We drove to Leitchville, a tiny town of about 500 people. Why were we in Leitchville? Because it was the nearest town to the middle-of-nowhere place we had to go to. We were there to meet David, who was going to give us a tour of the Pyramid Creek Salt Interception Scheme.
“Meet me in front of the pub,” David had said. “You’ll know which one it is. It’s the main building in town.”
We pulled up in front of the pub and parked alongside another car and a van. On the other side of the carpark, David waved to us. After a short discussion, we hopped into his car and started the twenty minute drive to the Scheme.
For the next two hours, David showed us the structures that they used to control the flow of Pyramid Creek. He took us to the pumps that sucked salty water out of the ground before it flowed into the creek. Jamie and I tasted the groundwater — it was almost as salty as sea water. David then drove us to the evaporation pans: 200 hectares of pooled water, waiting for the sun to evaporate it and leave behind white crystals of salt. The salt is then processed and sold as gourmet salt, amongst other things.
We were almost finished when my mobile phone rang. I was surprised I was even getting reception.
“Hello, Joan speaking.”
“Joan? This is Michael from Avis. Do you have one of our rental cars?”
“Yes, we’ve had it for about two months.”
“Is it parked in front of a hotel?”
I was confused. We had left our hotel in Shepparton this morning. “Um. You mean, a hotel in Leitchville?”
“Yeah, Leitchville. We’ve just had a call from the hotel owner. He’s going to tow your car away in fifteen minutes.”
“He says that you’re parked in a loading zone and a truck is coming to make a delivery. If the car isn’t moved in fifteen minutes, he’ll get it towed away. I’ve got his mobile number. His name is Ryan.”
“Oh.” I racked my brains. “We’re not actually in Leitchville at the moment. I don’t know if we can get there in fifteen minutes. But, look, I’ll deal with it. Could you give me the number?” I scrawled the number down on a media release about the salt interception scheme.
I hung up and called ‘Ryan’.
“Hello, it’s Ryan.”
“Hi Ryan. My name is Joan. Avis called me to say that our car is blocking the way in front of the pub.”
“Yeah, a little silver car? It’s in the loading zone. The beer truck is coming. I need to get it moved.”
“We can get there in twenty minutes,” David murmured to me.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said into the phone. “We didn’t realise. We’ll be there in fifteen, twenty minutes to move the car. Is that okay?”
“Yeah, no worries. The truck will arrive about then.”
“Good, then. I’ll see you soon.”
We wound up the tour and got back to the Leitchville pub in 17 minutes. Jamie hopped out of David’s car.
“I’ll move it and go into the pub to let them know it’s been moved,” he said.
“Thanks, Jamie. The guy’s name is Ryan.”
Jamie tells me later that when he went into the pub, it was like a scene from a Western film, when a stranger walks into town.
“I walked in,” Jamie recounted, “and everyone turns to look at me, dead silence. I said, ‘Uh, g’day. Is Ryan around?’ and they all pointed to him.”