Excerpt for The Cruising Chronicles: Outbacker by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

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The Cruising Chronicles: Outbacker


Copyright 2018 Harry F. Rey

Published by Harry F. Rey at Smashwords




1990


We left our old life, working in a busy country hotel in Mildura at the top end of Victoria, quite suddenly one morning before dawn. Dad shook me awake;

“Mon lad, get up,” he said with an unknown fear in his voice and written plain over his face. I never asked why we had to go. I never did.

Like all those times before, I packed a solitary backpack, still dusty, with a few clothes and things sixteen-year old’s have while he hurried about the office, clattering about and knocking things over. Not many minutes later we set off in silence and in darkness, abandoning the few other staff that had loyally served him, the trunk full of things I didn’t know.

We drove straight out of town and crossed the state line into New South Wales just as the sun rose and began to bathe the bare brush of the land in some early light. The lines on the map just a different perspective on the roads sprawling out across the flat earth. No other activity passed our truck all morning, but the occasional farmer or doctor's plane would cut low across the blue sky as we made our way north. When by lunchtime I dared to ask where we were headed, all he said very quickly was;

“Time to go, son. Nae bother in hummin’ n’ hawin’ about the past now, is there?”

We were out to find us a new place to work, he said. The rent there had been no good, or the water stopped working, or some other reason that wouldn’t stand up to scrutiny. But we just had to drop in on a few friends dotted here and there around the outback, then we’d be in the clear. I wondered what mess he’d left behind this time.

In a way I knew why we had left; to get away from all the things I didn’t know about. I tried my very hardest not to wonder, as I had for as long as I could remember. Our journey took us through the great tracks that cut through the bare land of the backcountry; the great Australian interior; home to travelers, criminals and exiles.

Dad passed the time by telling me half-remembered stories of the land, or about great wars or what Bob Dylan was really singing about as we listened to tape after tape. I’d spent the year since stopping school working in his hotel, but this time with him was like a second education. Despite it all, the man who’d come from less than nothing, raised in a rainy Scottish orphanage before being shipped off to Australia, had the world to teach me.

Over days and days we drove on through fields of yellowed earthy brush plains and billowing wheat farms around the top of New South Wales. We reached so far north that we even skirted the edge of the tropics in the wet and humid green of Queensland, and passed through whole towns of dirt roads and blackfellas in the Northern Territory. We drove endlessly, crossing the dog-eared map that I’d lie in the back of the truck and study, on forever towards the horizon before a town might suddenly grow out of the bare earth.

Those days laying out on the back seat, kept cool by air blowing through the open windows, with my back to wherever the sun happened to be, I did little else but study the maps. I learned the highways, the names of the all the places in the bush and the lines that connected them, just like the road we were on. It was an unrealized, unknown fear of being lost on a whole continent that kept me reading, kept me learning the names of all the places we had named in this land.

Our stops offered some punctured relief from the journey, but we’d never linger, and each was essentially the same. Dad would make some calls from a payphone while I picked up supplies and looked for new tapes from whatever shops existed, casually avoiding stares or conversations. I easily looked like any other farm boy travelling through the harsh land for some unknown purpose. My tanned skin, sun lightened hair covered in a broad felt cowboy hat and a keen interest in maps and cassette tapes meant I easily blended in to every place without suspicion. It gave Dad all the time in the world to conduct whatever business had caused us to be here.

In the sunbaked hours of a dusty nothing I’d have to kill, I’d buy a chicken roll or ice cold lolly, and sit in whatever little green square or patchy cricket oval the village was centered around. On benches I’d flick through an AA Australian Road Atlas while paying the rest of the world no mind.

Here and there, though, I’d notice folk coming in and out of squat little outhouses, public toilets occupying the dead space between the green grass and black asphalt road. Cars and trucks would drive up and park nearby. Men would go in and men would come out, just one or two every so often. Only I, an invisible boy on an unseen bench, would even notice those who went in and the lengths of time they might spend inside. As times went on, benches and towns came and went, I’d find myself drawn to a spot where I could sit and watch those men. Watch and wonder what went on inside.

Sometimes we’d take our truck to a flat roofed house at the edge of town and sit for hours until dark, before Dad would get out and enter the house all of a sudden. At first, he’d pull together some bullshit story about visiting an old friend as we passed through, but towns later he wouldn’t bother, and I wouldn’t ask. I knew there were no friends, not in this state or any other.

Our purpose was as clear as it was confusing. We’d pick up things from people, take them somewhere and drop them off to someone else. Back at the Mildura hotel, there was an evident but subtle truth that a shadow business carried on all around me, one I’d never wanted to know about, but so evidently affected my life whether I knew why or not.


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