Bad Luck or Foolhardiness?
Mendooran is one of those typical small towns where the locals will make it out to be bigger, population wise, than it actually is. That is, outsiders usually only count people, not dogs, horses, cows and chickens living in the town area. It’s dry area in this part of the bush. If you turn off the Golden Highway at Dunedoo and once through town take a right turn to Coonabarabran its about 40 km on. Not that close or on the road to anywhere really. There has been some attempt, though no one seems to be exactly sure when, to make it a town of murals. Some buildings seemed to have them others don’t; sort off a half-hearted attempt. Most of the shop-fronts are closed in fact other than the pub, second-hand place and the butcher there doesn’t seem to be much else. Though I have been told by one of the locals that the fishing is good, when there is water in the river. The pub has plenty of character and is very much in the old style but with a sour faced, grumpy, female publican it is not difficult to understand why the locals do not support the different events that the pub puts on. Like the free Saturday night entertainment brought in from Dubbo attracted one local, two campers and the entertainer’s wife and three children. The drinks are cheap and so is the food I guess when country people spend their entertainment dollar they like to feel welcome and important.
I met Roland and Yeti in Mendooran when I stopped there overnight on my way back from Gilgandra. They are an older couple who sleep in the back of their car on an air mattress; but do put a protective cover over the top of the car at night. This allows them to sleep with the car windows open and not get wet on the remote chance that it rained. It was the beginning of summer and in the New South Wales bush that means temperatures in the mid-to late 30s and dry. There were little pools of water in the Castlereagh. The river, during times of high rainfall, has been known to overflow the high ten metre banks and flood most of the town area, though not this year. Rowland told me they were both in their mid-70’s and were on their way to South Australia to see his brother, then on to Wagga Wagga for more relatives and in about three weeks home to Queensland. They really enjoyed the travel, single pot cooking, no television, fresh air and meeting new people and neither one could understand why a road traveller would want all the fancy luxuries of air-conditioning, TV’s, washing machines, etc. and the enormous petrol bill of towing around a big rig. Yeti volunteered “It’s the woman who needs all the comforts”.
We all got on very well maybe it’s because we enjoyed no frills camping and would sooner be in touch with nature than what’s going on in “Neighbours or Days of our lives”. After dinner that night Yeti began to tell me the story of their former next-door neighbours.
“Bill and Irene are a nice enough couple, probably about ten years younger than us, but they always have to be one better than everyone else. So when they decided to become Grey-Nomads naturally they had to have the best, so they sold their house, had a big fancy new caravan built that had everything imaginable that you could possibly have in a home then, of course, they had to buy a brand new powerful V6 four wheel drive to pull it. Their other car which they traded-in was only 2 years old. They had some idea that they were going to spend a lot of time off-road.”
“But they loaded it the wrong way and had all the heavy appliances built-in down the back of the van” interjected Roland. “And then couldn’t see the point in trying to evenly distribute the weight of their heavier things by storing them over the axles in the middle of the van. The whole weight thing was wrong but they wouldn’t be told. Well, within half a day of leaving home they crashed it; jack-knifed the caravan and wrote both the car and the caravan off. Fortunately for them neither of them was hurt.”
“So what did they do if they had already sold their house?”
Roland continued whilst Yeti put the kettle on.
“They stayed in a motel because they had nowhere to go to. They were not eligible for extended roadside assistance because they were not far enough from home so they had to bear the whole cost. Their credit cards got a real beating whilst they waited for the insurance”.
“That would have taken a while”. I added.
“It took a couple of months then there were the motel bills, eating out almost every night and a hire car to get around in. Once they got the insurance which obviously was not as much as they had paid for the caravan and the car in the first place they had to repay the money that they had borrowed on their credit cards. But instead of using most of the money to make sure that they had a home to come back to; they then went out and bought another new 4×4 and a new every-facilities caravan”.
“So how did they go this time”?
“Well, you did say no milk or sugar”? Yeti was pouring the tea.
“Just a small slice of that lemon, thanks Yeti”.
“Well” continued Yeti.
“Everything went fine for a few months when Irene, who was driving at the time, had the incredible misfortune to lose control of the caravan on the Stuart Highway, near Alice Springs, and wrote off the car and the caravan for a second time. She swerved to miss hitting a kangaroo and over-corrected on the power steering. The caravan crossed the other side of the road and hit an oncoming road-train. They were lucky they were not both killed. But this time, being in a much more remote and isolated area, help was not so accessible. The towing bill was horrendous. Bill was more seriously injured than Irene and he had to be airlifted to Adelaide, whereas she spent time in Alice Springs Hospital.”
“The poor things.”
“Irene was discharged ten days later but then had to stay in a motel in Alice to try and sort out and salvage what possessions that she could. Naturally they had not accounted for this sort of expense you can just imagine the high cost of things in places like Alice Springs. It didn’t take long to exhaust the credit cards. Then it became a matter of borrowing from family and eventually friends. Once she had sorted things out as best she was able she then had to fly to Adelaide and Bill, who was still in hospital, which also meant staying in a motel until he was able to travel. Once again when he was discharged they had to borrow more money for their airfares back to Brisbane and to have what processions they had left sent there.”
“All this on top off the trauma of the accident.” Put in Roland.
I shuck my head in sympathy.
“Once they were back in Brisbane they rented a small place once more with the assistance of friends. By the time the insurance for their vehicles came through they owed so much money around the place that it all went into paying back their debts of the last few months. They have been left with nothing and now rent a small fibro house in Brisbane and live off their pension money.
This whole experience totally conditioned Yeti’s opinions that at such an age as retirement when you are physically not capable of starting your working life again that under no circumstances should one sell their home. Which brings me to the point; if it means selling the security of your old age for the sake of having a bigger, fancier more comfortable rig is this a mature choice?
This story is a true one told from Yeti’s point of view and she makes a valid point. So many people who have led stable, responsible and secure lives in suburbia feel that they want to take that last fling at the romance of the road but they want to do it in the comfort they are used to rather than the adventure that it can be and few see the practicality of their decision.