I leave for Kandos from Ballarat on Friday evening. I take the inland route via Bendigo, Jerrilderie and Cowra. Some say it’s a longer journey, but I like the straight and remote roads. They may not be freeways but it doesn’t really matter, no one’s around so you can really floor it. It’s getting pretty late so I pull into Moira National Park to find a place to camp. It’s pitch black, but I let the lights of the Corolla lead me down the dark, dirt road into the heart of the park. You’d think the place would be heavily populated this time of year, but it’s not. The campsite is empty but for a beaten up Datsun and a man sitting at a table drinking from a rusty tea cup. I set up my tent and then I wander over to say hello. His name is Brian and he talks in a low and gravelly voice. He tells me he’s been criss-crossing New South Wales with no particular purpose except to stay in National Parks while he waits for his dole check. Such traveling could be seen as making the most of an onerous situation but there is an aimlessness to it that unsettles me: Brian is not looking at each location as an opportunity, but rather as one more day toward payday.
I ask why he doesn’t stay in just one park. “The rangers hassle me”, he says, “and everyone likes a change of scenery.” Somehow this talk of aimless drifting in the wilderness gets us to talking about the fugitive Malcolm Nader who murdered his girlfriend and then evaded the NSW police for eight years by hiding out in the bush near Barrington Tops. Eight years with little or no human contact: what does that do to a person? Brian didn’t know; probably makes them slightly unsociable.
Two people chatting easily. One might be forgiven for thinking that an intimacy or confidence had been created. Brian leans in and tells me, “Not all murderers are antisocial.”
“How so?” I ask.
He says when he was younger he used to be friends with Michael Murdoch, one of the five men convicted of raping and murdering Anita Cobby.
“Murdoch was an alright bloke,” he says in a gentle voice.
I go to my tent and try to get some sleep. It’s not easy. I keep thinking that I’m alone in a campsite with a drifter who thinks Michael Murdoch was an OK bloke.
Hours pass and I’m still not sleeping. The wind is blowing the walls of the tent. A twig cracks outside. I freak out. If he wants me he will have me. He’s outside and I’m in. He could just knife me through the flimsy nylon structure with some kind of pike he’s whittled up in his Datsun.
I don’t hesitate. Keys in hand I rush the Corolla and burn a trail out of the park. I don’t look back to check for Brian. He can have the tent.
Mark Shorter is Runway’s Guest Blogger for Issue#27 OUTSIDE.