Bedtime at the Paddlesteamer Motel. The name makes it sound quaint, which is wasn’t. However, the décor was updated and it was very clean.
Heidi sat hunched over the guide book on the edge of the king-sized bed she would share with Danielle. I had already crawled into my rollaway twin. We were all testy after the long day on the road.
“We’ll need to leave here no later than 7am,” said Heidi firmly, not looking at Danielle.
“Yes, Miss bossy boots,” Danielle responded to no one.
Siblings. Heidi and Danielle got along remarkably well, considering the strains they were under.
I put in my earplugs, rolled over, and went to sleep.
We were up and out by 7am, Heidi stood at the open boot of the car and Danielle and I threw our bags over the balcony while the resident cat tried to trip us by threading our legs as we dashed in and out.
Our objective this morning was the Healesville Wildlife Sanctuary just outside of Melbourne.
“The platypus show is at 11:15,” Heidi had read, “and it shouldn’t be missed.”
“We should be able to just make it, if we run from the entrance gate,” she went on. “It’ll be close; I reckon it’s a three and a half hour drive with no stops.”
From my bolthole in the back seat, I panicked and leaned forward to get my head through the seats for maximum impact and whined, “But we will stop for coffee, right?”
“Eeyehsss,” Heidi confirmed, in that drawn-out way Australians say “yes.”
We stopped at a truck stop somewhere—Wodonga? Wangaratta? Benalla? There were also English names along the route: Glenrowan, Swan Pool, Winton, Merton.
It was a truck stop like in rural America, with a couple fast food restaurants, a convenience store and petrol station, and showers and maybe nap cubicles. We had passed innumerable road signs that warned, “Trouble Concentrating? Power Nap Now” And “Stop, Revive, Survive.” A couple of groggy, grungy truckers in baggy jeans, heavy boots, and filthy t-shirts stared blearily at the menus.
One moved ahead to place his order and I could tell he was speaking Aussie English but I couldn’t understand a word.
“What’s with the chicken schnitzel on every menu?” I asked Heidi as we gazed up at the board.
“I don’t know … isn’t that normal? Don’t they serve chicken schnitzel at MacDonald’s?”
“No.” I replied. The undecipherable guy had left with his order and I asked Heidi, “Could you understand him?”
“Yes, but barely. He had a real proper country accent.”
“Ah, it’s similar in Minnesota. The farther from the cities people grow up, the more pronounced their Mee’-nah-soda accent is.”
We were up. “What’ll ya have, doll?” asked the cashier.
I ordered a coffee and toast with butter.
The guy who was stocking the cooler nearby mimicked my pronunciation: buh’-der. Aussies would say buh-ter’, I think.
Back on the road, and we listened to more Australian music. “This one’s about the Vietnam War,” explained Heidi.
“I was Only 19,” by Redgum, could win the “Most Depressing Song” contest. The refrain is:
And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
And night time’s just a jungle dark and a barking M.16?
And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me
I was only nineteen
It’s important, though, to listen and learn and it might sound Pollyanna-ish, but I’ve got four nephews and two nieces to think about, since women can now serve in combat.
Don’t think it could never happen again.
We made one more pit stop, at a road house that was frozen in the 50s and run by a wizened Indian guy who was muttering to himself in front of a wood burning stove. I bought a box of Shapes which I imagined would be his only sale of the day and hoped they wouldn’t be stale.
We wound along the Maroondah Highway, passing Yarck and Alexandra, then entered the Dandenong mountain range. Heidi was asleep in the backseat.
“We have to wake her,” Danielle urged. But we couldn’t, and we couldn’t do justice to describing the scenery later.