You know, I’m glad I live in Australia. For many reasons, whether it is the climate, the space, the people. But one of the biggest aspects is the wildlife. Now, I know what you’re going to say: he’s not back on that old hobbyhorse is he? Well, yes and no.
I recently returned from a 10-day trip in Southern NSW where we encountered everything from snakes and lizards to wallabies and kangaroos, to introduced creatures like wild horses and rabbits. We’d step out of the camper at night and sweep around the campsite with a torch and spot as many eyes as there are stars in the sky above. That’s pretty cool, if you ask me, but it does result in the occasional intrusion.
Out in Western Queensland any attempt to drive along a major road around sunset or dawn becomes a game of dodgems as little black and brown macropods – mostly wallabies – leap across the road just as you decide to drive by. No matter how anxious you are to reach that looked-for campsite or to get on the road early, you are stuck to a maximum of around 25km/h negotiating fearless fauna and their fallen comrades every 50 metres or so. As tedious as it may seem, there’s good reason to make the effort.
One time, in the bush a camper and his wife were towing their battered old camper trailer towards the end of a long day on the road. They’d set out early enough, planning on getting plenty of kilometres under their wheels before lunch, but the track had been a wearying one, with lots of switch-back bends up and down steep ridges and many inviting picture-perfect spots to stop and take in the view.
As the day wore on and the sun swung across towards the west the GPS’ indication of how far to go hardly seemed to move with many kilometres still to roll by before the end. They drove on the loose dirt surface to avoid the tight turns, the occasional rocky – though usually quite dry – creek crossings and the steep cuts on one side and the drop-offs on the other. At least there was no traffic: they hadn’t seen a single other vehicle all day.
He was happy to sit at the wheel but was looking forward to getting into camp, to enjoy a quiet drink and a good feed from the stew, ahead of the long day tomorrow. The countryside had settled into rounded hills, and the road became easier with long straights and sweeping bends allowing for a 90km/h strike to ride the top of the corrugations.
Then, cresting a rise and in the middle of a big sweeping bend, there it lay, smack in the middle of a narrow section of track: a dead ’roo. The small cutting carved into the hill meant there was no avoiding it; he just had to negotiate it the best possible way.
The driver eased off the throttle, avoiding the brakes as the track slopped towards the outside of the corner. He steered so his wheels straddled the elongated carcass and passed comfortably over it. All they felt was a slight bump.
The rear view was obliterated by dust, but he was satisfied the job was done so he eased back on the throttle towards their destination.
When they finally reached the campsite it was way past their planned time of arrival. The sun was below the horizon with only enough late evening light for the couple to open the camper and find a few bits of timber along the sandy flat to start a fire.
He grabbed his chair, ready to reach for a cold ale and relax for few minutes before tucking into dinner when his wife spoke.
“I don’t think I like this camp. There’s an awful sort of a smell about.”
Wearily he walked over to the camper – he had to go there to get his beer anyway – offering his opinion on the way: “I don’t know. I haven’t smelt anything out of the ordinary.”
But as neared it odour began to hit, and by the time he was standing next to her his nose had taken up a distinct pucker.
“It must be over here. It’s not over that side near the fire so it must be on the other side,” and he walked around the back of the camper, across some of the sandy flat on the other side. But as he got further away, the smell declined.
So he turned and walked back, and realised that as he got nearer the smell increased in intensity. He walked away behind the camper and it declined, so he returned, and walked forward. As he did so the smell increased greatly in force but then began to decline as he walked away from the front of the car.
Their Prado tow car was ground zero. The realisation of what had happened hit him, like the smell. Holding the back of his hand to his nose he grabbed a torch from the glovebox and dropped to his knees, looking along underneath… and there it was. The remains of the dead ’roo was spread along the undersides of the car, around the diff, the suspension, the gear box and its crossmember, the exhaust and various cables and brackets. It was on everything, and by the look and smell of it it had been out there on that track for quite some time.
He moved back and looked under the camper to find that there it was draped over the beam axle, in the springs and shock absorbers, spattered on the drawbar, the stoneguard and the front of the bodywork.
That night, they ate by the fire, about 20m away from the camper, dug out the sleeping bags from the back of the car and draped a tarp over the sand, under a tree a few metres further off, and lay down there for the night. She was nervous about wild animals but was tired from the trek and soon fell asleep. His eyes were shut within a minute of putting his head down.
In the morning, several crows were helping themselves to a free feed under the camper and the car, so the couple packed up and went walking along the creek in search of a stretch of rocky base drive back and forth and he spent about 20 minutes, which got the worst of it off.
They then put another 500km behind them that day, stopping a little short of their originally planned destination for the night so they could get there in daylight. Summoning all his stamina and courage he then spent the worst half hour of his life picking remains from under the car with a pair of gloves and some needle nose pliers; he wrapped it all in newspaper and then dug a hole about a metre deep and buried it.
Another day of driving seemed to remove what remained but when they got home and gave the car and camper a decent wash more they found some. Even now, several years later, when he’s on his back underneath the car or the camper, he’ll find a leathery piece of who-knows-what harking back to that unseemly encounter on that fateful day.