For reader B., run off the road.
I was heading down Jericho Road to check my yabbie traps in Kedron Creek – you know how dodgy that road is – when I swerved to avoid one of those Christmas cowboys in his new Comanche Turbo Diesel. I went off the road on the low side and rolled into Shiloh Swamp.
Christmas Cowboy didn’t stop. Maybe he didn’t even notice. Probably too busy posting selfies of himself and his buddies pulling farmed barramundi out of the Jordan.
The car was mostly submerged, but I was able to get the door open, wriggle out and on to the muddy bank. I found myself just below the short but sheer drop from the road.
With a shoulder buggered by the crash, there was no way I could climb the steep embankment, even though it was only about three feet up to the lip. My mobile had been on the dash and there was no way of retrieving it. All I could do was wait down in the mud and hope for someone to come along and notice me.
Being holiday time, there were passing cars; but no-one saw me so close in to the embankment since most had their windows up and air-con going. And phones and games and ebooks and ipads and ipods going.
I thought of walking back into the swamp where I would be more visible if I waved – but Shiloh Swamp is a bad place to get stuck when you have a crook shoulder. No, I would stay on its edge.
Then I hit on the idea of hurling mud up on to the road each time I heard a car approaching. The first few ignored me, but finally a car came to a halt. I heard the slam of a door.
“What’s going on?”
It was a policeman.
“Got pushed off the road by some rooster in a Comanche. That’s my Toyota in the swamp.”
“Are you okay.”
“Yeah. Shoulder’s buggered. But if you toss down a rope…”
“No way, buddie. We’ll need a crew.”
“But if you toss down a rope, or just give me your arm…”
“Nuh. Heard of public liability? OH&S?”
“Well, if I tie the rope around my waist…”
“Nuh, it’s a harness job.”
“Mate, it’s only a few feet. I could almost make it alone.”
“Law doesn’t say how many feet. It just says I can’t haul you. We’ll have a crew here by afternoon. Got fresh water to drink?”
“Come to think of it, neither have I. Stay in the shade – is there shade somewhere? – till we get the crew in.”
“But…if the mozzies start…”
After the policeman drove off I continued to hurl handfuls of mud on to the road. At last another car stopped, and again I heard the slam of a door.
“What’s going on?”
I knew the bloke, a Land and Environment officer from Jerusalem.
“Some turkey in a Comanche forced me off the road. That’s my Toyota in the swamp.”
“Are there any oil leaks or spills?”
“I dunno. Must be some.”
“Because if there’s an oil spill in Category A wetlands…”
“Look, I’m sorry about the swamp, but could you help me up? Just an arm or piece of rope…”
“Best to get a crew and harness. I’m not covered for rescue…OH&S, you know…”
“Mate, it’s only a few feet. There’s a crew coming already, but I could be stuck down here for hours…”
“If there’s a crew coming I can’t countermand…”
“Well could you toss me some mozzie repellent? Because if I’m still here by afternoon, and the breeze drops…”
“Sorry, but no toxins like that are allowed on Class A wetlands. People might do it all the time, but not on my watch. Maybe if you cake your exposed parts in mud, like the early settlers did…”
After the Land and Enviro bloke drove off the breeze really did start to drop as the afternoon wore on. Shiloh Swamp would soon start to produce its Class A mosquitoes, and there was no guarantee that the crew would arrive soon.
Nothing to do but hurl more mud in the hope of getting attention.
After some minutes I heard a large and rattly vehicle approach, a thing in pain. Well, this one was unlikely to be moving fast with air-con and ipod pumping. I began to hurl mud frantically in its path. Sure enough, the vehicle came to a halt, though its motor continued to rumble and pop. I cried out, and someone came to the edge.
“What’s your trouble?”
Oh no. Hedley Samaritan.
“What’s the trouble?”
Worse. Hedley’s twin brother, Hayden.
I should explain. The Samaritans are one of those “up-river” families who have been in the area for so long nobody remembers a time without them. Smeary-featured, freckly gingers, they are a mix of English, Scots, gypsy, aboriginal, ‘ghan and, for some strange reason, Swiss. It is said that a Samaritan will “rut with a rat on a rope”. If the rat is a relative, so much the better. Some pub wits say they draw the line at echidnas, others say that not even echidnas…but this account is taking a bad direction.
Anyway, locals pray for the success of the Samaritan dope crop, so that the Samaritans will thieve less, at least for a few months. Do I need to elaborate? The Samaritans are that type of bush family.
And now, above me, stood the cream of the Samaritan tribe. Hedley and Hayden.
For all their drooping bottom lips, popping eyes and mad hair, the Samaritan twins are sharp and sly.
As I explained to them what happened, they merely grinned a little and kept looking out toward my submerged Toyota. I could be sure that whatever it had of value would be stripped from it the next morning. Oh well.
“So, boys, can you haul me up?”
Then Hayden: “Got money on you?”
To my relief, Hedley gave his brother a nudge, as if to remind him I was a neighbour, not a plump, ripe tourist like the wally in the Comanche who had driven me off the road. At least, that was how I interpreted the nudge.
It was then a simple matter for Hedley to lie on the lip and extend his arm. As he drew me high by my uninjured side, Hayden lent a hand and I was soon standing in their company.
I did not want to ride on with them in the old truck, and I briefly thought of waiting for another car to come along, using the excuse that I was expecting the rescue crew.
But the afternoon really was wearing on and there was no guarantee that I would get a ride or that the crew would arrive before the mosquitoes began to swarm. Remembering the story of the horse stuck in Shiloh swamp overnight and driven mad…
“Boys, are you headed back up to Jerusalem?”
“Got cab fare?”
Hedley again nudged his brother hard.
“Yeah, no worries. We’ve got some stuff to take up to Jerusalem. Come on along.”
“I can get in the back with your load…”
“No!” both brothers yapped at once. In that moment, I knew not to enquire about their load.
Soon I was huddled in the cabin of the ancient truck, sandwiched between the two Samaritans. As we moved off I tightened the belt of my pants and, remembering flippant pub yarns of male echidnas and Samaritans, made myself as small and rigid as possible.
It took a long chugging ride uphill to get to Jerusalem. Fortunately for all of us, it had been hard to make conversation over the racket of the motor, the gears and the incessant rattling of metal parts and whatever load was in back – so no conversation was required. I mean, what do you talk about with Samaritans?
I got the boys to drop me off at the Temple Pub in the middle of Jerusalem. It has the kind of sportsman’s bar where “up-river” types are never seen. I needed to be around people who have opinions on cricket and who put in proper tax returns.
As I waved the twins off from the corner of Temple and Mount Streets, a gust from a passing semi-trailer lifted the loose canvas flap on the back of their truck. I saw their load.
The Samaritans had dozens of still-wet yabbie traps in back of their truck.
My yabbie traps. All of my yabbie traps.
I soon had an icy beer in my paw and was sitting in the cool of the Samson Bar, reflecting.
The Samaritans didn’t talk to me about public liability, OH&S or Class A wetlands. They hoisted me out of Shiloh Swamp and got me back to Jerusalem before stumps at the cricket.
So now, when people ask me who are my neighbours, I always mention the Samaritans, who saved my hide from the Shiloh mozzies, by the road which runs down from Jerusalem to Jericho.