A Nightmare On Fraser Island - Part 3

During the night, at God knows what time and more than a little disoriented, I was ripped from the safe haven of sleep by some weird noises that seemed to come from all around the campsite.

Originating from our left, then moving towards the rear and then on to the right, I held my breath and listened wide-eyed at the sound of branches breaking and the noise of several, muffled footfalls around us. Intermittently, a bloodthirsty howl would be released into the darkness of night.

It took a while for me to realise that I was experiencing my first up close and personal meeting with Fraser Island’s most infamous of inhabitants, the dingoes. I listened intently as they sniffed around looking for scraps but thankfully, we had been extra vigilant in locking all our supplies away from the prying, inquisitive scavengers that seemed to surround us. I hoped that there would be no baby-eating going on at our campsite that night either.

After an indeterminable time, they moved on but I have to admit, it took me quite a while to get back to sleep. As I tossed and turned, nervously listening out for more noises, I cursed myself and wondered just how the hell I was ever going to make it through the rest of the night, never mind a whole three-day excursion out in the middle of nowhere, Australian-style?

Another reason for being angry with myself was because I had watched a movie called Wolf Creek a few nights prior to the trip, which was playing havoc with my mind.

Based on the true story of English backpackers killed in the outback it was not exactly the sort of ideal viewing material in preparation for a camping trip in Australia. Before getting back to sleep, my over-enthusiastic imagination provided me with all sorts of scenarios in my head, most of which usually ended up with our long, slow tortuous death at the hands of a mad, Aussie redneck laughing manically in our ears.

Next morning, and with the tent already becoming quite the sauna, I was the first to waken up, this time to the sound of the manic laugh of a mad, Aussie, redneck.

At least that is what I thought at first until I realised it was the weird laughing call of the kookaburra bird serving as my wake up call. Thankfully, having heard it the day before, I was already familiar with the noise, and before my imagination got the better of me, I was able to nip the onset of fear because I have to say that it is an eerily similar sound to the laugh of the mad, Aussie redneck in the movie.

Looking at the time, I was dismayed to see that it was only 07:30 but at least with the advent of daylight, the fears of the previous night seemed childish and embarrassing. I told myself off for being such a big wuss and demanded of myself to catch myself on.

Over a hearty breakfast of tea and pancakes, I told my travelling companions about the dingoes, both of them saying that they had not heard them and looking at me as if I was mad. I questioned my own judgement and wondered if it was the result of my over-active imagination again. To this day, I am quite sure it was not.

We decided that we would move our campsite back down to the beach before going to explore some more of the island, including a return visit to Lake McKenzie, this time hoping to get beyond the car park. The campsite that we had stayed in was nice enough, but as I mentioned before, it was more of a family-oriented place and we were keen to meet up with the groups of backpackers who would no doubt be dotted along the beach.

According to the map that we had, there were camping facilities all along the east coast of the island just off the beach that we had travelled along the previous day and it was there that we headed off to.

Having somewhat familiarised myself to the driving requirements of the island during the more stressful moments of the previous afternoon, I am happy to report that our journey from inland to the coast was quite an uneventful one. My initial fear and nervousness having been replaced with something that could not exactly be described as enjoyment but rather more of an acceptance as to what was required and a confidence that I was able to cope with whatever the island threw at us.

This feeling of confidence was certainly exacerbated by the fact that my passengers seemed to have relaxed somewhat as well, even going so far as to compliment me on my driving; something at the time that I felt just may be a little too presumptuous.

Unfortunately, I was to be proved right.

Things went well enough as we made our way back to the small village of Eurong. I avoided the worst of the conditions with some clever driving and after about 40 minutes, we were back in Eurong where we stopped off at the overpriced general store for some more supplies. Just under 5 AUD for a tin of beans seemed too much to pay for such an item but I supposed it was a sellers’ dream having such a captive market. I wasn’t to be so understanding when I ran out of cigarettes a few days later and found out that they were charging 15 dollars a packet. But once again, I’m getting ahead of myself.

All set and ready to find our next campsite, we drove onto the beach at Eurong, once again having to negotiate the soft sand on the exit road. Steeling ourselves as we did so, I accelerated towards the beach and with no little effort, I had our car back on the hard sand of the beach and we headed north to find our campsite for the next two nights.

Having established from the girl in the shop that the campsites were located all the way along the east coast along a small road that ran parallel to the beach, we drove for a few kilometres until we came to a spot that we could call home at least for that night.

Safe in the knowledge that we had our campsite decided upon and set up, we would then go and do some exploring of the island, keen to see the many lakes, the ship-wreck of the Maheno located further up the coast and – if I’m honest – to do some more 4WD all be it, in an ALL WHEEL DRIVE vehicle.

We spied an exit road that did not look too bad in terms of the amount of soft sand about. No more than a car’s width and dissecting through the sand dunes, one of our group got out to have a look at what lay on the other side of the small hill.

On his return, he informed us that it was only a short drive through the dunes before we reached the parallel road and that in fact there were a couple of tents already pitched up in the vicinity.

If it is good enough for them, then it would certainly do for us, was the general consensus of opinion, so it was decided that we would leave the beach at this stage.

Lining up the car for a straight run-up to the exit road, I set the car in motion, bouncing through the soft sand, we headed off the beach once again.

What happened next took only a matter of a few short seconds but as I type these words now, I can remember each detail with total clarity. Driving over the summit of the exit road, I saw what my friend had meant. No more than 10 metres ahead was a T-Junction where I would have to choose either left or right. Quickly surveying the soft sand and the ruts that previous vehicles had made I opted for left, because it looked slightly easier to negotiate.

Not wanting to overshoot the exit road, which would have meant hitting the steep edge of the large dune on the other side of the junction; I eased off the accelerator, steering the car to the left as I did so.

And promptly got us stuck.

Panicking, I gunned the accelerator some more but despite the protests of the engine, we could not go any further. My passengers got out and pushing from the front, I switched the car into reverse, and with a lot of effort, and a lot of revving, the car moved back up the exit road a few metres onto some harder hand.

I could feel the beads of nervous sweat forming on my forehead and some trickling down my back as well. Through the windscreen of the car, I could see that my passengers were no more confident of the situation than I was.

A terrible burning smell had filled the car and as I reversed, I had noticed an ominous cloud of black smoke coming from the front of the car, drifting off in the sea breeze. Putting the car back into first gear, I gunned the accelerator and made a second attempt to get off the exit road, figuring that this time I would drive at whatever speed it would take to carry me through the softer parts of the sand.

And the car went nowhere.

I don’t mean “because it was stuck in the sand” type of going nowhere but rather a more worrying “because the car wouldn’t engage into gear” kind of going nowhere.

This was not good.

I put the car back into neutral and then tried again. I re-engaged the clutch, put the car into first and as I released the clutch again, I accelerated.

Still nothing.

The gear-stick went into first ok, it was just that the engine didn’t. Far from being fully au fait with the mechanics of the average battery toothbrush, never mind an ALL WHEEL DRIVE vehicle, even I surmised that we were in big trouble. And yes – I am using the royal ‘we’ here again.

My fellow travellers looked nervously on as I shook my head and got out of the car. The smell of smoke lingered heavily in the air.

“I think I’ve burnt the clutch out” I said despondently. “We’re stuck here.”

Looking at the car, I could see that it was not stuck in sand and placed where it was, it was blocking the exit road, preventing other vehicles from getting past. Although, at this point, this did not seem to be a problem, considering there was, rather worringly, no traffic in either direction as far as the eye could see.

Surveying the scene, we pondered our next move.

Not for the first time on the trip, I cursed my stupidity and wished we had not embarked on this reckless escapade. Especially not in this car – a car who’s owner was not keen at all in the first place to let us take it to Fraser Island.

Expecting a backlash from my passengers at my stupidity, I got quite the opposite. I think they realised that I was feeling terrible enough as it was for what had happened and perhaps even in some way they felt a little guilty themselves.

In the middle of nowhere, on a beach in Fraser Island and with no sign of life in the two tents nearby, we were most definitely stranded, which meant that our campsite had more or less been decided for by our circumstances rather than for its convenience.

With the scorching, midday sun beating down on us and the very, VERY irritating marsh flies biting lumps out of us, there were very little options for us, so two of us set up base camp, with the third member of this unfortunate party setting off down the beach back towards Eurong in search of help.

We tied a bright orange plastic bag to the aerial of the car so that it would be easier to spot from the beach. After a period of about an hour and a half, he returned in a jeep with a young couple from Ireland who had given him a lift back from the tourist information centre located between Eurong and us.

Thanking them for their help, we waved them goodbye and worked upon our strategy to get out of the situation. Having acquired the number of a tow truck guy on the island, it was decided that we would call him to come and see what he could do for us.

However, we had another problem.

Located where we were, none of us had a signal on our phones to make the call.

Resigned to more hitch hiking back in the direction from which he would come, our friend reluctantly volunteered to go see if he could get to a phone to make the call. We would remain at base and look out for people to help us, as well as protect all our belongings that were of course stranded along with us. Perhaps the inhabitants of the tents nearby would be able to help us once they had returned.

That afternoon was a long one for all concerned.

Sitting at our camp and with no means of communication, we sat helplessly waiting for help to arrive. Occasionally cars would pass by on the nearby beach – all of them big, strong, 4WD monsters but none of them passing along the road parallel to the beach that we had camped along.

The minutes passed slowly by, with most of the time spent swatting the bastard marsh flies that by now had become the most hated thing in my world, apart from ALL WHEEL DRIVE cars with their incessant buzzing and their sometimes quite painful bites (the flies, not ALL WHEEL DRIVES).

The marsh flies were everywhere we went. Even going over the dune and onto the beach, they still seemed to follow, all be it in pairs – as if they were doing reconnaissance missions to report to the others.

Apart from these wonderful distractions, the afternoon was intermittently livened up by me trying the car again, to see if it had miraculously repaired itself in the interim. Unsurprisingly it had not – although it did not stop me trying again every half hour or so.

After an eternity of seeking solace from the burning sun and the biting marsh flies, our friend returned in a battered 4WD vehicle along with who we hoped would be our saviours of the day – our knights in shining armour - or at the very least a couple of sensible, helpful, kind-hearted gentlemen. All be it in a battered Mitsubishi 4WD.

Any hopes that we had of a safe and fast rescue, immediately dissipated when we saw the two guys roll out of their vehicle, clutching onto their ‘stubbies’ (bottles of beer), thoughtfully placed in ‘stubby coolers’ (small polystyrene cups to keep the bottles cool).

It was obvious that both of them were utterly and completely wasted.

The driver and the least drunk of the two - but not by much, it has to be said – introduced himself as Peter. He was small, covered in grease with burn marks covering most of his upper torso. He looked like he had not eaten a solid, square meal in years. His unkempt hair hung greasy and lifeless around his face barely hiding a shifty, bloodshot gaze and a rather disconcerting smirk.

His mate was chubby, sunburnt and sported a manic, imbecilic grin and was very obviously only there for the drive and to have a gawk at the stupid, stuck tourists.

Neither of them looked like they would have been able to tie their own shoelaces, never mind help us out of our current predicament.

I exchanged nervous, worried glances with my travelling companions. My mate who had spent all afternoon trying to get to civilisation and then to try and summon some help, shrugged his shoulders as if to say “What? This was the best I could do!”

Chatting later with him, he had a point, as it transpired that he had quite the nightmare since leaving us to go get help but unaware of these facts, I have to admit to being quite unimpressed by his choice of rescue team.

“So – what the fuck has happened here then?” Peter asked, barely containing his amusement.

“I think I’ve burnt the clutch out” I sheepishly replied.

“You think you’ve burnt the clutch out? Let’s have a look” With an exaggerated sigh, he took the keys and proceeded to stagger across the sand to the car. Getting in, he repeated what I had tried only about a dozen times since our vehicle had stopped and unfortunately, once again, the car engine refused to engage into gear.

Getting out of the car, he offered his professional advice on the situation: “Yep – the fucking clutch has had it. It’s completely fucked. This car ain’t going nowhere.”

“Is there anything you can do to help us?” asked our friend, obviously worried about her father’s car and wanting to know how we could get it fixed.

“Well – there’s fuck all I can do out here. Where’s your camp?”

“Over there,” pointing to our tent hidden in the shade.

“You’ve camped here? OK then, best thing I can do is tow the car back and order the parts. It will take a while for the part to arrive and even when it does, it will take a while to fix. It’s an all day job, that.

“How much do you think it will cost?”

“Hard to say – parts are expensive, plus getting it to the island, it’s a big job.” He answered avoiding the question.

“Yeah – so how much do you think?”

“Hard to say but I reckon somewhere between six and seven hundred dollars.”

For the first time, I think we fully appreciated just how bad our situation was.

  • We had borrowed and subsequently broken my friend’s father’s car
  • We were kilometres away from civilisation, stranded on the world’s largest sand-based island
  • We were relying on the assistance of the two most drunken people on the island, if not the planet, for assistance

To say we were dismayed would be an understatement.

Although - even though we were seriously worried and depressed at how bad things had become, little did we know just how much things would go worse….


billylou said…
Hey there!

You may remember me from such concerts as Muse.

Nice to meet you, and hey if I ever go to Ireland I'll be sure to be taking you up on your Irish hospitality!

I don't blog anymore because my job got better and I got distracted by blogging about my ass on myspace. But feel free to check out - it was quite popular in its hey day.


Jenny Okanagan said…
I have three words for you, SheSha. "A writer writes." So GET BUSY!! You're keeping us all hanging here!
(Just a friendly nugget of advice from your proofreader.)