‘Yunta Shift’ – Australian OutbackMay 22, 2011
I thought just about everybody has seen wierd inexplicable lights when driving in the outback. Countless times I’ve had those ones that are far away and keep pace with you, that as you go past a hill the reappear on the other side of you and keep doing it, and the freakiest story I have ever heard was told to me by an American traveller while his wife lay in the caravan sobbing.
It was so freaky I wish I had never heard it.
I wish I had never met them, I really do.
I was out behind Peterborough S.A in old gold mining fields doing some drilling for samples in the early ’80’s when we broke a bit of equipment on the shaft and had to come back into town to do repairs.
We drove back out to the highway from Broken Hill to Peterborough and stopped at a roadhouse for fuel. I went in for a drink. There was a creepy silence in the place, and a woman was quietly crying at a table being consoled by two men. She was crying in that deep traumatised way that makes you not want to look, makes you speak quietly when you order, and leave quickly.
Back in Peterborough we spent the rest of the day welding and chasing parts and phoning in progress reports and being yelled at.
At dusk we hit the pub for a couple of pipe cleaners of the frothy liquid kind and drove back to the caravan park looking forward to a shower and BBQ steaks.
When we pulled in to the park I noticed a vehicle parked next to our rental van was at the roadhouse and wondered, and sure enough when I got out of the truck I heard the same terrible sobbing coming from the van next door.
I had my shower and when I came back from the shower blocks I saw a guy in his fifties sitting near the BBQ area with his head in his hands, a cigarette smoking, poking through his fringe with his face covered.
I grabbed my food and a couple of strongbow ciders and went out to BBQ dinner.
I must admit I selfishly was relieved to hear the lady had stopped crying, I thought we were in for a long night.
And, I was curious.
The guy looked up at my arrival and we greeted each other.
I started preparations and snuck looks at him. He was gone, he was lost in his head, he was not sobbing but it was etched all over his face, he was far far from ok.
I cooked for a minute or two and opened a cider on the edge of the barby….he jerked at the violent action so I said sorry, then offered him one.
He looked at it for a little too long, but then said “Sure” in an unmistakable accent.
He took it from my hand and said “Thaiinks”
He said his wife was exhausted and had finally fallen asleep and if I minded if he stay around while I did the dinner thing, I said sure.
I told him I had been at the roadhouse for fuel and had seen how distraught his wife was, and he went all white with the memory.
I asked if they had had an accident, he said “Sir, I don’t know what we had”.
He falls silent, thinking .
I finish the eggs and pile them on the steaks and say “I’ll be back in a minute” and I take the tray inside and put it on the table, I turn mine into a couple of steakburgers and head back out to the guy.
He is still lost in thought and I open a new brew and eat my dinner.
After a while he turns and looks at me and says “Sorry” …for the silence.
Then he starts to tell me.
“She broke down this morning as soon as she opened the tent…..we both did, truth be told. We both did.We don’t know what happened, we aren’t injured, we just can’t explain it…we just got in the jeep and drove, we talked it out but we don’t know what happened….when we saw Yunta Roadhouse we started saying “What happens if it is different, what happens if they aren’t the same people, or if they are but don’t remember us” but we stopped in front got out and we held hands and went in.
It was the same, exactly the same, sparkling clean, cafe menu blackboard, cakes piled in cake display cases all along the counter, and as we stood there we could see the same bunch of young guys with aprons rushing around behind the counter.”
I thought to myself “Yup, that’s Yunta Roadhouse but the same as what? Personally, it was a new one on me, these 6 gay fellows had bought the place and it was an oasis, real coffee, best damn cakes I’d had in my life, gourmet rolls and sandwiches and pastries, we stopped every time we passed it which was every day because it was the turnoff to the fields we were working.
He continued ” The same guy who served us the day before saw us and said ‘ I told you that walnut cake was good but you had the last two pieces yesterday but we haven’t had time to make more’ and he laughed and Joannie passed out cold, she just flopped like a wet towel.
The guys ran out and we helped her up and to a chair and he sat with us while I tried to explain.”
He took a swig and said “I don’t drink” and smiled .
He explained that he was a college professor from the Mid West of USA and his wife was Australian, a librarian, and that he had 6 weeks off and they were on there way to Alice Springs to visit her parents and to see Uluru.
They were driving a loaner from Joannie’s sister and husband from Dubbo, complete with camping gear
The day before yesterday they had driven in toward Broken Hill and he first noticed the light, a blue light far away on the horizon. He said it was odd because it never went away, it was there for ages.
They got to Broken Hill and bought bread rolls from a deli and drove out of town towards Peterborough, intending to camp. They turned off on a dirt road and drove for a bit, and he noticed the light was back again.They turned off on a flat plain and parked at a good spot, set up the tent and he dragged some rocks into a circle and made a fire. They toasted bread and heated open cans of baked beans and spaghetti in the fire, and went straight to bed.
In the morning they heated a bucket of water and washed up, made a thermos of coffee and packed up and left.
30 Minutes after they had hit the main road to Peterborough Joannie remembered the empty cans. She had seen them as soon as she had opened the tent in the morning and reminded herself to put them in a rubbish back to dispose of in town.She asked Martin (this guy’s name) to go back but he refused, they were both environmentalists , and they had an argument about whether it was worse to leave the cans there or burn fuel driving all the way back, and she sulked for a while.When they saw Yunta they decided to pull in for breakfast mostly, and they ordered the cake and coffee, ended up having two cups each and they both thought the cake was some of the best they’d ever had. The same guy told them to buy some bacon cheese quiche for the road so she did, 4 pieces.
They drove on to Peterborough, got some fuel and drove through on their way to Port Augusta and the turnoff to Alice Springs. The pies they bought in Peterborough were dry and smelly, so they got kept for a campsite burial with funeral rites.
They drove after dark again, and the light appeared on the right horizon, this time he talked about it with Joannie. She wasn’t worried, but he said it bothered him because it just stayed out there at the same distance for too long, it should have diminished as he drove further.
They turned off the highway and camped in a gravel pit just 50 metres from the highway. Got out the tent and set it up, made a fire in a hole he dug with a shovel and sat around it talking for quite a while.The ate the quiche they had bought and drank coffee and remarked on how the hillocks cut the noise of passing trucks to almost zero.
They went to bed.
Just as they were falling asleep there was this blazing flash of blue light , just flashed over them and a buzz like a blowfly, all passed their senses in a part of a second. They jumped up and got out of the tent but the sky was dark. Martin grabbed a torch and ran up the side of a hill to the top and looked around, no light, nothing. He checked down the hill to see if there was any vehicles or lights but there was nothing to see.
He came back and they talked about it for a while, talked about lightning or aircraft, talked about moving camp. After an uneventful hour they went back to bed.
At this point he stopped talking as a police car pulled into the Caravan Park and stopped at the managers office. A copper got out and as he walked toward the office he looked over and saw us, waved to Martin and walked back to the car and drove up to us.
He got out and greeted Martin and got a couple of rolls and bags and a tent in a pouch out of the boot and put them on the ground. He came over and squatted down in front of Martin, and with a glance at me he started to talk to Martin.
“Mr Faulkener, as you can see we have found your campsite and have bought you back your belongings. We need to tell you that there are three sets of wheel tracks going in and out to the place you camped.All those tyre marks belong to your vehicle. There are no tracks anywhere around the site, and nothing unusual either. Both sets of bootmarks from you and your wife are visible and there is no sign of anything out of the ordinary at all.
The Doctor that you saw this afternoon has requested that neither of you drive till he checks you both tomorrow to see how you are doing, so we need you to stay around, do you understand, the doctor says you are both suffering from shock, ok?”
He got up and grabbed some bags and walked down to their vehicle and packed it in.
The copper looked at me hard and asked how long I’d known these people. I explained but didn’t let on I knew only part of what happened, I kinda acted like I knew what happened .
I said “What do you make of all this?”
He watched Martin crawl in the back of the vehicle.
“We don’t know what to make of it, none of us can figure out how to write up the report. What do we say? Their stories match perfectly, he says there were 5 flashes over them during the night and she says seven, even that makes sense because they were sleeping, probably slept through some or imagined others when you were dozing.
No crime has been commited that we can figure. If they are playing silly buggers then we can’t figure out how they have done it, not even with trucks and cranes, and nobody can act that good.
No, this is genuine but genuine what?”
I was none the wiser, but more curious than ever.
I was bloody conscious that I had to go out to work in that very same remote scrub tomorrow too.
Martin came back and the copper said “We called your wife’s parents and they know there will be a delay but better you call them tomorrow to explain. Also, Mr Faulkener, Port Augusta police know of the gravel pit and have been there to examine it. Everything is just as you say exactly, they found the fire and even your boot tracks up the incline to the top and back down again. They also confirm there is only one set of tyre tracks in the dust going in, none leaving.
We do’t know what happened, but we are working on it. You rest and take it easy, we will be in touch tomorrow.”
As the cop car turned around the red from the taillight was still on Martin’s face and I was already asking him “So what happened after the flash and the buzz? What happened?”
He picked up the bottle from the Barby and sat down heavily.
“We don’t know” he moaned.
“We woke up this morning and Joannie opened the tent and got out and just started screaming. I stuck my head out in a panic and saw the circle of stones and the charred cans of beans and spaghetti. I started screaming too.”
They woke up in the campsite from the day before, but it wasn’t the day before.
I’d love to sell movie rights lol, Big Russ isn’t doing much these days eh?
They made it to Alice, they travelled and lived by new rules.
Travel in daylight only, spend nights in populated places.
They never camped again.
Adelaide Police HQ said it would cause unnecessary panic, so all became silent but man you would hear aplenty if you stopped in at Yunta roadhouse.
It is a truly freaky story.
Our boss was under physical threats to finish up drilling early enough so we got back to Peterborough before dusk every day.
Thankfully that job was over quite soon, but it took a decade for me to be over the jitters at night in the arid areas of bush.