What Happens on Fridays
My task as the regional Director, or superintendent as we were known then, was to approve a new school in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The school was, and remains, an independent school at a site outside Fitzroy Crossing. The community advisor had arranged for me to be collected in a community vehicle early Friday morning, around 5.00 am, to be transported to the community. My drivers (I kid you not) were named Harry and Truman. They were arrived close to 5.30 in a large tray-back vehicle with two vast single wheels at the front and two vast dual wheels at the back.
My drivers were pleasant, and we chatted over the two hour journey of seventy kilometres. Our speed was dictated by the condition of the track and several creeks that were flowing after recent rains. Having the vast wheels now made sense.
With my task completed around noon, the school principal-designate found Truman and let him know I was ready to be taken back to Fitzroy. As I boarded to sit in the front with Harry and Truman, however, just about every other community member, men, women and children, also boarded the tray. The community advisor told me they were all going to visit ‘relations’ in Fitzroy and stay until Sunday. They sat on the steel tray now bounded by with a mesh cage which, I assumed, was to prevent anyone falling off.
About twenty kms from the Community, we came across the first, and largest of the creeks. We were just about through the water when there was banging on the cab roof and voices calling loudly in language. Truman, the driver, immediately braked, and he, Harry, and everyone else leapt to the bank or into the water to pursue and trap a massive bungarra or monitor lizard. While it seemed like mayhem, community members and children who were old enough gradually surrounded and trapped the bungarra which arrived and was placed on the tray back, very deceased.
Cheerfully chattering in language, everyone got back and board, Truman started the vehicle, the wheels spun vigorously, but we didn’t move. We were bogged.
Harry immediately took over, telling everyone, including me, to get off the vehicle, sending the women with children to the near bank, and ordering every man to find a spot on the vehicle so he could push the heavy thing clear. I was directed to the rear in knee deep water by Harry and he chose my spot, right at the rear of the tray. I wasn’t even given time to rid myself of my shoes and sock. With a yell, Truman slid the truck into gear, we all pushed, the rear wheels spun, all of us were drenched by mud and sloppy brown water, and the truck remained firmly embedded in the creek. Harry raced around to the driver’s door and bellowed to Truman words that sounded like ‘four-wheel, four-wheel’. Engine noise diminished, followed by clanking and clashing of gears, and Harry ran to each front wheel and to do something before signalling with a thumb-up to Truman. Back with us, he yelled in language to Truman, called to us, “push, push” which we did as Truman revved the vehicle covering us in Diesel smoke and fumes. Suddenly the wheels churned, gripped, the truck lurched forward and every man pushing fell face-first into churned red-brown slop.
When all was sorted and I climbed back into the cab to leave the creek, I recall thinking, “I wonder how the rest of my regional-director colleagues spent their Friday lunch-hour?”