Just so you know, there’s no petrol station on the eastern fringe of Broken Hill.
We discovered this recently when turning on to the Barrier Highway to set out for Sydney. The petrol indicator thingy had only two blocks left. Full tank lasts ten blocks.
With our two young daughters, my wife Amy and I were on our way home from a two-week outback holiday in a hybrid car. Yes, a hybrid. And two wheel drive, no less. Now, I know that sounds about as “city” as a couple could get, but we actually did understand that the risks of country driving are nothing to fool around with. Risks like running out of petrol on the beautiful, scrubby plains east of Broken Hill.
The little road signs told us the next major town, Wilcannia, was about 200 kilometres away. These helpful signs also let us know Little Topar – a tiny outpost I vaguely remembered from the way through – was only 80 kilometres down the straightest stretch of road in the world.
“I think Little Topar has a petrol station,” I offered unconvincingly.
Amy had a similar hopeful recollection. So, rather than retrace our steps to an inconveniently located bowser in Broken Hill – that’s going to take, like, ten minutes! – we decided to speed-limit down the highway. We had set out earlier that morning from a campsite at the Darling River, near Menindee Lakes, and we were keen to make a dent in the long drive ahead.
I was nervous but contained it, and told myself to stop looking at the petrol gauge. It seemed best – or rather, easiest – to not talk about what we would do if our car began beeping at us about running on empty. But, given the journey we were on, Amy and I had resisted the urge to respond with denial. So, we discussed roadside plans for NSW’s Far West, where our phones had no reception and the day’s heat was rising.
I thought about praying we would reach a service station soon, but felt conflicted. Was I now a real-life example of a Christian who trusted in God’s provision – but might have made a decision that ignored how God provides?
Go back to the part about how we only needed to turn around in Broken Hill and scour the streets for a petrol station. Petrol had been provided to us, if only we were prepared to delay our road trip.
Looking back, I think I did pray generally about our welfare – especially for our along-for-the-ride kids – but spent the time largely distracted by that feeling of dread you get when the magnificent Australian countryside threatens to become your waiting room.
A mere 80 kilometres of unsettled tummies and lacklustre prayers later, Little Topar rose like an unleaded oasis in the desert. We made it. With one full petrol block thingy to spare.
In case it’s not clear, I’m a “mate, she’ll be right” kind of bloke. So I had to really hammer the point home – to myself – to get the message that the punt on a convenient petrol pump we just took could have gone bad.
And while I know God would have been there with us, no matter what, I can almost hear him say something like, ‘Seriously? You couldn’t have a turned around and made a pit stop at Broken Hill?’