On the blue highway, you travel alone

Road_croppedDay 9 of my road-trip into outback Australia, and I was heading south again; back through familiar territory. Cruising down the Stuart Highway on a sunny Winter’s morning, passing Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands (APY Lands), I was soaking in the magnificent view of Musgrave and Everard Ranges in the distance.

Up ahead, I saw an old car parked on the side of the road. Jacked up, with a tire leaning on the back bumper. An old man stood by the car, hand out.

Don’t Stop.

I slowed down, and pulled over.

Don’t Stop.

Getting out of the car, I evaluated the situation: flat tire, old man and a woman just a bit older than myself; and my over-packed car.

We can’t do anything – let’s leave.

They needed a lift to Mintabie, about 60 kms south-west, the old man and the flat tire. There was no spare, so air was needed. I had no room for either in my car.

We can’t do anything – let’s leave.

There was no rope, so I couldn’t fasten the tire to my car.

We can’t do anything…

The man told me how they had broken down, a couple of hours before sunrise. I was the first person to stop. It was 12.30 pm.

…let’s leave.

They had travelled from Fregon/Kaltjiti, a small APY Lands community a couple of hours north-west along a sandy road. Even if I had phone reception, there was no-one to call. And no way of carrying either the tire or man. I promised to find help at Marla, which was about 30 kms down the road.

Leave it to someone else.

I asked if they had any kapi (water). They didn’t, so I topped up my water bottle and gave it to the old man. I also offered a couple of puyu (smokes), for the long wait.

Leave it to someone else.

On the road again, I thought about who I could ask for help. I also pondered how anyone could leave an older couple on the side of the road. The day was only just warming up, and I knew that the small road-side fire they had lit would have barely chased the chill away. And the water I had given them wouldn’t last long, as the day was heating up.

What ever happened to the travellers’ code? Didn’t people stop any more when they saw a person in need on the side of the road? Have we become so isolated, so uncaring towards our fellow humans?

Leave it to someone else – don’t stop.
Don’t stop – I’m sure they are okay.
Don’t stop – its none of our business.
Don’t stop – people disappear out here.
Don’t stop – my friend told me that if you stop to help, black people rob you.
Don’t stop – there is nothing we can do.
Don’t stop. They are not like us – they are the ‘other’. 

All morning, that couple heard you. They saw you drive past. You in your fancy 4-wheel drive, with the new camper trailer that has all the bells and whistles. For hours the old man held out his hand, asking for help. And you just drove on by. You were seen, you were heard. Such words, thoughts, they linger in the dust. Thrown from your car window, left to rot on the blue highway. Scattered by the biting wind, amongst the scrubby vegetation, lying to rest on the red sands. They heard you. I heard you.

How was your trip?
The Rock was amazing, so spiritual.
We watched some Aboriginal dancers, it was so interesting.
I bought a lovely dot painting.
We had a go at throwing a boomerang, it was fun.
It was NAIDOC Week, so we went to a community event.
The kids’ school always does something for Reconciliation Week.
I like learning about Aboriginal culture.

You just travelled through Aboriginal lands. Some of the most stunning country in the world. Parts of that Country is still inhabited by Australia’s First Nations Peoples. All of it is still Aboriginal land. You were welcomed as visitors. You were given the chance to learn about Aboriginal culture, to see the landscape through others’ eyes.

You took those experiences.
You took lots of photos.
You had many ‘ah ha’ moments.

– but still you did not stop.

I’m not going to throw out the ‘r’ word. It’s probably more an ingrained fear of the ‘other’ that leads people to drive past when others are in need. However, isn’t it time to stop letting xenophobia steer you in the wrong direction?

In case you are wondering, I did find help. When I got to Marla, I approached an Aboriginal man with a ute. He and his travelling companion were heading up the Stuart Highway. Coincidently, they were returning to Fregon. I knew that they would stop and help.

Four days later and I’m still shaking my head. Okay, I said I won’t use the ‘r’ word, but I can’t help thinking that the reason you didn’t stop was because they weren’t like you – they were ‘black’. So, instead I have another word for you: shame.


This blog post is part of the July 2014 Deadly Bloggers Blog Carnival. Check out some deadly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers here.


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