Travel Advice: Colourful language ahead.
The hot setting sun momentarily perched on the horizon of the Australian Nullarbor Plain, as a sunset admirer raised a silhouetted arm to wave at the darkening sky. Uttering a blessing in his native tongue, he bid a fond farewell to another day and welcomed in the approaching night, while the haunting and captivating sound of a Didgeridoo signalled the not-too-distant presence of a local mob of residents gathering for a spiritual ceremony.
The colour of the soil here in the Nullarbor, lends itself to imaginations of how Mars must have looked with bespeckled growths of small bush jutting up from the dry, dusty ground – before it lost its atmosphere. It is a sprawling mass of land covering over two-hundred-thousand square kilometres across South Australia and into neighbouring Western Australia. Its vast, dry bush an indubitable inhospitable environment.
Seasonally occupied by indigenous Australians for countless generations, the aboriginal people of the Oondiri, The Waterless - as it’s more commonly translated, have an affinity with the land. They know its history, its temperament, and its weather patterns. Here, the intense heat of the latest Australian summer wins each day, while only offering short respite at night from its scorching heat. To the indigenous people, it is life. To those unprepared for the extremes of the bush, it can signal death.
Four times the size of Belgium, the recommended mode of transport for travel off the beaten path, is a four-wheel-drive vehicle equipped with satellite phone, drinking water, food rations, extra fuel, a Roo Bar, and an alert mind. Night driving is hazardous with the abundance of animals that freeze in the glare of headlights, then randomly leap in front of your transport. The last thing you need driving the Nullarbor, is to be stranded with your vehicle beyond working order. So, if you don’t need to drive at night, then don’t, mate!
The small silhouetted compact car currently kicking up a trail of dust along a bush trail, obviously missed that warning. Erratically speeding up then slowing down to stop, its dramatic behaviour broadcast a driver lost in the bush. Struggling with an old paper map of multiple folds that for some reason, can never be returned to its original presentation, he crudely flailed his arms around in exasperated obscene gestures.
With mobile phone coverage out here limited, a map is a lost travellers only friend, but convincing this displaced driver of the merits of paper directions, would be like trying to sell oil to a Texan.
Frustrated, tired, and with the fuel gauge at almost empty, the driver angrily scrunched the map into a ball, rolled down his driver-side window, but at the point of tossing the indecipherable publication to the elements, a twinkle of light in the evening’s dusk caught his attention. Without hesitation, he kicked the accelerator pedal as far as it could go, causing his rear wheels to spin furiously. The resultant cloud of dust, stone, and a trail of industrial ants unfortunate to have been marching across the very spot the car had stopped at, flew into the air.
Further along this stretch of Martian-like soil – where the twinkle of that distant light shone as a bright streetlamp, a flurry of emerging nighttime bugs frantically encircled its hypnotic beam. It is into this setting of searing summer solstice that we introduce to you, Cobber Petey Cooper, the proprietor of Cobber’s Canteen - a local one-stop shop for grocery necessities. The canteen intimation is somewhat misleading, as no diner, bar, coffee shop, or much else - other than the basic minimart supplies, are sold within its stone walls sheltered by a rusting tin roof.
Outside the little shop, stands two old fuel pumps belonging to another era. The type that emits a dinging sound as they tick over each litre of fuel dispensed. No modern tech since the onslaught of 1980s digital watches has ever visited Cobber Petey’s part of the world. There’s no need, anyway. Time has forgotten this stretch of track off the Nullarbor Plain. In fact, the term Nullarbor Highway suggests some form of transitory path, but the only transient nature Petey knows of is the rising of the sun each morning and the dimming of the sun each night.
Busily refilling his glass-doored drinks cooler in the small “Servo,” Petey restocked the shop with snack food, eggs, long-life milk, days-old bread, and other necessities that satisfy hunger pangs and attacks of the munchies. It is the nearest thing the locals have that resembles a microcosmic supermarket. The next nearest shop is a large superstore, but some ninety kilometres away.
Being close to several indigenous communities, Petey cannot legally stock alcohol, because of local council prohibitions to curb rampant alcoholism sweeping through the area. So, fizzy drinks, bottled water, and flavoured cordials are the only legit thirst quenchers he stocks. However, a small hidden supply of “Stubbies” is available for those desperate for a secret taste of beer out of a can.
Supplies arrive on a weekly basis, but fuel is delivered once every three months. Today’s resupply was just the necessities of basic food and drink, but the fuel tanker’s arrival to replenish the empty underground storage tank, was still a day off.
The canteen’s name hanging from the outside pergola – erected to one side of the building, was personally painted by Petey’s artistic hand. Although misleading as to the type of establishment within, Petey liked the catchy name; however, the swinging sign is a constant reminder to Petey of impoverished ambition preventing any actual progress being made toward accomplishing his dream of being a restauranteur. All things aside, he eventually accepted his limitations and has learned to live his life comfortable in the knowledge that he provides a much-needed service for those too weary for long road trips into town.
Placing the final litre bottle of cola onto the fridge shelf, the sudden appearance of a small compact car skidding to a dusty halt out in the courtyard, startled Petey.
“FUCK DUCK!” His surprised exclamation rang out in response to the plastic bottle dropping to the ground and bursting its side. Pumping sticky cola across the recently mopped tile floor, the spill distracted him from seeing who had caused his nerves to jump. Straining to look between the painted writings of store specials on the large shop window, Petey waited for the dust to settle, and could only make out a driver hunched forward – either in contemplative thought or asleep. Then - as if abruptly jolted to life - the driver’s head started to repeatedly bang against the car horn on the steering wheel, intensely annoying Petey.
“Fucking tourist, Prick!”
Petey’s dialectal selections and body language could easily be misinterpreted as unfriendly and unwelcoming; however, one of the advantages of being a lone operator on the vast expanse of the Nullarbor, is that it suited him just right, as Petey suffers from Tourette Syndrome – the affliction mostly associated with involuntary facial tics and jerky body movements.
Petey’s condition is the more vocal of Tourette tics. More specifically, the swearing variation of Tourette’s called Coprolalia. Being remote and out of earshot of his customers, Petey normally has no need to restrain his tics, nor be worried by undue stress. Two things that make most Tourette sufferers lose control of their tic suppressions. In fact, his customers are so used to his colourful language, because humorously enough, it’s a linguistic variation not too dissimilar to their own limited mastery of the English language. The difference being that when Cobber Petey starts up, the faint-hearted need to extradite themselves from his immediate company. Medicine helps but Petey doesn’t feel the need to spend his small income on expensive pills, opting instead for the practice of self-restraint, plus the abstinence from alcohol - a Tourette’s fuel.
“Sit there, sit there, you wanker! Yup, Whoop! Fuck, mate! You arse wank!”
From the driver’s perspective – looking over toward the lone figure in the shop convulsing like a popping dance expert and mouthing words unable to escape through the thick insulated walls, Petey displayed a strange and beguiling figure. It wasn’t difficult to lip read the repeated F-word and the unmistakeable C one. It was the dramatically delivered Wah-Wah movement of Petey’s mouth and an accompanying forward jerk of his head, that tweaked the driver’s curiosity. Trying to decipher the second syllable or word, led him to believe Petey was saying the word, “Car” – a probable announcement of his arrival maybe? Or, an astonishment relating to his sudden appearance. “What!? Car! What!? Car!” Was the driver’s distant interpretation.
Expecting some form of personal service, the driver intentionally beeped his car horn several times, soliciting a quick retort from inside the shop.
“Dickhead! Whoop! Stick that horn up your arse!” Came Petey’s Tourette reply.
Heading back to the cash register, he produced a bendy table microphone from behind a box of unpacked potato chips, then pressing a button on its base, he calmly spoke into it.
“This is a self-servo, mate. No subservient behaviour is practiced on this property.”
Watching through the window for a sign of acknowledgement, Petey failed to notice any discernible response emanating from the driver, fidgetily sat in his car. Gently releasing his finger from the talk button, Petey listened for any sound coming from the pump microphone; however, instead of any recognisable reply, several blip sounds broke the static interference followed by something sounding like a smacking together of lips. Dismissing it as electro-charged air particles messing with his communications, Petey ignored the potential customer and continued to re-stock some shelves, before cleaning up the cola spill.
After rinsing out the mop and bucket, Petey returned to his station and sat on a high bar stool, looking out to the forecourt for movement. About to switch off the forecourt light to indicate his impatience, Petey noticed the driver exiting his car, unscrewing his fuel cap, unhooking the pump nozzle, sticking it into the side of the vehicle, then squeezing the nozzle trigger.
“Did you not see the sign, mate?” Petey rhetorically asked through the intercom.
Undeterred, the driver looked over to Petey and defiantly shrugged his shoulders, while his flailing arms wildly reached for the night sky.
“Diesel only, mate.” Petey’s amplified voice trailed off into the darkness of the warm night. “Unleaded is out. Refill is arriving tomorrow.”
Throwing a daggered look at Petey, the driver hugged the fuel pump and imitated a sex act on it, while slapping its metal housing. Then, pulling the fuel nozzle from his car, he returned it to the pump – after angrily banging it a few times against the pump’s housing.
“Knock it off, you clown,” Petey’s concerned response broadcast from the intercom. “You break it, you pay for it.”
His stress level rising, Petey grappled to control a building outburst of displeasure at the driver’s actions. However, still incensed, the driver decided to confront Petey face-to-face, but stopped in mid stride at the sudden appearance of approximately fifteen young Emu chicks casually passing through the forecourt - pecking at anything worth eating. In the frustration of being blocked in, the driver kicked a gentle leg out at a few of the young birds to move them out of his path.
“Yeah. Nah, mate. You don’t wanna do that,” the intercom bellowed. “Dad’s not gonna be too happy with yous.”
Raising a defiant middle finger toward Petey, the driver dismissed the friendly warning. Then, catching movement in the corner of his left eye, he raced around his car and locked himself inside, just before a very large Emu menacingly charged at him.
“That’s Dad, mate.” Petey explained through the intercom. “You’ve pissed him off now, you Fuckwit. Best wait it out till they all move on.”
Shouting something unintelligible, the driver’s response was completely lost on Petey, but its overall message was loud and clear, so Petey decided to assist.
“There’s a microphone on the pump, mate. You’ll need to roll your window down to talk to me, but I wouldn’t recommend it, coz Dad’s got a long neck and hammer-like beak. He’ll be crackin’ the shits for a while. I reckon you’re safer where yous are. Hang tight a minute.”
Taking a long sip of water from a plastic bottle, Petey attempted to tune in any radio station he could find on the AM dial. Then smiling, he positioned the radio next to the microphone, pressed the talk button and flooded the courtyard with music from ACDC.
“Accadacca, mate. Highway to hell. Very appropriate tonight. The Emus hate loud sounds.”
No sooner had the song started wailing through the fuel pump intercom, the Emu dad decided to trot off into the evening bush with chicks in pursuit.
“We’re on a highway to hell, fuck, whoop!” Petey’s explosive vocal tic via the intercom assaulted the emptiness outside.
Checking for the all-clear, the driver quickly exited his car, then ran toward the shop door, creating the bell above it to ring loudly, as he barged headlong through it.
“Cocksucker!” The driver exclaimed - banging his elbow on the door frame. “Asshole! Jackoff!”
“Whoa there, mate! I’m supposed to be the only one licensed to swear in here, but…”
“Yeah, nah. Not heard that one before, mate. What’s that accent I hear?”
“New York! Apple Apple, bite me!” The driver blurted out while moving his right index finger in a piston-like motion through his left index finger and thumb shaped like the letter O.
“Suck me sav, ya Septic!” Petey responded.
“Cock!” The driver added.
“Arse!” Petey replied.
“Stop! I’m not cussing at you, man! I’ve got Tourette Syndrome. When I’m stressed, I…”
“You fucking wanker!”
“Goddammit! I’m trying to explain to you.”
Taking a couple of deep breaths, Petey managed to compose himself enough to explain his own plight.
“I do, too.”
“You got Tourette’s?”
“Fucking right, whoop!”
“Go figure. What are the odds on that?”
“Fucking ginormous, mate! Like tits on a bull.”
“Man, I thought I was in Jurassic Park, just now.”
“Whoop! Cunting Emu highway, mate. Don’t suppose you have any of those in New York, Doop!”
“Stick a dongle up my ass…! No, we… Sorry. I’m trying to control this…”
The driver’s words trailed off as he stuck a middle finger in the air with one hand, while simultaneously acting out a self-pleasuring charade with the other.
“Sorry sorry. I also have what’s called copropraxia. An uncontrollable need to perform obscene gestures.”
“No, I meant that fuck like an exclamation fuck and not a blurted-out Tourette’s fuck.”
“Yeah, I get that too. Even my friends can’t tell when I’m swearing just for the sake of it.”
“Bit far from home, aren’t you, mate?” Petey inquisitively pointed out.
“I got lost. Supposed to be heading West through the Nullarbor.”
“There’s only one road, mate, so you get the fuckwit navigator award for that. Need a map?”
Petey offered one of the neatly folded maps sitting in a small cardboard display on his counter.”
“Got one, but it’s so versatile, I’m saving it for toilet paper,” was the sarcastic reply.
“Nah, yeah. Know what you mean. It’s shit in the dark.”
“It is without a light. Where am I?”
“I don’t see no kitchen.”
“Microwave on the back wall, mate. Pasties are in the fridge next to it.”
“I’m not hungry. I just need gas.”
“Petrol, you wanker! Sorry, that was a trigger.”
Scrunching his face and raising both middle fingers, the driver returned his own triggered gesture, just as the bell above the door jingled again. Repressing any further outpourings of tics, Petey and the driver silently watched a young woman enter the shop.
“G’day Ruby,” greeted Petey.
“Fuggin nice to me, today, are ya, you foul-mouthed dickhead?” Ruby replied. “Got a customer you’re trying to impress, are ya? Who’s this eyeballin’ wanker, then? Gis us a box of choccy biccies and a slab of those illegal tinnies.”
Petey passed a box of chocolate biscuits to Ruby, then pointed at the hidden stash of beer in the corner.
“Put ‘em on me fuggin account, ya mongrel.”
Surprised by the driver opening the door for her, Ruby paused – looking him up and down.
“Tryin ta get rid of me, are you? What’s goin’ on between yous two pooftahs, then? A little hairy fairy action, is it?”
The two men averted any eye contact, as they bit their lips trying to suppress the urge to let their tics loose on Ruby.
“Fuck me dead. I ain’t got all night,” she impatiently censured them - before giving them both a middle finger, while backing out of the shop and disappearing into the night.
“Bitch face, slapper,” the driver blurted out after shutting the door - while thrusting his hips in a forward obscene manner.
“Stiffie bait!” Petey’s uninhibited response embarrassingly shouted out.
“She got Tourette’s too?” The driver inquisitively asked.
“Yeah, nah mate. She’s a local. They all talk like that.”
“You picked the perfect spot for work, then. Look, is it okay if I sleep out there in my car tonight?”
“Whoop! Nah, yeah, mate. No dramas. Just roll up your windows unless you want the mozzies to feed on you all night. You sure you don’t want a pastie?”
“Petrol truck’s here in the morn, so you’ll be right, then.”
“Good on ya.”
“Crikey, five minutes at Cobber’s Canteen and you’re talking like a local.”
“Yeah… Nah!” The driver imitated the oxymoron response.
As the driver returned to his car, Petey chuckled to himself watching the New Yorker acting out an involuntary humping motion on the edge of his car door. Then, with a final wave, he got into his car and closed himself off to the rest of the night.”
“Poor bugger,” Petey sympathetically commented out loud while switching off the forecourt light. “I thought I had it bad, but he’s got it all over. Fuck! Yep! Whoop! Ya Gronk!”