Dance of the Blessed Spirits
Straight and slick as a liquorice strap, the road ahead shimmers in
the haze of the midday heat. Light dances wildly on iridescent blue
paintwork, pirouettes on chrome. A salty wind straight off the ocean
tugs at my hair through the open window of the truck. The hum and
crackle of the police scanner ripples over the steady roar of the engine.
Over the top of it all, Barnsey belts out unshaven, raw-throated rock.
The rattle and squeak of the tow winch keeps the beat, as does Kingi.
At the wheel, half-turned towards me, one arm stretched along the
back of the seat, his body pulses to the rhythm with a commitment
beyond that of a mere listener: he’s wired, every beat a kick of current.
We air guitar the lead breaks and scream the choruses, oblivious to the
outside world as we speed past scraggy paddocks, broken-down fences
and weary cattle, worn out by the long hot summer.
Kingi looked straight ahead at the road, his eyes obscured from
my line of vision by a pair of cheap plastic wraparounds. I sat beside
him, calf-deep in the snarl of clothes and belongings he called his
wardrobe. I was twelve years old and thought nothing of it; it was just
like my own bedroom but in a more confined space.
Kingi had come across ‘the ditch’ in ’78, when he was just eighteen,
to join his cousin’s legendary shearing gang that worked the properties
of rural New South Wales. ‘When the Aussies need experts, they call in
the Kiwis, ay.’ He had a great affinity for wool – less so for sheep – and
the cab of the truck was practically lined in sheepskin. ‘Bloody magic,’
he always maintained. ‘Warm in winter, cool in summer. Question
is, How does it know?’
Despite the jammy odour and the mess, I loved being in Kingi’s
truck. It was full of interesting stuff: shells and carved bits of wood
floating around the dashboard; a plastic toothbrush holder, complete
with cup and toothpaste, stuck on with a lump of tape. He was fussy
about his teeth; they were his best feature, he reckoned. There were
birds’ feathers he’d picked up and hooks made of bone hanging from
the rear-vision mirror; works in progress. It was the witchdoctor’s
pantry. Everything he owned was in that cab but the truck itself
belonged to my dad, Al Munro.
My dad was a towie and quite an ambitious one, I came to realise
later in life. This was his second tow truck. There was also a third,
driven by a man called Sid. Bilkara Towing was a business with a
future, he used to tell me and Mum. He envisaged half a dozen trucks,
maybe more if people kept having so many kids and Bilkara kept grow-
ing. The town was making an effort to attract holiday-makers; just
that year the camping ground beside the beach had doubled in size
and there was talk of creating a summer surf carnival. More cars equal
more accidents. Simple mathematics. Towing was Dad’s vocation; his
calling. ‘You can’t find a better job than rescuing people,’ he was fond
of saying. ‘We’re the most efficient rescue service in the world – all
you gotta do is hit something. Our eyes are everywhere.