The Highway short story by Iris Carden
There’s hours of driving between blink-and-you’ll-miss-them towns along this road. There’s nothing to see and highway hypnosis is a real problem.
I have to stay alert, however, because in hundreds of kilometres of nothing, the occasional scrub bull, kangaroo, or even a feral camel, will pick the moment a car is approaching at a hundred kilometres per hour to step out onto the road.
When I drive this road alone, I always think of two conversations I’ve had. One was with the politician who told me he always kept a gun in the car in case he broke down on that road, so he would be safe from the “animals” who lived in the area. After I got over my surprise that he’d called the people who’d faithfully voted for him election after election “animals”, I decided that if I ever saw him broken down by the road, I wasn’t stopping to offer help.
The other story was the man who told me how his brother’s car had been found abandoned beside the road, but his brother had never been found. Eventually search parties stopped searching, and that was all. After seven years of absolutely no news, the coroner’s court declared his brother legally dead.
There are other stories I sometimes think of: the couple who encountered a UFO that picked their car up and turned it around facing the other way, the person who saw the Minmin light even though that usually appears on the road through Boulia. Most of the stories about this road though are about dust storms, or disastrous encounters with stock or wildlife.
The North West of Queensland is an inhospitable place, and I’ve sometimes wondered how the Kalkadoon, Mitakoodi and Yirandhali survived so many thousands of years. In the wet season, grasses and other plants grow, but the rest of the year, it is just bare dirt with the occasional wilted half-dead clump of grass. Now people come here for the metal below the ground, or to grow cattle on the sparse greenery. I can’t think of any reason the original Australians bothered with this area. I guess when I see a vast expanse of nothing, local indigenous people see an abundance of food and water that is just invisible to me.
I’m going back to the Isa, directly west into the afternoon sun, squinting in the glare that sunglasses just don’t overcome. I haven’t seen another car in hours, which is normal. Ahead, I see dust rising, and I know I’m heading into a dust storm. Even though I’m still in bright glaring light, I put my headlights on, low beam because that will cut through the swirling dust better when I get to it. I slow down as I reach the flying dust.
I’ve been through a dust storm so thick I have been forced to stop and pull over to the side of the road. I had been travelling with another car, and I got out to speak to the other driver, who didn’t answer me. When the dust thinned a little I found I was speaking to a slightly confused scrub bull, and the other driver was still, quite sensibly, in their car.
On this occasion, visibility is low, but I can see a couple of metres in front of the car, so I drive very slowly but keep going. Enough weird stuff happens on this road that I don’t want to stop if I don’t absolutely have to.
The storm seems endless. I keep driving, as fast as the conditions will allow, but very slowly nonetheless.
A kangaroo jumps out of the swirling dust, straight in front of the car. I hit the brakes. The front of the car is smashed and I hear the engine grinding to a stop.
I stay in the car. I know that leaving the car in these circumstances would just make me another story of a strange thing that happened on the road.
I can’t call for help. This area didn’t get wired phones until long after the rest of the country was already connected to the internet. Mobile phone reception here doesn’t exist.
I’ve never been in a dust storm that has lasted this long. It has been hours, and it must be night time, but all I can see is the dust.
Mystery surrounds an abandoned car found on the Flinders Highway, west of Cloncurry.
Police said the car belonged to woman who was expected to arrive in Mount Isa last night. Her name has not been released as her relatives have not yet been notified.
The car was undamaged, and had sufficient fuel to reach Mount Isa, and there were no other apparent reasons the driver should have stopped.
This is not the first time a vehicle has been abandoned by the highway and the driver unaccounted for.
I’ve slept, I don’t know how long. My watch has stopped. The dust storm just keeps going. I’ve never known one to go along for so long. I hope another car comes along soon.
Searchers have failed to find a missing Mount Isa woman whose car was abandoned east of Cloncurry.
Just how long can a dust storm last? It it morning yet? Why haven’t any other cars come past? I know a bus travels to Townsville from Mount Isa every night. How did I miss seeing that go by? The dust storm seems even heavier. I can’t even see the road the car is sitting on now.
Exhibit: Human, apex predator of its environment. Habitat: Galaxy 5. Solar system 1279500003 , which is based on a yellow sun. Third planet from the sun, only planet to have existing life in that solar system. Warning: Exhibit is kept in a facsimile of the location in which it was found, and is unaware it is being observed. Do not attempt to gain its attention or make it aware of its situation. Previous specimens have suffered mental collapse on discovering their true location.
While you’re here…
This is my 200th post since starting this blog on the first of February.