It was a dark and stormy night - well actually it was just dark - but I'm getting a little ahead of myself.
In 1977 I drove up to Northern Territory (or "the Territory" for my non-Australian readers) with a mate Tony, looking for work.
Maybe we didn't look hard enough or something but we couldn't find a job and decided to head back down to the Gold Coast where Tony had a mate who owned a business and he felt sure we'd find work there with him.
We left Darwin and headed down "the track" (Stuart Highway) with only a couple of hundred dollars in our pockets. It's normally not a good idea to travel at dawn and dusk in the Australian outback because the animals, kangaroos in particular, are more active and difficult to see in the dim light. Also the majority of roads up there are not fenced so there is the added danger of cattle on the road and even buffaloes and camels.
But hey I was a young buck with a hot car, so as the sun went down I didn't even think about pulling over.
I did start to think about it later as I drove through the dark night (there I've tied the story back to the opening paragraph) when I hit my first 'roo but it was only a glancing blow. Then I hit another, more full on this time and the van suffered a little panel damage. Still I drove on, cruising at about 80mph (130kph).
Sometime later I must have nodded off, and not long after that I woke to see my driving lights almost burning holes in some live leather. There was a mob of cattle crossing the road directly in front of me.
I had no time to do anything except grip the steering wheel and hold on for the ride. I don't remember things in slow motion like many people seem to. There was just a massive bang, clouds of dust, silence for a few seconds, then "What the f***" from Tony, who had been sleeping the back of the van but was now head down in the passenger's foot well.
We got out to survey the damage. The van was up against a bank with its entire front smashed in. The bull I'd hit was a hundred yards or so down the road. We were in what seemed like the middle of nowhere with a wrecked car, no food and bugger all money. But we did have a slab of beer so the rest of the night went quite well, all things considered.
The bull was still blocking the road but it was far too heavy to drag off by hand, fortunately a 4WD stopped and did the honours.
Next morning we took stock of the situation.
In a nutshell everything on the front of the vehicle was destroyed and some stuff on the motor. All the lights, panels, radiator, battery, harmonic balance, water pump etc were broken and the right-hand wheel guard was pushed into the tyre. Bad but fixable.
We had a lot of tools so proceeded to remove as much debris as possible so we could asses the damage properly.
We made a list of parts and I hitched into Katherine. I spent the day hanging out at the wreckers while Tony cleaned up the damage and removed the broken parts.
Late that evening I returned with what seemed like half a car, some food and of course some more beer. Tony told me that the police had driven past on their way up the track on their rounds. They said if we were still there in a couple of days when they returned they'd give us a lift. Meanwhile we should just throw the pieces over the bank and out of sight.
The next day we set to rebuilding the van and by dark it was more or less back together, albeit with a radiator from a Toyota Landcruiser. I dropped the battery in, turned the key while Tony hand-choked the carby, and it fired. On this note we settled in for another night on the side of the road.
Next morning we strapped the battery into its mangled tray, generally finished off and cleaned up then hit the road.
What a feeling that was, to come from what seemed like a total right-off to a usable vehicle in a couple of days with no outside help. I was elated as I did a U-turn and headed north, back to Katherine.
We spent a few days in Katherine fixing the van a bit more then resumed the trip. It was a couple of thousand kilometres to the Gold Coast and the van ran a treat.
After an uneventful trip (well a couple of brushes with the law and a bad case of food poisoning but nothing to speak of) we pulled into the Burliegh Heads Caravan Park.
The manager looked us up and down a bit then gave us a spot as long as we paid in advance.
We stayed here for several months. Did we get a job with Tony's mate? No. For a while we lived off deposits from Coke bottles we got from garbage bins. We subcontracted as plasterers and Gyprock fixers then got part-time work with a plumber.
We also started a small business building burnt Spanish pine furniture (I pawned my camera gear to get that off the ground) until my parents couldn't stand it any more and found me a real job back home.
So what's the moral of this story? Don't drive at night, have enough tools to repair your vehicle and make sure you have a camera so you have some photos to show people 35 years later.