A few months ago I was relocating a campervan from Alice Springs to Darwin with my two friends Denise and Bridget. But our first night at the delightful Devil’s Marbles was not matched by our camping experience. And the following day was a nightmare I will never forget.

After battling flies and heat to set up camp, we were rewarded later with a wind that flapped the tent as we tried to sleep. Although the sunrise finally ended a restless night, we greeted the new day with a maddening combination of flies and dust. We decided to get packed and leave as soon as possible. Somehow the town of Tennant Creek seemed like an oasis in this vast desolate landscape.

By now, we all needed a shower and the local campground seemed like a perfect opportunity. It’d be easy… just quietly blend in with the guests and be gone before anyone realises. To be certain though, Denise and I went to check where the showers were in relation to the camp office. I scanned around hopefully for campers but it was uncomfortably quiet as we walked toward the ablution block. But I relaxed after using the toilet and started walking out to get my towel and shampoo.

I was suddenly confronted by a weary-looking man wearing a red check shirt and faded jeans. He was the camp manager and he was far from happy with my presence.

“Are you staying in the campground, mate?” he said.

“Um, I’m just having a look at the facilities… before I decide if I want to stay,” I said nervously.

“I? You mean we, don’tcha?” he said gruffly.

“Um, yeah, there are three of us.”

Then, with an intimidating glare, the man informed me that we’d not only trespassed onto private property, we’d used his facilities and now we’d have to pay. Ten dollars… each!

A smile broke across my face and I suggested to him that he must be joking. I’d only flushed a flipping toilet! But my perceived inability to take him seriously was like waving his shirt at a bull.

Suddenly he was threatening to call the police and promised that if they arrived I would be arrested and taken into custody. I replied that things were getting way out of hand and he should calm down.

This only incensed him further and he muttered something while unclipping the phone from his belt. I shuddered quietly at the thought of a local jail cell and decided that common sense must prevail. I said that my wallet was in the camper and I’d have to go back there to be able to pay him. He gave me a suspicious look and told me not too be long.

When I found the girls getting out their towels I told them to put everything away and not even think about it. They were stunned when I explained why and we assumed that the man was either losing his sanity or needed a very long holiday. The quickest and easiest course of action would be to drive away and forget it.
We got in the car and took off. I looked in the rear view mirror. What I saw horrified me. A Range Rover was speeding out of the campground and accelerating down the road after us! I lurched the camper around the corner and drove as fast as I could.

There was no time to consider options…I only had one thought: to outrun and lose this maniac! Corners, streets, blocks… for a few long minutes we were part of a crazy car chase around the outback town. Eventually the increasing protests of Denise and Bridget and an ominously empty fuel gauge made me realise I wasn’t going to get away. I cursed silently and brought the vehicle to a stop.

We all sat nervously for a moment and watched as he slowly approached our camper. As Denise frantically got $20 together I half expected to see some kind of weapon in his hand. Fortunately though, he was only armed with another stream of angry words and it wasn’t until his Range Rover had disappeared with our money that we all breathed a sigh of relief. We looked at each other, bewildered – not knowing whether to laugh or cry…

September 24th, 2007

While trying to drive across the Simpson Desert, LIZZIE JOYCE and her partner were forced to hitch a ride with some dodgy truckers.

Early one January morning my boyfriend Dan and I set off on our trip across three states, covering 3,000 miles on what would turn out to be the best trip I have ever done, not to mention the most dangerous. We were attempting to cross the Simpson Desert on our way to Alice Springs from Sydney. We were fully prepared and set off in our 4WD loaded with equipment, including 60 litres of water, a double swag, a laser beam,
and an Epirb signal.

After 10 hours of driving, watching the landscape turn from highways and tall buildings to red earth and eternal horizons we glided past an old mining town called Cobar, stopped for a wee and drove on through, thankful that this ‘Hicksville’ town was not our destination. But while driving at an average speed of 120km per hour, the trusty car (which I was assured had “just had a full service and was made for driving across such terrain”) was disintegrating and the entire wheel was about to fall off.

Ugly mothertruckers

Suddenly, the brakes started to fail and smoke started pouring out the front passenger tyre. We were 120km from the last town and with at least 100km to the next, Dan decided we should drive on (without brakes) and see if we could make it to our destination. Luckily it didn’t last long anyway as the car stopped in defiance and we were forced to pull off the road in the middle of nowhere. Within minutes two semi-trailers driving in convoy by brothers, pulled up to offer us help and I’ve never been so glad to see two spectacularly ugly truckers before in my life. Freaky Brother One then began to undress me, with his eyes, almost frothing at the mouth at coming in such close proximity to someone of the opposite sex, while Freaky Brother Two was pretending to be a mechanic and baffling Dan with his bullshit. It was turning into Wolf Creek.

Nothing could be done with the car, and we had no choice but to accept a lift from Freaky Brother One to the nearest roadhouse 13km up the road. But then he said there wouldn’t be enough room in the cab so Dan should travel with his brother and I should hop into his cab by myself. By this point I was close to hysteria and there was no way I would be getting in that lorry by myself.

So we both hopped in with Brother Number Two. Dan settled in the middle of the very spacious cab which had enough room to house a small Albanian family! Relieved to be on our way to a phone box and in relative safety, (even if we were in being driven by an axe wielding maniac I had enough faith that Dan could knock him out if it came to it) I thought it would be plain sailing from here. After a couple of minutes on the road Brother Number One starts becoming agitated – he thinks he has lost his keys as he can’t use the radio to contact his brother. He pulls into the side of the road and asks me to hop out to see if he had left them in the door lock. This forced me into ungraceful acrobatic maneuvers in order to hang myself out the door and reach round to grab the keys, with freaky brother one more than enjoying the view of my ass in the air. The keys were there, so off we set again in stilted silence.

Roadhouse blues

Finally we caught sight of the roadhouse and saw our escape was only minutes away and we made a sharp exit from the freaky brothers. Good riddance!

The roadhouse turned out to be a petrol pump and a shop that was about to close. They had a phone though and we arranged for a tow truck to pick us up and take us back to the nearest town… Cobar (the Hicksville town we drove through scorning) where we would have to wait for the next three days for the car to be repaired. How ironic that the town we were laughing at turned out to be our refuge.

So we skipped the Simpson Desert and took another route to Alice Springs where we arrived two weeks later with the biggest smiles and the best memories!

Send us a travel tale (preferably about Oz) and if it’s published you’ll win a $300 travel voucher redeemable on Oz Experience Passes and ATA NT camping trips (www.adventuretours.com.au). Email your tales (700 words max), with a picture of yourself, to travel@tntdownunder.com