"Some people are peoples people and some are solitary. Neil was the latter, but I could tell he enjoyed the chat when we met."
Have you ever met someone that left such an impression you felt compelled to share their story? A few years ago I met someone – a complete stranger. He was someone who enjoyed being alone in the bush. Some people are peoples people and some are solitary. Neil was the latter, but I could tell he enjoyed the chat when we met. It’s a shame I had to leave though, plans as long as my arm were lined up, which was quite the contrary to Neil. He was free today, the next day and well into next week.
By chance I met Neil at a rest area on the side of a highway after checking out some tracks I had recently heard about. Pulling in to air up after the afternoons exploration, I quickly noticed an old ute with a homemade canopy and an enclosed 6x4 box trailer in tow, the rear of which was plastered with a funny mural depicting its lack of speed ability. It looked a little worse for wear.
A friendly G’day was said while I hooked up the compressor before I yelled out I’d be over for a chat when I was done as I noticed his checking out my car.
I eventually plonked down on the concrete bench across from Neil under a towering Gum tree with an extended hand and a simple 'Hi, i'm Jed, how are you mate'. That simple bit of dialogue spurred into all kinds of conversation topics for the next couple of hours. I knew from the get go I was going to be able to sit on that bench all afternoon and listen to Neil’s stories (and I could of well into the night too!)
Neil was a skinny, sun tanned character, totally relaxed with a novel, a home brewed beer and pouch of tobacco on the rest area bench. A weathered Akubra tipped from his head...one sure sign the bloke I was speaking to had certainly forgot about more places than I had seen myself! One of the first things Neil told me is he had been on the road for 17 years. Originally he achieved 3 laps of Australia on a pushbike and he reckons this was the best fun he has ever had. A little older he had to trade the bike for a vehicle and bought his early model Triton when it wasn’t running for a couple hundred dollars and fixed it up himself. After 12 years on the road aiming to travel at least a lap a year, the Triton sure had seen some country, more than many of us could dream about! Neil told me it was a tough, reliable rig with good mechanicals despite what first impressions it might give to the average joe.
We talked about all sorts of things that afternoon, like his home on wheels. Neil reckoned he had the set up “perfected”.
The kitchen and dining room was found on the left of the canopy, he had the brewery in the back corner, living room and bedroom on the right with his shed out the back in the trailer, not to mention the corporate board room up the front. Yep he had it sorted. His mobile Hilton suite. He invited me to look over the car. Everything was basic but functional, nothing new but nothing broken, just how he liked it. A small mattress and pillow took care of his sleeping quarters wherever he was for the night and the brewery shed (72 long necks a week at full production rumour has it) had its own space aboard his vehicle. I did noticed the canopy was made from recycled timbers and Neil mentioned they were gathered over the years and swapped out including part of the doors to an old church. “ Gotta use what you can find” he said. A simple blanket with bulldog clips secured an awning and a couple of rusty old adjustable tent poles kept the canopy ajar. It was a modest set up that worked for him and that was all that mattered.
Neil also shared some of his adventures with me, like the time he was in North Queensland, and a big croc had it in for him while at one of his secret spots up the Western side of the Cape. He decided it wasn’t worth pushing his luck after 4 days of trying to gather water for his dwindling supplies from the river. I'm betting that was a good choice.
One comment Neil made really resonated with me however. “I’m amazed at what I’ve gone to see in this country that isn’t incorporated into a national park, because nobody knows about it yet, but the indigenous.” “Billabongs full of fish and clean water, places not even on maps." I was sitting in awe. Jealousy would probably best describe it.
Neil didn’t care so much for the Coast either. He did prefer red dirt and spinifex over the beach. To many people he reckoned. He was an East of Kalgoorlie or West of the ranges kind of bloke. Neil also has a fair diesel capacity in the old Triton too - about 2000km worth at full fill. He once made it from Kalgoorlie to Mildura (by the skin of his teeth). This sort of range helped him bypass the more expensive places to fill and preserve his limited funds.
I built the courage to ask why he was out on the road. It’s a fine line one must be careful not to cross, but Neil understood I meant well and told me a bit of his situation.
A serious injury that left him unable to work ultimately meant he became homeless.After fighting to receive his pension he decided he could either continue to live on the street as he had been or get out and live in the bush and as you can now tell - the rest is history. I noticed a faded recipe calendar in Neil’s kitchen which had a new recipe each month of the year. “Those lamp chops look alright hey Neil” I joked. Sure enough it came straight off the divider wall and he handed it to me, a gift of sorts. "I’ve had all of those in there and that first ones a bloody ripper". To be perfectly honest. I did feel bad. Someone who obviously didn’t have a great deal wanted to give me something of his.
I just remembered I had something to trade, so I told him “I’ve got something in the car for you mate.” “What do you mean I’ve got bloody everything “Neil yelled out as I walked over to my truck – I could tell that was typical of this bloke, happy and content!
I noticed he was a little short on lighting in the back of the Triton so I got the rest of a roll of LED strip I had in my console and gave it to him with a few tips on wiring it up and showed him it in action of vehicle. "That’s alright isn’t it" he said - I think he was quietly impressed.
I dived into the rear drawers to see what else I could give. I found a rocker switch for the lights and a rigid light strip he could screw inside the canopy as well. I think he most liked the new LED headlamp I gave him. I also gave him a pair of gloves and a clip. “These are some new gloves so you can sort that croc out when you head back up the cape Neil” I joked.
Gifts exchanged I really had to get going. I was late. But Neil wasn’t, content with where he was right now, no commitments.
I said my goodbye and set off back down the highway, a few toots on the horn to Neil who was standing up on the concrete bench with his homemade beer in hand giving me a wave.
It was an absolute pleasure to meet him and hear a few of the stories from his travels all over Australia. It also reminded me I’m too busy and I need to spend more time out in the bush! We all do I think. Sometimes simple is the most fulfilling way to live I reckon. One other important point I took away from that day is, you don’t need all the flash new gear or a shiny truck to see this country. In fact maybe now it’s a little to expected within the 4wd community that you must have all the mod cons before heading bush, when in reality, the basics and a bit of knowledge & experience will do.
Maybe one day you too will run into Neil, you won’t miss him if you see him, but don’t count on it. He will probably be somewhere none of us know about off the map if he has it his way. I do hope one day I come across him again though, and maybe share a campfire and a home brew!
Ill never forget the bloke that’s for sure.