A tongue-in-cheek journalistic story about the adventure of a hearse.
“Hettie the Hearse”
I met Matt Morgue at Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory thirty years ago in 1970. It was my first big assignment for the Daily Blurb of Townsville and as a new journalist, I was determined to dig up all the information I could. Matt’s funereal procession was enroute from Darwin to Townsville. I realised straight away that graven-faced Matt was not your average bloke next door. Firstly, he was a mortician by trade. Secondly, he has just completed the first half of his epic funereal procession around Australia in his favourite Hearse called Hettie. The unusual part of this journey was that Matt Morgue had driven from Melbourne via Adelaide, Perth and Broome to Darwin and was proceeding on toward Townsville, Queensland, in Reverse gear!
The first half of his journey had taken twelve months, mainly because of the slow speed the hearse had to take.
“She can’t go more than 15 kilometres an hour in reverse mate! If I push her any faster, I might blow her engine and kill her!” said a jubilant Matt upon our introduction. I could have died laughing at this last statement, but managed to hold my prim composure befitting the occasion as I knew Matt was dead serious!
So far Matt and his support team of loyal friends, (who were also from his funeral business) had raised $250,000 for the “Paradise for Pets” cemeteries franchises, which he proposed to open all around the country. Today, “Paradise for Pets” has vaulted to celestial heights. A business right out of the box.
I remember this first meeting as if it were yesterday, as Matt’s earthy voice said, “You see mate, we can’t be backward in our thinking about our loyal friends, our pets. People want to be able to visit their departed pets to pay their respects. Sometimes a pet means more to someone than a human friend or relative. That’s why I’ve changed my business into a Pet Mortician franchise. The best way to raise funds and to launch the business around Aussie, was to drive my favourite hearse, Hettie in reverse around the country.”
Matt had copped many comments on his journey. Some people thought him mad. Others loved his concept and want to join the “Paradise for Pets” membership.
Matt’s face maintained its professional solemnity as he recalled his trek thus far. “Hettie the Hearse has had her moments on the epic journey. The main problem was the engine overheating when we crossed the Nullabor. We solved that by setting up a pipe on the back of the car, with a fan attached that runs over the roof and into the engine to help keep it cool.”
I asked him the obvious question of how he coped with driving, using his rear view mirrors to see the road ahead, (or was it the road behind?)
“That’s easy mate. I’ve got a mirror mounted on the front bonnet, that’s looks like a large movie screen. It reflects the road to me from another mirror above it. Sort of like a wide angle periscope in Cinerama!”
Mildred Morgue, Matt’s wife was his Co-driver and main support. The rest of the support team drove in forward gear in two other hearses. One hearse drove in front of Hettie to warn cars coming in the opposite direction that the Hettie was moving backwards. The other hearse followed behind.
“We make quite a nice funereal cortege!” said Matt. “We’ve caused a bit of a stir, when arriving at some of the small country towns. But once the locals understand our ground rules, they start to dig deep into their pockets. It’s a great experience mate!”
When I asked Matt where they slept each night, he replied in his deep gravelly drawl, “In the hearses mate! Where else do you think we would sleep! We are quite cosy, because we have put a mattress inside the caskets, which are quite cosy, with the lid off! We also pitch a tent each night for our living quarters, and of course the Outback’s Bush Telly is awesome at night. The campsites have been very obliging so far. Only one place was worried that three hearses in their camp might scare away other customers!”
The group had managed to hit the headlines in the local papers in each bush town that they have visited. The headlines were been varied and ranged from ‘Sleeping with the Dead’ to ‘Casket Dreamtime.’
Nothing had dampened the congenial Matt and Mildred’s spirits.
“You need a sense of humour in our business, as well as humility,” said a solemn Mildred.
“Yeah, Mate, we are used to all the jokes about dead bodies. Mind you some people are a little cautious at first until they realise that we intend to provide an appropriate wake with a celebration of a loyal companion’s life and a tranquil resting place for their beloved deceased Pets,” Matt had added.
Hettie the Hearse had been custom made to handle anything from a Great Dane or horse to a canary. Today, Hettie can still be seen in use at Tennant Creek, where Matt and Mildred Morgue have chosen to retire. Hettie has special dispensation to be permanently driven in reverse when downtown. Each Friday, the locals gather along the main street and watch in silent tribute as Hettie moves slowly by. Apparently life still has its grave moments for Matt Morgue when driving his Hettie the Hearse in Reverse!
Wendy Laing © 2000
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