It was a two day haul back to Longreach. Unimogs don’t go very fast – highway cruising is not really their thing – so we draughted one of the Landcruisers all the way from the Gulf. It was like Days of Thunder, only not.
Still, talking politics and watching outback Queensland slide past you from the cab of a truck is not a bad way to spend a day and a half.
The convoy camped just off the Landsborough Highway that night, near the turn-off to the Dagworth Cemetery. It’s fossil country out there, all red and yellow dirt, with dramatic crumbling hills looming out of the flat landscape. We watched in awe as the moon slid over the horizon and painted the whole landscape a luminous, ghostly grey.
Our photography was wholly inadequate.
This particular path of Australia also features some of the most brutal bindis I have every encountered. For the happily uninitiated, bindis are little multi-spiked prickles. Some bindis are relatively small and soft and merely uncomfortable when you get them in your feet or in your skin. But these ones were in a class of their own: big, three pronged, death-star-like things, these ones would go straight through your rubber thongs. You might think that knee-high motorcycle boots would be overkill for walking around camp, but you would be wrong.
I found a scenic spot for my little green tent and cleared the ground obsessively.
It was a peaceful last night on the road for the fishing expedition. Everyone would go their separate ways the next day, so the final fishing tallies were entered in the book and a final toast was drunk to good fish and good friends.
The next morning was a short haul into Longreach, and Beastie was at the motorbike shop before lunch. We wheeled her in and I asked the guys what they thought. They’d been recommended to me – friends of a friend – so I trusted them to do what they could without going overboard. I needed the benefit of their knowledge and diagnostic experience because I just didn’t know where to start.
We talked about the bike, about its symptoms, about known weaknesses. Yes, I said, the 690s are known to do rocker arms. Does it sound like the rocker arms? I asked hopefully. If so, I was on easy street: I carry a spare set of rocker arms, and I actually know how to replace them. It’s an elegantly simple process.
But no, they reckoned, this doesn’t look like the rocker arms. The bike runs okay: if it was the rocker arms, it would be obvious. You’d know about it.
Oh, well okay. I might know how to replace my rocker arms, but I certainly don’t know what a 690 with a stuffed rocker arm sounds like or looks like or acts like.
So they said it might be my starter to motor, it might be something else, but to leave it with them and they would have a look. Since it was a long weekend the next day, it would be at least in five days or so.
Much as I’m a hobo, that seemed like quite a long time to camp on the nature strip in Longreach, but not to worry: you might recall that I was due back at Navarra in a couple of weeks for a month’s work. I was pretty sure Andy would be okay with me heading out there a bit earlier than expected, and since I would be there for few weeks anyway, it meant there was no rush on the bike. In my experience, being in a hurry costs money, and I don’t have a lot of that to spare.
I called Andy, who was in Toowoomba with Mary. Yes, sure, he said, I was welcome to go out to Navarra.
So I told the guys at the bike shop that I would be at Navarra: they already knew the phone number out there. They would call me when they’d looked at the bike.
Then I called Andy’s caretakers, Caroline and Greg. They were about a hundred kilometres out of Longreach, on their way back to Navarra after a day’s shopping. Oh, nevermind, I said, I’m sure someone else will be heading out that way in a couple of days. But they were too kind. “Don’t worry!” said Caroline. “We’ve already done a u-turn!”
And sure enough, an hour later they were back in town to rescue my hobo self. Bless them.
I loaded my gear into the Landcruiser, and cast a wistful glance at Beastie. “You be good, and don’t you be expensive,” I told her.
I didn’t like leaving her there, out of my power and out of my control.
But I had no way of getting her to Navarra; I had nowhere clean and dust-free to pull her apart and poke around for days; and even if I did get her out to Navarra, I would be 220km from the nearest town and a long, long way from a mechanic when I pulled her into a thousand pieces.
So I left her in someone else’s hands and hoped for the best.