Two Yankees and 14 days in a borrowed Land Cruiser
The sun was slowly dipping towards Australia’s western horizon when I first noticed we had a problem. I glanced over to my traveling mate Ned Bacon and said, “I think our alternator just died.” Ned, a fellow Four Wheeler contributor and crack mechanic, leaned over to eye the voltage gauge and replied, “Yep…do you think it might have been all the water and deep mud you’ve been plowing through?” I let it sink in for a bit, kept my rebuttal thoughts inside my head, then politely suggested we make camp while it was still light. Under most conditions, a bad alternator would be but a minor inconvenience and delay. But we’d just spent two days crossing 260 kilometers of sand dunes since leaving Birdsville (population 115), which is 320 km from Innamincka, population 131, which was 225 km from Packsaddle Station…population about 20 if you include the pet cockatoo and two cats. Get the picture? Bad brushes in the alternator, which might be a short delay on a normal 4WD outing, could be a major issue traveling solo through the Australian Outback. No worries, mate. Ned and I were in good shape, it had been a wet year, and there were plenty of murky creeks to drink from. Then again, a call on the satellite phone would be a more prudent option.
Six days earlier we’d departed Melbourne on the eastern flank of the Great Australian Bight. Our trusted steed was one of ARB’s fleet vehicles: a 79 Series Land Cruiser Ute equipped with a 4.5L turbodiesel, long-range fuel cells and a tray-back bed. We had 14 days, a general route picked out, and a Hema Navigator GPS with detailed maps of the entire continent. The guys at ARB had also set us up with an OzTent and a pair of swags (one man tent). I’d come back to the Simpson to accomplish what I was denied in 2007—to traverse the French Line Track from Birdsville to Mount Dare. Though our current dilemma could have been attributed to my sinking the Cruiser in Eyre Creek back in 2007, and again during the previous day, the 79 Series Land Cruiser remained one of my favorite overland vehicles. And if a field repair could be done, Ned was the mate for the job. I put on my camp host skirt, raised the OzTent and prepared our nightly tucker (dinner) while Ned dove under the hood.
True Blue Australia
It is said that 90 percent of Australia’s population lives within 100 kilometers of the ocean. For a country that occupies an entire continent, that statistic leaves a lot of Outback to be explored.
Unlike the United States, most Australians don’t perceive the four-wheel drive as the enemy of the environment. With the exception of some citified types in Melbourne or Sydney, Aussies embrace the thought of barreling down a bull-dust two-track, fording swollen northern creeks in the “wet” season, or…get this, down miles of sandy beach (which is unheard of on my home state of Taxifornia). In fact, Outback travel to beyond the black swamp, the Mulga, or the back of beyond, is somewhat of a national pastime. There are dozens of 4WD hire (rental) companies where you can source a fully-kitted Nissan, Land Cruiser, or HiLux. Everyday soccer-mom sedans sport massive bullbars, or Roo-bars, to keep the pesky kangaroos from smashing your hood and coming through the windscreen.
The Land Down Under is a place like no other. Toilets flush backwards, its citizens drive on the proper (wrong) side of the road (passed down from their British roots), they speak funny (okay, maybe we speak funny), and have a different (English) word for everything. Truck drivers are truckies, cab drivers are cabbies, and girls are called Sheilas, unless they’re as big as a house…and we can’t print that dearly held Aussie saying. If you are aggro, you’re ticked off, if you’re an alkie you drink too much, and if you have bangers for brekkie, you just ate sausage. This Down Under dialect is True Blue Aussie slang, and I’ll bear witness that one often needs a translator to carry on a conversation. Check out www.koalanet.com for an online translator.