The wheel beneath me pounded as though it had a heart beat about every hundred metres or so.
'Whoooooellâ¦' said Pa, excitedly blending the 'Woohoo!' with the 'Well, let's see here.' Gazing through the enormous windshield, he muttered 'It's all bitumen here. Next town's not for another forty k's.'
Pa spoke well. I guess he had just sunk into that outback state of relaxation, leaving out words and letters as though they'd save him some time and maybe even some stress. He sat upright in his suspension seat, singlet, handle bar mo, glasses to see the flat horizon of the Pacific Highway as it nudged its way straight past the sandy, red plains, up flush against the sky. He looked content, poised for adventure and excited about whatever lay ahead.
Three full years it had taken Pa and my brothers to restore the old Bedford. Well I'd gladly include myself in that sentence but as far as my brothers were concerned, they ought to give Pa a hand out the front, whereas I was better off going inside and writing an essay about their progress.
I didn't care to tell you the truth. I wasn't much into pop rivets and metal runners. Besides, from the position I now assumed it seemed like a sweet deal. Looking out of the window just back from where the hydraulic door would open, the view was magnificent. Plains that began at the roadside and extended beyond the furthest speck of a shadow. Dry, twiggy trees, bundles of straw that hurried along the dust, swept along in gusts of wind, a lizardâ¦ and strangely every now and then an Indigenous man would appear, or a pair of boys seemingly out of nowhere, a bush maybe? God knows. God knows where they were going and where they had been?
I remember talking to the locals later about them. 'Stop your car they will!' said Mick, 'You don't wanna stop for 'em I'll tell ya that much! They'll do ya over quick-smart!'
There was definitely something mysterious about these red, sandy plains but Pa seemed to thrive out there. I remember in between nods, waking up and seeing a road train screaming down the highway headed straight for us. Out there the road is only wide enough for one vehicle. Perched at the top of an embankment either side, it meant that whenever Pa moved aside for a passing road train I was literally lying on the wall of the bus. 'Shift left for any vehicle bigger than you, that's the rule!'
Pa would exclaim through a grin every time he did it, about five times a day. I thought that rule was fair enough, but why we couldn't slow down and move to the side was beyond me.
Welcome to Croydon said the sign. 'We'll pull up here and have a look at the wheel and then we'll keep going.' Pa said.
'Thank God.' I must have said. I remember being so unimpressed with that place at first glance. There seemed to be nothing there but a huge caravan park, an unappealingly scorched swimming pool in the middle of nowhere and an old pub bustling with what looked to me then like the whole town and in hindsight, was the whole town.
So you know what's going to happen right? We ended up staying there a lot longer than expected. When Pa pulled the wheel off the wheel mount fell in five parts. There was no way we were jetting off in a hurry. We had to wait for a Bedford spare part to be shipped from Melbourne with an estimated delivery date of two weeks, if you could even trust the postmen out there. Pa put the wheel mount back on like a jigsaw puzzle and we crawled into that vast caravan park to set up camp. I gritted my teeth. Needless to say, it was going to be chicken schnitzel for dinnerâ¦
A strange place
That old pub in Croydon was a strange place. Strange because it was at once the centre for happiness and fellowship, and yet sabotage and strategy. One man's celebratory drink after a hard day's work interrupted by another's quarrel as a body was thrown across the bar into the pool cues nestled proudly in their cradle against the wall. I can vividly remember the billiards table situation, and whether I imagined this detail out of surprise at the sheer sense of inequalityâ¦ there was a sign that hung from the lantern above each table. The sign on one stated clearly who that particular table was reserved for, and on the other the segregation confirmed, Blacks here.
The next couple of weeks went on like that. It was as though time stopped in that little town. Days spent immersed in the outback way of life, fencing, shooting, learning to drive a manualâ¦ and in the night time we kicked back with the locals, singing karaoke, playing billiards and talking about history. Some things I heard inspired me. Others I found disturbing.
Croydon. A town in transition. If our wheel hadn't broken there's no way we would have stopped there. We wouldn't have had the experiences we did, met the people we did, or heard the stories we did. But isn't that just like God? In many ways we are that clunking wheel, Gadunk!
Wrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrâ¦ waiting for the next stop to be repaired, but we want to choose our repair destination. We can't stop here, let's keep going. One more month, then I'll give it up. When she calls me I'll apologise. When I've finished drafting that program I'll be happy. A broken wheel will eventually prevent the bus from moving. Pa knew that. That's why he pulled into Croydon that day. Little did he know he'd bump into a bunch of people needing restoration themselves. Croydon represents well the world in which we live, brokenness met with a smile, mockery with a handshake, neglect with a 'yes, okay'. It had it all.
There's good news. We left Croydon two weeks later with a fully restored Bedford wheel mount. If you need repair for the journey I have more good news. 'Come to me all who are weary and over-burdened and I will give you rest.' God can fix it. You need to stop though. Who knows? It could be your best stop yet.
David Luschwitz is a Secondary English Teacher in Sydney. Raised in Bankstown, David is passionate about seeing his students flourish socially and spiritually as they come to realise the joy found in Jesus Christ.
David Luschwitz's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/david-luschwitz.html