My trilogy of Outback novels came from my early married life in the Australian Bush and this is a true story that came from that time in my life. It is not fodder for period dramas set in the Outback; but it is fodder for my own belief that we are never alone…
When my youngest (of four boys) started primary school, I applied for the teacher’s aide job at the four- teacher, bush school. I was travelling a 40 km round trip on a goat-track-road for the part-time job. My first-grader travelled with me, and the older children chose to travel in the dusty school bus with their companions from the near-by forestry plantations.
Thinking back now, it was quite an impetuous thing to do at the time. I expect I missed the children with the last one beginning school. The farm was very isolated. I thought I needed the job. I was travelling on a hazardous road where wallabies and scrub turkeys had right away and Wedge-tailed Eagles swooped in for the ones who didn’t make it; where pythons found the sunny spots on the side and imported Red Deer (gone wild) made a dash from forest land to the farmer’s crops. In truth, I didn’t really mind the travelling. I loved the wild-life along the way with my youngest who was a great companion, cheerily chatting the whole time, not that we could hear each other very well on the corrugated, gravel road.
The day my little boy was tossed off the seat into the red dust under the dash, without warning or pre emption, had him angrily yelling at me: ‘Mum! Mum! You are a rough driver! You are an awful rough driver Mum!’ It was before the time of seatbelts. This is what happened:
I left home at the usual time, a little after seven thirty. I had to be at school in time to duplicate the lesson sheets for the first graders and explain the basics to the exchange teacher from the United States. She didn’t seem smart for a teacher although the children absolutely adored her wholeheartedly. She played the guitar and sang to the children and had them singing with her; which she did every single day. This particular morning there had been no sign of rain when I had bounced over the last rough- timber grid to leave our property, flying along as I usually did, knowing the road like the back of my hand by this time. There was seldom any traffic. I was nearing the Forestry Barracks, (10 kilometres into the ride) and became immediately aware that the road surface had changed suddenly from corrugated dust to glassy-wet and slippery from a drenching shower minutes before; but it was too late; I couldn’t hold the station wagon on the road. I gasped open-mouthed and wide-eyed at the huge Stringy Bark tree trunks directly across the road from the barracks, with no conscious thought following until I felt the shaking.… The entire car was shaking– terrible shaking with my hands grasping the steering wheel and now I was holding the car on the road! My head was swimming, my heart was thumping like a crazy thing in my chest and my little boy was yelling from under the dash.
I arrived at school white-faced and trembling. I had no memory of getting back onto the road after facing the tree trunks – I had no idea at all how my son and I had survived. I took my little boy in my arms to the teacher’s room and filled the small sink with water and washed the red dust off him.
One of the older teachers came into the room, the hostile one, whom I’d had words with about throwing a child onto the verandah with his books on top of him because he couldn’t learn. That is how I got the job of helping the backward children, the ones who couldn’t learn. The teacher stood staring at me, as if to say what do you think you are doing? I said nothing, just glanced at her as if to say, mind your own business. I had no words that could explain what had happened.
I believe to this day that I had experienced a God Moment. I was facing tree trunks with speed and then I was on the road again in a shaking frenzy with the car. I had no conscious memory of how that happened. Some might call it an Angel moment. I’ll never know. We were alive, that is all I know.