On the road and off the radar
GEOFF and Sandra Wilkinson are friends of mine. I hate Geoff and Sandra Wilkinson!
The hatred has slowly been building up in me since they announced they were heading off to Kununurra and Kalumburu (I'll leave you to look it up on the map) for an indeterminate amount of time. "Two months, three... until the money runs out."
They took their first leave of absence in 1992, loading up a short wheelbase Toyota Landcruiser (named Geoff's Lil' Jap Mack) with tent et al, and heading bush for six months. Leaving behind a Brady Bunch ("They certainly weren't anything like the Brady Bunch!") of six kids, it was their first experience of life together 24/7.
"It was nearly our last trip," said Sandra. "If I could have got on a plane home from Cape York I would have. I wasn't used to speaking my mind back then and Geoffrey was a right pain. If I'd had a knife, I reckon I would have carved my name on his arse and gone."
"You're just too sensitive," responded Geoff.
"It was also the only time you've taken me to a beach."
"Don't like beaches. I take you to rivers. They're made out of water too!"
That first trip was up to Cape York and across the Gulf.
"Up there they didn't know s**t from clay," said Geoff. "You had to have cash. I passed a bankcard across the counter and the bloke said, 'What's that?' This is in '92 and cards had been around in the big smoke for years. Different world and we loved it."
This was the first of three long trips in the Jap Mack that was eventually supplanted by another Toyota called Tojo, which is still part of the family. Somewhere along the way Geoff saw an OKA. "I'm having one of those," he pronounced, without reference to his wife. For those not in the know, an OKA is a five-ton all-terrain vehicle - in Geoff and Sandra's case, a 1992 model, powered by a four-litre Perkins, driving through a Spicer box. In 1999 Geoff's dream came to fruition.
How reliable has it been? Geoff laughs. "Ask a stupid bloody question! It's only the simple stuff that goes wrong usually, and you can usually fix it on the side of the road. She's made out of old technology. Electronics? What electronics?"
"It's butt ugly!"
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Don't give me any of your s**t! Besides, it'll go where the Cruiser wouldn't."
"What will it cruise at?"
"Limited. We can leave Alice and by the time we're up to speed we've hit Katherine."
"We've gotta go via Katherine because we're taking a dresser, two flat-pack wardrobes and $1700 of curtains up to one of our daughters at Kununurra on a decent sort of trailer, which we don't want to haul across the Tanami. It's too expensive to send it up," said Geoff, obviously oblivious to the price of diesel.
They actually headed off a week and a half ago but, true to form, the OKA played up by the time they'd reached Wedderburn, so they came back home to fix a problem starter and a leaking transfer case.
"That's the beauty of retirement," said Sandra. "It really doesn't matter when we leave."
They free camp 99% of the time. "It's not for everyone, but once you do it you realise how much you pay to put your own bed on a patch of grass in a caravan park. Most parks will let you have a shower for a couple of bucks. We may use parks twice on this trip."
So now that repairs have been done, when are they heading off?
"Would've been gone by now," retorted Geoff. "If you hadn't dropped in looking for a story to fill that bloody column of yours!"
I'm happy to admit that I'm just a bit (okay, a whole lot) jealous. Happy travelling guys and take care of you.
Kermie, 0418 139 415, firstname.lastname@example.org