Uluru gradually faded in our rearview mirror; a shimmering orange haze in the distance that danced like embers around a hearth and waved to us in fond farewell. We had hoped to cover plenty of ground that day, mapping our intended route across 700km of Australia. However, Jenny the notoriously unpredictable Land Rover had other agendas that resulted in our unwanted reacquaintance with the side of the Stuart Highway.
Stranded 50km north of Marla, a small outback town in South Australia, Jenny had spluttered to an uncontrollable stop for reasons that were still unknown. We were rooted to a driver-reviver resting spot for an agonising three hours. Matthew, productive and practical as ever, whiled away his time attempting to diagnose and counteract the problem that was causing Jenny to burn through copious oil, of which we were now in short supply. Numerous attempts were made to revive the Land Rover; my contribution besides sheltering in the car and losing my mind to the logic of crossword puzzles, was turning the engine over and over in the hope of igniting some form of life back into her. I tried to offer as much help as feasibly possible – either by calling from the passenger seat window once every half hour if Matt ever needed anything passed to him or scribbling down our final wishes into a travel notepad in the event of our sudden demise. (No, I wasn’t quite so melodramatic – however, we were uncomfortably aware of our vulnerability most of the time).
A long time elapsed before an old man approached from a neighbouring caravan that had been sitting idle in the distance since we arrived. With a strong Welsh accent and a bristly grey moustache, the old man introduced himself as Bryn. He was a chirpy , kind man with ample stories to share like a wise grandpa you can only admire. He explained that his wife whom we never met as she remained in the caravan, were road-tripping around Australia. They had emigrated years ago to Canberra the capital city and were enjoying their retirement indulging in the peace and tranquility of Australia. I can only imagine their need for peace and tranquility however was stifled the day they met Jenny. Approaching the Land Rover with a slight trepidation but a natural curiosity at her sheer size and age, Bryn probably hadn’t anticipated the actual state of the car and the ostensible truth that lurked inside Jenny’s engine. He must have regretted his decision to approach us an hour and a half later when we were still standing there, bonnet prised open, no diagnosis but a grim prognosis. Would we ever leave?!
I had almost cracked the Rubix cube by the time Bryn offered us a tow. There was nothing else to be done. Our only hope now was to find a mechanic or some form of car repair in Marla. It was unlikely any help would be available at such a remote outback town but it was our only chance. Jenny would not start. As the Western horizon engulfed the low winter sun, the wise old Welshman attached his tow rope to Jenny, hopped into his own car and gently pulled a defeated Land Rover and two exhausted young backpackers to their next stop.
Bryn drove us 50km north to Marla and wished us the best of luck. We offered him money for the 50km tow, but he waved it off with an airy hand and a hearty shrug and said ‘The best way to repay me is to one day return the favour to another roadside struggler or anyone calling for help. What goes around comes around.’ Words of a true hero.
We had acknowledged a sign for a nearby mechanic as we entered the town of Marla, so we were hopeful that Jenny could be temporarily fixed if only to reach Adelaide. Matty accepted that the Land Rover would require an entire new engine to properly function again. Whenever we came into signal range and we had access to internet data, he would be googling and sifting through Land Rover specialists to eventually find a service that could offer a solution and restore Jenny back to full health. By some miracle, there was a service conveniently located in Adelaide. We were desperate to finish our outback trip as soon as possible, but we still had 1078km to cover with a car practically rocking on its last wheels.
“Try the engine again”, I suggested the moment Bryn left us. Matty sighed, and turned the key. To our utmost surprise, Jenny roared into life. The begrudging beast had awoken. Like a stubborn child, she chooses her moments. We used this as an opportunity to get back onto the Stuart Highway and plummet south as fast as we could, nourishing her frequently with a hearty dose of oil and some pick-me-up petrol purchased at the service station in Marla.
After hours of anxious night driving shared between Matthew and I, fearful of any wild roaming cattle or frolicking kangaroos, the horizon began to glitter with civilisation and we recognised our camp for the night. We had arrived at a derelict town called Coober Pedy, famous for its opal mining and underground homes. What adventures would await us here? we wondered. We stumbled upon a caravan site and switched off the engine, conscious that the car may refuse to start again the following day. Life in the Land Rover was forever shaded by uncertainty, fear, doubt and many plan B’s and even plan E’s… but this is what made our road trip so memorable, so interesting, so enriching, and what became the sole inspiration for my writing.