from their heads and shoulders with every minute movement of their bodies. Good times, good times.

So while they chose to go wash the dust off with a shower, the rest of us decided to wash away the dust in a more traditional manner – with a cold beer at the Birdsville Hotel. Best pub in the country, just let me say. And we got to see it in its real persona, without all the huge crowds which assemble annually for the races. Just us, the publican and a handful of locals. Oh and some bloke named Peter Wherret who was going to be joining us as we crossed the desert.  I’d never heard of him at that stage, but turns out he was a bit of a motoring presenter on the tele throughout the 70’s and into the 80’s. At the time he was touring Australia with his wife and writing a book about it. And strangely enough I stumbled across that very book 24 years later as I was browsing through a second hand bookshop in Brisbane just last year.

Anyhoo, we had a layover of a couple of days in Birdsville which we put to good use to repair some damage to various things, but definitely not to the frame that I had welded up back in Albury to allow us to mount the fridge in the Landrover. That thing was as strong as the Harbour Bridge and the only reason we took it into the workshop was to strengthen it further. Oh alright I’ll admit it. My welding job had been so ineffective that by the time we made it to Birdsville, the bloody frame had just about reverted to its component parts. At least the old bloke who ran the workshop had a good laugh.

We also helped out the publicans by shifting a heap of cartons from the store room to the cool room, and then proceeded to kick back and take it easy for the rest of our stay. Then, much to our surprise, three Army helicopters lobbed in at the airport across the road from the pub on their way back from an exercise up North. Turns out that Tony, the civilian instructor who accompanied us knew one of the pilots who had been a mechanic apprentice when Tony was a Sergeant. Small world.

So anyway, we’ve only covered a small part of that first trip so far in this tale, and there’s still so much more to tell, which I will do in the next installment. But by this stage I had now been four wheel drive touring for only four days, but I was hooked. The kind of country we had passed through over the last couple of days could only be seen with a fourby, and I’d fallen in love with it already. But that first trip had only just begun.

Dr Bogan Please Report To Emergency.

 

One of the most important duties that can befall the parent is that of provider of medical services. My role model in this area is none other than my mother (wow, that rhymes)….where was I? Oh yeah, Mum’s response to my childhood health problems was a helpful, supporting and sympathetic “Die quietly”.

“Mum, I’ve just put a roofing nail through my foot.”

“Well pull it out, put a band aid on it, and die quietly”

“Mum I just fell off the trampoline, into the snap dragons and pansies. I may have broken my neck”

“Well I’ll make sure it’s broken if my flowers are dead.”

So it comes as no surprise that when my sprogs came along I became an overly sensitive , panicky parent who ran his kids off to the doc at the first sign of a sniffle, convinced they were about to die of pneumonia.

Actually that was their mother. My approach has been a lot more in line with my mother’s technique.

For example, most parents would see the underside of their daughter’s big toe turning blue, yes actually Smurf-like blue, and rush them off to the Quack, post haste. But no, that seemed a bit excessive to me.

“Don’t worry about it” I said, “It’s probably just a bruise.”

“But Dad, it’s really sore and doesn’t feel like a bruise.”

“Well what else could it be? Toes don’t just turn blue ya know. You’ll live”

A week later and the blue is spreading. Not one to jump to conclusions that my first diagnosis may be incorrect I persisted with the bruise hypothesis. But after another five or six days, when she could no longer walk properly, I figured we’d better go see if a doctor would confirm the bruise theory.

We walked into the hospital, it being after hours and no GP’s were open. Well Me, Mortimer, Kertrude and Agnes walked in. Brenda managed some kind of hobble, hopping, shuffling kind of forward propulsion. Come to think of it, geez she took a long time getting there. Took her at least 10 minutes to catch up.

We were eventually shown to a little cubicle with a nice comfy couple of chairs and a hospital bed. For some reason Brenda thought she should get the bed, so I had to move when she got there. Then the doctor rolled up. You know the type, obviously never done a hard day’s work in his life, full of his own self-importance in his designer shirt and duds. Youthful good looks and a future of much promise. Ya know, a real bastard.

He takes one look at the toe, and in one go totally disproves my whole bruise theory. Apparently a staphylococcus infection is also a perfectly legitimate reason for a blue-ish discolouration of the toe. Bloody know-it-all. But his comeuppance was about to come up…..ance.

After assembling all the appropriate shiny sterilised hospital looking stuff, he took Brenda’s foot in his hand, reached for a scalpel and slowly bought it towards the toe. Slowly he pointed the point of the blade at the peak of the swelling and lightly applied pressure. His reward for such surgical precision? A big squirt of pus all the way up the sleeve of his nice designer shirt, across the collar and up the side of his face. Eight long years of doctoral studies, just to be covered in my little girl’s pus. Oh we laughed. The doctor laughed, I laughed, random nurses poked their heads in and they laughed. Ahh good times.

By now, dear reader, you are no doubt thinking to yourself “well at least he’ll have learnt from this episode, and never under-reacted to a medical situation again”. I’ll pause now to give you time to think that to yourself.

 

Done? Ok. Well you’d be wrong.

It was not long after this incident that Mortimer came home after school one day telling me he’d gone to smother the footy as another kid was kicking it during a school sports afternoon. It appears as though during the attempt his fingers had been jarred and now he couldn’t move his little finger on his right hand.

“It’s alright, Son,” I said, the ever caring Dad as usual. “Sometimes a bit of a jar like that, and the associated bruising can result in a lessening of movement. Give it a week or so and the movement will return.”

So off he goes, doing whatever it is teenage boys do. A month later he comes back to me and points out that the finger still isn’t working. “It’s ok,” says I, “sometime it can take a bit longer.” However after six months it was probably time to get it looked at. Obviously it was nothing serious, I hear you say. Well I don’t actually hear you, seeing as how you’re reading, and I’m nowhere near you, but it’s just a figure of speech ok? Geez some people!

Hmm got a bit side tracked there. So I take Mortimer off to the doctor and he gets sent off for x-rays and an ultrasound. Bit of an over-reaction I thought to myself. But I went along with it, just to keep the doctor happy and to feel like he’s saving the world. A week later Mortimer and me are back at the clinic.

Turns out that fingers are operated by these things called “tendons”. And apparently these “tendons” need to be secured at both ends of the finger. As it turned out, the tendon which allegedly operated his little finger was nowhere to be seen. It had snapped when he went to smother the footy, and like a stretched rubber band it had retracted.

So off to the surgeon for a bit of a closer look and to find out what they planned to do. Now, if I’d taken him to the doctor when it first happened it would have been a relatively simple process of finding the tendon and reattaching it. But no. As it turns out, during the preceding months the tube the tendon normally slides through had closed over, and the tendon itself had basically ceased to exist. So now, rather than a quick simple procedure, he got a nice zig-zag  incision made down the length of his finger, down the palm and to the wrist. A temporary “tendon” was then inserted and then the whole thing closed up.

This was followed by about three months of physio to get the temporary tendon moving and creating the new tube. Once that was done, it was back for the second bit of surgery. This one involved small incisions at either end of the initial cut, as well as cutting basically the full length of the forearm to remove a redundant tendon from the arm. This was then fed through the incision and attached at either end, and voila, a working tendon was back in action.

So twelve months after the initial injury, the finger was working properly again. But geez did his mother whinge about how I should’ve taken care of it all earlier. What would she know, huh? If I hadn’t waited that time, then there would’ve been only a small scar. What’s cool about that? That’s right, absolutely nothing.

So you might think that this high level of neglect is limited to my offspring. Nuh. Somehow, somewhere along the lines I ended up being the primary first aid officer for my son’s junior AFL team. Let me say that again just so it sinks in…… I ended up being the primary first aid officer for my son’s junior AFL team . I was given the opportunity to neglect other people’s kids. Yippee. This was a good thing for me as it meant I didn’t have to take my turn working in the canteen.

At the start it wasn’t too serious. Under 9’s rarely copped any real injuries because, let’s face it, they didn’t have very far to fall. Bit of a squirt with the “magic water” and they were as good as done. But then boys grow up, they tackle harder, jump higher and generally break in more wonderful ways. A dazzling array of  medical conditions were presented to me, from dislocated ankles, concussions, tingling sensations in the legs due to lower back injuries and one particularly amusing occasion where one kid was running down the field, having a blinder of a game, and then casually stopped to cough up blood. Ah they were wonderful days.

Mostly it would appear I got the treatment right, or at least got the buggers off the field and into an ambulance still relatively alive. It was the minor injuries which were the trickiest. Like the time a kid came up to me asking to have his wrist strapped as it was a bit sore. Being an obliging kind of bloke I granted the request and after a sterling job with the tape, sent the young fellow back out onto the field. Apparently the next day his wrist was hurting even more and had started to swell, so a less neglectful dad than him took him the doctor for an x-ray. There was mention of something called a “greenstick fracture” in his wrist joint. Sounds made up to me. But anyway apparently a plaster cast was required and my “spoonful of concrete” solution was less than adequate.

Funny thing was, they still kept me on as the first aid officer for a grand total of seven years. At one point they even paid to put me through a sports trainer course. A full two day weekend course held on the grounds of the University of Queensland, which as I understand it, makes me a University graduate.

But the pinnacle, the absolute apex of my neglection (it’s a word), started way back when Kertrude was eight-ish. She was playing with a friend at school going down the slippery dip when she slid off the end and forgot to put her feet down. A short graceful flight through mid-air was closely followed by a resounding thud as her butt crashed down. Surely just a bit of bruising you say, and that’s exactly what I say. And in my defence Kertrude’s mother took her to what we were assured was a doctor, and he also said bruising. With this in mind I thought it would be a giggle to drive over speed humps in the old ute with kidney-jarring suspension. Again we laughed. Well not Kertrude, but the rest of us did.

Anyhoo, jump forward five or six years and it’s still giving her trouble. She finally wears me down and I eventually take her to a real doctor, of my choosing. Rather than just assume bruising, this doctor actually requested x-rays. So off we went to the x-ray joint and Kertrude got to wear a stunning hospital gown which really bought out her eyes. I was placing bets that they wouldn’t be able to squeeze her ample posterior into the x-ray machine, but they did manage it with a heap of butter and a bloody big lever.

Whar was the result?……….displaced coccyx, or to be more medically accurate, she’d popped her arse bone out of place. So chalk another one up to poor parenting on this one.

Anyway, despite all this they seemed to have survived. Maybe with a few battle scars and I’m sure the mental scaring may be repressed one day. But one thing is for sure, they’ve grown into tough little buggers who can take a knock or two and don’t go clogging up the health system with minor issues. I’ll take that as a win.

P.S Thanks for showing how it’s done Mum.

‘I am the Bringer of Rain’ or alternately ‘I am Spartacus’

Why the double barrel title you ask? Well in the TV show which aired a few years ago, Mr Tacus was proclaimed the Bringer of Rain because after he’d finished reducing an opponent to pulp in the gladiator arena, the heavens opened up and ended the long drawn-out drought that had besieged the city of Capua.

Now no doubt you are thinking what this has got to do with anything relevant to today’s world. Well the chiselled physique and fighting qualities of a Roman Gladiator are not the only things I have in common with this warrior of antiquity. Why are you laughing??? Ok then, about all we have in common is the fact that I, too, bring the rain.

You see more often than not when I head bush, so do the rain clouds. Throughout five and a bit years in that institution of fine upstanding men and women, aka the Aussie Army, there was but one occasion where I went into the scrub on exercise and wasn’t rained upon. And even on that singular occasion the heavens opened up as we were driving out, kind of like we’d caught the Weather Gods napping and they were then doing their best to exact their revenge upon us before we departed.

Not that this is a bad thing. As many a grizzled old sergeant had said, “rain adds ten percent to the training value”, while a steady trickle of near freezing water makes its way off his battered old bush hat and down the back of his coat, while he attempted to roll a smoke with wet hands. In hindsight that was probably correct in that a bit of cold and rain tends to make things a bit more ‘real’.  But to a bunch of shivering, rain-soaked and mud-covered young soldiers at the time, the grizzled old sergeant could kindly fornicate to another location at his earliest convenience.

In the intervening years after leaving grizzled old sergeants behind and more recent years, I’ve only had rare opportunities to get out into the bush, due to single parent commitments and a succession of dodgy old rust buckets that would struggle to make it to the city limits let alone the great beyond. But rest assured on those rare occasions the rain continued to join me.

More recently though I headed up to the Sunshine Coast, yes the Sunshine Coast, to see if I could unload of few copies of ‘Flames of Rebellion’ up there. I reckoned that rather than rushing back to Brisbane on the same day I’d take a quick overnight stop to relax and take it easy with just me, my swag and the Chariot of Fire, Rusty. The day started off nicely, a bit overcast, but warm and dry. It remained dry for most of the day while I was ducking in and out of shops, but around mid-afternoon things darkened somewhat and by the time I found a nice little spot just off the road in the general Kenilworth area, a gentle sprinkle had started.

“No worries.” Thought I. “I’ve got a tarp and some poles, I’ll just attach one side to Rusty, hold the other end up with the poles and have a nice quiet evening with the sound of the rain lightly falling on the tarp.”

But isn’t it funny how, no matter how much time you spend outdoors, no matter how many times you’ve set up shelters in less than perfect conditions, when your mind is on other things you can still miss the bloody obvious. Have a squiz at the picture and see if you can pick my rookie mistake.

20160428_173653

Did you see it? That’s right, Numpty here put the poles up higher than the roof level of the ‘cruiser, so that when the rain became more than just the pitter patter of tiny rain drops at some un-holy hour of the night, it all flowed down towards that end of the tarp, pooled and proceeded to locate the many small holes that tend to accumulate in old tarps. At some stage during the night I was awoken to the sounds of a steady stream of water pouring onto the swag. After a quick half asleep assessment of the situation I decided that in the grand scheme of things the swag was keeping the water out and so I’d just put up with it. Didn’t get a great deal of sleep that night though and it’s never fun packing up a sodden camp and having to then unpack your swag and set it up when you get home to make sure it’s all nice and dry for next time.

So anyway, with that one becoming nothing more than a slightly amusing memory, I decided that an extended weekend away with my much better half and two half-witted hounds was in order. So with the site booked at Neurum Creek and everything set, we checked the weather report for the week ahead.

And apparently Armageddon was heading our way.

The Bureau of Meteorology were predicting falls in excess of 100mm, gale force winds and basically the general destruction of the entire East Coast. Not really the time when you should be setting up a campsite beside a creek. And let’s face it, Ode de Wet Dog is never going to compete favourably with the old Chanel No. 5 is it? Turned out to be a good decision as we did receive a fair degree of rain, with that same cell causing quite a bit of damage further South all the way down to Tassie.

So we re-assessed the situation and, as the following weekend was out due to family reasons, we re-booked for two weekends later. With the family commitments done and dusted and enjoyed, it was time to look forward to finally getting out into the bush, but just for the hell of it we’d thought we’d check that forecast again, and bugger me the Bureau is predicting a repeat of the weather from two weeks ago. “Golly gosh” I thought to myself.

Although that weekend turned out to be not as bad as predicted it was probably still a good call not to go.

But where does that leave me now? Toey as a Roman Sandal, that’s where! I’ve not been bush for nigh on three months now. Three months of city dwelling, of traffic and noise and light and phones and computers and all the other things that go along with living in the Big Smoke. Oh the horror, oh the huge manatee (is that the saying?? I think I heard it somewhere).

Funny isn’t it, as much as we’d like to complain when the weather turns a bit feral while we’re out in the scrub or when common sense decrees that we don’t go, the alternative is often much less appealing. Maybe the key is to just make your booking, ignore the Bureau and just go. And bugger the consequences.

I’m now looking for potential locations to roll out the swag, so if anyone needs their dams filled, just let me know and I’ll plan a trip to your area.