The end of the road.

By Wendy Wicks

 Barrelling along the unmade desert highway at 100 km/h, the station wagon is pursued by a plume of red dust. Red plain, dusty red saltbush, the occasional fading, abandoned cattle yard. Little else.

The driver, weary from fighting to keep the car on the road, is focused on reaching Lake Cargelligo where they planned to camp. In the morning they would begin their job of documenting the derelict homestead.

Her passenger has finished his pipe of Three Nuns tobacco and is now fast asleep, seat belt unfastened. Envious, she glances at him.

Momentarily, the wheels slip into the soft as silk dust at the road’s edge. The car veers sharply to the left, tipping terrifyingly towards the ditch, executes first one, then two rolls.

Silence. Just the crickle and creak of broken metal; shattered glass as it falls in slow motion over the slumped driver. Blood dripping. The passenger side, caved in. The door peeled open.

* * *

My mother phones. Weeping, her tear stained voice full of pain.

‘David’s dead,’ she manages between sobs, ‘David’s dead’.


‘David’s dead… a car crash out west. Yesterday. I’m going up to Sydney. Don’t know… the funeral… let you know’.

I’m left staring at the silent phone.

* * *

In my Canberra kitchen I remember—so many things. Camping with him in the high plain country. A wheelbarrow he chose as a wedding present for some bemused friends. Working on old ferry doors for a warehouse conversion. His craving for Scotch finger shortbreads with his tea. The late arrival of quirky presents (bone handled fish knives?). His blue and white Cornishware china. Helping himself to a raw, brown onion sandwich. His love of all things curried. But it’s his wheezy laugh that I remember most.

Sifting through family photos, I find one that shows a blond, good-looking boy sitting on the back stairs of the house in West Ryde, his arm draped over wire-haired Terry; another of him as a young man, pipe in one hand, the other hooking a jacket swung over his left shoulder.

Family lore has it that David aspired to architecture, despite being hampered by chronic asthma. Believing that his health would suffer, my grandparents said no. He started a draughting course. It didn’t end well. Finally, worn down by his persistent pleading, and against their better judgement, my grandparents gave in.

Despite their misgivings he thrived. He partied, smoked weed, became politically active. Travelling to India and Burma, he returned a committed Buddhist and a confirmed tea addict. Academically his career ran a poor second in life. In the late sixties, having parked Bacchus his chocolate Labrador with his long-suffering parents, he went to London.

I remember being full of excitement as we touched down at Heathrow. To our eyes it was big, bustling and daunting. Assaulted by the cacophony of Arrivals our ears still managed to filter an announcement from the racket. We were being paged. By David. He was running late.

For several hours we were treated to a historical and an architectural tour of London from Roman times to the present. Included: a pint in an ancient pub, a curry in Brick Lane and the purchase of an A-Z of London. With a muttered, ‘Here’s your wedding present’, we were sent, feeling very small and inconsequential via the ‘southbound northern line’, to our accommodation. On reflection, I realised that an apology for lateness was not on the cards.

* * *

In my Canberra kitchen… I recall the periodic eruptions of my mother’s deep-seated, smouldering resentment of her sister. As a child I was always curious about adult conversations but David’s bisexuality was only hinted at in fierce, half heard, whispers. His sexuality and seduction in his teens by his older brother-in-law resulted in a highly complex interplay of laying blame—of which, as a child, I was blissfully unaware.

But once an adult… I remember a phone call from a police station. Could we post bail for David? Seems he was caught engaged in what was then described as ‘an unnatural act in a public place’. Not something, I thought, to be discussed at Christmas dinner.

* * *

There was a memorial picnic in the grounds of Don Bank, the 1830’s timber slab cottage which David and the community saved from bulldozing developers.

Gathered on the grassy slopes and under the red flowering camellias was a widely disparate group of people. His work colleagues, labour party brothers-in-arms, heritage and environmental crusaders, Indians, Buddhists, non-believers, family.

I could only look and wonder.

A simple shrine: the smoke of incense, a packet of shortbread, a pipe and a tin of tobacco—Three Nuns of course.