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.

13 thoughts on “On the blue highway, you travel alone

  1. It reminds me of travelling in Southern Africa with very little public transport about twenty years ago. A white hitchhiker would be picked up by other whites after waiting only a few minutes, while black people could wait all day. While I’m nervous about picking up hitchhikers in general I get saddened by the lack of compassion for fellow human beings.

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  2. I’d like to think I would have done as you did. But there are so many warning out about how evil-doers can hook prey on our desire to be kind that it has affected my judgement. For me, race has nothing to do with it. The fact that they were older would be in their favour. I used to pick p hitch-hikers when I was young (and probably foolish). Things have changed and I don’t do that any more. We are becoming a paranoid society. I wonder if things really are more dangerous than they used to be.
    They” say yes, but is it really true?

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    • Hi Yvonne. Thanks for being honest, and sharing your fears. Its hard not to let media, and other ‘theys’ that feed us horror stories, over-ride our instinctual decision-making processes. I still pick up hitch-hikers – if my instincts tell me its okay. Perhaps the biggest danger in this modern world is not the bogey monster lurking in dark corners, but a growing lack of empathy towards others.

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  3. sigh This was deep and captivating. I kept scrolling down wondering how it will end. I live in a country where the “R” is my silent neighbor and by God I hope I never find myself in a situation where I need help, so I totally understand this post. Thanks for sharing Karen

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    • Those silent ‘R’s are often more damaging than the in-your-face ones. Its shameful that we still live in a world where offering aid to strangers is subject to prejudice. Thanks for your comment, Joy.

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  4. This is a powerful post. It is one thing to drive by on the side of a busy road, putting your own safety first on the assumption that other help will soon be available, but out in the middle of nowhere ignoring a plea for help could cost lives and, as you point out, if we were in that situation we would want someone to stop for us. You made me consider what I would have done and I think in this case, especially given it was an older couple, I would have stopped too, even if I didn’t actually get out of my car, at least to find out the problem and let them know I would alert someone further down the road of their predicament.

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  5. This is one of those posts where I am moved in two different directions. First being in awe that you stopped – I fear stopping for strangers because I’m overwhelmed with the fear culture I live in (US – every headline is all about death it seems); strangers by the side of road, no matter their age or color are lying in wait to harm me, or so my tired brain initially screams.
    Then there’s this deep, deep sadness that I, as a “Black” woman, will never be free of suspicion and immediate distrust no matter where I travel; that this type of prejudice (?) / suspicion / racism – whatever – will distort my experiences and potential cut me off from help should I find myself stuck by the side of a road. Sigh.
    I am enjoying your trek stories. I am looking forward to you sharing more of these insightful moments. Be safe!
    PS – I’ve shared the link to your blog on my FB page :-). Here’s hoping for more readers, eh? 🙂

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    • Dana, thanks for the comment, and for sharing my post. I think many people share similar fears, and let these (often irrational) thoughts drive them. Which is why I find it hard to be too judgemental. In Australia, there isn’t the statistics/facts to back up such fears. You are more likely to die of exposure to the elements (after getting lost or breaking down) than violence in the Australian outback/remote regions. I don’t see myself as brave, its just instincts.
      I hope you never find yourself in a situation where others don’t offer aid, due to xenophobia/racism/prejudice/bias/etc. No one should be left on the side of the road. Its about time we all learnt how to travel together.
      I’m glad you’ve been enjoying my travel stories. I wasn’t able to post as much as I wanted to, due to lack of access to electricity and internet on the road. I’m home now, so will share some more over the next few weeks.

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