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WE LOST KUNUNURRA IN THE BUFFALO GRASS

The humorous aspects of my travels around Australia with my late husband, Eddy, from just after we got married. Also some thoughts on cooking in caravan kitchens, Eddy's stories and other bits that seemed important or funny to me at the time I wrote them. Here's the first chapter to give you a taste.

We Lost Kununurra in the Buffalo Grass

CHAPTER 1- THE DRIVING INSTRUCTOR.

The adventure began soon after I bought my first car. I really wanted a motor cycle but my mother had recently spent some time in hospital- apparently in a ward full of motor bike accident victims- and was convinced I would only have to sit astride one to have my head split open. She insisted that if was was to have wheels at all it had to be four, not two.

I had a bicycle and often rode it to work. This was a fine way to travel and all very well on a summer morning but in winter in the Adelaide Hills it was an exercise in masochism. Many a morning I'd arrive at work with my nose frozen and my gloved hands locked round the grips in a state of localised rigor mortis.

For a while during the worst of the winter my sister and I got a lift with a young woman named Julie who owned a small car. We’d walk a kilometre or so down the road in the morning, Julie would pick us up on the corner and we'd all go to work in the Onkaparinga Woollen mill in Lobethal. In the evening she would ferry us back to the corner and we'd walk along the dirt road to home. The arrangement suited us well but there was just one snag in it. Julie had a habit of stopping to chat to boyfriends.

On the evening that finally made up my mind for me that I must get a car of my own, she was late to begin with, then we had to wait for her friend Sandra. Sandra, being a working mother, had to stop and do some shopping. After all that and just when I thought we were finally on our way home Julie drew the car to a stop at the petrol station on the main street. Ahead of us was a large grey and chrome american style car. A man in a black cowboy hat got out and walked toward us.

“Oh God,” Julie muttered. “It’s that creep from up north.”

While I thought sour thoughts about the great ostentatious heap of metal blocking our way and fumed over my evening being wasted, the man leaned on the window sill of Julie's car and held a long rambling conversation with her. This, I decided, was the absolute last straw! I would have to have a car of my own.

Getting the car was the easy part. Not so easy was learning how to drive it. My father started teaching me. Learner drivers do funny things to people; the most tolerant, placid, patient people turn into order shouting ogres the instant they get into the passenger seat beside a learner.

"Put it in gear. Not yet- clutch. Clutch! Put your foot on the clutch. That one, yes. Right- gear in, clutch out... slowly! Now you've stalled it. Start again. Neutral! I showed you how. We'll go through the gears again- first second third top. Right, now try again. On. Clutch! Clutch! That's the brake. In gear, right... now let it out slowly and give it touch of acc...Slowly! Not that slowly. Now you've stalled it."

Stalling was my favourite pastime and my father's pet peeve. When I stalled the car four times (consecutively) in the same lesson he gave up and we went home. For the next few weeks I went to work with Julie.

When Sandra asked about the progress of my driving lessons she was told the sad and sorry tale. The next day she came to me at work with the alarming statement:
"I've got two men at home fighting over you." She had told her husband and boarder about my predicament and they had begun to argue over who would have the doubtful privilege of teaching me how to drive. "I'll send them around on Saturday."

Saturday morning rolled around. I had long since decided that no-one in their right mind would want to waste the weekend teaching me how to drive so I was surprised when Pete, Sandra's husband, turned up with a younger man. As I did not know either of them they introduced themselves to me and my father. The boarder had a ruggedly handsome, rather familiar face with soft brown hair and light brown eyes. He was not especially tall but was well built and had a nice voice and a pleasant manner.

As I have a terrible memory for faces and names I was afraid I had met him before somewhere and ought to know him. However we shook hands and he didn't seem to recognise me so I assumed I was safe and lapsed into silence while he, Pete and Dad talked about local farms, the weather and the art of thinning apples.

Then came the driving lessons. If you ever have to learn to drive, get a stranger to teach you; they are paragons of patience. I stalled, crunched the gears, cut in front of other cars, dazzled a crossroad full of traffic with my high beam and rolled across a busy intersection because I had forgotten how to stop- committed almost every driving crime in the book and my saintly (or petrified) teacher only murmured, "That's not quite the way to do it."

Before and after the driving lessons I began to learn a bit about my instructor. His name was Eddy Hintz; he was a naturalised Australian, born in Cologne, West Germany, an electrician by trade. He had been living in Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory but had come to Adelaide to undergo an Electrical Linesman's course. That was where he had met Pete. When the course was over he decided to spend a little time in South Australia before returning to the Territory. At the time I met him he was working to earn a bit of money in order to travel north to Kununurra to take up a job on the Ord River Project.

We talked and talked. He was a great talker. I had been out with other young men and had quickly grown tired of their company when I found I had to prod them for a conversation. Eddy needed no pushing; he talked easily and naturally on every subject that took our fancy; art, music, cars UFOs, religion, food. By the end of the first week we were doing more talking than driving.

During the second week, a plan began to form. The plan was that Pete, Eddy and I should travel to Tennant Creek together, get jobs and places to live. When everything was settled we would send for Sandra. By then she would have sold the house and the furniture and would follow with their daughter.

Some time later Eddy and I also decided to get married, a decision we carried out in February 1967 in the pretty little Presbyterian church in Lobethal.
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Our departure was set for the 24th of February. We sold my car and my bicycle, fixed Eddy's car and bought a trailer which we loaded with boxes of gear plus spare tyres, spare petrol, spare everything else likely to be used up, broken or shed by the car, plus a small  drum of water.

On the 24th it rained all over the state and the South Road, the one we planned to travel, was closed to traffic.  A headline from the Sunday Mail dated 25th February reads: NORTH DRENCHED. The article went on to say how torrential rain had swept the state disrupting road and rail traffic, isolating towns and leaving trucks and travellers stranded along the roads.

In spite of this and a warning on Monday that the South Road was still impassable we set off. Eddy had made the trip from Adelaide to Alice a good number of times before in all kinds of weather; he assured us that by the time we got there the road would have dried out enough to allow us to get through. We checked the trailer once more, Eddy went over his car- a Ford Customline- to make sure it was fit for the trip; we stocked up on provisions and then headed down from the hills to Adelaide.

Skirting the city itself we went on, through the wine and wheat lands of South Australia to Port Augusta and onto the South Road.

There we  were on our 'honeymoon', Eddy and I and Pete and Asta (a dog we had acquired). If this was a sample of what my married life was going to be, it was certainly not going to be dull. With a grin I looked across to my new husband and at that moment, with something of a shock, I realised why he had looked familiar when I first met him. Here, big car, black hat and all, was the 'creep from up north'.

Continued in Chapter 2- Honeymoon for Three and a Dog

North DrenchedRain in South Australia