The Long Road to Coober Pedy: Part 1

One man’s journey into the heart of a continent


The Vegemite’s gone bad. Damn. I threw the remainder of the tin on the side of the road. Not that I really cared for it all that much, but you take what you get out here. The blistering sun beat down on us.  We waited. It had been almost two hours, and Deeber hadn’t returned from his reconnaissance mission.  One can never be too careful on the roads in the Outback these days.  The scarcity of petrol in this foreign land has led the locals to become a bit desperate.  Marauding gangs roam the highways, looking for opportunities — opportunities to loot whatever they can get their hands on.  With petrol being the most valuable commodity, of course.  And here I was among this insanity.  But why?  Maybe it was for the sense of adventure, but truthfully, I had no idea why I was here.

I came across Mervin and his gang back in Mildura.  That seemed like ages ago.  I was at a pub munching down on some Alice Springs chicken and a big bloke of Foster’s when I overheard Mervin mention they were headed for Coober.  I wanted to head that way, so I bribed them to take me along.  Mervin’s gang was a motley crew covered in leather and spikes and the sort.  They rode motorcycles and dune buggies, and I sat shotgun next to Mervin in his steel-reinforced Suburu Outback.  It was practically a tank with the girders lining the sides and the turrets on top.  Mervin made me feel a bit uneasy, what with the scar across his milky eye, the ‘fear’ and ‘hate’ tattoos on his knuckles, the spiked mohawk helmet, the combat boots, the dingo skull around his neck, the forked tongue, and the large knife where once was a hand, but I somehow felt safe riding next to him in his five-star government crash rated, all-wheel drive machine.

To pass the time, some of the men from the gang would play a game. One man would pull a knife from his pants and seemingly threaten another man. The other man would then pull an even larger knife from his pants, and this would continue until the man with the largest knife won out. Occasionally, someone would pull out a spoon, but I wasn’t quite familiar with that rule. Manoola, one of the aboriginal guides stood next to me. At 193 centimeters and with a muscular build that filled out his clothes, he was quite intimidating.  It felt a bit awkward standing in silence, so I decided to strike up some conversation.  I said, “Do you speaka my language?” but the poor confused bloke just smiled and gave me a Vegemite sandwich.  He had obviously not realized the Vegemite had gone bad, so I pantomimed eating it and threw the vile sandwich to the ground.

“Why you done wasted a perfectly good sandwich, mate?”  Mervin questioned.

“Well, the Vegemite, you see, it’s gone bad.”

“Like hell it’s gone bad.  That’s the best Vegemite we’ve had on this trip.”

I didn’t know what to say. So, it was supposed to taste like that. Before I could speak, Mervin hushed the group.  “Here comes Deeber.  Everyone quiet now.”

Deeber came walking briskly over the horizon.  When he arrived, he was out of breath but calm, which was a good sign. Usually when someone went for a reconnaissance mission, they’d come running back being tailed by a pack of venomous snakes or dingos of unusual size. This was a pleasant change of pace.

“The Hooley Dooley gang is about three kilometers ahead. They done set up camp, but from whats I can tells, they headin’ north towards Coober after the sun come up.”

“Alright, then,” Mervin spoke up, “we’ve no choice but to stay the night here until they clear out.  Those blokes drink a mean Foster’s, and they not too kind to outsider gangs.  Billiam and Wugwort, go check the brush over there to see if we can set up camp.”

The two goons reluctantly walked away into the dark.  There was a long pause, and then the sound of hurried footsteps against the sandy ground.  Billiam returned from the brush in a panic.  The look on his face was of pure terror.

“It’s the merry king of the bush!  Run!” he cried.

Before anyone could make a move, a feral pack of kookaburras emerged from the bushes and overtook the gang in a hurricane of feathers and blood. The image of Surdy getting his eyes pecked out by a couple of the kookaburras will stay with me forever.  And the laughter.  My god, the laughter.  A maniacal cackle that seemed to come directly from hell itself.

Many of us had retreated back to the vehicles, but others had succumbed to the devil birds.  While running, my foot caught a loose rock, and I found myself face down on the ground amongst the brush. As I flipped over, I could see a kookaburra flying straight for my eyes.  I shut them in hopes that they would be spared, but no pain came.  Instead, I could hear a whizzing sound as small objects went flying over my head.  They were boomerangs, and they smacked the kookaburras to the ground, one after another.  Their aim was flawless, as if they had a homing mechanism.  Behind me a female voice called out, “We need to get out of here. Get up!”

I turned my head and could make out the darkened figure of a girl who didn’t appear to be older than twelve.  My thoughts immediately went to my friends in the gang.  “We can’t leave without the others.”

“There’s no time!  Come with me if you want to live!”

The girl practically dragged me across the ground, but eventually we made it to safety.  My eyes were a little fuzzy, and I had feathers stuck to my face, but I was alive.

“Who…who are you?”  I could barely get the words out of my mouth.

“M’name’s Bindi. Bindi Irwin. G’day, mate.”

To Be Continued…

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