A possible disaster in a car on icy road
FRONT WHEELS OVER THE EDGE
The road from Swifts Creek to Bairnsdale was a nightmare to drive at the best of times
One day we set off, the three children safely strapped into the back seat of the station wagon. They were all very excited as it was a treat to spend a day in Bairnsdale, with so many shops and much more to see. It was early in the morning as it was a full day to drive there, do what was needed and then drive back again. There was a bit of 'Mummy where are my socks? 'Mummy can I take my truck? Mummy what will I wear? Mummy what will we eat?'
At last we set off, greatful for the heater in the car as it was very frosty outside. We had had a lot of rain in the last few days, but today, thankfully, it was clear and bright.
The road was very windy, following the river at the bottom of the valley. We came upon a few rocks across the road which I had to dodge and at each corner it was a certainty that a car would come around the corner on our side at one or the next
There were no white lines and people didn't pay any attention to the arrow and speed signs.
One day whilst travelling with my city cousin in his M G. I had a very hairy ride. He scoffed at the speed marked as the safest to negotiate that particular bend. He soon found out his mistake as, attempting to round it at his speed , was forced with a squeal of his brakes and a fight with the steering wheel, to stay on the road. After a couple more such instances, he settled down and obeyed the signs. His bone white complexion slowly returning to its natural hue. City drivers have no concept of sharpness of those bends allied with the width of the road.
To return to our present day excursion - I rounded one corner to see a huge log truck looming toward us on my side of the road. 'Ooh Mummy, came from the back 'Look Out' I was able to slow to a stop, slightly scraping the bank on our side and halted. The truck slowly inched past. The corners were too sharp and the road too narrow for a truck to round those corners without using the whole width of the road. Trucks just did not bend in the middle.
We continued on with the trio in the back a bit quiet from their shock, passing all the roadside names well known to travelers on that road. Plucking up their nerve they were fighting over who had guessed the correct name first. The snakes back and Haunted stream only two of the many who have been itemized in other authors in previous novels.
After another straight stretch with much chattering from the back seat drivers. All with marvelous ideas how it would have been better to cope with that truck and what I should do next. The next was a great fall of rock across the road. With the banks so steep and no slope away at the top, as modern roads have, after a good fall of rain loosens the soil around the trees and rocks and down they would slide. I braked sharply accompanied by many 'Oh Mummy', help', 'sit down' and 'what will you do?'
After surveying the situation, I saw that if I could roll a fair sized rock and then another out of the way, we might make it. Regrettably I needed the children to help as the thought of walking Bairnsdale with a filthy crew did not appeal. 'Well mates are you ready to help?'
'Can I drive the car?'- '
'What can I do'-
'Am I too little?'
I explained how they could help, and with the least mess to their clothes. We pulled and tugged, tugged and pulled, with most of the time all pulling together.
At last the larger boulders were out of the way and we could inch through. I was thinking - I hope someone comes and cleans this off before we come back later.
After travelling along peacefully for some time, enjoying the bird calls and the aroma of the bush, we rounded a corner and.........
The car took on a mind of its own, no matter what I did I was unable to regain control of the car. I tugged at the wheel, pulled on the handbreak, the car just went its merry way. If I had read Harry Potter or some such book I would be thinking that aliens had taken over. The screams from the backseat were deafening. The car headed towards the high cliff, just scraping the sides , then zigged to the left and zagged to the right. What was happening? Then it was heading for the other bank, the one where the river ran some feet below. 'oh no' We were all terrified that we would be over the bank and into the water.
This all happened very quickly and in no time the car was teetering over the edge if the cliff towards the water. 'Mummy, Mummy what can we do?.
'Just don't move an inch I replied its-------------Woa its slipping' With that the car slipped further over the edge.' Too petrified to move, we sat like statues. However children can never sit like statues for long and the youngest was crying and trying to be comforted by his big sister. The older boy trying to be brave but could not come up with any good ideas. I thought the children may be able to slip over the back seat into the luggage area, but one tiny movement would have the car groaning and threatening to slip further. Whilst we all sat there in terror, thinking of all the worst things which could happen, we heard something , Very faint at first then growing louder, Was it our savior or was it something which could not help. Then louder grew the noise and it sounded like a 4x4 ute. It rounded the corner and it was we started to yell, the car would remind us of our precarious position.
'Well! Well ! what have we here eh' said a deep voice of one of the Forest Commission men. 'In a bit of a pickle eh?'
'Yes', I whispered thinking my voice could move the car a little further.
'Well she's just caught on a big rock there, just teetering though, Could go at any time. Better move ourselves or you'll all end up in the drink. Now don't move till I say'.
'Bert, better hook the winch on the towbar of the car then the kids can climb over the back here.
As the winch was hooked on and the slack taken up, the car groaned and shimmied and shook. I did the same with my heart in my mouth. Then Jack said 'Climb over here now kids I'll get the back open'. Once the kids were out standing shakily on the road, Jack said 'Right now you Mum over you come' I scrambled quickly to safety for once not thinking of being ladylike. I just needed to be there with my kids. I stepped out on the road, my feet shaking and hugged my babies to me. We where safe! '
With the winch hooked on to the back of the car, the rescue mission began. Slowly, slowly the car moved back onto the road. There they were the ute, butting against the high cliff, the tow rope stretched tautly to the car ---- and all I could think of was another car careening around the corner into them all.
After parking the car safely to the side of the road, Bob got out and said ' Well there yer are then. Safe and sound. Now just sit quietly there for a while to settled the old nerves and yerl be right as rain' With hardly time for me to thank them, they were off. Maybe to rescue another damsel in distress.
We sat for a while with the children chattering their shock away, then got out an looked at the patch of black ice, at the rock which had saved us from plunging into the river and walked around a bit, we got back in and resumed our journey.
Black ice is formed on a sheltered spot, usually a concave corner on a tarred road after a very heavy frost, It can't be seen by the driver. Very treacherous.
Continuing on our way, with the children regaining their high spirits, they played I spy and all those car games still played by most children on a long journey. However, unique to the Omeo Highway was - Who would be the first to see the old man of which I have spoken before. Greatly changed now since then, but still a part of that
special game by children as they travel that valley road.
Another time on another trip we had a confrontation with a wombat. Very often the wombat is killed but not before rendering the car undriveable. At least without some tugging and pulling at bent mudguards or bumper bar. Wallabies and kangaroos can often come to a quick end on that road, some doing quite an amount of damage to a car. One lady was shocked one day by a kangaroo jumping from the high bank down onto the bonnet of the car. Luckily the kangaroo lived to fight another day.
We often saw many such sad sights as these animals lying beside the road with their toes in the air. Especially during a dry season, the animals will head for the river to drink, and because of the sharp bends, particularly at night, it is very hard to see them until too late.
We continued our trip without further such excitement, the children having a very shocking story to tell at school.
At least once I was forced to change a tyre, but on another day, I had the spare wheel out, the jack and jack handle, but there was no wheel spanner. I could do nothing but wait for an infrequent vehicle to come along. I was given a bit of cheek
about helpless ladies until they saw my problem. I asked the man to demonstrate how to change a wheel without a spanner. He grinned wryly and went quickly to his vehicle to get the required tool with little else to say.
By Coral Boucher