uses & abuses
by Vicki Godwin
I am what some 4WD journalists refer to as a handbrake. Three
of we handbrakes accompanied our 4WD action men on a trip to Cape York in July.
We left our camper trailer at Lakeland, south west of Cooktown, packed our tents
and camping equipment, and headed off for a month to and from ‘the tip’. All
good up to then.
Day 3 out of Lakeland and we cross the Wenlock and Pascoe
Rivers to Chili Beach, where we camped for three days in strong wind and driving
rain. Not always pleasant, but still good. We have lunch at Out of the Blue café
on the coast at historic Portland Roads. Really really good - thanks action men.
We invest a few dollars in art at the Lockhart River Aboriginal Arts and
Cultural Centre. Again, thanks action men, shopping is very effective
maintenance for handbrakes.
We return to the Pascoe River swollen after three days of
heavy rain. Not good!! We look at the river and it’s about 70 metres wide and
one metre deep - our action men can read the depth indicator. Much mumbling and
grumbling amongst the action men as they reluctantly decide to turn back, but we
three passengers loosen our handbrake grips and breath a collective sigh of
relief in the still falling rain. But then we grip again. More action men have
Locals, with a pressing need to get to Bamaga. Two weary,
rusty, vehicles and one without snorkel or conning tower. One local, twice the
size of Mal Meninga, wades into the river for about five metres, looks
apprehensively back at the crocodile warning sign on the river bank, comes out
and hitches a chain from his diesel vehicle to the petrol vehicle, and then with
much laughter and bravado from his passengers, enters the river and forges
across without incident. Our handbrake grips instinctively tighten and we try to
apply pressure. No good.
Our action men rally, stretch tarps over the front of our
about-to-be submarines, prepare snatch straps (“just in case”), and try to look
confident. Our handbrakes are useless and we mutter about 4WD action men and
their need to prove themselves.
Action man 1 follows the line of the locals, gets about 50
metres across, and then reluctantly accepts that even without any intervention
from me-the-handbrake, we are not going anywhere. Action man 2, who has read
somewhere that if you follow close behind another vehicle in the water the bow
wave makes for easier passage, responds to a radio plea from (damn!) a handbrake
to “push him”, tries to do so, and stalls. Action man 1 exits through his window
with the simple request that me-the-handbrake get into the driver’s seat and
keep the engine running. Oh yeah sure, is that all? Is that what handbrakes are
for? Still, it’s a bit of a distraction from watching the rising water inside
the vehicle. Inspection reveals one rear wheel suspended in mid water hole.
Action men 1 and 2 leap about in waist deep water thinking they can get the back
wheel on the river bed or get something underneath it, while we handbrakes sit
inside the vehicles with water tickling our belly buttons – this is not good
action men, no, worse, it’s (bleep) terrifying.
Action man 1 steps one metre to the side of the vehicle and
surprise, surprise - the water is only knee deep. Lovely action man 3, sensibly
waiting back on the river bank, is encouraged to enter the water, and crosses
successfully. 30 minutes later, vehicle one, with engine still running and now
in the capable hands of me-the-handbrake, and with snatch straps snapping,
drives out of the river and up the muddy exit. It’s so good to be able to see my
feet again. Vehicle two, engine silent, is pulled out to the bank, and then
needs a tandem tow get it around a curve on the steep, slippery, exit.
We handbrakes huddle quietly, and think dark murderous
thoughts. Our action men talk about “the recovery”, but don’t talk about the dud
decision to attempt the crossing. We spend the rest of that day and all the next
trying to dry out, during which one handbrake happily acknowledges her action
man’s ability to change his “globe plugs and cylinders”, clean his “round
pleated thingy”, and get their vehicle going again. Sensible action man 3 then
makes the excellent suggestion to change the itinerary and go to Weipa for oil
changes all round. We handbrakes successfully demand cabin accommodation at a
resort. Done deal. All coming good again.
The sun shines, things dry out, the unseasonal frost thaws,
and normal transmission resumes, albeit with one automatic transmission in limp
mode – a bit like two of our deflated action men actually.
What can I say? Lots of lessons learned, and even one that
suggests a handbrake is useful in an emergency.
men decide to give the crocodiles a sporting chance
strapping to drier land
thanks to Vicki Godwin for sharing
her thoughts with us