BULLGOOSE: Johnny’s Land Rover fails the splash test

And how spiny is spinifex? It’s a shocker. True, its resin makes a dandy glue, but in general the grass, like a mother in law’s phone call, is best avoided.

The Wes Piddens/Big Minch expedition to climb Mt Zeil in the Northern Territory was memorable for several features: spectacular views, thirst, forgetting film for the camera and spinifex: the horror!

Walking in spinifex country is a nightmare. Those stabbing spines do not miss you. Even the toughest boots fall prey to them and pretty soon you’re going to take on the appearance of a bleeding person walking on a bristling pair of echidnas.

But here’s the thing. Aboriginal people lived in harmony with the stuff. It would be easier to live in harmony with Vladimir Putin.

But here’s the thing of this thing. They did/do it all barefoot. Barefoot! I mean I know if you want to make cheesecake you’ve got to cut onions, but barefoot?

No wonder the Pitjantjatjara word for ‘sole of the foot’ translates to ‘a sort of experimental titanium leather’.

Which brings me to the hand of Johnny Ham of Baryulgil.

Blokes like to show off their calluses.

Johnny’s whole right hand was one big callus criss-crossed with dermal crevasses of Himalayan depth. Its surface was more abrasive than Nick Kyrgios’s trash talk.

How, why, did this come to be? Or, as Johnny would have put it, “What would cause that, mate?”

Doing the job of two. Because his left arm was buggered.

Johnny was up at the head of Deep Creek pulling a cow out of a bog when the horse fell on him and pinned him against a rock, knocking him out and dislocating his shoulder.

By the time they found him and got him to hospital, nerve damage had rendered his left arm pretty useless.

The doctors gave Johnny an electric shock machine to try and goose the nerves back into action. Every night Millie would start up the generator, plug in the gizmo, crank the dial to ‘Old Sparky’ levels, wet the electrode pad and apply it all over Johnny’s arm, but he felt nothing. “Nothing, mate. Not even a nibble.” So, Johnny just carried on.

Ever tried swinging a full-sized axe one-handed and doing some serious work with it? Hard for a big bloke, but Johnny was not a big man. True, he was muscly. There were no fat cells in his body. He was basically muscle, a bit of bone and a lot of callus.

Ride one-handed; fence one-handed; blacksmith one-handed; eat one-handed. And drive one handed. He’d rest his dead left hand on the bottom of the steering wheel to keep things steady while he reached over with his right to change gears. “Easy, mate. Easy as pooping in bed and rolling it out with your toes.” Johnny had a way with words.

Photo: Peter Turvey from Marlborough, UK

So, one day he pulls up in the Land Rover to open the Dam Paddock gate at the top of the hill. Now with all this reaching over with the right hand to pull up the handbrake lever on the left he might have stopped a click short on the lever.

While opening the gate he senses a vehicular absence and turns to see the Land Rover decamping in reverse and heading, of course, for the dam.

It’s not a good feeling. Johnny gives chase, but he’s not in the race.

Fortunately, the Rover changes course, skirts the dam and stops on the far side. Unfortunately, it starts moving again, this time forwards, and dives into the dam.

It is winter and Johnny is not a one-armed swimmer, but one of the neighbouring stockmen has a scuba ticket.

Chains are attached and the Rover recovered.

Local Mech Guru, Wilfred Klunk, spends weeks drying out the vitals and bringing it back to life.

But she was never the same. There would be periodic coughs and farts, provoking fears that she’d stop and leave him stranded up at the head of Deep Creek.

“Water on the lung, mate. You’re never the same.” So, when cattle prices came up a bit he traded her. “Don’t say a word, mate. About the swim.”

But the story had already bolted far and wide, so the car dealer drove a hard bargain.

A lesson to us all.


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