It was twenty minutes past the hour of two o’clock when we awoke to the sound of our digital clock radio and finished placing the belongings we have brought on this holiday, into the ‘Galant’. Prior to our departure I noted that its odometer showed that the sedan had already covered thirty-seven thousand, eight hundred and thirty-seven miles.
Having departed right on schedule at three o’clock, I turned off President Avenue at Kirrawee in order that Tiki could place our smelly rubbish into a bin. “You To Me Are Everything” by the British group, The Real Thing, which went to number one in Britain around the middle of last year and is only now emerging as a hit in Sydney, was the first song played after the “2UW News” which had commenced on the hour.
It was evident that some rain had fallen between Liverpool and Marulan. Dawn began to break just before we reached the latter. The Hume Highway has been improved enormously since I drove my late mother back to Sydney from Kyabram in January of 1970. There are many lengths of dual carriageways as well as lanes which provide motorists with the opportunity to overtake.
I drove through Goulburn via Auburn Street. The temperature there was forecast to reach a maximum of twenty-eight degrees Celsius. David Soul’s “Silver Lady”, and Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me”, from 1964, were played on 2GN. By the time we stopped in Yass, at twenty-five minutes to seven, I’d covered a hundred and eighty-six miles without a break.
We each ate an apple prior to walking up and down Comur Street, which is really just the name the town has bestowed upon the Hume Highway, in a fruitless attempt to purchase a cup of coffee. In fact the centre of town led me to compare it to the proverbial morgue.
At a Shell service station, I found there to be little service as the obese attendant left me to watch the bowser and it was a matter of sheer luck that I managed to stop the pump’s price at exactly three dollars. The euphemistically named ‘rest rooms’, were filthy and I can assure you that the thought of having a rest there was the farthest thing from my mind. In fact, my body gave an involuntary shudder after I’d stepped outside.
Tiki drove the sixty miles to Gundagai. I was critical of the fact that she was speeding and, in doing so, getting too close to the rear of trucks whose tyres were all too frequently flicking up stones. We entered the town at ten past eight and parked in a shady position in front of the park at the corner of the main street and the Hume Highway.
Having walked up past the Niagara Cafe we turned around, in the belief that everything was closed. It was then that we noticed the sign outside of the Criterion Hotel on the corner, which advertised breakfast between the hours of eight and nine. Two glasses of pineapple juice, four slices of toast with marmalade, and two cups of coffee with milk only cost us two dollars.
I drove on as we listened to 2WG which emanates from Wagga Wagga where the maximum was predicted to reach thirty-six. Among the songs the station played were “She” by The Monkees from 1967 and Jamaican Carl Douglas’s hit of three years ago, “Kung Fu Fighting”. An overturned blue Ford ‘Falcon’ sedan was situated by the roadside between the turn-off to Wagga, and the town of Tarcutta whose claim to fame is that the left-handed Tony Roche, a champion at tennis, was raised there. Two police cars were in attendance and two occupants of the crashed vehicle appeared to be recuperating on the ground nearby. Tiki sat behind the wheel at Holbrook and drove the forty miles to Albury.
Buck Owens and The Buckaroos’ “(It’s A) Monsters’ Holiday” from 1974 and Herman’s Hermits’ “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” (1965) were two of the tracks played on 2AY as we neared the city. We had covered three hundred and sixty-five miles when Tiki parked at the corner of Olive and Hume streets. It was exactly eleven o’clock when we set out to walk to the main street.
As we walked up and down Dean Street in the thirty-degree heat, we concluded that not only is it fairly short in length but unimpressive as well. Searching for somewhere to have lunch, we settled for the cafeteria in Coles. It was a real pity that Tiki had not adjourned to the so-called Ladies’ Lounge before we’d selected and paid for our food because Tiki rated this facility to be so dirty and uninviting that she returned to our table without having relieved herself. In fact, she told me of how she had had to summon up all of her willpower to suppress the urge to vomit.
It was, therefore, difficult for her to enjoy her chicken salad and me my corn beef salad as all we could think about, in dread, was that those preparing the food were presumably using them too.
Noon had arrived by the time we left Coles and I seemed to drive around in circles as we searched in vain for a Shell petrol station. Eventually, I abandoned that idea and, instead, pulled into a B.P. for five dollars worth of super. The female attendant washed the car’s windscreen of her own volition.
I wanted to buy a cartridge of film for my Kodak instamatic camera, however, this involved driving around in search of a place to park. We ended up back in Olive Street, opposite where we had parked previously. This meant that we had to walk back to Dean Street, which didn’t impress Tiki as her sandals were hurting her feet. There we came upon a chemist shop where a roll of film cost four dollars and fifty cents. This I considered to be a reasonable price as I had paid just ten cents less for the same product two years ago. Processing of the film is also included in the price.
I drove up the hill that not only overlooks this city of thirty-three thousand inhabitants, but the meanders of the Murray River. Tiki didn’t want to get the camera out of the suitcase and I could foresee that if I attempted to do the same I’d more likely than not be unable to close it again and hence, no photographs were taken. The tall, white 1914-1918 War Memorial atop the hill had been defaced by vandals and a smaller monument in front of it had even had its plaque removed, presumably by thieves.
Returning to the city, I parked the car beneath a leafy tree opposite the botanical gardens which contained an abundance of shady trees, many of which were palms. We sat on a circular wooden seat that encompassed the trunk of a large tree. Nearby, a woman was breastfeeding her baby. Tiki stretched out and lay with her head on my lap for what was probably fifteen to twenty minutes before she suddenly exclaimed, “Let’s go to Wangaratta!”
“Now I know why it’s called Albury…because they can BURY it ALL!” I responded.
Tiki took me by surprise by driving directly across the state border in the incorrect lane, thereby, passing the fruit-fly inspection point whilst we had four apples and an orange in our possession.
We left High Street, the main street of the border town of Wodonga and by twenty past two — nearly twelve hours after our departure from home — had covered the forty miles to Wangaratta. The radio station, 3NE, informed us that the temperature was thirty-one with the predicted maximum of thirty-five still something for us to look forward to.
Tiki was pleased that I’d decided that we continue on past the caravan park with its on-site caravans and ‘flatettes’ some three miles to the north of town. Wangaratta with a population of sixteen thousand five hundred, a sign informed us, is Victoria’s ‘Premier Town’, not only for this year but nineteen seventy-six as well.
At the Flag Inn Motel on the southern side of town, we enquired as to the price of a double room and were told it was twenty one dollars and fifty cents and that this excluded breakfast. Across the Ovens River, at the Coast To Coast Caravan Park, the sign read: “No o’nite vans”. Therefore, we decided to return to the other side of town where we entered the Tourist Information Centre. The girl told us that there were only two caravan parks with overnight vans and that both were located to the north of the town.
One was on the left and the one we’d noticed on the way in, on the right. Neither of us liked the appearance of the first one, The Regal, so we continued on to the other. I rang the bell at the office, as Tiki waited in the car. A pleasant woman of a similar age to me came across from the adjoining Shell service station and after she’d deciphered her husband’s handwriting, decided that there was one flatette, with its own shower, for twelve dollars.
I talked it over with Tiki and it was concluded that we could do better than a flatette right on the busy Hume Highway. Therefore, I returned to the woman and apologised for having taken her time.
Back in town and away from the main street, I entered a hotel and wearily provided the licensee with my name and address before he informed me that a double room with breakfast would cost us twenty-four dollars. He became abrupt and rather rude when I declined his offer.
Having left the ‘Galant’ at a parking meter, at a cost of five cents for one hour, I entered another hotel where a woman quoted me twenty-nine dollars. By this time Tiki was wearing her thongs and her patience quite understandably was wearing thin. In the main street, at the Bull’s Head Hotel — which is located next to the Albion at which I had a counter lunch in November of 1974 — the chap was exceptionally friendly. He said that there was only one double, however, it had already been booked for eighteen dollars. His suggestion was to try next door or across the street, but I didn’t.
Tiki consumed the contents from a tin of ‘Rondo’ and I, a ginger beer. Unexpectedly, it was then that she caught sight of the sign: ‘Motel’. It pointed to the side street which was signposted Ely Street. Setting out on foot we came to the Central Wangaratta Motel and when the lady told us that a double room cost nineteen dollars and fifty cents and that this included breakfast, we gladly accepted.
Returning to the car by half past three, I found that there were ten minutes left on the meter. Fortunately, we had brought a spare key to the car’s ignition as, in her wearisome state Tiki had locked the vehicle with the key still in the ignition.
Our room overlooks the park below. At four o’clock we tuned the black and white television to GMV’s Channel Six, which has very few advertisements when compared to Sydney’s commercial channels, and watched a programme of the series, “Bonanza”, in which Sally Kellerman’s character makes advances to Hoss, played by the late Dan Blocker.
A new version of “The Mickey Mouse Show” followed at five o’clock and at half past the hour, “Land Of The Lost”. “The Bill Cosby Show” followed thirty minutes later. We’ve not watched this series before. The news bulletin at half past six is on relay from Melbourne.
The mercury reached thirty-two degrees Celsius here today and it is positively stifling in this room, notwithstanding the fact that the air-conditioning is running.
“She must have put it on heat!” Tiki quipped.
Although we have the fan on, there is little benefit to be gained from it either!
At seven o’clock “The Muppet Show” has Kay Ballard as its guest. Accompanied by a huge lovable muppet, she sings and dances to “Oh Babe, What Would You Say?”. “This Island Earth”, a film which was produced in 1955, follows at half past the hour. Its cast includes Rex Reason, Faith Domergue, Russell “Gilligan’s Island” Johnson and Jeff Morrow. We saw it, in colour, at Tiki’s parents’ when they were overseas this year.
Fifteen minutes later we turned the television off and left to walk up and down the Hume Highway, which in the centre of town bears the name of Murphy Street. There were too many youths of a rough appearance for my liking, using language to which a lady should not be exposed and consequently, after we’d each consumed a can of Eck’s ginger beer, we headed back to our motel. There are dispensers here in Wangaratta where one pushes a button and a drinking straw pops up.
Even with the door open and the fan on, the heat is so oppressive it’s suffocating. My eyes are understandably bloodshot, nevertheless, I notice that pterygium appears to be building in the inner corner of my right one and I certainly hope that I don’t have to have my eyeballs scraped, like “Brutus” had to!
At nine, we switched the television to Channel Four — RVN (Wagga Wagga)/AMV (Albury) — in order to watch James “Maverick” Garner in “The Rockford Files”, which this evening has Susan “Petrocelli” Howard as its guest star. Her character is kidnapped not once, but twice!
Tiki has worked out how to lock the door to our room from the outside. We’ve travelled four hundred and twenty-three miles today.
Hearing Craig Douglas’s “Kung Fu Fighting” today brought back memories of three years ago when, on the seventh of November, I set out on a driving holiday in my second-hand Volkswagen ‘Beetle’, which was already eight years old. Initially, my journey was meant to be a more relaxing one, but it didn’t take long before compulsion reared its head and in the ensuing calendar month I covered eight thousand and fifteen miles at an average of nearly two hundred and sixty miles per day.
My obsessive desire to be on the move meant that only once did I spend consecutive nights in the one location, Broken Hill. So disappointed was I in the fact that I’d had to do that, that I found it necessary to move diagonally across the street and spend the second night in a different hotel.
I’d resigned from my job, again, a fortnight before I left home and on that first Tuesday in November had ventured to Sydney’s Randwick Racecourse in an attempt to turn the six hundred dollars I had in my pocket into two and a half thousand, which I intended I would then spend on a holiday in England. I kept my money in my pocket until the tote betting opened some forty-five minutes before the running of the Melbourne Cup. Having pored over the odds in the newspaper I naively believed that they would at least be similar when betting commenced. The runner, “Igloo”, for example, which had been listed at thirty-three to one in the paper, opened at twelves. Such discrepancies threw my entire staking allocations into complete disarray and so I decided that in order to have any chance of returning a positive outcome I would have to totally exclude the champion mare and the favourite for the race, “Leilani”, safe in the knowledge that in order to win she would have to carry a record weight for a mare.
With my total stake divided unequally on perhaps half of the other runners I went up into the grandstand to watch the race on television. When “Leilani” found the front in the straight and was still in front with about a hundred metres remaining, I felt my heart sink. However, all was not lost because a runner suddenly flashed down the outside and although I didn’t know immediately just what it was, after the din from the rowdy spectators had subsided somewhat, I did hear someone call out the name of “Think Big”. This excited me because when I looked at my list of bets I saw that I had placed seventy dollars on it to win!
The horse that I had really come to back was a jumper from New Zealand, “Aito”, which was having its first Australian start in the next race. Nevertheless, when I joined the long queue to collect my return of nine hundred and sixty-eight dollars, I soon realised that I might not have any money with which to back it.
Perhaps I would have placed my nine hundred dollars on something else, had I not reached that window with just five minutes to spare? Anyway, I did reach that window and I did place nine hundred on the nose of “Aito”. He kept attempting to get to the front during the race but a despised outsider just as regularly denied the jockey of his intention and my potentially two and a half thousand dollars and intended trip to England finished in about fifth place.
I frittered away another eighteen dollars and in an attempt to leave the racecourse in profit, placed my remaining fifty on the nose of “My Friend Paul” in the last race on the card at Flemington. He started at twenty to one and to my surprise, and disappointment, finished a gallant second, beaten by the margin of three-quarters of a length. As I left the course, with literally thirty cents in my pocket, I quipped to my mate, “If my car breaks down, we’ll have to hitchhike!”
Still! If I had won and gone to England I wouldn’t have sold my car and spent seven weeks on holiday in New Zealand. Nor would I have met my future wife, Tiki! Isn’t it funny how unfortuitous circumstances can sometimes work out to be to one’s betterment?
The reason I have digressed from my month-long, marathon journey, is because on its second day I was up near Walcha, attempting to locate another station that played music, when, just four days after he’d cost me my nine hundred dollars, I stumbled upon a broadcast in which the race caller described the fact that “Aito” was in the process of winning by a margin of five lengths; this time having started at the odds of five to one, not two to one.
There were several other memorable moments over the course of that month. The second was having the windscreen of my car shattered when an oncoming timber-jinker flicked up a stone near Rathdowney in southern Queensland. I drove some eighty miles to Toowoomba during which time I experienced intermittent showers. I dreaded the thought of them tending to constant rain, for as it was the raindrops cut at my face as if they were tiny slivers of ice.
The gentleman who replaced the windscreen failed to seal it correctly and I had to return to Toowoomba that following day where he had another attempt, which, I was to learn at a later date, had also been unsuccessful.
A policeman in Inglewood told me that the road to Goondiwindi was passable to light vehicles such as mine and hence I set out to drive there. It wasn’t until I came upon a rising creek that I had my doubts. The flowing waters actually moved my vehicle sideways to such an extent that I had my right hand on the door handle, as the desire to use it to bale out became almost insuperable. When the depth lessened to the extent that the tyres regained their utmost traction I actually had to drive diagonally in front of a stationary semi-trailer in order to get to the left-hand side of the highway.
Some kilometres further on I rounded a bend only to be confronted by a cow as it nonchalantly sauntered across the road. Fortunately for me it was half way through its crossing and the highway was devoid of oncoming traffic, for when I depressed the car’s brake pedal there was a total lack of response. The crossing of the creek had rendered the brakes to be totally useless, in the short term.
En route to Broken Hill from Cobar, I came upon an adult emu with three chicks. As I approached, I reduced speed to allow the four to leave the highway. All seemed well until in their haste the chicks collectively ran to the right while the adult chose the opposite direction. By the time the mature bird realised what had transpired and abruptly turned around to rejoin them, my vehicle was in its path. The large bird crashed straight into the passenger door with such force that it was repelled off its feet.
I was so shaken by this totally unexpected encounter that I drove on for what probably was a further five kilometres before I alighted to inspect the large claw mark. I gave an involuntary shudder as I envisaged what could have occurred had the impact happened that split second earlier and the emu had found itself on the car’s convex boot lid. I imagined that in such an instance my vehicle’s speed, reduced as it was, would still have been sufficient as to have propelled the huge bird towards the windscreen.
Three young men in a ute passed me as I drove out from Broken Hill to inspect the Menindee Lakes. Having done so, its driver, in what I viewed as a premeditated action, used his right arm to irresponsibly toss an empty ‘tinny’ back in my direction. The beer can bounced once before it fortuitously passed by, about a metre to my right, at eye level.
It rained continuously on the day I travelled between Hay and Deniliquin. Abandoned roadworks were centred upon a recently graded length of road. No sooner had I driven on to this firm, smooth unsealed surface than I was introduced to a situation that conjured up the belief that I was driving on oily cambered glass. As if that wasn’t bad enough that section of the low-lying highway had been built up by some two to three metres above the surrounding countryside to negate the effects of flooding.
Almost immediately my vehicle began to snake from side to side across both lanes of the highway. Fortunately, there wasn’t another motorist in sight as I feverishly did battle with the steering wheel, just to remain on the road’s surface. The brakes did nothing to slow the vehicle and panic had well and truly set in!
All I could do was to repeatedly turn the steering with an extreme sense of urgency as I rapidly approached each respective side of the road. All the time fearing that my own wellbeing, as well as that of the car’s, was in extreme doubt. The fact that there were no guardrails, in spite of the severity of the drop on either side, only served to heighten my terror and dread.
Reaching the bitumen at the other end of this vitreous surface was the only reason I didn’t crash. Despite that section of roadway probably only having been some several hundred metres in length, the terrifying experience left me with a feeling of utter exhaustion.
By the time I reached Kiama on that penultimate day it had become a struggle just to extricate myself from the driver’s seat and when I did, I stood bent over as if I were an old man. The bonnet’s lock had long ceased to serve its purpose and as a consequence the engine was literally smothered in dust. Having arrived home, I was on my to have it steam cleaned when a young woman drove into the rear of my vehicle. As she appeared to be at least partially stoned and as I could detect no visual damage to the car, I continued on only to reach the service station and discover that the rear bumper bar had been forced forward to the extent that I could no longer obtain access to the engine.
Pique overcame me and I offered the purchase of the vehicle to the young attendant for two hundred and seventy-five dollars. Luckily, for me, he was to begrudgingly decline my offer which was just as well for a month later I received five hundred and twenty-five for it. In the meantime he had handed me a large shifting spanner and I hammered a decisive indentation into the top edge of the bumper bar so that entry to the engine could be restored.
The holiday had transported me as far north as Kingaroy and Nanango in Queensland, throughout New South Wales to as far as Cockburn on the state’s border with South Australia and to many and varied parts of Victoria. These included the town we’re in tonight.