Part 1. Gearsticks and Roo-bars
“It’s no good”, said Sara, “it will NOT go into reverse gear”.
“Yes it will!”, I said frustratingly, “just force it!”
“I’ve tried”, she said wearily, “it just groans at me – and I don’t want to break it.”
“It” was a 1971 Volkswagen Camper Van that was on loan to us for our week of driving across Australia.
O.K., to an English girl, driving “across” Australia meant travelling a bit further than we could do at home. After all, for we Poms, 350 miles is about as far as we can go in one direction without falling off our island.
So we were intending to head north from Adelaide (South Australia) and seeing how far a tank of petrol and a summer breeze could take us.
I’d arranged the camper van from home (a farmhouse near Penrith in Cumbria – you know, the town where Richard E. Grant had stopped for wine in a tearoom in the film “Withnail & I”). I shared the house with two girls equally as crazy as me.
But THIS adventure I was sharing with my younger sister Sara and my college friend Beccy.
The van had been dumped in Glenelg (Adelaide’s beach) and I’d driven it to our hotel. I’d been deathly worried that it would stall on me, but I learnt that my driving was better than I’d thought and I managed to get it to the little road behind our hotel without a scratch, a stalling engine, or more than just a little jerk.
NOW Sara was discovering the van. It had been adapted by some New Zealanders who’d used it to travel around Australia. So there were now three beds crammed into the back along with a tiny cupboard, a tiny grill, and an even tinier fridge.
But Sara wasn’t interested. She was excited about the fact that she could be driving this tough rustbucket in open countryside, chasing kangaroos – and men.
The reason why Sara, Beccy and I had teamed was partly because we wanted to see Australia, partly because Beccy and I were big feminist mates from school and college (and we both found Sara ‘fun’), and wholly because we’d all been unlucky in love at the same time.
But, at this point, with Sara, myself and the van more or less ready to go, Beccy was still in Sydney.
Five hours earlier in fact, she’d been sunbathing on Manly Beach there (“I’m more manly than any bloke here”, she’d texted us, and considering Beccy was a 5′ 2″ slither of blonde-haired, blue-eyed cutie, we weren’t holding out hope of her dragging an Aussie beachbum with her).
Not that the idea was to find a man, thank you. We’d each had our share of macho jocks with more stubble on their chins than between their legs. Sara, however, was a couple of years younger than Becky and me, so she still believed that there was some good in the unfair sex.
But chasing kangaroos – THAT was actually catered for.
No, obviously, we weren’t intending to, but when Sara asked why the front bumper had been reinforced, I pretended to be knowledgeable and repeated to her what my acquaintance in Glenelg had said:
“That’s a Roo-Bar. They don’t recommend us driving at night but, if we do, we might need the bar to ward off kangaroos, because they’re attracted by the headlamps”.
We pondered the nasty thought of a ‘roo doing that, and then Sara said “Oh – I thought it was there because they knew you’d be driving it!”.
TO BE CONTINUED