Members Trips

stories from Australia


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 arrived.

    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.



the locals take off

our action men decide to give the crocodiles a sporting chance



snatch strapping to drier land

drying out


thanks to Vicki Godwin for sharing her thoughts with us

january 2011