Story by Wayne Bradshaw
My 1983 One Tonner Holden ute was my car back in 1992, when I had my accident. I had converted her to gas, and at 300,000km she was on her second motor.
I had been strongly advised that driving a single-cab ute while living with paraplegia from a complete T4 spinal cord injury was not practical, because it wouldn’t give me much space for storing stuff in the cabin.
I remember thinking: Just let me see if I can make it work.
I didn’t take long to become comfortable driving my Tonner. I loved the anonymity I had behind the wheel.
Of course there were challenges. Getting the chair in beside me was tricky, but I worked out a way.
Before my accident I was restumping houses. When I went back to work, I would drive the boss around while we quoted. I loved this because it fast-tracked my driving skills.
In the early 2000s, after 580,000km, I reconditioned the second motor. It never entered my head that I would sell her. About the same time, I left my quoting and bookkeeping role with the restumping business and started work at AQA.
I had struck up a friendship with a quad from Mickleham who I’d met in rehab, Zac Carr. We both supported the Tigers, and would catch up every Saturday at the footy.
Another guy we’d been in rehab with, Hue Yew, was staying in supported accommodation in Shepparton. With much trepidation from Zac’s parents, both our chairs were loaded on the back of the ute and Zac and I headed for Shepparton.
When we got there, we rang the staff to help us unload the chairs. We had a great day catching up with Hue. On the way home, we managed to get some gas after prompting the operator at a service station to come out and help us.
It was a lot of fun. I often felt a sense of accomplishment when I went on a road trip.
With frequent solo drives to Echuca to see my son Ben, I was racking up the kilometres. The tonner continued to purr, and rarely let me down.
There was one let-down that I will mention. Zac’s parents brought Zac and his brother Michael to my place on a Saturday, to watch the footy and stay the night. I was to drive them both home the next day. I left my chair at home, and Michael put Zac’s chair in the tray.
I would be amused by the glares I often got as I drove into a disability bay.
I dropped off the brothers and headed home the back way. As I crossed a single-lane bridge heading into Hurstbridge, a bolt fell from the hand controls and left me without an accelerator. I rolled off the bridge and pulled over.
I asked a bloke walking past to help me reattach the bolt, but he was not having a bar of it. If I was a paraplegic, he asked, where was my chair? He didn’t believe it was at home in my carport.
“Look at the size of you! I don’t know what you’re going to do to me!” he said. I had to call the police, who came and helped.
The car was getting old, but it rarely broke down. The interior was very damaged, but I didn’t care. I just loved her and felt lucky to have such a reliable car.
I only ever topped up the oil and made sure she had water.
Eastland was my preferred shopping centre for groceries. I would be amused by the glares I often got as I drove into a disability bay. Surely this rough looking ute with its with its truck-style vertical exhausts behind the cab was raising a rude middle finger to the parking rules. But then I’d unload my chair, and push into the shops.
When I was jumping back into my ute, sometimes someone – usually an older man – would run over and try to grab my chair from me.
I would say, “Mate, what are you doing?”
“I am putting the chair on the back for you!” he’d reply.
“Ok mate, are you going to follow me home to get it off as well?”
“Well leave it then, because I have to pull it apart and drag it in beside me.” My would-be helper would stand and watch before walking away and leaving me to it.
The Tonner was fast approaching 800,000km.
I became very attuned to her noises. Driving home from work one Friday, I got anxious about a developing clunking sound from the chassis.
As I was backing into my carport, a front wheel fell off. She’d made sure I got home before letting go.
The Tonner was fast approaching 800,000km when I drove with my son Ryan to attend the wedding of my son Ben, in Echuca. She purred all the way up and did not miss a beat on the way back.
Soon afterward she started to run really rough, so I booked her in with Chris, a mechanic I knew. That night was the opening round of the 2021 footy season, and I was going to see the Carlton-Richmond game with Bill, a bloke who got around on a mobility scooter. Chris adjusted the gas mixture and I headed off to get ready for the footy.
It was sadly the last time I drove her. Before I’d got far I heard BANG BANG BANG! A tow truck was called, and Chris put me onto a backyard mechanic friend, Tim. I told Tim to pull out the old motor, recondition it, and put it back in.
Tim pulled the motor and called me. He said I could throw $10,000 at it and still not fix it. The power steering was shot, the suspension was shot, and the pistons were rounded off and couldn’t be machined.
OK, I thought, it’s time to get another car.
I sold the tonner to a friend who was looking for a car to restore, and who had the resources.
Two weeks later I bought my new car. It’s a 2010 Holden Ute.
- July 20, 2021