Christmas in Darwin was an unfamiliar experience. For a start nobody gave a shit. There were no decorations, a few small ones for sale in the shops but nothing spectacular. Our room did however boast the finest Christmas tree in all of Darwin. No expense spared, its ample branches were dripping with baubles, tinsel, glitter and candy canes.
As a matter of fact, the Northern territory were so indifferent to Christmas that the first person Faye wished a merry Christmas replied, “Fucking right it’s merry. There’s only one more sleep until the cricket.” If the Grinch lived in Darwin he’d be thrown out for being too festive.
We did celebrate a little though and cooked up some shrimps and chicken wings that one of the lads had stolen from work and drank more than a few Bundy and Cokes.
In fact the Grinch did have a part to play that Christmas as our families had sent us a package of presents which still hadn’t arrived by Christmas Eve. In an amazing and entirely uncharacteristic feat of organisation which I will probably never better I managed to find out which plane our box was on, what time it landed and the whereabouts of the office in the airport that handled these things. And so we jumped in the van and sped off towards the airport with only twenty minutes remaining until it closed until boxing day.
“We haven’t a moment to lose!”, I probably said as the van nearly reached 50 miles per hour. “I can’t hold her. Shes breaking up.”
With the theme from Bullitt in my head I used a pile of sand left by the roadside as a launchpad, clearing the perimeter fence and skidded and fishtailed to a halt outside the mail hangar. At least I think that’s how we got in, it was a long time ago now and my memory is a bit hazy.
With literally minutes to spare though, we picked up our presents and Christmas was saved. It turned out that my Grandmother had sent us some clothes and towels, useful items, and about twenty packs of tissues. I’m not sure why she sent tissues and I am afraid to say that she has taken that secret to the grave with her now, but when the parcel was x-rayed the customs officers thought that the small packages were some kind of class A substance or high explosive and so the package was delayed until it had been thoroughly rummaged through.
With Christmas rescued and by now out of the way and a New Years Eve spent in our room as Faye had not been well we called out a local mechanic to take a look at our vans carburettor (yes they still have those in Australia) as it had a habit of backfiring, which was hilarious in multi-storey car parks because people would dive behind bins and under cars thinking that Al Quaeda had decided to target the arsehole of Australia. It still needed fixing though as it couldn’t be healthy for a car to make that much noise. I stood out in the 30 degree heat and helped him. By now the wet season was in full swing and humidity levels were in the high 90′s. As we were finishing up, Faye came out to ask if we needed a drink of water which we gratefully accepted. When she arrived with it, I leant over to kiss her and she pulled away. “No thanks, you’re all sweaty”, she said. To which the mechanic replied, “You’re in Darwin now darlin’. If you don’t kiss a sweaty man, you don’t get a kiss.”
With the van now fixed to some extent, we finally packed up our stuff again and headed south to Alice Springs, the plan being to stop for a night in Tennant Creek en route. We didn’t get as far as Tennant Creek because I stopped at a derelict old roadhouse just outside of Humpty Doo (I love that name) so that I could relieve myself. Unfortunately whilst there I also managed to somehow relieve myself of my wallet. I didn’t realise until we were about 60 kilometers outside of the next roadhouse, Renner Springs. Renner Springs was not a great place to end up as this website shows. This page is entitled “What’s happening around Renner Springs”. The answer to this question is fuck all.
Like so many places along the Stuart Highway, it owes its origins to the Australian Overland Telegraph Line. It was named after Dr. Frederick Renner, who was dispensing medical advice to the team working on the Telegraph Line when they passed through the springs in 1872. In 1877, Dr. Renner saw a flock of birds while working on the Telegraph Line and found that the birds were drawn to this particular area by the natural springs, which were later rather attractively named Mud Springs. These freshwater springs, which bubble up from underground helped the area surrounding Renner Springs achieve its importance to the Northern Territory beef industry because they provided water to the area.
Established in the 1950s, the Renner Springs roadhouse building is an old army hut relocated after World War II from the army’s staging camp 50 km at Banka Banka Station, which dates from 1885.
Having had a look at the website, the Renner Springs Roadhouse does seem to have improved a great deal since we went there but we ended up having something of a nightmare when we got there. Obviously we had no money, and not enough fuel to get us to the next town, so we went in to ask at the bar if they could accept a travelers cheque. A man with a receding hairline which magnified what was already a disproportionately large forehead lumbered over to the bar. I explained that my wallet had fallen out of my pocket a few hundred miles back and so I didn’t have any money or enough petrol to go back and find it. His glassy eyes looked me up and down. He shrugged and looked away. “Don’t take travelers cheques.”
“In that case I’ll have to camp here, order new cards and wait until they are delivered.”
“The camp site is seven bucks a night.” he replied.
Obviously he had missed the point about how I had no money AND no petrol so would be staying there regardless.
“OK, I’ll pay when I get my cards through.” I said.
“Money up front, mate.” he replied again, flatly.
I walked out and gave Faye the bad news. She started to cry and I noticed an aboriginal woman was watching us across the field. “I think shes looking at us.” I whispered. “cry some more!”
She was definitely watching us and so I sent Faye over to ask her for some money so we could use the phone box to reorder our cards. As it happened she did more than that, lending us a couple of dollars for the phone, paying for a nights camping, giving us dinner which we ate with some friends of hers who were also passing through the roadhouse and they gave us twenty litres of fuel to get us to Tennant Creek where there was bank that would cash travelers cheques.
Once again we had been saved by a friendly stranger. No thanks to Frankenstein behind the bar though.