My boss likes me to be out on the road. Preferably a back road. If there’s a roundabout dirt track to get from A to B he’ll send me on it. It’s all part of my area familiarisation plan. Our ‘patch’ covers 42,000 square kilometres (roughly the size of the Netherlands) so there’s no shortage of obscure back roads for me to investigate. I also suspect he’s setting me up to get lost as a practical joke; just itching for me to call for help.
And I’ve had myself worried a few times. In my first week, he sent me to Jack’s Creek station with some sketchy directions. I missed a turn and ended up driving along a fence line in the National Park. Determined not to be the probie who needed help on day one—I’d have died out there before I let it come to that –I bush bashed my way back to what passes around here for a road. As an aside, if you ever see a Subaru Outback on an ex-government auction website, leave it well alone.
When the boss sent me back to Jack’s Creek last week I knew I was being tested because he added an extra level of difficulty. I couldn’t return via a known route, instead he instructed me to go via one of the mining roads that criss-cross the Pilliga. It didn’t matter which one though as they would all get met to the highway, eventually.
‘Head west and follow your nose until you find the Newell Highway,’ he’d said to me as I was leaving ‘and call me if you get lost.’ Without a map and coming on for late afternoon I was suddenly less confident about getting home on time than I had been just a minute before.
The sign said Boundary Road and it pointed west. It was a big sign with large white lettering that had an air of authority about it. The road itself looked good; solid gravel a grader blade wide so I figured it would continue like that all the way to the highway. My nose said take it so I did.
The gravel turned to sand, the road into a track. The trees and bushes crept in ever closer until I was weaving around them and worst of all it had turned south. I had an hour of daylight left and there wasn’t a soul around to ask for directions. My nose and I were no longer talking. Then an emu appeared in front of me and with the scrub too thick to break through on either side it trotted along in front of the car.
I’m all for clutching at straws so I didn’t struggle with the concept of this bird being a good omen sent to lead me out of trouble. The track opened up before terminating at the X-Line Road which then took me to the Newell Highway; just like the boss said it would.
But I still don’t trust him.