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Ronan's report

Tuesday September 7th, 2010

It was early December at the end of a long guiding season on Cape York and we were catching a boat from Weipa on the west coast of the Cape back to Cairns around the tip. But I had my vehicle and also my boat and trailer in Weipa so at some stage I was going to have to drive it out. There were a few days before we were due to leave via sea so seizing this window I booked a return flight from Cairns, greased up the trailer wheel bearings, secured the boat to the trailer, put the dust cover on and serviced all I could service on the vehicle - then at 4:30 am I hit the road for the 14 hour drive.

I was humming along on the graded section about half way between Weipa and the Archer river, thinking about going home with the sun just up and flickering through the spindly trees when there was a crash behind me and the vehicle shuddered. I looked to the left and a wheel was overtaking me, a glimpse in the rear view mirror confirmed my fears, I'd shot a bearing on the boat trailer. I watched the wheel pass me at 100 kph as I braked and pulled off the road. It hit a low termite mound on the other side of the road and was launched spectacularly clipping the top leaves of a 20 meter high gum tree and landing in the long grass off the road bounded off like a kangaroo as it disappeared into the scrub.

"Far out" was the least of the things I said.

I had all the parts with me; new bearings, grease, and tools, but I'd never changed a wheel bearing before. Brendon Rolt had shown me how to do it and was meticulous about how you tapped on the new bearing, what you used, how easy it was to damage etc, so I knew I was in for a challenge. The big problem for now was that the hub was still attached to the wheel and the wheel was off to buggery in the scrub somewhere -there was a spare tyre but no spare hub. Early December on Cape York is hot and by now the sun was up and the temperature was climbing - there's also very little traffic. An hour later I found the wheel and the hub in the bottom of a dry gully, you won't believe how far that thing travelled, and by now it was even hotter.

Using a hammer and cold chisel I dug out the hard gravel road sufficiently to get the jack beneath the axel, chocked it, repositioned the jack and secured it. The thread on the end of the axel was pretty much rooted from dragging along the road so I spent another hour cutting it clean with the edge of a file. All the while the sun climbed, by now it was 9 o'clock and there would be no shade until 4 o'clock that afternoon. Did I mention how hot it was! A truck full of locals didn't even slow and showered me with dust. I'd cleaned up the axel shaft to the point where the nut could be removed and to where I figured I could slide on the new bearings. The old ones had completely disintegrated and all that remained on the axel was the rubber seal, so I had nothing to go by, not a clue remained.

I was sitting on the tyre next to the trailer axel studying all the bits laid out on a rag in front of me - bearings, nut, split pin, and grease gun with all the necessary tools. I was trying to work out how they went together when I heard a vehicle approaching from the Archer River direction. It was a very old Landcruiser ute, the occupant was pumping the squealing brakes as he slowly came to a halt beside me. I stood up and approached the vehicle - there were three dogs, a swag, star pickets, a chainsaw and coils of fencing wire on the tray. In the cabin was an old guy with a weathered leathery sunken face shaded under a big black open crowned Akubra hat. His gnarled hands gripped the steering wheel and I could see calluses and blackened, broken fingernails. A cross bred cattle dog in the passenger seat leered at me and there was a rifle between the seats.

I thought to myself "Here's a man who's changed a bearing or two".

"Bloody hot isn't it?" I said.

"Yeah, not too bad - dropped a bearing mate?" he inquired in a slow, North Queensland drawl.


He looked around at the burning day and the now shimmering red heat of the Cape bush in December and ran his hand over a stubbly chin.

"Have you got all the bits?" he asked

"Yep. Sure have".

"Got grease?" he asked looking around a bit more, but avoided making eye contact.

"And do you know what you're doin'?"

"Well no not really, I've been shown how to replace a bearing but I've never actually done one before".

"You got plenty of water?"


There was a long pause as he looked around a bit more, then said, "You'll work it out", and drove off.

I did work it out - the roadside bearing refit got me to Cairns then a week or two later I replaced both of them and drove home the 35 hours to the Blue Mountains with no further problems. I didn't realise how significant the incident had been until I had time to reflect on it later when I began to think about those for whom the destination is more important then the journey.

We become far better anglers if we can work out many of the challenges of this sport ourselves, by trying things and making mistakes rather than being walked through every step by someone holding our hand. Being shown once should be sufficient for us to learn enough to firstly see the scattering of dots so we can begin to join them together to create a picture, but to do this you need to be prepared to look for those dots.

Things we learn from direct experience, from working it out for ourselves are not easily forgotten, they are the crucible of our fishing knowledge, this is knowledge learned at the coal face during the journey, its not knowledge bought, and its priceless. There are many patterns we need to recognise as being dots on our personal fishing maps, but to see them we must experience them - "There's the water, these are the fish species you might find here, and this is what they like to eat" - start thinking about it and you'll work it out. Just don't ask me to change your wheel bearings, but if I had to I could, and if you do meet that old guy on the Weipa Archer River road thank him for me.


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