After scraping myself off my Sydney sick bed at five in the morning, I managed, with no small amount of assistance from my wife and Glaxo Smith Cline to drag myself onto a plane to Townsville, North Queensland. Quite how I got through customs is still a mystery, but lets just say if I had been travelling in the good old US of A, I wouldn’t have been flying, I’d have been in quarantine or carted off to Guantanamo (you know what happens to men with beards who sweat on planes!). My body temperature was all over the place. In the pressurised cabin I was boiling and on the searing tarmac I was freezing. We had a five hour drive down to a place called Arlie Beach in front of us and I couldn’t even see the floor. As Carol was and is pregnant I had to do all the lifting and carrying. I was a sorry sight. Staggering towards the cab weighed down with luggage sweating profusely I was a dead ringer for a dodgy drug mule.
Anyway, after much whinging by myself, we made it out of the airport and into the car that had been very generously lent to us by a close friend. As Townsville is such a compact city we cleared the city limits in a matter of minute and were on the highway heading south for Arlie beach and onward to the Whitsunday Islands.
On her last trip to Australia, Carol had driven the very same highway we were now navigating. Unfortunately, on that occasion she had been involved in a serious car accident that had resulted in her spending some time in the intensive care unit at Rockhampton general hospital. Carol and Sarah, her friend from back home, had been backpacking around Australia and had teamed up with a couple of local Aussie lads to share the long drive cross country from Brisbane to Cairnes. The Bruce Highway, the only road between the cities of North Queensland, is straight and long and there are few, if any, defining features. It cuts through mile after mile of Mangroves and scrubland with indiscriminate roadkill the only thing to break up the beautiful yet monotinous drive.
The accident happened after a late night round the campfire at the side of the highway and an unwise early start. Their driving buddy had, as many drivers do on these highways, fallen asleep at the wheel. The car had left the road at high speed landing two of the four occupants in intensive care. Unfortunately, Carol, who was asleep in the rear of the car was one of them. Although her unplanned diversion had not resulted in any lasting damage her recovery was slow and she was forced to stay in Townsville for the next few months. Her unexpected diversion spawned many enduring friendships and a genuine fondness for Townsville, but as we drove along the dusty barren highway her mood was understandably pensive. I attempted to soothe her nerves by pointing to indiscriminate trees every hundred metres or so and asking ‘did it happen there, was it there, or there perhaps, there?…….’