Stuart Highway

Mark Shorter

I didn’t notice him amble toward me and I couldn’t tell you how he struck up the conversation. All I know is that before he had finished the story he was in the passenger seat beside me and I’d offered him a ride to Darwin. He was that good; a real raconteur. The trick was he didn’t do small talk; words flowed but were not wasted. It was this kind of straight talking that lured me in and endeared me to him. He turned his head toward me and smiled revealing a network of lines engraved into his well-worn face.

“Do you know what is the most feared mammal on the road?”
“Kangaroo?”
“Wombat”, he explained, ”out here a truck driver will mow through a herd of kangaroos. But he’ll do everything he can to avoid a wombat.”
He waits for me to ask why.
“Because they’re built so solid, you see. You run one down, you pray it flies out of your path, ‘cause if that little nugget gets under your carriage it’ll break every one of your axles.”

Looking back I can see that he had nothing but disdain for me. I was just a ride. It took me a while longer to realise I loathed him in equal measure.

He’s got a real thing for animal stories. He tells me about this family of dogs that used to skylark around his neighbourhood. They came from a nearby Indigenous community and were always sniffing around, messing up his trash. He didn’t like it, so he got his mate the constable to pay the community a visit. “And did they doing anything about it?” He exclaims. “But you don’t want to be fucking with the police up here…”

He explains how the next day the constable drives down, this time with no plans to talk. This time he’s not even going to get out of the car. He doesn’t have to. Before he set out he made some slight vehicle modifications. He’s fixed four towels to each wheel of his car. He used the bolts that hold the wheel to the axle so that each towel can take a good yank without being pulled off. As he drives around it is an absurd sight. The car looks like it is sailing. As he nears the community the constable slows down. He revs his engine slightly, knowing it will bring the dogs out. Then he waits. Sure enough the pack charges over. When they’re upon the car, he moves the vehicle forward so the towels shift about. The dogs take the bait and grab on with their teeth. The Constable quickly accelerates and all you can see is dog and towel flying in the dust. When he brakes again the towels go limp and the dogs are left lying by the side of the road. He repeats the action four more times.

When the barking finally stops he drives back to the neighbourhood.


Mark Shorter is Runway’s Guest Blogger for Issue#27 OUTSIDE.

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