During March of 1988 a naval attaché in the Australian Embassy in Washington, D.C., phoned, “Will you go to Canberra to teach modern shipbuilding methods to our Naval Engineering Department and to the two consortiums that are prospective bidders for the five-billion dollar ANZAC Frigate Program?”
I responded with the speed of light, “Of course!”
Australians I knew from my wartime visit to Melbourne forty-six years before, are a rare breed. They appreciate Americans.
“I’ll send some descriptive literature,” said the caller.
One brochure was memorable because of the way they described themselves, “Australians are the most urban people on earth, but don’t tell them that.”
Despite such candidness nothing in the literature prepared Rhoda and me for the driver of a bus that carried us from Cairns to jungle-bound Kuranda during a free weekend.
When we boarded we discovered only one other passenger. He was sitting just behind the talkative driver who was big, a bit flabby, and dressed in a digger’s hat, a short-sleeve shirt, and short trousers. We also occupied the front row because it promised to be an interesting one-hour drive. With a straight face the driver quickly resumed the conversation that stopping for us interrupted, “As I was saying, years ago the abos in Queensland were cannibals. They preferred the Chinese to us Australians. The Chinese, you see, were raised on rice so that their flesh was very tender. We Australians were too tough for them.”
Of course I didn’t tell him what I was thinking. He seemed to have had more than his share of beer and if massaged for the purpose of marbleizing the fat from his flab, he would be the equivalent of tender Kobe beef.
When he finished his discourse about on the unsuitability of Australians as range cattle, he had a great time calling our attention to what sounded like bitherodia. We three yokels caught on after the second such effort, but that didn’t deter him. A bitherodia was any plant located alongside the road. Perhaps he had been in the jungle too long. We soon learned quite a bit more of the stuff our driver was made from.
On a two-lane road curving to the left, he was proceeding downhill and accelerating because the bus had to ascend another hill. Suddenly ahead of us appeared a caravan. That is what the Aussies call a hitched trailer used for vacation purposes. There would have been no problem had it been going, but its towing vehicle had just entered a restaurant parking area on the left, stopped, and its driver seemed to be oblivious to the fact that the caravan was still on the road. Our bus driver could not stop in time. He had to turn into the lane alongside that was for on-coming traffic.
Just then a fast-moving semi appeared ahead, also going downhill and aimed directly at us. A head-on collision was imminent. At the absolutely last second, the driver who was towing the caravan woke up and jerked it completely into the parking area. Our bus veered back into the left lane just in time. The two behemoths barely missed each other.
Our bus driver hadn’t lost his composure. Even as he made that second quick decision, without taking his eyes off the road, he said, “A flaming woman driver!”
The three of us caught a good look at the offender as we flashed by and said in unison, “It’s a man!”
Our savior disgustingly responded, “Well, his mother taught him how to drive!”
Copyright © 2006 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo