Driving two kids in a clapped-out Holden to the centre of nowhere. Kate Berry tells us of her adventure of driving to Uluru with kids.
I bought a bombed-out 1966 HD Holden station wagon for a thousand bucks in a Gippsland paddock. It was a reckless purchase made at a rocky time. I named her Crystal—one, because the town I bought her in was called Won Wron and it made me think of the song ‘Da Doo Ron Ron’ by the Crystals, and two, well, I just like that it was the perfect mix of hippie, suburbia and a little bit stripper.
My girls, then aged ten and five, and I had been through a lot together in the previous few months, and this clapped-out wagon was going to be our chariot to greater times and places. I hadn’t decided where it was going to take us, but wherever it was, it was going to be better than where we had been.
Late one night, hiding under my doona and flicking through Instagram, I stopped at a photo of Uluru. This was it. The girls and I were going to drive our piece of junk into the spiritual heartland of this huge country.
I hurriedly found the quickest and dodgiest roadworthy certificate, packed the car in fifteen minutes, chucked in the kids and my buddy Peta, and headed for the middle of nowhere.
We stopped in Adelaide and bought a tent.
Two hours from Port Augusta we had our first car trouble. We were stuck on the side of the road; it was hot, with zero breeze. We had to decide whether to keep the windows open, so we could breathe, or keep the windows closed so we didn’t breathe in the thousands of flies that were making it increasingly harder for me to keep my cool. The landscape was harsh, and the sun seemed hotter and harder than any other sun I’d experienced.
In the distance I could see two men walking towards us. They ambled alongside the car and knocked on my window. What did they want? And what were they doing walking a barren road in the middle of nowhere. They asked me to pop the bonnet. They fought a lot under the hood about who knew Holdens best. One guy sucked fuel from our blocked fuel pump and choked. I gave him a drink of water and decided to call a tow truck.
We sat tight. For hours.
We waved goodbye to Crystal on the back of the tow truck, and then drove our way into town in a more sensible loaned Magna. It was the colour beige.
Port Augusta is a scary town for a bunch of girls. It’s a hub for fly-in fly-out mine workers and, as we found out, a destination for the Bandidos motorcycle gang.
We searched all over town for accommodation, but everything was booked. All we could muster was a small space next to a barbed wire fence, in a crappy caravan park. Just as we set up our fancy new tent, we heard the rumble of 200 Bandidos motorcycles. Soon we were surrounded by whisky-swilling bikies talking about their Facebook problems. A hand unzipped our tent and in poked a can of beer. “Want one, love?”
We sparked up the electric barbecue to cook toast for breakfast. The Bandidos guy nearby wasn’t happy with its condition and ordered one of his lesser bikie buddies to scrub it to perfection. Meanwhile, the head Bandidos guy shared his Kraft singles with my five-year-old.
After packing up camp and waving goodbye to our new friends, we walked our bags, tent and esky the four kilometres to the mechanic. When you have your hands full, you really do notice those flies.
The mechanic had organised a mate to drive the fuel pump up the highway from Adelaide overnight so we could head off first thing in the morning. As we left to go, he asked us into his office. Alarm bells. It was his adopted crow, which he’d found injured on the road as a baby. He’d named it after an Aussie Rules footy player we’d never heard of.
We waved Gary the mechanic goodbye, ready to face the adventure ahead with our new fuel pump, my reckless abandon having taken a little beating.
One hundred kilometres out of Coober Pedy, Crystal started to shake. My nerves were wearing thin and, as the sun sank lower and the sky got darker, I delved deeper and deeper into panic. As this panic set in, however, I noticed something amazing. To our left was the sun setting, to our right was the full moon rising. We pulled over and watched the earth turn.
I drove those one hundred kilometres to Coober Pedy at sixty, each kilometre a shaky nightmare. By the time we made it to the middle of town I was spent, in all ways. Peta shouted us a night in one of those cool underground motels. I called Dad. I couldn’t go on. I had no money and no idea whether Crystal was going to make it. Dad put some cash in my bank and told me to keep going. I went to bed thinking we were heading home. The thought soothed me.
Next morning I told the girls it was best to turn around and head home. We had made it to Coober Pedy, and that’s pretty impressive. Not many people make that trip. We could stock up on some cool souvenirs—they have tonnes of opals there. We could buy our friends opals. But the girls were determined to get to Uluru. I had promised them a camel ride at sunset if we made it. We kept going.
We made it over the Northern Territory border and stayed in a place where you had to leave your credit card at the counter before you could start using the petrol pump. It also had a kids playground made entirely of metal. In the middle of the desert.
The entire dodgy roadhouse accommodation had been taken over by the Melbourne Old Holden Club. They were on their way back from Uluru. Surely if they could make it, we could too? They took photos of themselves in front of Crystal and, later that night in the bar, shook their heads at my total lack of knowledge about how cars worked or how to fix them. They thought I was a fool.
The next day we made it to Uluru. We watched the sunset with the other tourists, drank beer and ate hummus. //
For more great parenting, head over to our article on How Not to Raise a Jerk by the very funny Zoe Foster Blake, or check out How to Talk to Kids About Climate Change.
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