“Last one out – Turn off the bloody Lights!” The billboard grew out of the deserted landscape. Helena shot past the sign in her rented vehicle then slammed on the brakes and looked in her rear vision mirror again.
“I have got to get a photo of that,” she mumbled to herself as she lent over and extracted her mobile phone from her handbag. Opening the door, the sheer heat of the outback accosted her. It wasn’t humid as she was used to but pure hot. The heat radiated off everything including the outside of the small 4WD. “Who would choose to live out here,” she thought.
Looking right and then laughing at herself – she hadn’t seen a vehicle in the last 200 kilometers so why did she bother to check. Helena stepped out of the car and into the centre of the road.
She quickly took a photo of the road sign – it was the only bit of life showing in the tired looking surrounds. Not even a bullet hole marred the perfect sign. Must be new. Helena looked around and couldn’t see any sign of habitation – nothing to work out what the sign was referring too.
Shrugging she moved back into the car wondering why she had decided to take herself on the wild scavenger hunt.
Once inside with the door shut and the motor running to provide air conditioning, Helena facebooked the phone.
She took another look around. Clumps of spinfex, grey green against the red soil, the odd tree struggling, leaves hanging limply in the son; the family treasure surely could not be worth this trip through the centre of Australia. Centralia, she corrected herself, as the locals called it.
Indicating, Helena pulled out onto the road. There was meant to be a town, Gemtree, about two kilometres away but all that Helena could see was dust, dirt, and spinifex.
Gemtree turned out to be a little further than two kilometers and it came into sight when the fuel gauge hit red.
Gemtree was a small collection of buildings. Calling it a town might be a bit much. It had a petrol bowser, shed and a caravan park, complete with a small pub in the only fixed building in the van park.
After filling the 4WD with fuel she headed to the shed. There were two doors. “Gem Display” and “Pub”, the faded signs hung over each of the doors. Figuring that a beer and a decent break wouldn’t be off the cards Helena headed through the door into the pub. After all, she was half a day ahead of Georgio and leading the hunt. A half hour break wouldn’t cost her the family jewels, or was it shares. Her grandfather had never said. She entered the building through the door labeled “Pub”.
Somebody woof whistled. Helena reddened.
“Just like to pay for my fuel and get a Corona.” She stated to the beefy woman behind the bar.
The woman stared at Helena, finally making a move.
“$75 for the fuel and $5 for the beer lov’” The publican plonked a VB stubby in front of her. Helena took one look at the beer and one look at the silent barflies and decided VB would be fine. It wasn’t her favorite beer but it really was too darned hot to complain and the beer was wet.
“You do take plastic?” She queried, suddenly fearing that they had never heard of a Visa as she raised the card in her hand. The patrons let out a roar of laughter.
“We take plastic. What do you take us for? We ain’t a bunch of Beverly Hill Billies.” The proffered card was jerked out of Helena’s hand.
“Bloody ignorant city.” The publican muttered under her breath.
Helena started to stammer out an apology when there was a squeal of brakes. She didn’t need to look to know it was her no good brother arriving in town.
“Darn it,” she thought to herself, “He must have been speeding to catch me up like that.”
A few minutes later she was rewarded as Georgio walked in demanding a Corona, chips and his bill and make it quick he had a race to win unlike some people. He threw a glare at Helena.
“$200 for the fuel and $10 for the beer,” the publican said as she plonked a VB stubby in front of him using the same cool tone she had on Helena.
“What a friging rip off,” he was vocal and the other residents at the bar got up and moved away.
Helena knew what was going to happen and took her beer through to the Gem Display.
Georgio exploded behind her. “$10 for a beer and where is the Corona? Don’t you Bumpkins have anything? I refuse to pay that much.”
“What brings you out this way?” Helena turned at the sound of the crackly old voice and faced a miner. Yellowed teeth and leathery skin did little to make the man look young or pleasant but his manner was gentle.
“It’s a long story” Helena sighed melodramatically.
“Well lassie, I got all day. Ain’t none of those miners going anywhere with that idiot’s comments. It’ll be the best entertainment they’ve had all year.” The man surprised Helena with his verbosity.
“My Granddad was a Greek immigrant just after World War II. He settled out here and mined for a while until he made enough money to bring out the rest of his family. Now he’s dead.
He was saying for years how us younger ones didn’t know what he’d been through and were just living off his fortune. The old man’s will states that the one to inherit the family treasure has to win a silly scavenger hunt. Georgio,” Helena nodded to the bar where there was still a racket going on, “and myself are the only ones who’ve made it this far.”
The old timer and Helena chatted more about her grandfather and his scavenger hunt. Then Helena asked about his mining exploits a little. It was getting close to dark before Helena realized the time and made to go.
“But lassie, you won’t make it to Alice Springs before dark and it’s dangerous out there. I’ll get one of the young ones to take you to Ruby Gap first thing tomorrow. Know a shortcut I do.”
So Helena passed an evening talking to miners before the lights flickered off at 8pm. On querying the early time it turned out that Gemtree ran on Generator power
“How quaint,” Helena thought to herself as she settled down in a borrowed Swag.
Her miner rudely awakened her as the first glimpse of dawn peeked over the horizon and bundled off into a rusty old Landcruiser Ute.
“Could we speed up a little here?” Helena asked as they plodded along at 40km/hr.
“Nah – go much faster and the old girl will fall apart on me. Stuck together with strands of grass yew know.”
Helena wisely said nothing and fifty agonizing kilometers later she was distressed to find out that the ute really was held together with strands of grass.
Then when they finally got to Ruby Gap the man insisted on giving Helena a lesson in how to recognize rubies and other gems. The only way she was going to win the scavenger hunt was if Georgio broke down in the middle of no-where. Well, she could hope. She picked up a few of the pebbles the miner had said were rubies because she might as well get something out of this trip.
Helena arrived back at Gemtree the following afternoon and wasted no time in heading East.
Despondently she drove her small 4WD away from the sunset and headed back to Mt Isa where she would fly to Brisbane and then to Sydney. At least in Sydney, she would be able to get a decent beer. 200Km down the road she laughed and pulled over. Georgio had blown two tires.
“Sorry Bro, my tires won’t fit a car that big. I’ll drive you to the next station and you can get some help.” Georgio scowled as he hopped into the passenger seat.
Helena walked into the Solicitor’s office, she had only just arrived back in Sydney and was ecstatic. She’d beaten Georgio. The family treasure was hers.
“Hello Helena, glad you could make it. I have to thank you, that station you dropped me at, one of the ringers* was flying to Sydney anyway. I bummed a ride with him.”
Helena froze at the greasy tone of her brother.
She looked around the rest of the room. It was full of her relatives and the solicitor.
“Now we’re all here I shall read the will of Alexis Georgio Papoutsakis. The house at, ” the solicitor stated. Helena tuned out to the first section as it was exceptionally unlikely any of the grandchildren get the property. This would go to her parents, uncles, and aunts. She cast a baleful glare at Georgio who was grinning evilly.
“Now the winner of the scavenger hunt, Mr. Georgio Papoutsakis, will get the family treasure.” The solicitor turned and bent over picking up a small wooden box from the floor. “This box contains the treasure. You are charged by your grandfather to look after this and pass the treasure onto your children and for them to pass it on to their children.”
“Just give me the treasure.” Georgio was abrupt and snatched the box from the solicitor.
His grin was greedy and the atmosphere intensified as everyone lent closer to get a glimpse of the fabled treasure. What would it be?
He opened the lid and let back a gasp of surprise.
“Why would I want a box of bloody rocks?” The lid slammed closed, catching his fingers in it. Georgio cursed and threw the box away from him. Helena reached up and caught the box. She opened it, then removed the rubies she had gathered in the territory and studied them. She compared the stones for several seconds before she turned to Georgio and interrupted his tirade with
“If you don’t want the rocks, do you mind if I have them, as a memento of my journey?”
“You can keep the bloody things. I never want to see them again in my life.” He turned and stormed out of the room.
She added her handful of uncut gems to those in the box and closed the lid smiling. Sometimes taking the slow road paid large dividends.
*ringer – a farm hand on a station (large grazing property)