There’s a famous scene in the film ‘Walkabout’ featuring Jenny Agutter, she of Railway Children fame, who, while trekking through the Australian Outback with her younger brother and Aboriginal guide, comes across a beautiful waterhole in the middle of the desert. Naturally, she promptly takes all her clothes off and jumps in and the film features a lengthy sequence of her swimming around, accompanied by orchestral music. It’s famous, obviously for the beautiful scenery and haunting music, not because it features a naked Jenny Agutter frolicking about in the water. Honest.
So when, half way through a lengthy drive, and in the middle of nowhere, we chanced up a waterhole which looked, for all purposes just like the one in Walkabout, what could I do? I promptly removed all my clothes and jumped in.
We were driving up from Townsville to Port Douglas and were running about 3 hours behind schedule with the light starting to fade and some 200km still to go. We’d spent the morning, slightly unexpectedly, in Townsville Hospital and it was touch and go if we should even try to get to Port Douglas that day. So stopping for an unplanned skinny dip probably wasn’t the best plan, but then, it had been a stressful couple of days, commencing the day before with the unusual and surprising humiliation for me of getting trapped in a walk-in fridge in a bottle shop.
We had just picked up some bits and pieces for dinner from the local Supermarket where we were staying on Magnetic Island, and I’d nipped in the Bottle shop to grab a few beers and a bottle of wine. As is standard for these places, at the back of the shop there was a large walk-in fridge where the cold beers are stored and so I popped in, grabbed a 6 pack of Peroni, and pushed the door to exit. Except the door refused to open. I pushed again, a little harder. Nope. Ok, maybe I was pushing on the wrong side. I pushed the other side. Still nothing – not even the slightest give. Hmmm. Maybe it was a sliding door. I examined the door again and tried a tentative push on the frame to see if it would slide. Nope. Nothing. I examined the door more carefully. I couldn’t see any locks or catches. Just looked like a regular glass door. Except one that was resolutely stuck shut with me on the inside of a large fridge. In the main part of the shop, I could see a few people queuing at the counter and I tried a quick wave to see if I could get someone’s attention. Unfortunately, everyone was facing the wrong way, and the lady behind the counter was out of sight of the door to the fridge. I was starting to feel slightly silly. Of course, I could start yelling but surely, sooner or later, someone would notice the strange and increasingly chilly person waving through the door. Perhaps I could pretend to be having a very long consideration of which beer to buy, and eventually someone else would try to come into the fridge – and then I could act surprised to discover that the door had somehow locked itself while I had been pondering which beer to buy. Or if there was some mechanism that only worked from the outside, I could quickly nip through the door while it was open, and leave the next victim in the fridge-prison while I made good with my 6-pack of beer.
While these bizarre thoughts were going through my head, and I tried to figure out the mystery of the one-way door, the queue at the counter had nearly cleared and there was only one girl left, buying a bottle of wine. I tried a loud ‘Hello’ to see if I could get her attention, or of the woman behind the counter. No reaction. The girl left the shop with her purchase. Now it was just me and the out-of-sight woman behind the counter. Business was clearly drying up for the evening, and I imagined myself locked in the fridge overnight, having to drink large amounts of beer in a desperate attempt to survive the frigid night, and the horror the shop-owner might have the next morning, discovering me, slumped and frozen at the door of the fridge, dead drunk and only half-alive. The situation made worse only by the fact that as, as a rule, walk in beer fridges do not feature a toilet.
I tried an ever louder ‘Hello’ and another wave, in case the counter-lady might catch my reflection. At that moment, whether perplexed by the strange noises at the back of her shop, or for some other reason, she stepped out from behind the counter and spotted my frantic gestures. I waved again and pointed at the door. She made a pushing motion. Silly woman, did she think I hadn’t tried that? I sighed and pushed at the door to demonstrate that it wouldn’t open. It opened. I stepped out.
However, my issue with a door was nothing compared to Tanya’s incident with a window the following day, and the reason why we were some three hours late on the drive to Port Douglas and why we had needed to spend the morning in the hospital.
We’d just got off the ferry over from Magnetic Island to Townsville and we had stopped for fuel on the outskirts of the town. While I filled the car and cleaned the windscreen of the day’s genocide of bugs, Tanya went to find some coffees. I’d almost removed all the remains of the unfortunate insects, when I saw a figure staggering towards me in in a haphazard zig-zag fashion. If she had found a bottle shop rather than a coffee shop, then she had been incredibly efficient in sampling its contents. As she got closer it was clear what had happened. A huge lump had appeared on the left side of her head above her eye.
“I ran into a window” she explained before collapsing into my arms.
“Do you need any help, mate?” asked the guy on the pump next to me. He and his wife had also witnessed Tanya staggering over the forecourt and collapsing.
“Yes, can you open the car door so I can get her inside?” I asked.
“No worries mate”, he said, opening the car door of the car next to ours. This belonged to a single guy who was still refuelling his car, and who looked surprised, but not displeased at the sight of someone ushering a strange and disorientated woman into the passenger seat of his car.
“Err, wrong car”, I explained. “This one I said, gesturing to our Land Rover while holding up Tanya.
“Sorry mate”, he said, partly to me, and partly to the owner of the car that Tanya had nearly found herself in.
“No problem” said the owner, while perhaps a flash of disappointment flicked across his face.
We lifted Tanya back into the correct car this time, and our helper directed me to the nearest medical clinic, who was fortunately just two minutes’ drive away. By this point, Tanya was starting to become a little more coherent. It seemed, that she had gone into the ‘Hungry Jacks’ next to the petrol station, but in her desperation to get out of there, had mistaken a full length window of clear and clean glass for the open door, and had literally ran into it at full pelt, knocking herself back onto the floor. Fortunately, the restaurant was just a short stagger from the petrol station, and she had managed to get back to me before collapsing.
At the clinic, we explained what had happened to the doctor on duty. There were no obvious signs of concussion, but they weren’t going to take any chances – and immediately called an ambulance to take Tanya to the town hospital some 15 minutes away. Eventually, after a lengthy wait in the hospital, we were seen by a doctor in the who examined the lump on Tanya’s forehead, and pointed out that if Tanya had concussion or internal bleeding, then the symptoms of these would be affecting her quite badly by now, as it was now some 2 hours after the incident. As she wasn’t then he was going to assume that she was probably ok.
So with that, and Tanya desperate to leave Townsville, we headed north to my encounter with our waterhole. But my vision of a tranquil swim surrounded by nature was not to be.
While I swam around, swarms of vicious mosquitoes were dive-bombing me, or those parts of me that were above the water. Meanwhile, Bailey and Saffy, who had been let out of the car, were clearly highly alarmed and concerned about the fact that their owner had clearly taken leave of his senses and was swimming around well out of reach of where they could rescue me from the undoubted dangers that lay beneath. And Tanya who had recovered enough to find the whole thing hilarious, was now busy recording the whole incident with her camera. So, there I was, unfit, out of breath, swimming around in small circles, being eaten alive by mosquitoes while two dogs barked frantically from the shore, and Tanya giggled and snapped away.
This wasn’t how the experience was supposed to go. I climbed out, dried myself and got dressed.
Ah well, maybe I’ll just watch Walkabout again.