“Mum, I wanna come home. There’s ducks swimming in the grass outside my tent!”
We pulled onto the Great Western Highway as the sounds of You Am I’s Hi-Fi Way filled the interior of the mint green EH Holden. Our great Australian road trip had begun with rubber burning out beneath us.
‘Homebake’ beckoned us three mountain girls with its siren song to Byron Bay. We rode the Pacific Highway with festival dreams in our hearts, surf stops plotted and a campsite awaiting our half-way mark.
The old EH farted its lead-laden exhaust up the highway as I stretched along the caramel vinyl bench seat in the back; the cousins laughing and enjoying the view through the windscreen.
With windows wound down, Hunter S Thompson kept me company in the back seat. His drug-filled tales of fear and loathing painted Daliesque scenes in my mind. Sidewinder’s bass notes thumped from the stereo, and our road trip morphed into Thompson’s Mint 400 off-road race.
Excitement was high as we pulled into legendary Crescent Head. Surfers bobbed on the waves, a community of seal-skinned freedom seekers. We pitched our tent and left the EH standing guard. It’s mint green hue all summery new life. Yet its chunky brick body a sign of heavy things to come.
A peacock called out in the pre-dawn light from behind the EH’s back wheels, annoyed at our hefty intrusion. Our wheels on his turf, he demanded we roll on.
Spiderbait’s Kram slammed sticks against drums as beach breakfasts were downed, and we belched smoke in a northerly direction again. Red lights flashed on the dash as we diverted to Coffs Harbour, home of the Big Banana. Smoke poured from the chest of our mint green steed. A smoking Joe with somewhere to go, but no strength left for our final leg north.
In an unplanned campsite tragic news was delivered: the EH was dead and there was a three day wait for mechanics. Our Homebakey dreams crushed, the heavens opened up in mutual distress, dumping their heavy tears down on our tent and adventure.
We huddled inside as it rained and it rained and it rained even more. Invisible cracks encouraged a deluge into our shelter, our sleeping bags, our skin, and our dreams through the night.
The cousins huddled together keeping warm as I shivered and cried, “I hate this! I’m leaving!” And I peeled back the tent flaps as ducks swam past through the grass.
The EH watched on. Solid and silent. No saviour in sight.
I ran to a phone booth, sobbing for rescue: “Mum, I wanna come home. There’s ducks swimming in the grass outside my tent! I hate it here. I’m never setting foot in Coffs Harbour again!”
Nineteen years on, I laugh that there are banana plantations flanking my new Coffs Harbour home. Fear and loathing couldn’t stop me from taking another trip north. Only this time it wasn’t in an old mint green EH Holden.
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This story first appeared on ABC Open.