BULLGOOSE: The Ruse boys’ Cape York caper wasn’t caused by inhaling cake

You’d never know it from watching him flogging an ancient Bedford cattle truck over Mallanganee Range like a harried peon on a pensionable donkey, but Wes Piddens was a product of the best school in the state, probably Australia. No, not Bonalbo Central School, James Ruse Agricultural High School.
Year after year, Ruse, a State school, cranks out the best HSC marks while the toffy private schools gnash their whitened and curated teeth in envy.
Initially, the school’s success is hard to understand.
There are no special luxe facilities, and the teachers aren’t specially qualified. But what James Ruse has is the feedstock.

If you only accept clever kids you’re pretty much assured of good results.

The gnarly downside of selective schools is that they rob suburbs, towns and villages of their geniuses. But Wes didn’t care about all that. He just wanted to go there because they did Agriculture and had a full-blown farm.
Many of his spotty classmates went on to become captains of industry, banking magnates, ABC election analysts, international wine supremos and derros. But it was hard to spot that at the time.
Typical student discourse would go something like:
“Did you watch The Samurai last night?”
“Nah! That Shintaro bloke can’t even speak English.”

“I made some ninja star knives.”
“Show us. Not bad. Wait. The pointy bits are bent.”
“I chucked them at a fence.”
“Any stick in?”
“A couple.”
“Anyway, as if a ninja could actually jump up and stick to the ceiling.”
“They can run fast, but.”
“OK, I’ll give ‘em that. What’ve you got for lunch?”
Wes made some good friends.

At some point they all got right into bushwalking. Serious, remote stuff.

At first, they had to catch trains or get a lift from an adult. But then Seppe got his licence.
Perry Wyeth’s ancestry was Scottish, but his hair and complexion were dark. His mates thought he looked Greek, so they called him Giuseppe. Why wouldn’t you?
Seppe was that most fortunate of lads. He was born very early in the year, and that meant he could get his driver’s licence way earlier than his classmates.
Poor Wes was apparently conceived on Christmas Eve, so he had a long wait.
‘Seppe the Fortunate’ had a big sister, Natasha, who doted on him. The day he scored his P-plates he hit Natasha up for her Holden.
“Hey, can I borrow the EK?”
“Not the EK! Oh, OK, take the EK. But you’ve got to put the petrol in it.”
Natasha had gotten Seppe a job deep frying secret chicken for an old bloke with white hair in a white suit and wiggy bow tie, so petrol money was no problem.
“Thanks, Tash. Mwah.”
“Don’t break it.”
See, there was the problem, right there.

Seppe had a ‘press on!’ driving style in the bush.

The venerable EK, overloaded with schoolboys and rucksacks, was flogged shamefully over goat tracks to ever more remote jump-off points for bushwalks. Seppe broke it.

His golden-souled sister next bought a Honda S600 mini convertible, belt-driven. It had no business going off the blacktop, but Seppe, encouraged by the fact that it was light enough to be carried by its occupants, took it on the same sort of tracks that had murdered the EK. It broke down. Of course, it did. Inlet manifold fell off. A terminal injury.

But Seppe had Araldite.

The lad mechanics smeared it on the manifold and bolts then used the car jack to force it tight against the engine block.
“Just like that,” remarked Wes while they waited for the glue to set.
News of this brilliant repair was kept from Natasha, but next year she received a staggering bill from a distressed mechanic who had spent six hours trying to get the manifold off.
Eventually, the man in white (‘General Sandfly’, or something) had paid Seppe enough  chicken fryin’ money for him to buy his own car. He was briefly tempted by a Nissan Cedric that had spent the night in a flooded creek, but it smelt of yabbies.
He went with a black Ford Consul. The Consul was solid, sure. But it was heavy and gutless, boasting only 47 horsepower, and quite a few of those horses had slouched off to the knackery over the past decade.
Sadly, the Consul’s clutch could not even stand up to those few remaining ponies and it cried ‘Uncle’ halfway up a near-vertical pinch in the Shoalhaven wilderness east of Goulburn.
Wes was never colder than on the miserable day they spent in the wind and the sleet in an open paddock replacing the Consul’s clutch.
“Is it lined up?”
“I can’t see.”
“Well, feel for it.”
“I can’t feel my fingers.”
“Dip them in the cocoa.”
“It’s got ice in it.”
“Hit something with a hammer.”
Seppe was finding car ownership increasingly tedious, perhaps unsustainable. But then Natasha bought the Land Cruiser and Seppe’s eyes lit up. Seppe plotted.

Big Sis was no longer the pushover she’d once been.

Too much sump oil had gone under the bridge.
If he was to get hold of the Cruiser he’d need to offer something big in return.
“What your Cruiser needs, Tash, is a protective bullbar.”
“Oh, really?”
“Yes, so you don’t get injured in a suburban bingle.”
“What say I build you one, for nothing?”
“And why would you do that?”
“Because you’re my big Sis, and I love you.”
“Aww! And because you want to take it bush.”
“OK, yes. Cape York.”
“Cape friggin’ what???”
So Seppe and the lads hastened to the Farm Mechanics workshop at school and embarked on a ‘foreign order’, constructing a bespoke bull bar out of scrap steel from the James Ruse scrap pile.

Bisho, the Metalwork teacher, gave them his tacit blessing.

“OK, but tidy up. If this place isn’t spotless when you’re finished I’ll keep you in so late you’ll need a flashlight to get home.”
“You bet, Sir.”
Miraculously, the finished product was strong and almost spiffy. It worked. Natasha promised Seppe the use of the Cruiser for three weeks after Christmas. School was out for ever and the boys were headed for Cape York. In the Wet Season. What could go wrong?
Seppe assembled the most gun team since the crew of Possum One, the Outback Rocket Ship. First, he assembled himself – most experienced driver and best chicken cook.

Then came George – sharp as broken glass and noisy as a cockatoo riot.

Kurt was urbane and reputedly knew a swimsuit model. Then there was Wes, who was big.
They planned to live off the land, hunting for rabbits, pineapples, coconuts, watermelons and fish, but Wes’s Gran made them a gigantic fruit cake just in case things got desperate. She’d laced it heavily with whisky, “Things go off in the tropics” and even though it was triple wrapped, the fumes were so strong that for the first week, back seat occupants lost consciousness within seconds.

Oh, the places they went. Oh, the adventures they lived.

Oh, the coconuts they couldn’t trap. And for the entire trip the Land Cruiser never missed a beat. The Araldite lay unopened. There was just one more destination to cross off. K’gari – Fraser Island.

Driving down onto the beach to wait for the barge to arrive they noticed a sign.
               $20 one way
“How much?”
“Twenty bucks!”
“Twenty bucks?
“Rip off.”
“It’s a freakin’ pirate barge.”
“Has it got a gold propeller?”
“Twenty bucks!  The island is just over there. Bugger that.”
“Yeah, it’s just over there. You could swim there.”
“Why don’t we?”
“Why don’t we what?”
“Swim there. Stick it to Elmo Gargaton and his allegedly famous barge.”
So, they parked the Land Cruiser up in the dunes, dived into the water and started swimming for the island, or bust.
The first hour was a bravado fest of powerful stroking and cutting comments at Elmo Gargaton’s expense. After another half an hour the island was looking no closer. Another half an hour and Wes fancied the island was receding in the distance.
“Maybe it’s Continental Drift.”
Soon Wes’s thoughts got caught in a rip of sharks, sea wasps, cramps, stonefish, terminal sunburn, giant squid and … rips. He was just about to give voice to his concerns when someone mumbled, “Not getting any closer.”
“Wanna go back?”
It took them another two hours to get back to the mainland. After an extended lie down, they went off to hunt pineapples.
Wes wants to go back to the old school some day to check on the honour boards. He’s pretty sure there’s one for Outstanding Achievements, Post-School. Stuff like ‘Re-splitting the atom’; ‘Inventing the artificial nostril’; ‘Developing analog Bitcoin’ and so on.
He fancies  that word of the Famous Four’s  Queensland adventures got out and that their names are up there in gold letters:  ‘P. Wyeth, G. Swinus, K. McLeod, W. Piddens -Swimming to Fraser Island, almost, partially, and for bringing Natasha’s Land Cruiser back undamaged.’
Alice says it never happened anyway and that it was just the whisky fumes from Gran’s fruit cake.
But Wes knows better.
A lesson to us all.

BULLGOOSE: Alice refuses to back up or back down


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