One radiant afternoon our family set off for town. Mum, Dad, Druce and I were in the front of our five ton Bedford truck. My sister ,Vivi, on the back, belted out , ‘’ It Doesn’t Matter Any More,’’ at the top of her lungs, one of my favourite Buddy Holly songs.
I should have been used to dangerous mountain roads, having spent my childhood driving up and down them. But I dreaded the precipitous incline ahead, above all the other twists, turns and cuttings on the way.
That stretch held particular significance, having made the Indian Tea Man part of myth land legend. Not for any achievements in his life. But for the manner of his death, years before I was born.
My legs tensed against the floor. Our truck groaned along in low gear. A hairpin bend lay ahead. It had claimed a number of lives, including the Indian tea man.
I would only breathe again when we passed that spot. But – what was up?
Daddy leant forward, gripping the steering wheel like a lifesaver. He frantically pumped a pedal. ‘My God. No brakes.’ He pulled on the hand-brake. Saying more to himself than us, ‘All but useless. On a steep pinch like this it would never hold a large vehicle.’
The Bedford gathered speed.
My thoughts raced ahead. Soon the Bedford would take off, a mad, uncontrollable animal. Jolting and bouncing. Turning over and over. Flinging us out, our bodies crushed to pulp on rocks or logs.
Seventeen. And I felt cheated at the thought of my life ending too soon.
There was a terrible note in Dad's voice. ‘Only one chance. I’ll put her into this tree.’
Time slowed. Seconds twisted into hours. My last moments on earth were about to unfold.
The truck hurtled towards a small eucalypt. Darkness gobbled me whole. I recalled nothing of the impact. Surprised to open my eyes and find myself alive. A dizzy, ringing sensation in my head. Druce moaned, clutching his knees.
Dad flung open the door and jumped out. Deathly white, he rushed around the back to check on Vivi. He helped her down from the back. Bright blood ran from a wound on her nose. He wiped it with a clean handkerchief. ‘Nothing serious, thank God. Thought we'd all bought it.’
He inspected the damage. ‘Water leak, large dent in the core.’ Daddy whistled. ‘Engine’s been displaced at least an inch.’ Dad shook his head. ‘Any more speed, and that small tree would never have stopped us.’
The first on the scene was a local Vicar, driving home from a distant parish. ‘Nobody badly hurt? Thank goodness for that. Can I drive you somewhere? Sorry, won’t be room for everyone.’
He took Dad, Mum and Druce to the camp where the men had a Road Construction Contract.
Vivi and I remained behind to alert passing vehicles. She told me, ‘Just before the crash, the theme of a popular song spun around in my head, It was crazy. Crazy. Just a crazy dream.’
I nervously directed drivers past the obstruction. How glad we were to see our brother, Victor, on the Ferguson 135 tractor. He towed our truck out of the way.
Dad had notified Cousin Poppy of the accident. She arrived in her FJ Holden, chuckling. ‘You girls will do anything to get a bit of publicity.’
We laughed. ‘So it's our fault?
That evening Poppy shared her gift of friendship and fun. We toasted sandwiches in her Jaffle iron on the fire. Joked and laughed far into the night. Simple pleasures, but all too rare at home. She told us a joke about the fellow who said to his girl-friend, 'Let's get married or something.'
Her response: ‘Let's get married or nothing.’
We roared laughing. ‘Who thinks of these gags?
The carefree atmosphere a foretaste of the heaven we’d come so close to entering that afternoon.
Yet I had a crazy feeling. We’ve been spared for a reason.
An excerpt from, ‘’Stolen Fruit,’’ my coming-of-age novel, published by Ginninderra Press.
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