In a rusty old 4WD, ADRIAN McGILL found himself stranded without air-con, only to be approached by an ex-con…

We’ve all heard the stories about backpackers disappearing in the outback. Most of us have even been fearless enough to watch Wolf Creek before tearing off into the red centre in an old rust-bucket backpacker car, which looks, sounds and actually is older than anyone in it.

Yet, in our old Pajero ‘Bert’, my mates and I decided to head from Uluru to Darwin via Alice Springs. Let’s just say that shortcuts look fantastic when you see them on a map.

Old Bert’s air-con hadn’t worked since we left, so the cooling system was the old reliable ‘windows down’. After about two hours on the dirt road we, and every single thing in the car, were completely covered in red dust. As you can imagine we were all pretty happy to see the highway back in sight once again. But about 200 metres after hitting the smooth asphalt, we had a massive blow-out on one of the front tyres. It was the first puncture after three months of travelling so we didn’t really think anything of it at first. We got the jack out and attempted to raise Bert so that we could replace the tyre. After various attempts by each person in the car trying to prove their worth, we realised we were in serious trouble. The car dealer had obviously seen four unsuspecting backpackers coming as the jack we were given was a car jack, not a 4WD jack. With all our backpacks and camping gear in the back, we couldn’t even raise Bert an inch.

So that’s it, we were stranded in the outback as night approached. After having a quick chat, we decided that it would be best to try and flag down any 4WDs that were likely to drive past. After about an hour waiting, we finally saw a Jeep coming our way and managed to stop it in its tracks. With this bloke’s 4WD jack, we had Bert raised up in no time at all.

We grabbed the replacement tyre, slid it into place and lowered Bert back to the ground… disaster! Having never had the smarts to check the spare tyre when we bought Bert, we didn’t realise that it was also flat! With night approaching fast and our 4WD saviour heading in the other direction, we were up shit creek. After some serious pleading and a promise of a case of beer, we convinced our new best friend to turn around and drive back towards Alice in the hope that we could find a repair shop still open.

The four of us hopped into “Buddy’s” 4WD and started speeding back towards Alice. With all the outback ‘stories’ running through our minds, the conversation was a little strained. After about the tenth time of saying, “thanks for helping us out here mate”, he turned around to us and said, “ah, no worries, I’m just after a bit of good Karma at the moment as I’ve just been released from jail a few months ago.” This truly had us shaking in our boots and the fact that he wasn’t particularly forthcoming with the reason why he was in jail didn’t help our anxiety. Every time we saw a dirt road leading off the main road or anytime he slowed down a little, our hearts started to race out of control!

However despite our anxiety, Buddy turned out to be your stereotypical Aussie country bloke who was just happy to be helping us out. We managed to make it back to Alice and get two new tyres and a proper 4WD jack for Bert. We never did find out what he had spent time in jail for, but I guess some things are better left unsaid.