Chapter One | Denial

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There aren’t any u-turn signs on the Nullarbor that I’ve noticed. We could do a u-turn if we wanted to and drive straight back to Melbourne, but that would make us sissies. We are not the kind of people to run home into the warm happy arms of loved ones at the first sign of trouble.

Back in Melbourne my mother-in-law, Betty, would only weaken us with offers of free money, roast dinners drowning in gravy and beds wrapped in the love of 500-thread Egyptian cotton sheets. We would only wake in the cool of a well-fanned room to the smell of bacon, eggs and espresso.

She has a way with bacon and eggs. She dangles the eggs perfectly from clumsy pieces of sourdough, topping them with market fresh avocado and ham. Then, as she peppers them with an oversized grinder, we are kindly filled in on the political matters of the day. By the time we have wiped the yolk from our lips, we have re-styled the Prime Minister, reformed the United Nations and invented win-win policies for Australia and incoming asylum seekers. She renders us completely spoiled and leaves us wondering, how, as grown-ups in our mid-thirties, we ever fended for ourselves out there in the big, bad, wrapped-up-in-red-tape world.

So no. We are not going home. We like to think, that even though we turn into dribbling, marshmallow-loving babies at Betty’s house, we are from much tougher stuff than this. Besides, we like a challenge and we really needed to get away from it all.

The travel book, which I am using as a sun-shield on my knees, reports several serial killer stories. Joanne Lees, the infamous English traveler, is the victim of one such story. Her beloved Falconio met his demise on a barren outback road like this. A rough-looking man wielding a shot-gun dragged him out of the car. The madman forced Lees to rev the car loudly at which point she heard a shot. She never saw her Falconio again. Joanne, on the other hand, was no Betty-weakened marshmallow. After being tied up for a some time she managed to flee the scene and hide in dense bush for several hours. Eventually she flagged down a motorist who helped her alert authorities. Nice one, Joanne.

According to my travel guide venomous snakes are prominent in this barren territory too, especially in mid-summer. Apparently, they are hiding beneath the scrub. Inexperienced travelers stopping for a piss might step on a snake and meet death unexpectedly. The traveler may not even feel the bite or may at least feel as if their leg just brushed against a stick. Many will not die from meeting with the snake itself. Most will be too far from a hospital to have the venom extracted. Other travelers, like me, would simply have a stroke from the sight of something so foreign sneaking up on them like that.

Personally, since I spent most of my youth in New Zealand, I have never seen a snake or a person bitten by one. Australians reckon ‘they are more scared of us.’ But I have heard stories in pubs, parties and even hotel high-teas in Melbourne, that tell me otherwise. For instance, I interviewed my husband’s farmer cousin. He told me that even though he has farmed his entire life, the sight of a snake, makes him jump sideways, turn pale and run for a shovel with a shiver up his pants. This is a man who will go up in a roof during Christmas dinner, kill a possum and then return to the table with the blood still on his hands. So I figure, if snakes scare him there is not much hope for little ‘ole city girl me.

The best snake stories I have heard come from the man sitting next to me; my new husband Robbie. He has been personal with a snake on more than one occasion. These occasions have included childhood chicken-shed encounters where the snake lost and was left drying on a fence as a trophy. There was one tongue-to-chest near miss at a dam one hot summer afternoon. His uncle told him not to go down near the damn, but he did. Needless to say, Robbie’s reflexes tested successful, as did his running skills. His listening skills also improved somewhat but only in terms of listening to older and wiser people, as opposed to listening to his new wife. Yes, me.

Robbie’s most recent incident occurred when he picked up a snake by accident while waterskiing in a canal. He mistook the snake for a rubber tyre, which I think was entirely silly of him. However, like the good snake-Houdini he is, he expelled that snake quickly from his grasp, in what he describes as ‘one millionth of a second.” In my opinion, that’s the kind of timeframe, that could not be repeated, easily, even if someone offered him a large sum of money to repeat the act. This incident resulted in my husband taking a break from the canal for three months until he ventured back in again because he couldn’t live without the thrill of skiing water at high-speed. As a woman, need I say more.

Snake stories and travel book reports aside, there are many ways a person could die out here, unrelated to animals or humans. For instance, a traveler might die simply because they forgot to pack water into the car. With temperatures reaching the high forties this simple packing misdemeanor could escalate into front page news. The headline might read Honeymoon couple die in outback heat. Our story would be a warning to other travelers about the perils of traveling in outback Australia. We would be posted up in news agencies across the country, in those little A3 grills that hold newspaper front pages, as examples of travelers that everyone should take heed from.

As I look at the infinite line of scrub along this road, I see many ways people could die. Robbie might drift off to sleep while driving and we could have a head-on collision.  We could hit a Kangaroo and roll the van. That would not be good for us or the Kangaroo. Someone could fall off the Great Australian Bite. No, that big cliff isn’t fenced and if a person is the too-curious type it would be any easy fall. Then there are Redback spiders and sharks. Hell. A person could fall off the Great Australian bite and then get eaten by a shark. Anything could happen.

In light of all the above mentioned facts there is only one course of action for me. Denial.

This is not me. This is someone else’s life. Further, she needs more donuts, roadhouse coffee and a new chick mag to get her mind off things.

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