As you probably already know, in January I did a crazy thing: I bought a car for $800. I’d had zero hours sleep, I didn’t get it serviced and I hadn’t the faintest clue about cars. And let’s be honest- the only reason I bought it was because I was too damn tired to seek out an alternative. Then, despite having not driven since I’d passed my test and being totally terrified, I downed some vile instant coffee and hit the road. Three nerve-wracking hours later, I’d navigated hairpin bends, a river crossing, and finally remembered how to drive a manual. I’d also managed to avoid killing anything- or anyone for that matter! It was all going terrifically.
Somehow, my friend April and I then managed to make it all the way from Cape Tribulation to Sydney in a week without the car dying. Now this was pretty impressive by itself. Don’t think so? Let me paint you a picture. Firstly, the car was a Daewoo, a company that went bust because their cars were so shite! It had two huge rusty streaks spanning the length of the bonnet, and a massive dent in the bumper. But it didn’t matter what it looked like, as long as it worked, right? Well, the handbrake didn’t work. There was an oil leak. The back window didn’t wind down. And I had no clue about the service history either, so it could have had a multitude of other problems.
Following the hottest drive of my life, we also discovered that the aircon didn’t work. Now it was over thirty-five degrees and hell humid, so to compensate for the this we drove as fast as possible, resulting in April getting a $500 speeding fine that, as far as I know, she still hasn’t paid! We also found out that the speakers were shoddy, the radio was patchy and there was no aux cable connection. So we were forced to play the awful CDs the car came with over and over again, until our brains boiled and we were convinced that Justin Bieber really was sorry.
To top it off, I wasn’t entirely sure that I owned the car at all (although maybe this was a good thing). All I’d done was give some random guys from the Netherlands $800, and signed some suspicious looking form… Anyway, what mattered was that the damned thing did in fact work!
Having made it to Sydney, we decided to do the eight-hour journey to Melbourne in a day, literally just in time for April’s flight back to the States. Due to the misleading petrol gauge, we nearly ran out of gas for the second time, and stopped in a one-horse town called Jugiong. There, we met a mechanic called Dave, who offered to take a look at the car. Upon opening the bonnet, he burst out laughing. This was not the most encouraging sign! He proceeded to carefully inspect everything, guffawing occasionally.
“Your filter’s blocked”
“Your belt is wearing through”
“Your tyres are a total write off”
“Your coolant is…surprisingly okay”
Following his depressing diagnostics, he then offered to fix the handbrake in the morning. We declined, as we had to set off at 5am to make April’s flight. He then offered us a bed for the night and a threesome. This we also declined…
April made her flight with a few minutes to spare, and I was now faced with another totally terrifying prospect: driving alone! I was sure I was going to kill someone: after all, there was no one to slam on the brakes or yell at me if (when) I nearly hit the car in front of me. When I’d finally managed to get data on my hastily bought (shite) phone, I navigated the freeway. Somehow, I managed to find the hostel fairly easily, despite going into a lane with traffic coming directly at me and nearly colliding head on with a car…
Following a four-day stay in the worst hostel ever (read this article for more details!), I then had to navigate Melbourne’s terrifying tram system to pick up the girls. I miraculously survived the journey, and the rest of the trip to Adelaide without incident, save for a worrying moment when the brakes started vibrating energetically and I was convinced it was all over.
The trip to Perth was slightly more eventful. One evening, literally in the middle of nowhere on the Nullarbor, there was a storm. I got absolutely soaked in the tent, curling up into the smallest ball possible. At 6am, I decided I’d had enough. We crawled onto the road, staying at a sensible 60kph as I couldn’t see a thing. I was struggling to keep my eyes open on one hours sleep when there was a loud “crack” and my already poor vision was further impaired. It took me a second to realise that the entire bonnet had flown up and smashed into the windscreen. I jerkily pulled over to examine the damage. It was horrific. The hinge on side side had snapped clean, and was sticking up vertically. The entire bonnet was being held down by a flimsy, rusty hinge on the other side that squeaked when you tried to move it. I tried closing the bonnet but the catch mechanism had also been knocked out of place.
It was at this point that a guy with one leg pulled over, jumped (or should I say hopped- sorry, that was in bad taste) out of his ute and came to the rescue with a large coil of green rope. He roped the bonnet down using a series of knots I tried desperately to commit to memory, and wished me luck. I then drove at about 30kph to Caiguna, where we enlisted the help of several other people. An hour later when the rain was still lashing down, we hit the road once more.
Despite fearing the worst, the bonnet fiasco had not in fact affected the car’s engine. We made it to Perth on the hottest day of the summer- a sweltering 45 degrees, and stayed in a hostel that made the one in Melbourne seem like a five-star hotel. However, the fact that parking was available balanced out the bed bugs, drug dealers, and lack of aircon, and I stayed put for the hottest two nights of my life. I’d resorted to showering in all my clothes, and then trying to sleep with three fans on full blast directed at me. Safe to say, it didn’t work very well.
But Murphy, or Sod (or whoever you like to call him) always strikes when you’re least expecting it. It was too hot to do anything except hit the beach- and even that was unbearable- and when I’d fried myself to near-death I tried to flee back to the horrible hostel. It was at this point that Toastie protested, and refused to go into gear. I tried reverse, and was rewarded with a blood-curdling crunch.
I was actually sensible for once and booked her into a mechanic. I then disappeared to Burma to sail on my dad’s latest mad purchase, and upon return, headed straight to the garage. My experience led me to harbour a new-found deep fear of mechanics, to the point where I’m genuinely scared whenever I pass a garage (read this article for the (horrible) details!). Thankfully, I escaped with a free service and the oil changed. We then headed for a tyre place, and replaced the one tyre with infinitesimally tiny tread, before spray painting over the rust on the bonnet to make her look slightly more acceptable.
I proceeded to drive her around Perth during the semester, avoiding being pulled over by the police and being yellow stickered. As soon as my housemates got to know me well enough it was non-stop ridicule, and they burst out laughing when I announced my intentions to head up north. “Your car’s a piece of sh*t” they announced on frequent occasions, despite the fact that Gerry kept insisting he drive it instead of his car. Their friends even joined in the abuse: “the car’s not going to run on optimism, sweetie”.
But by god, it did.
One surprisingly warm autumn morning we headed north. A week earlier, while I was struggling to chase a story at the Fremantle Herald, I’d received a message from the guy I had planned to travel with, informing me that he would no longer be coming. Cue panic, and a desperate rush to recruit fellow adventure seekers/complete maniacs like myself. A stressful week later, I’d persuaded my friend to miss a few weeks of his work, and also found three random French guys on a backpacker group. Four guys, one girl, a dodgy car and 5,000km of deserted outback. It sounded like the beginning to Wolf Creek, which I’d made the mistake of watching the week before…
Just before the trip, massively increasing my stress levels, two inconvenient things went wrong. Oh wait, three. Firstly, I managed to snap the driver’s door handle off, meaning that I had to position my arm at an inhuman angle and push with inhuman strength to actually exit the car. Secondly, the back windscreen wiper stopped working, and hung down at a forlorn and very much vertical angle, attracting even more unwanted attention. Thirdly, the cigarette lighter stopped working. It seemed that everything that was awkward but not crucial to the car’s functioning had gone wrong. The car drove fine- apart from the odd gear crunch- but we couldn’t go on the trip without a way to charge our phones. After all, if we were dying in the middle of the outback it would be at least nice to have a charged phone, even if there wasn’t any signal!
Too terrified to take it to a garage, I attempted to fix the problem by myself. I watched countless YouTube videos, and managed to take the entire radio out. I then also managed to stab the cigarette lighter and gearbox numerous times with a screwdriver, before realising my case was hopeless.
“We can’t go on this trip” I told Pierre, one of the French guys.
“Have you tried the fuse?” he said. Genius! I was exceedingly smug when I managed to fix the problem, even though I would have almost definitely failed without his advice…
We made it to Kalbarri without a problem, despite the fact that I was amazed that the car even moved with the sheer amount of stuff we’d crammed into her. Seeing out of the back window was out of the question, so I positioned the rear mirror so I could make awkward eye contact with the guys in the back.
So we’d made it seven hours out of Perth, and only had another forty-three to go…I was determined to make it just so I could say “I told you so” to the guys. Each day we survived was a miracle. I had taken some precautions- I’d bought a spare belt, a huge thing of water, and a fire extinguisher. The latter, however, was buried under a mountain of stuff in the boot and thus totally useless…
By day five we’d entered unknown territory. We’d spent the day exhausting ourselves swimming with whale sharks (they swim rather fast), and by the time the sun was setting we’d entered a terrain of dirt so red it hurt my eyes. At this point, the road decided to end, so we drove through the dust, kicking up clouds that caught the sunlight and clogged our throats.
Finally, we arrived at Karijini. The gorges surpassed my every expectation. We jumped into bright blue pools that cooled our dirt-ingrained bodies, and climbed the most Australian mountain ever- Mount Bruce. At the summit, a muscle-wrenching hour further than I expected, I bumped into two people that I knew (out of the three people there!)
But less than 24 hours later we decided to head, despite having set aside a whole three days for the national park. That night we camped under the dazzling moon, and chatted to a friendly truck driver by the bonfire. His truck, however, was not so friendly, and hummed and vibrated all through the night. I slept intermittently, in between the buzzing of a thousand mosquitos that had found their way into my car and the vocals of the tiresome truck.
That morning, I realised two things. Firstly, that we’d effectively camped in, on, and amongst a lavatory and its contents. There was loo roll scattered everywhere, and the stench was putrid. It was at this point, when I was trying to make a fast getaway, that I also realised I’d left the headlights on the entire night. I turned the key with my heart in my stomach. She started! Bombproof, it seemed. More so at least than Gerry’s Toyota, whose battery I managed to drain in a mere three hours the other day…
I was so relieved that I hadn’t drained the batteries (jump leads had not been on my “precautions” list), that I totally zoned out, watching the landscape flash by in snapshots of spinifex and red dirt.
“Brake! Brake!” came a shout from Pierre. Thank god for him. Three lambs- black, brown and white cantered across the road in front of me, bleating despondently. Cheer up, I thought. You had a mere scrape with death, which was less than could be said of the two dozen upended cows we passed on the side of the rows, legs pointing to the sky and fat bellies distended.
The day we reached Broome was disgustingly hot. The air was so humid that it felt as if someone was blowing a heater in your general direction. Our first port of call was Maccas, for a $2 waffle cone and a healthy dose of air conditioning. We ended up staying there for hours, working our way down the menu. When we’d ingested a week’s worth of food, we headed to our hostel.
Broome is notorious for its “staircase to the moon” phenomenon, where the rising red orb will reflect upon the mudflats, creating a -you guessed it- illusion of a staircase. After several much needed ciders, we headed to the beach, where hundreds of people were gathered. Ben however had decided, at this point, to head to the bathroom, and so missed it…classic!
We left Broome less than 24 hours after we arrived (we were making a habit of this!) following Pierre’s standard saying of “let’s go!” The heat was so intense we were desperate to find more water, and so headed hopefully to Geike Gorge, discovering that it was closed, much to our dismay. We had no choice but to continue to Fitzroy Crossing, stopping on the way to buy a jerrycan as we were sure that something would go wrong once we reached the Northern Territory.
The jerrycan made a curious vibrating noise as we sped through the barren landscape, changing pitch every once in a while to keep us on our toes. As we drove we saw a small tornado whipping up various trees and shrub to our left, spiralling upwards and wreaking havoc. To our right the red dirt faded into the horizon.
I’d read a lot of good things about Fitzroy Crossing. But when we arrived and stopped at a servo, we loitered long enough to pick up a dodgy vibe and witness a man throwing up for a good five minutes. We sped into the darkness blasting out “bitch don’t kill my vibe” and trying not to hit any rogue marsupials. We set up camp at a place boasting a sign saying “recent crocodile sighting”. I locked the doors of the car that night.
The Northern Territory looked exactly the same- deserted, brown, and arid. But it wasn’t long before our bad expectations were confirmed. About half an hour from the border, we drove past fifty birds of prey ominously circling. I hoped that we weren’t the next victims, and put my foot on the gas. A few moments later, we came across a man and a woman in a fight. I considered stopping to help, but just as I was slowing down they veered onto my side of the road. I cursed and narrowly avoided them.
That evening, just outside of Katherine, we drove through a bushfire. It was majestic to say the least, and the smoke engulfed the car. We chose to camp further away, for fear of being burned in our sleep, and stumbled across the most beautiful campsite.
We set up camp in the dying light. The evening sun slanted off the surrounding mountains, turning them a golden brown. We gathered wood for the fire while the flies buzzed around us incessantly, keeping us company. Yann and Simon disappeared to climb the mountains, while we watched the flickering of the fire in a soporific state, fading from orange to red emanating from the rapidly encroaching darkness. “This is living, Barry” Ben said, for what was perhaps the 100th time. He was right though- it wasn’t half bad.
The following day, we made it to Darwin. On the final leg, I was terribly excited, and pulled out of a servo dancing wildly…and evidently speeding. A few seconds later, my heart sank as I saw the all too familiar flashing blue lights in my rear mirror. “Get out of the car!” the guys said. I knew I wasn’t meant to do this, but I was terrified and started opening the door. “Stay in the car” came the gruff voice of the policeman. Abashed, I closed the door, and wound down the window very very slowly. A minute later, the policeman asked for my ID.
“You’re from England then, hey?” That was definitely a good start.
We proceeded to have a civil conversation, and he let me off with a warning. I was sure it was because I was in my bikini, which is true, was rather depressing. But ah well, it sure worked…
My near-miss left me ecstatic, and we got drunk that night and ate our weight in free chicken burgers. Later, Ben and I ventured outside the hostel (mainly to get more food), and ended up having philosophical chats on the roof of my car. The car definitely had an extra few dents the following the morning…
In a desperate bid to get my car back to Perth, I’d advertised on the backpacker group, and two Swedish girls came and took the car. For some reason, I agreed to them transferring the money later, and as I walked away I realised that I’d literally given my beloved car away to two random girls. Luckily, they did in fact transfer the money and I was $400 richer (for the time being- I’d give it back to them if they made it to Perth).
We bid Yann and Simon goodbye, and left Ben at the hostel to catch a cheap flight a few days later. Pierre and I then caught the next flight back to Perth, arriving to a temperate twenty-degree evening. When I got to the house, Steve and Gerry didn’t believe me.
“I bet your car broke down just outside Perth and you’ve just been loitering about for two weeks to prove us wrong”. I smiled wryly. Just you wait until the girls return in two weeks’ time…
And they did! I received them ecstatically, and immediately sent a picture to the guys to show them I’d been right all along.
Throughout the remainder of the semester the clutch slowly went, the car began smelling like five people had been living in it for over a month, the right headlight came loose so I had to gaffa tape it in, and I managed to hit a post and massively dent the number plate while parking (I’m horrible at parking). The driver’s door then started to act up, so that every time I drove I had to climb through the door of the passenger seat, which was rather embarrassing when I was interviewing important MPs during my internship at a newspaper…
And now, six months later, it’s time to bid farewell to my beloved Toastie. Her rego’s run out, and she has no chance of being sold, so the scrappers are coming tomorrow at 6am. Then, all I’ve have left of her is this:
RIP dearest car, you most certainly served me well.