This weekend past, my husband rearranged our entire weekend so that he could go on a day trip with some friends to find these secret waterfalls and aboriginal art sites. I couldn’t decide whether to go or not. To be honest, all I wanted to do was lie on the floor and stare at the fan; I have been feeling veeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrryyyyy lazy lately. But then I felt like a total loser, foregoing an adventure in the gorgeous NT escarpment, plus, what about my sense of family? So I ate a tablespoon of cement and hardened up.
Actually the facts of the ‘hardening up.’ Very unusually, Karl was encouraging me to stay home, saying things like “you should just relax with Elspeth (a 7 month old) whilst I take Matisse for the day,” and “it will probably be really boring and end up being just a trickle of water over the rocks….” This made me think it was going to be an out of control 4WD adventure and he didn't want to come along and tell him to slow down.
“You know you will have your two year old daughter,” I reminded him.
“yeah,” he said, “she loves getting smashed around in the back.”
He was obviously looking for a bite, so I didn't give him one. Instead, I texted Gary to see if he was taking his wife. Strangely, he didn't write back, yet he replied immediately to a text that Karl sent him 5 minutes later. We were meant to be leaving in 10 minutes so I called him. He was bringing his wife, two daughters, and another work colleague of ours, and he assured me it would be, I quote, “verrry tame.”
So, we loaded up the car and hit the road.
Two hours later, we reached the unmarked dirt track veering off from the Stuart Highway into the gorges behind Hayes Creek. The path slowly turned into a dead end opening, but Karl noticed a track over yonder and smashed through some boulders and a few little saplings to get there. Immediately, there was a creek crossing, but Karl jumped out, tested it to make sure it wasn't too deep, or boggy, then charged through it with Gary hot on his heels.
Suddenly, we were actually in a swamp. Karl hit the accelerator to drive as fast as he could and avoid breaking the surface. The steering wheel was spinning, the wheels were spinning, we were being throw in one direction, then the other. Mum, if you are reading this, Karl totally knew what he was doing. We reached a dry bit and looked back. Gary was at a standstill. Given his car weighed about 1.5 tonnes more than ours, there was a good chance he wasn't able to ski across the swamp the same way Karl did, plus, we had just ripped the “road” up for them. Both girls were crying in the back just because. So Karl took Matisse and walked back 500m or so whilst I tended to Elsepth.
Some time passes, the heat beating down around us is making me delirious. I see a mirage, Karl? He has left Matisse to entertain Michaela and the girls, so there are now 4 people in the back of the Pajero, in the scorching hot midday sun. We have a jack and a winch to help them, but, to get back there we have to re-navigate the ground we have just torn up, plus, they are on the only ‘road’ in the swamp which means veering around them, further into the sludge. Even my husband was able to see that this wasn't a good idea.
So… we decided to continue down the road we were on, which circles back to where they were. We briefly contemplated taking the jack back to them first, or even, telling them our plan. But we didn't do either of these sensible things, we just spun our tyres in the mud and took off. This time, Karl kept jumping out to test the swamp levels before charging through it. On one of these missions, he noticed a tiny little path off to the right, glistening in the midday sun, just begging for some attention. Karl runs back excitedly “its the shortcut I saw on the map….” ahhh… shortcut, the beginning of every worst nightmare. And true to the plot, within about 5 seconds we are chassis deep in the mud. I took an arial picture in my mind of the two cars bogged about 1km apart.
So. Just to recap. Our daughter is in the other car, which is bogged, and they need our jack. We are bogged. They don’t know what we are doing, or where we are going. We have a jack, but couldn't access our drive shaft if we tried. Phone reception. It’s midday, it’s freaking hot.
Karl begins winching us through the swamp, in 5-10m intervals. The motor of the winch was making these terrible whirring and clunking noises, it was on its last legs. Elspeth had been crying for 80% of the last hour. She was sick of being in her hot car seat. Just as it occurred to me that this ‘shortcut’ might not even be a road, and we could actually be winching ourselves further into a no mans land swamp, Karl’s manly hand snapped the car key in half. NT News headlines flashed before my eyes. At this point I remember that it was just the wettest December on record in 40 years. Taking wives and kids along for the near death experience… The paper would have a field day with this story. We would probably have to leave town to escape the humiliation.
I felt so sick with dread, and the crying of Elspeth penetrating my soul, that I couldn't even take photos anymore, it felt too voyeuristic. I turned around and prayed to God. I never do this. I don't know the etiquette if you are meant to tell people what you pray for, but I prayed to get out of the mud, I reminded him of my husband’s unwavering faith and even promised to make my kids believe in the man. We jimmied the key back together and the electronics connected enough to let the car start. Having to stop, start, and reset the winch was doing us no favours, so Karl asked me to hold the cable and run along beside the car. I swung the greasy winch cable over my shoulder and ran for my life. Karl was ripping through the mud behind me as fast as he could to keep from sinking. From his perspective, it looked as though I was pulling the car out of the bog, but the look of fear and determination on my face showed that I was definitely being chased down by a lunatic in a mud bath.
We got on the straight and narrow and looped back to the Richardsons. Gary and Nico had make 100 return trips to the nearby forest and collected many trees to chock the car up. They had been making progress with the jack, but with the extra jack on the mission, and the adrenalin from Karl, it only took another hour or so in the scorching heat. I took Elsie and joined the gang in the back of Pajero by coming in one door and forcing Erin out the other side, to stand in the hot sun. The heat must have been affecting my judgement, because, adding insult to injury, I then told her that sitting in the shady boot over the jack probably wasn’t a good idea. Bitch of the year. I then realised and tried to offer her my seat, but it was too late to try and pretend to be nice at this point.
Matisse was in heaven, learning all about bigs and mud. Plus she was trapped with four of her favourite people in the whole world. Exhausted and covered in mud, Gary jumps back in the car to try and reverse out of the swamp. Matisse's starts screeching in his ear all about the hardship going on, rawer to no one than Gary. "the wheel is stuck in the mud! It's stuck in the mud, daddy is helping Gary, to get the wheel, out, out of the mud" The wheels spin and we are reversing over the tree tracks he had made. Karl winched the cars together and pulled the car to dry land. It did appear that our car was actually going to slide back into the swamp throughout his process, creeping forward ever so slightly.
So, three hours after entering the swamp, we left, muddied, sunburnt and adventured out. We stopped in at Grove Hill Hotel for a cold drink on the way to Adelaide River. The Pajero felt that this was too uneventful, so upon return, it organised a flat tyre to change. When we got to Adelaide River, the kitchen has just closed, 3 whole minutes ago. THREE MINUTES!!. The pub wouldn't even make us a cup of tea. So we sat on the itchy grass and ate our picnic, then drove to Hogs Breath for dinner, covered in mud.
My husband told me he had the day of his life, I, on the other hand could think of better ways to entertain a 2 year old and 7 month old, than trapping them in the back of the car for the best part of 12 hours. If I was childless, my perspective might have been rosier. On the upside, I didn't have to do any housework. Ironically, Michaela was sitting in the pack of the Pajero dreaming of the ironing she could be doing. And the icing on the cake…. Apparently the waterfall was only a 1km walk from where we were bogged. And the kids will be going to a catholic school.