Sunday, November 2, 2008

Don't talk to me about kangaroos

Leigh was driving. I'd done all the driving up until now, twenty-five days in a row. Not that I minded - driving, to me, is about as taxing as reading a book. Leigh was a superb navigator - the only time we'd been lost was in the Strezlecki desert, which is probably not a good place in which to get yourself lost, come to think of it.

We were on our way from Wilcannia to the Warrumbungle mountains in the mid-west of the state. We'd already covered two hundred kilometres, and had another five hundred or so to go, so I thought a little respite, on this day, would be in order.

The Barrier Highway was unremitting; we just drove forever into that endless horizon, with some stretches that were gun-barrel straight for thirty or forty klicks at a time. But we began to notice, by about half-way through this stretch, something we hadn't seen for two weeks: green grass. It was an epiphany; we even stopped to photograph a little patch of green on the side of the road, as if it had assumed some majestic importance to be back in a place where water had finally fallen from the sky.

We stopped at Cobar, a prosperous little town built on mining; a place that was so unlike Wilcannia, 260 k behind us, as to be unimaginable. But it was just a quick stop for food, and we were on our way.

I was driving again; the next town would be Nyngan, a further 130 k up the road. The Volvo was eating up the miles; Leigh was studying the map to determine the best route through to the lyrically-named Gulargambone. I was doing 110 k.p.h. on cruise control; we came over a railway bridge that curved gently up and back down again.

I caught a glimpse of something out of my left eye, close to the car. I had the sudden realisation that it was the head of a kangaroo. And then I hit it.

Now, hitting a 'roo at 110 can be a chancy business. Depending on a number of factors, including various vectors of velocity, direction, and mass, you can either live or die. Many people have been killed by collisions with kangaroos in Australia, either through losing control of the vehicle, or having the thing come straight through the windscreen and taking every one of the occupants' heads off. Roos are flighty buggers; they can, for no other reason than sheer caprice, take off at great speed and decide that leaping across a major highway at full gallop is a pretty cool thing to do. Which is exactly what our bastard decided.

There was an almighty bang, as the car took the body of the thing on the left front corner. Leigh, who'd been looking at his map, yelled "Fuck, Loz!"; he told me a little later he thought I'd come off the road and hit a post or a tree. The car pitched and swerved as the mudguard collapsed onto the front wheel; I wrestled the steering wheel, got back on course, and gently applied a little brake - not too hard, because I was unsure of the extent of the damage. But the screeching and scraping of tyre on metal told me plenty.

We came to a stop about two hundred metres down the road. I sat there, cursing our bad luck. For six thousand kilometres we'd been careful to avoid driving at dusk, or at night, when 'roos are around; to hit one in broad daylight two days before home seemed a vicious irony.

Leigh got out of the car. It was difficult - his door didn't want to open, as the 'roo had, in its dying throes, evidently decided to give the side of the car a good kicking as it scraped along it. Leigh came around to my window and said "That must have been a really big kangaroo, Loz - the car's fucked."

There was nothing to do but inspect the damage and see if we could get the thing driveable. The bonnet, headlights, front mudguard and both left hand doors were destroyed; the mudguard was just a tangled mass of steel with bits of 'roo flesh and fur adhered to it, all crumpled on top of the left front wheel.

But first, of course, we had to see whether the 'roo itself was still alive. We walked back to the site of the collision, and there was the poor thing, dead as a doornail, about twenty metres off the road. At least we were spared the prospect of clubbing it to death, as I'd had to do on two or three occasions in the past. Leigh estimated it at between fifty and sixty kilograms - a big one, indeed. It was horribly damaged. Irrepressibly, Leigh turned to me with a bit of a grin and said "Well, at least we should cut its legs off - waste not, want not, Loz."

At that point I wished it would just get up so I'd have the pleasure of killing it again. I had had to plead with my ever-lovin' to borrow her car for the trip, against her better judgement, which included admonishments like "But what if you have an accident, or hit a kangaroo?" I had assured her that none of these things would happen. It was going to be an uncomfortable phone call.

We found an old star-picket post by the side of the road, and did some serious panel-beating with it. We got the mudguard off the tyre, and gave the car a test-drive. Like all serious Swedish technology, the Volvo shook off this slight inconvenience, and trundled on as if nothing had happened. It was only a couple of weeks later that the damage assessment came in at twelve thousand dollars.

We were lucky; had I been a fraction of a second later, the thing might have come straight through the windscreen, and who knows what the cleaner's bill would have been for that.



phil said...

That is some trip you had. I'm off to Longreach on business later this week and at some stage will need to do a kind of gettin' to know you trip to the farthest reaches of my dominion, namely Birdsville. The roos are constant menace on these roads: I whacked one a few months ago just out of Emerald, luckily a smaller one and a more glancing blow.

Your insights into the bits of Australia that city folk don't know are spot on. Shit, this is starting to sound like Banjo Patterson, better give it away :-)

Laurie said...

Thanks, Phil - tell me all about Longreach when you get back!

Frankus said...

We have the deer here. We take the kids out at dusk so we can see them. We drive slowly. We have never gone out to see deer and not seen them. They are quite abundant.

I've only hit one once. I just grazed it. It broke the front headlight and dented the front quarter panel a bit but nothing major.

Had some friends that hit a moose when we were tree planting in the North many years ago.
You don't want to hit a moose. Although a 'roo seems just as bad.

northwetcoaster said...

Moose are probably more dangerous, given their mass and the high centre of mass. 300-700 kg at windscreen height is often lethal. On the other hand, they are not as numerous.

Moose are also known to take offense at oncoming vehicles, including railroad trains, and charge head-on.

Nice story telling.