You only get to be young once, and I recommend it’s best spent if chock full of madcap, transcendent adventures.  It’s only with the benefit of family and work responsibilities that you realise how carefree you were, and how much time you had on your hands.

Uluru, (Ayers Rock) one of the best known imag...

Uluru - our main goal (Image via Wikipedia)

When I look back on my Schoolies I’m glad it was such a memorable punctuation point to twelve years of schooling.  My first week after finishing high school was spent trawling the northern half of the Northern Territory with my mate Ben Booz, our aim to see as much as we could in the time available to us.

The start of the second week saw us on a long haul between Katherine and Alice Springs.  Back in the day there were no speed limits in the Territory and we hauled along at 150kph, and it was at this speed, as a driver still with a Learner license, I learned the hard way you don’t swerve for goannas.  I felt sorry for one crossing the road, wrenched the wheel, over corrected and nearly rolled us.  Quick thinking Ben grabbed the wheel and put us back on a straight line.

We only made a few stops this day.  Once for a mixed grill (again) at the Three Ways Roadhouse.  We whizzed past a rock formation that looked like Winston Churchill (replete with cigar) before having a quick (I’m talking 15 minutes) run around the Devils Marbles so we could say we’d been there, done that.  Most of the day was spent with the car on cruise control and our feet out the window to beat the heat!

Late in the day we slithered into Alice Springs and debated whether we’d stay there or push on to Ayers Rock.  In our ignorance we thought it “just past” Alice Springs.  It turned out it was another 500km – this was completely unexpected.  By this time my $100 had whittled down to very little, so we found a park, lay the back seats down and threw a mattress into the back.  And there we slept that night, two mates in the back of a station wagon sharing a double mattress while bats crapped on our car and I kicked Ben repeatedly through the night.  Does life get any better?

We couldn’t leave the Territory without seeing Ayers Rock (Uluru) so off we went again, on a diversion that we hadn’t planned and was going to make us late for a deadline of Ben’s.  He was supposed to be speaking at a camp at Rockhampton on the East Coast in a few day’s time.

The trip to Ayers Rock was punctuated by several slow-downs for  water over the road in places.  We were tricked (as most travelers are apparently) with 100km to go, thinking we’d arrived when in fact it was a mountain that looked like Ayers Rock from a distance.  And then we arrived at the icon.  The recent rains had turned it a deep red, and there were waterfalls cascading off the dome.  We couldn’t resist a surreptitious dip in one of the sacred pools formed at the base of the rock.  Sadly the dirt road to the Olgas was closed so we made the most of the afternoon marvelling at the rock.  Geoff Lawson’s jaw was broken by a Patrick Patterson bouncer and Merv Hughes took a hat trick in Perth.


Ben Booz American missionary

Ben Booz - would you entrust your 17-year-old to a man sporting a mullet like this?

That night the sun slanted low on the freshly washed rock and it was a spectacular show for the clicking, whirring cameras.  Sadly all of my photos from this trip ended up in a flooded basement a few years ago, so I’m left only with mental memories.

That night we were in a tent in the camping ground, a year where the Evil Angels movie had reminded us all of the infamous night eight years previous where a dingo allegedly stole Lindy Chamberlain‘s baby, Azaria.  We spent a sleepless night listening to the odd dingo sniff around the tent, there weren’t many other people there so it was hard not to feel like we were on a dinner plate.

The next morning we were up early to climb the rock in the cool of the day.  After the stiff first section, aided by a chain, we cleared the top and spent a few hours racing over the rock, probably venturing into areas where folk would not dare to go today.  It was very windy, we took some photos of us leaning into the gale.  And then we were back in the car and headed for Alice Springs.

Ben decided another night sharing a mattress with me was a bad idea, and with me down to $10, he splashed out and hired us a couple of beds in a backpackers’ hostel.  We were now under the hammer to get to Rockhampton and we woke at 4am to driving rain, a very rare commodity in the middle of the outback.  The rain increased as we drove and 200km north of the Alice it was a torrent raging across the road – and we simply had to get through.

We were cute, spotted some higher road works, ratcheted the car up there and ploughed through water lapping the top of the bonnet for several kilometres before miraculously coming out the other side to encounter a Deluxe Buslines vehicle and an irate driver contemplating the water.  We told him about our road works ruse and took off up the highway.  We arrived in Mount Isa after a 1200km day in time to catch the evening news with a lead story about flooding in Alice and a helicopter photo of a Deluxe bus stranded in a torrent of water.  Oooops……

Quick sleep in Mount Isa and on again, mission Rockhampton.  Ben’s camp started the next morning.  This was another 1300km I believe, and in contrast to the previous day it was sweltering.  And the speed limit was back to 100kph.  grrrr….

We took the time to see the Crocodile Dundee pub and had lunch at the birthplace of QANTAS.  As the afternoon progressed another crisis developed.  Ben’s pay hadn’t been processed, I had barely a cent, and we were very low on fuel.  Very, very low by the time we reached Emerald.  Still no pay.  Ben used his last coin at a pay phone in a frenzied call to Brisbane begging for money to be deposited in his back account.  We limped into Blackwater where mercifully some money had arrived.  And onwards to Rockhampton.

For Ben the trip was over, but I was bundled onto an overnight bus to Nambour to be reunited with my parents who were just starting our blissful annual holiday on the Sunshine Coast.  What was another 600km after something like the 9000km we’d already covered in little more than ten days?

And so it ended.  A rag-tag, spontaneous adventure for the ages.  A little different to today’s homogenised and franchised week on the Gold Coast where the Schoolies are herded into pens to protect them from Toolies.  I wouldn’t have traded for all the world.


One Response to Unhomogenised

  1. Lisa (Eastman) Looney says:

    I remember the mullet. Hope Ben is doing well wherever in the world he is.

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