Gather round brothers and sisters. Hear of the tale of the weary travelers that ventured into the west, towards the Red Centre, for cause of friendship and reasons adventure. Gather round and hear the tale of Thomas and Mr. Rabbit who traversed the long road of toil and effort to pay visit to their friend the Ombudsman …
Thursday began, for me at any rate, with a regular day of history subjects. However, there was a mood within me that, frankly, had me quite excited through the entire week. Thursday would be the day that Mr. Rabbit and I set out for Menindee. The day came, my day at university went, and 3:15pm rolled around by the time I got home. I decided that it would be a good idea to pack then – and pack I did. 3:30pm was the next to arrive, and with it, Mr. Rabbit in our transport for the trip – his Toyota Echo. Having been a passenger in it on numerous times, I had full faith that it would go – though go for how long still was up in the air. And whether it would last the battering that we (and the locals) could give it was still an unanswered question.
After continuous reminders of things I should have from my mother (something that should be noted for later events) I eventually made it out the front door, a hug from mum for both adventurers, the (somewhat) symbolic act of affixing my P-plates to Mr. Rabbit’s car and we were off. I had requested the first leg of driving to get used to the car – I regularly drive a European car, and has most things reversed (i.e. indicators and wipers, lights etc.). Anticipating traffic leaving Sydney, and therefore significant delay, I also requested the first leg of the drive so that I wasn’t driving somewhere foreign at night.
However, our journey was quite uninterrupted, compared to what I had been expecting. There was a steady flow of traffic, but nothing like that which you encounter when you drive to Parramatta at peak hour, or Minto. For this leg, I was a very conservative driver. It was the first time I had driven: a) on the M7; b) on the M4, and; c) outside of greater-Sydney.
The atmosphere in the car was something strange – anticipation, trepidation, fear and excitement. I suspect that we were both cautious to not tread on one another’s toes, as another 23-hours of driving, together, needed to be done – so our topics of conversation weren’t anything too meaningful. Nor was there any music or radio for a while (I was afraid to put on music that I liked, having always got into Mr. Rabbit’s car and hearing classical). But, regardless, I believe we had a good run to the foot of the Blue Mountains, which was where the first leg of the trip came to an end (funnily enough, that’s where I leg ends too – with the foot … of the mountains? Lame joke!).
We pulled into somewhere Mr. Rabbit must have been before (I queried him on this after), and my driving for the day was complete. For the trip, I had been watching the scenery, trying to compare it to the various places around the world I had been to. For a short while I was reminded of Edinburgh, though that was only when we were going into the mountains. But certainly, for this leg, that was the only comparison I could make. It was new scenery for me, and new experiences. I had never come to appreciate Australia, in a scenic sense, before this trip. However, by the end of the four days, I would do a complete turn-around in this.
We got out of the car, and went into the petrol station (which is where we had stopped) to buy something to tide us over. Of course, that meant chocolate and sugar. I had, as the first thing I had forgotten, not packed a bottle of water. I brought a Coke and a block of Milky Bar chocolate, while Mr. Rabbit brought a Snickers and a mineral water which was yellowish-orange. I can’t remember what was in it (orange and something?). The woman who served us was quite attractive, but there was no time to dally around – we had to get going. Towards the car, and in it, Mr. Rabbit and I discussed the first substantive topic yet: did we recall the ads that had the Milky Bar kid in them. I remembered them more vividly than Mr. Rabbit apparently, as I was able to sing the jingle and name the characters that were in the ad – one of them being Dastardly Dick. Which segwayed into me telling Mr. Rabbit of my trip to America, as a younger kid, with the family, and how my sister, mother and I cracked up when we were able to buy these snacks called “Cheesy Doodles”. Not being able to say anything rude in our house was a common trait through my childhood, so we drained “Cheesy Doodles” for all it was worth.
Mr. Rabbit jumped in the car, after I took the P-plates off, and we were on the road again. I had offered some of my chocolate to Mr. Rabbit, who initially rejected it on the pretense that he didn’t like white chocolate. He then changed his mind and had some, and I suspect enjoyed, as he had some more later. I was reminded of another reason why I didn’t want to be driving – I hate driving as the sun is going down and through dusk.
Anyway, the driving continued, and the weather got bad. Really bad. It had looked like it might rain, which I think we would have been prepared for, but the idea of fog had not entered my head at least. But in it rolled, over the mountains, to fill every valley and dip like water fills a bowl. Eventually visibility changed to six-foot ahead of the car with the regular lights on, and a wall of yellowish-white if the high-beams were triggered. I thought that if we were going to die (an event which there was a good chance of happening on this trip) at least it would be early on. Mr. Rabbit, however, managed to guide us through the mountains, over, and away – though the fog didn’t end there. It was better for a while, but not fantastic.
Orange was our stop for the night. This was the case because we didn’t expect to be able to get much further in the day’s driving, and also because the hotel we had booked promised us two essentials – a toaster and a hairdryer. There was no question, after reading this, as to where we would be staying – only how long. The Ombudsman, however, won out over the toaster/dryer combination, and we would only be there for a sleep and a meal, and a very early start. But we had vowed to use the toaster and dryer despite this.
Checking-in was interesting. Mr. Rabbit prayed that they hadn’t lost our booking (my faith in the online-booking system is resolute after traveling across Europe with only email correspondence in some cases). They hadn’t, and we were given a key (room 6). The woman offered us an apple each, which we declined, then said to take some milk. I left Mr. Rabbit to get it, though he tried to walk out with the 1L bottle. After being corrected, he had our cup and we unpacked and set up base.
Our meal we had at the hotel – they have a restaurant on-sight. We entered with some hesitation – neither of us (though Mr. Rabbit said it) wanted to be the only ones in the place. Fortunately there was a table of 5 Australian-Bolivians(?) and an elderly couple – the man drinking VB, both just finishing their meals. The Austra-Bolivs were discussing hunting and some rather yobbo-come-bogan topics that we, with muted voices, made fun of.
The table we were at was obviously the best table in the room: there was a rather large stain of something on the tablecloth, and we were probably ten metres from the highway that runs through Orange. Thus, whenever a car went by, I was distracted by the headlights that reflected off every window that surrounded us. The ambiance was further enhanced by a real wood-fire (thought the chimney and mantle-place were rather tacky), and what I called Roman-esque curtain. I quite liked them, something which I suspect Mr. Rabbit poked fun at. The Austra-Bolivs continued to talk, finished, and left. As they hung around the car-park, I worried if they might come upon Mr. Rabbits car and break in, going through to steal our sleeping-bags (the only thing we had left in). What ensued was rather humorous for me – I imagined the men running up to the window and waving our sleeping bags at us, before running off into the dark and fog.
A success story (of sorts) served us: a woman from Minto (implying she left/escaped). Mr. Rabbit struck up conversation with her, and asked if it was foggy all the time. Apparently is was a rarity. I don’t believe her, but I’m not an Orange (assuming a person from Orange is called an Orange). Then Mr. Rabbit asked where she came from – she said Sydney. We asked her where, and her expression and tone indicated she wouldn’t know where she hailed from. She said Campbeltown, and we told her we knew it well. She then said Minto (specifically, housing-commission), and Mr. Rabbit and I exchanged a look that said “We traveled x-hundred miles and we still find Mintonians!?”
We both had steak (something of an oddity for me, as I don’t like steak). Mr. Rabbit only had it after asking the Minto-reared woman “What would you get?” She told us that her husband was the chef (I suppose to reassure us?) and that the steak was good. It was pleasant. Accompanying our meals was a Coke for me and a glass of wine for Mr. Rabbit (white, though I can’t remember what it was. Perhaps Lindemans Bin 40?). I had tossed up having a beer myself, but I wouldn’t have enough time between finishing my beer and driving – as all P-platers must blow 0.000~ on a breath-o-lizer, and I was afraid, not of losing my license but, of losing time. Faithful Coke it was then.
We finished, said our thanks, and headed back to our room when we would turn in early to rise early. Mr. Rabbit somehow had acquired the double bed, while I was left to the single. This, however, would work to my own (perceived) advantage later on in the trip. Regardless, we mulled around for an hour – I read some of my tutorial readings for the next week (the only time I’ve done that so far ahead) and Mr. Rabbit made more phone calls than I do in a month. We called St. Ives Correspondent (and, among discussing other things, poked fun at him for not being with us – he was the Best Man to the Ombudsman after all), which was interrupted by a call from the Ombudsman. Eventually it was time to get some sleep, but not before I took some of my first photos – The 18 Cup with the toaster that was promised.
We climbed into our respective beds, curled up, and dreamed of what lay ahead for us tomorrow: the use of the toaster, the hairdryer, then a 10-hour drive to Menindee. I struggle to fall asleep in new places – Mr. Rabbit obviously does not. He was snoring (yes, snoring, as much as he may wish to deny it) not before long, and, eventually, I was dozing as well.
Not long after, I had a song from The Simpsons waking me. Mr. Rabbit’s phone alarm was going off …