Necessity is the mother of invention. Having exhausted all sources of finance to buy the farm, there was no spare cash to hire a float. So my old Falcon ute became a mini cattle carrier. I built a wooden frame with a rear gate, hinged at the top that closed to be secured by the tail gate. Knowing nothing about buying cattle, I called on Cousin Wally to buy for me. He bought and sold at Camden, over three hours by main road, so when he bought three young pregnant cows in one lot I had a dilemma. They had to be taken home in the ute and I doubted they would fit.
But they walked aboard quietly enough and the gate was dropped, jamming them in. Then we noticed rear tyres disappearing into mudguards hinting that one and a half tons of beef on a half ton ute was probably illegal. So we decided to take back roads through Wisemans Ferry and St Albans to avoid Mr Plod on the F3. I had never taken that road before, but Wally assured me it was ‘a piece of cake’. He should have said mudcake!
Both kids were with me, crammed into the front seat together bags and all, so we were really loaded. Wally assured me cattle on the move are a too busy trying to stay upright to cause trouble but I wondered what would happen on the Mangrove Creek Ferry. So while the kids stood at the rail watching the water go by, I was up on the cab talking to my girls. Cattle are funny people. They like being talked to. I told them how beautiful they were with their gorgeous big eyes and kept them enthralled until we were over. Vanity trumped the urge to stampede.
As darkness fell we crept through St. Albans past the Settlers Arms, believing our worries were over. But in the Common north of the village, the road had been graded so often and its surface lowered so far, it was now the de-facto creek bed. Sheets of water hid the road and as is their wont, four wheel drivers had discovered the mess and ripped around making a bad road just about impassable.
So we unexpectedly found ourselves up to the headlights in serious pot holes. But the old ute kept on, in and out, in and out until the road lifted above the waterway and wound its way higher up the hillside. Suddenly and thankfully we were on bitumen. I pushed the speed until we were humming along in top gear for the first time in a while. Then Julia screamed.
Around a bend, right in front, the road disappeared into water, wide and still.
‘Boat ramp! I yelled, and pregnant mothers be damned, hit the brakes, skidding hard. Cows whumped against the cabin as the whole rig lurched from side to side threatening to topple. We stopped with front wheels in the water, still rocking as six human and six bovine eyes stared through the dark at forty metres of river. We just breathed and stared as the cows adjusted their balance, bellowing complaints. After a few seconds of recovery, I switched to low beam. High beam had bounced off the water, hiding its depth but low revealed no more than two inches of clear water over a smooth concrete causeway.
For years afterwards, every time we saw a boat ramp I was reminded.
‘Hey Dad! (ha ha ha) Do you reckon that’s a boat ramp?’ Kids are shits.