Rory Kennett-Lister is a writer of fiction, creative non-fiction and essays, as well as a creative in advertising. His work has been featured in Seizure, The Lifted Brow, Overland, Scum Magazine, the Australian Book Review and others. A selection of his writing can be found at rorykennettlister.com.
This non-fiction piece has been shortlisted in the Woollahra Library Digital Literature Award for 2017 alongside a whole bunch of other fine writing. Check out the full shortlist here: http://woollahra.nsw.gov.au/library/whats_on/digital_literary_award. This piece originally appeared in Issue Eleven of Tincture Journal.
“We need the tonic of the wilderness… We can never have enough of nature.”
—Henry David Thoreau, Walden
We rattle off the bitumen and onto the rutted dirt road, stones blasting against the underside of the car. It’s a mid-90s Citroën, effortlessly, incrementally disintegrating after years of subtle neglect, paint disappearing off the bonnet and roof, slowly offering itself to year after year of summer sun. And though the airy, French suspension is still a dream on covered roads, as we plough through potholes using the middle of the road to keep clear of the thicker gravel, it’s clear that the car is a long way from home.
In reality, my co-driver, Billy, and I are only one and a half hours outside Adelaide, near Rapid Bay, South Australia, on the western side of the Fleurieu Peninsula. We’re making our way to a plot of land—48 acres of untouched coastal bush—owned by a mutual friend, Björn, the idea being to help with the ongoing construction of his homemade shack with whomever else Björn has invited. Truthfully, Björn in no way needs our help; a transnational upbringing spanning the deserts of Africa to the ice of Northern Europe has left him a hands-on savant. But he’ll know how to put extra limbs to use and, to be honest, there’s something intoxicating about the idea of helping to construct this Crusoean outpost. When I was invited I agreed without hesitation.
Up to this point Billy has been charting our progress, the stuttering movement of a blue dot on an iPhone screen, giving directions as subtle forewarnings—“In about a k you’re going to need to turn right.”, “We’re going to be coming up on a T-junction.”—ensuring that I’m prepared for what each turn brings. But as we bounce along this final stretch, the directions become less certain, the car floating unpredictably over the vagaries of the road.
“Coming up on a right.” I can see the beginnings of the arc, but a patch of scrub obscures the rest. As I direct us around, keeping clear of the sharp elbows, a hill rises before us. Sealed it wouldn’t present much of a problem, but the wheels begin to stutter underneath us. Rectal tightening. I drop gears as we slow, trying to keep the revs up and the momentum forwards. If we had any illusions before, we can see clearly now: this is four-wheel drive territory. I seesaw the accelerator, feeling the tyres slip and grip, hopping from one hold to the next like stepping-stones across a rushing stream. We are delivered over the crest of the hill. Nervous laughter.