My partner and I had always wanted to get a van so we could travel around Australia. We were staying in Sydney and trawled all the hostels and noticeboards for vans for sale. There were plenty, but we found one for $3,000 in Bondi. After trekking to Bondi to check out the van and have a test drive, we fell in love with it! We made it ours the following day and sat in it for ages checking out all the gadgets and gizmos.

The catch – it was registered in South Australia, we had to travel to Adelaide to get the van re-registered or go through the hassle of getting a blue slip (a thorough, fine-tooth comb examination) and a green slip to get it re-registered as a NSW vehicle. Although it was pretty well-looked after, we thought a blue-slip exam may give it a premature death and decided on the road-trip to Adelaide option.

No worries, mate

I called the SA Transport Agency and advised them we’d be making the two- or three-day trip from Sydney, and they said, “no worries!” I love that Aussie phrase. So the next day we stocked up on snacks, juice, lollies and oranges and set off.

We drove all day with Simon at the wheel. I’m more used to motorbikes – I have a spatial awareness problem in cars. It was so refreshing to be out of the city and it felt as though our adventures were about to begin. Windows down, feet on the dash, singing along to the non-existent radio, sun blaring down – I was lapping it up.

Later that afternoon we pulled up at a rest stop in West Wylong for the night. We unravelled our sleeping bags and went to sleep. Waking at 9am, we rolled out of the van and into the restrooms to refresh and get ready for the next stretch to Adelaide. We passed a couple of signs for the No Fruit Fly Zone. We started scoffing our last oranges. I guessed we’d be on the toilet a lot later, but hey, a traveller can’t afford to waste food. After an hour or two we passed a sign for Rankin Springs. The roads were long and straight with a horrid camber and very jagged, dusty edges. Simon was doing well though, and we loved the freedom of the open road.

Suddenly, I heard the sound of gravel as the van scraped the grainy brick-red surface beside the road. Simon pulled the van back across, but the different surfaces made the van swerve. He pulled the van back again as it swerved to the middle of the road. As it turned back to the left, the van let out a huge screech, spun and flipped over… three times. The next few seconds were a mesh of sounds and horrid feelings, like a nightmare. The van came to an abrupt halt, upside down. I called out and Simon just kept shouting, “Suze, Suze, Suze, are you okay?” He sounded scared. I unclipped my seatbelt and fell onto the roof. I crawled out throught the missing windscreen, completely disorientated. I ran to Simon’s side and shouted to him. He said “I’m stuck,” but he managed to clamber out soon after. We were both covered in red dust and I started crying.

Lucky to be alive

We could see the van had taken out two trees in its path off the road, hence the roof dent. Then a car stopped a few yards up the road. A friendly Aussie couple called Mark and Vicki came and helped us. Soon after, a van with four guys arrived. Together, Mark, Simon and the four guys managed to rock our van over onto its wheels and salvage as much as possible. Mark and Vicki then drove us to a hospital 65km away. I had a severely bruised leg and Simon hit his head and looked dazed.

On arrival we were given a full body exam and two policemen arrived to take statements. They said we were lucky to be alive as many foreigners had died on these roads. Then they lumped us with a $300 negligent driving fine!

Our van was wrecked so we lost $3,000. Mind you, after walking away, I wasn’t concerned with the loss of the van. We were lucky to be alive!

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February 11th, 2008