I came over the sand dune at speed, I know my mind should have been on the job at hand but for some reason I was thinking about how good those cold beers were going to go down when I finally got to stop. Lucky for me the track I was driving was travelled by very few and the worst a few seconds dreaming about beer was going to do was send me into thicker sand than I was already driving on.
I recovered quickly and wrestled The Beast back onto the track. Actually when I say track I might be misleading you somewhat, there is two well defined ruts in the sand which are harder packed than the sand around them. But essentially it’s all just soft dessert sand and the track is little more than a line the traffic the area does see follows. So going off the track, even by several metres, could easily leave a vehicle bogged and going nowhere, then I’d have to call myself to rescue me.
Oh that reminds me I haven’t introduced myself have I? Ok well my name is Dean, actually that’s not the name I was born with, my birth name actually has a few extra letters but I’ll explain the nick name in a minute. I’m
In my little corner of the world two of the most unforgiving and unfavourable excuses for roads come to an end, one is the Tanami Road and the other is the Canning Stock Route. The two roads and the many marked and unmarked tracks that go between them are a mecca for four wheel drive owners from all around the country. They modify their cars, utes, SUV’s, and wagon’s to the nth degree with bigger tyres, better shocks, lifted suspension and more, then they tackle the unforgiving soft sand just to see if they can do it. Some can, some can’t and some are just unlucky and suffer a mechanical breakdown that could not have been predicted, it is my job to rescue those who are unlucky and those who just couldn’t do it.
I drive a heavily modified OKA six wheel drive truck that I call The Beast. Although in their day OKA made some of the best and toughest four wheel drives for Aussie conditions I’ve had mine adapted not only to my liking but also adapted to the job I ask of it. It’s been extended by nearly three metres and the tilt tray on the rear can carry any modern day four wheel drive, the cabin is able to seat eight adults in relative comfort (unless the vehicle is moving at which time it feels like sitting on milk crates) and it can sleep three adults, four if I was desperate. I have more lights on the front than a football stadium, a solid bullbar, larger tyres, high end differential lockers, increased height through better suspension and shocks and more communication gear that a police chopper. I also have mod cons like solar panels, camp cooking facilities and a fridge to keep the beer cold.
When I get the call to rescue someone I could be gone for days, even with exact GPS co-ordinates it could take me two days of travelling to get to the person. Distance and conditions are the two of biggest factors that slow everyone down, even me. But the rain is the single biggest problem we face out here because when it rains it really rains. When it rains roads turn into swamps, dry dusty tracks turn into slippery muddy ice skating rinks and bulldust filled holes turn into bog holes that can swallow three and four trailer road trains. On days like that even I’m lucky to travel more than fifty kilometres in the entire day.
Even the main roads can be traps for the most experienced drivers and bush bashing four wheel drive nuts if they are not prepared or when they are taken by surprise. Get caught on the Tanami in a storm and suddenly what was a solid dirt track quickly becomes nothing more than a huge puddle. When the same thing happens on a sandy track defined by little more than two well packed ruts there is no telling what sort of mushy unforgiving surface is created.
Thankfully those aren’t the conditions I faced as I leapt over the dune thinking about beer instead of driving. The conditions of that day were kind of average, bright sun, thirty eight degrees and not a breath of wind and I was heading due south out of Bililuna down one of those tracks marked on very few maps. I was headed out to find a small group of guys who claimed to be a hundred and ten kilometres due south of Biliuna, they were travelling in convoy and on the holiday of their lives. The problem was that one of the six vehicles of the group had snapped a tail shaft when tackling one of the dunes. Carrying spare parts and having a good mechanical knowledge is a necessity in the outback but spare tail shafts are not something many people carry because they don’t often snap and there just isn’t enough room in any vehicle for one of everything.
Although we do get some people out here that should never leave the city where road side assistance can pick them up when they have a flat tyre the majority of travellers are fairly well prepared. They carry spare parts, they know how to fix most problems and they come out prepared with food, water and other needed supplies. But as strange as it is there was still times when my presence doesn’t always feel that welcome, times where it was easy to see that those stranded drivers felt embarrassed and would have preferred that I not show up at all.
Oh that reminds me I promised I’d explain my nick name didn’t I. Well in explaining that you’ll also see why some people, especially those tough Aussie blokes who struggle to call for assistance in the first place, occasionally don’t welcome me with open arms.
As I said my name, or the name people out here call me is Dean, the name I was born with actually has a few more letters in it, however I’ve been Dean for so long that I don’t even answer to my birth name any more. All my flyers, all the places that have my name and number for travellers to get assistance all list me as Dean. So imagine the look on some of those macho guys faces when they finally get the nerves up to ring for assistance then after hours, or even days of waiting a one hundred and sixty centimetre, well built, desert tanned woman turns up to be their saviour.
I know some people call me a ball buster because I’m a successful female, able to drive trucks, fix anything mechanical and in many cases outshine my male counterparts and honestly I don’t much care that they do. Actually sometimes I can’t resist and I live up to the name, not often, and never to guys who don’t deserve it but it does happen. All in all I love my job and I wouldn’t swap it with any other and it was that job I was talking about.
Looking at the clock on the dashboard I realised that my thoughts of beer were well and truly premature. I still had at least ninety minutes of travelling, longer if I hit trouble, before I reached the stranded party and therefore at least ninety minutes until I was going to get the first taste of that icy cold beer. The saving grace was that because of the late hour of the day I would be camping out until morning before bringing the stranded car, and passengers, back to Halls Creek and that meant one important thing. There would be more than one of those icy cold beers drunk when I did reach the party.
Onward into the dusty dry desert I continued….